September 12, 2006

Yesterday Belizeans celebrated the 208th anniversary of the Battle of Saint George’s Caye. Ceremonies took place across the country yesterday. In Belize City, the official ceremony took place traditionally at the Memorial Park. Belize City Mayor, Zenaida Moya, in her speech, proposed that a re-enactment of the battle be instituted as a part of the annual ceremony.

Zenaida Moya, Belize City Mayor

“St. George’s Caye Day is something we can hardly afford to take for granted, considering that it’s commemoration is the legacy of people like Simon Lamb who had to summon up just as much courage for the fight in commemoration as those who fought and won the battle itself. Sad to say more than one hundred years after the first commemoration of the centenary, we are faced with yet another battle against those who seek to undermine the significance of this momentous occasion. I made in my address at the opening ceremony for this year’s September celebrations on September 1st and I repeat today a call for the inclusion in our calendar of events during this month, a yearly re-enactment of the Battle of St. George’s Caye. This I believe will serve to establish in the minds of our children and reinforce in the minds of all Belizeans, the historical significance of the event we are celebrating today. I also indicated in that address our desire to see the re-introduction of the official introduction into the 10th parade by our school children. Today I repeat that call and I restate that we will continue fighting for this to happen. Hopefully it will not take one hundred years for this to occur.”

Meanwhile, Chairman of the September Celebrations Committee, Minister Godfrey Smith, gave a history of the battle itself.

Hon. Godfrey Smith, September Celebrations Committee Chairman

“The Battle pitted the Spanish against the British settlers of the Bay of Honduras who were called Baymen and their slaves. The Spanish beef with the British was that the Baymen were settled in this area of the Americas which the Spanish claimed was off limits to the British based on treaty provisions. The Spanish had in fact expelled the Baymen from the settlement on several occasions. They had even destroyed the settlement on St. George’s Caye in 1779 but the Spanish themselves never actually occupied Belize. The Spanish decision to mobilize a large invasion fleet in 1798 was based apparently on reports that the Baymen were extending their logwood cutting borders beyond treaty limits and could even launch surprise attacks on the Spanish town of Bacalar. When the Baymen heard of the Spanish invasion Armada, some wanted to leave Belize and go to Jamaica or the Cayman Islands, others decided to remain and fight. The issue was resolved at a public meeting where the vote ended 65 to 51 in favor of staying to fight and defend the settlement. When the Spanish fleet was near Cozumel, the Baymen held another meeting. This second meeting was just as important as the first. They resolved to and I quote from the resolutions, “Bring forward the whole effective strength of the country for its general defense including white men, freed men of

color, free Negroes and Negroes of other slaves capable of bearing arms.” The Baymen therefore clearly recognized that the settlement could not have been defended without the help of the about twelve hundred adult male slaves of the settlement. Fighting, ladies and gentlemen actually began from as early as the third of September when the Spanish fleet struggled to navigate through the reef and were repelled by the Settlers of the Bay. Then on the tenth day of September 1798, the Spanish attempted to take St. George’s Caye. Belizean history records the Battle in which the Baymen and their slaves thwarted the Spanish invasion attempt. Late in the afternoon of September tenth, the Spanish unable to navigate to natural reef, with low morale and high deaths caused by yellow fever and in fact under attack by the settlers of the bay decided to cut cables and fully retreat. This marked the last attempt by the Spanish to expel the Baymen from the settlement in Belize. The Battle since that time has been commemorated for at least a hundred years. The Battle of St. George’s Caye evoked mixed feelings in Belize. Primarily because of the twin factors of colonialism and slavery existing at that time but clearly the slaves could have deserted to the Spanish if they so wished or they could have mounted a revolt since they had been armed by the British Baymen instead history records that they fought alongside the Baymen. The slaves had clearly determined that not withstanding their condition of slavery they preferred to fight off the Spanish to maintain the life they and their families had come to know in what was now their new homeland Belize.