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The first Spanish families in Belize

Mestizos, or "Spanish," as they are known locally, have a long history in Belize. The first Spanish families came from neighboring Yucatan in Mexico, fleeing the Caste War between Yucatecans and Mayas that began in 1847. They ranged from rancheros and planters to landless laborers, from light-skinned Yucatecans to dark-skinned mestizos. Rancheros quickly established themselves in the north of the country, where they began to plant sugarcane.

Today, Spanish-speaking mestizos are the fastest growing segment of the population. While in 1980 they constituted only 33.4 percent of the population, Central American refugees swelled their ranks throughout the 1980s, and they now make up fully 43.6 percent.

Mayas, who in 1980 made up only about 9 percent of the population, now make up 11.1 percent. While not yet a threat to the dominant white class, mestizos dominate the sugar industry and are solidly established in the business sector. In the 1960s, an observer noted: "They accumulate capital more rapidly than any other of the groups, except perhaps the Near Eastern section" (Gregg 1968:126). The following decade saw a boom in sugar, with the result that in Orange Walk, "the rich are all mestizos, except for one European" (Brockmann 1977:256).

Unlike other ethnic groups, notably creoles and the initial Chinese and East Indian groups, the Spanish were not inserted into a subordinate category, culturally and politically, as a result of the labor requirements of the dominant class. Their possession of capital, no matter how limited, and their experience with agriculture positioned them to dominate commercial agriculture, which had become a necessity by the end of the century. Their success as a regional elite, however, intensified the dependence of the nascent creole middle class on the mediation of the British for their own economic and social advancement.

The economic and numerical importance of the Spanish forms a key part of the three-way mirror in which ethnic groups see and reflect each other's identities.

19th Century Yucatan: Ladino, Mestizo, Maya

The 19th century Caste War lasted for almost 50 years. At its beginning, in 1847, Mexico had been independent of Spain for some 24 years. At independence, the remaining Spanish population was either "discredited or expelled" (Reed 1964: 20): thus Yucatecan society comprised ladinos - "all those of Spanish or half-Spanish descent who considered themselves 'white' and lived, dressed, and thought according to a European heritage"; mestizos, the half-castes; and indios, or Maya (ibid.:5). Bricker (1981:92) argues that while the colonial caste system was abolished in Mexico after 1821, it survived in this three-part form in the Yucatan for the rest of the 19th century.

While residents of the southern frontier were less obsessed with racial purity than those in the north, the three-part Yucatan hierarchy dictated that if occasionally a pretty mestiza could move into the ladino world, a mestizo virtually never could (Reed 1964:22). Some mestizos, fed up with this situation, became leaders of the Mayan rebels, while others sought their own haciendas on the frontier, or across the border in British Honduras, where distinctions were harder to maintain. As far as the British and creoles were concerned, refugees fell into two categories, Spanish and Indian. Ladinos and mestizos were thus lumped together as part of the non-Indian or Spanish community.

Olga Stavrakis (1979: 40-41), who worked in a Maya-mestizo village in Belize in 1975-76, observed that these two worlds persisted over time. As late as 1973, none of the Mayans owned land, while "on the other end of the continuum, the Spanish families, with such names as Castillo, Espejo, Escalante, with blue eyes, blond hair, and skin which burns in the sun" have continually owned land and engaged in commercial agriculture.

Throughout the colonial period Maya communities had remained more or less intact in the Yucatan peninsula, especially in the southeast. The Spanish, who occupied the cities, were content to rely on Indian production of cotton and cloth, as well as foodstuffs, demanding annual tribute in these goods. Their own commercial operations were primarily in cattle-raising, an occupation that required little Indian labor. But with Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821, the Yucatecan economy changed dramatically. Cattle-ranching, based in the north, became unprofitable with the loss of the primary export market in Cuba - which as a Spanish colony was now cut off. Also cut off were imports of Cuban sugar and rum, with the result that capital shifted from estancias in the north to sugar plantations in the east and south, where the land was better suited - areas formerly owned by Indian communities.

Unlike cattle ranching, sugar production demanded an integrated and controlled labor force (Bricker 1981). The Mayas, accustomed to moving around in order to avoid tribute or debt, began a steady exodus. Politically, the period 1839-45 was one or intense regionalism, and a series of conflicts in which Yucatecans enlisted Indian recruits. Indians, who joined on promise of end to "the tributes, the obventions, and the obligatory personal service" (Bricker 1981:92) due to church and landowners, and the right to continue to cultivate their own land, gained neither land nor liberty, but did acquire both arms and military experience (ibid.:90). While the Caste War led to a number of shifting allegiances over the years, and different groups of Maya took different positions, those who made peace with the Yucatecan authorities did so mostly in order to be left alone, a course in which they were more or less successful (Dumond 1977).

As estancias and sugar plantations moved into the southeast Yucatan, British trade out of Belize increased steadily. From the late 18th century, British commercial houses operating in Belize profited from the Spanish restrictions on both imports and exports from its colonies, and a lively entrepot trade developed with the countries of Central America and Mexico. This increased with Central American independence, as the newly formed federation allowed British importers to import duty free from Belize and sell on the local retail market in 1823. British merchants traded European goods for agricultural products, on which the settlement increasingly depended. From Mexico the largest imports were sugar and rum. In 1847 the Belize superintendent reported that sugar was "almost exclusively" imported from Bacalar, across the border in Yucatan.

While Bacalar flourished as a market for British goods, it also threatened to become something of a refuge for runaway British slaves; Central America quickly abolished slavery on independence in 1821. For British cutters operating more or less illegally on both sides of the Rio Hondo border with Mexico this was a particular problem as were the demands of Mayan rebels and Mexican authorities for payment for cutting on their territory. As a result managers of the major firms, such as Young Toledo & Co., and the British Honduras Co., as well as independent traders and landowners, including Henry Oswald, James Hume Blake, and John Carmichael, cultivated good relations with both Mayas and ladinos, cemented by their willingness to deal in arms and ammunition.

While official British policy condemned the arms trade, there was considerable sympathy for the rebel Mayas in Belize, which increased as Mexico made peace with the pacificos at Icaiche and encouraged their raids against the British (Clerhern 1961: 15-16). Lt. Governor Barlee maintained that most of those involved in the sale of arms to the Mayas were not in fact British but refugee Yucatecans.

(To be continued.)


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The Caste War and the flight from Bacalar

Bacalar was attacked by the Santa Cruz Mayas in April 1848, the rebels offering to spare the lives of its ladino inhabitants if they surrendered and left for British Honduras (Cal 1983:47; Anderson 1952:15). Thereafter, refugees from the ranchos around Bacalar moved to Belize, stopping at Douglas, Haylock's Bank, and Four-Mile Lagoon. By July there were an estimated 1,000 ladino refugees in Belize. While ladinos retook Bacalar the following year, and many refugees returned with the troops (Reed 1964:118), most stayed, moving south along the New River: to Corozal, Back Landing, Orange Walk, San Estevan (Cal 1983:60,208).

During the next decade the conflict "devastated the cane-growing districts and forced white planters to abandon their sugar estates and flee" -north to M�rida or south to Belize (Wells 1982:228; see Reed 1964:130). For the most part owners of small amounts of capital, the refugees became rancheros, producing corn, beans, sugarcane, and rum, or subcontractors for the English mahogany logging firms, recruiting Mayan labor (Cal 1983:209). Their ability to manage Mayan workers was especially highly valued (Cal 1984a:67). One Manuel Jes�s Castillo, who arrived in the village of San Antonio in 1847 from Tekax, was known to be experienced with Mayan labor; he got into timber and became the nohoch dzul ("big boss") of San Antonio, cutting both sides of the Hondo, with all the Mayan villagers working for him (Cal 1983:107).

Similarly, Florencio Vega, "a wealthy Yucatecan refugee" (ibid.:61) who operated a boat on the Hondo as early as 1849, was regarded by the British Honduras Company as good at dealing with Maya workers and taken on as a subcontractor; he subsequently employed many of the Mayan leaders, including Ascension Ek, Augustin Ongay, and others. Angel Cal, who did a sample of the late 19th-century inventories, indicates that most if not all rancheros or timber subcontractors had "a permanent body of Mayan laborers either resident at their ranchos or at temporary camps in the forest" (1984a:7).

By the latter half of the 19th century the need for labor concerned both the British administrators and the metropolitan merchant houses, who by then owned most of the land. Creole laborers, restricted from buying land, for the most part resided in Belize City and hired out as mahogany cutters. Thus agriculture, if it was to be developed, needed a new labor supply. While a number of sugar planters, among them Henry Oswald and John Carmichael, eventually succeeded in getting the authorities to import some Chinese laborers in 1865, these were not a success; a great many died, and others deserted to the Santa Cruz Maya (Fowler 1879:51; cf. Swayne 1917:167; Morris 1883:16). Moreover, apart from a single shipment from Barbados that same year, attempts to attract cheap labor from the U.S. South or the West Indies came to little (Cleghern 1967).

How well off the Yucatecan rancheros in fact were when they arrived is almost impossible to determine, since none of the sources are impartial - their supporters, those anxious to develop the agriculture potential of the country (without additional government expense) - described them as hardworking smallholders, the backbone of sugar production (Gibbs 1883, Fowler 1879), while their detractors, those unwilling to see their monopolistic timber and chicle operations challenged, considered them "principally dependents of the most opulent families for whose benefit the Indians had been obliged to toil and labor."

By the 1850s superintendents were anxious to encourage them, as they grew not only sugarcane but the rice, corn, and vegetables for which the settlement was primarily dependent on neighboring countries (Bolland 1977a:84).

Indeed, a letter from 25 Yucatecan planters in Corozal, complaining to the superintendent about the introduction of a sugar tax in 1856, threatened to abandon not only sugar cultivation but also "coffee, castor oil, cotton, tobacco" out of fear of additional taxes. This letter makes clear that they all depended on hired laborers, who had to be treated well enough to dissuade them from returning to Bacalar, and that they have mortgaged future production on order to clear and plant.

Brockmann (1985:105) notes that blanco and mestizo refugees ranged along an economic continuum:

a small segment composed of Spanish and highly Hispanicized Mestizos were able, with funds brought from Mexico, to establish themselves as a regional elite of planters, retail merchants, and forest products contractors. The bulk of the immigrants, Mestizos and Yucatan Maya, lived as tenant milpa farmers and seasonal unskilled laborers for the regional Spanish elite and British logging companies.

Commercial sugar production further differentiated the immigrants economically. By 1863, Manuel Castillo was also planting cane and producing sugar from a cane mill on the opposite side of the Hondo (Cal 1983:151). As sugar expanded during the next decades, enormous investments were necessary - in land and equipment as well as labor. Governor Swayne noted in addition to lack of suitable labor, falling prices for sugar demanded ever more investment in modern machinery in order to produce more cheaply (1917:170).

Moreover, by the 1860s most of the land was already controlled by British banking houses, who also dominated commerce. Yucatecans nevertheless utilized family ties to put together land and commercial properties. Those who succeeded, like Juan Carillo or Manuel Romero in Corozal, Manuel Castillo in San Antonio and Francisco Vega in San Est�van, purchased or leased small tracts from the British firms, parlaying their experience in recruitment of Mayan labor into favorable terms, from landowners and government both, and borrowed money to develop them. The women, who according to early records migrated to Belize in the same numbers as the men, kept the extended family together, increasing marriage ties, and consolidating the elite families of Corozal and Orange Walk.

A Provincial Elite: Corozale�os in the 19th Century

The protracted Caste War produced enormous changes in Belize's nearly deserted northern districts. After the second fall of Bacalar in 1858, there were an estimated 10,000 refugees in North Belize. A Jesuit census in 1858 showed 4,500 people in Corozal - "Yucatecos principally but some Indians & Creoles (cited in Bolland 1977a:83). Having absorbed 2000 fugitives in the previous year alone (Reed 1964:170), Corozal was by then the second largest town in the country, followed by San Est�van, with some 1300 "yucatecos." Citing the 1861 census, Waddell (1961:18) writes: "By 1861, in the country as a whole, this new Spanish-speaking white and mestizo population of some 9,000 outnumbered the negro and coloured element of some 8,000." This was in addition to the Amerindians, then numbering between 4,000 and 5,000.

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In Corozal, those who could obtain land quickly planted sugar (in 1856, Corozal already had 490 acres in cane, while the whole of the New River had only 156). Among these was Juan Eduard Carillo, who owned the sugarmill at Rancho San Roque, near Xaibe, and Juan de la Cruz Ramirez, who owned the San Francisco estate, near Corozal. Other Yucatecans leased ranchos from the large estate owners around Corozal and Punta Consejo, and borrowed money to plant cane. Most of the land in the immediate vicinity was in two vast estates, Goshen and Pembroke Hall, granted to Captain Hugh Wilson in 1794. By 1855 both were owned by creole landowner James Hume Blake, who welcomed the refugees, and indeed encouraged them to settle on his land - by 1870 sugar rancheros operated some 14 estates on the property (Jones 1969:82).

By 1850, Belize "had become the chief port of entry for goods in transit to and from Yucatan and Pet�n" (Romney et al. 1959:116). As sugar prospered, Corozal planters also set up stores in town, allowing them to survive the hazards of market production over the next 50 years. By the 1890s, when sugar exports plummeted due to competition from beet sugar, Corozal merchants thrived on the sale of imported food (Jones 1969:150). Imports more than doubled from 1879 to 1889; imports from Mexico went from $25,447 in 1887 to $65,120 in 1889 (Bristowe and Wright 1890:169). By the turn of the century sugar cultivators Manuel Romero, Cornelio Lizarraga, and Juan de la Cruz Ramirez, along with Juan E. Carillo and Eulogio Perez, all had enterprises in Corozal, ranging from dry goods to hotels, bars and billiard halls (Jones 1971:11; Metzgen and Cain 1925:443-45).

All of these men were sons of those who came from the Yucat�n in the first decade of the Caste War and all built their success on interlocking family networks. Notable in this regard were the Carillos and the Romeros. Juan E. Carillo's mother, Aniceta Ongay, was eulogized in the Guardian (8.8.1896) as one of the first immigrants from Bacalar who took refuge in the colony and "set about converting the lonely forests of the North into town, villages and cultivated ranchos and milpas. And the death of his younger brother Bernab� four years later "cast a gloom over the little town of Corozal [where] such a funeral procession has never before been seen �" (Colonial Guardian 8.25.1900). In 1925 "Juan Carillo & Sons" had premises in Belize City as well as Corozal. Their daughter Elvira married Jos� Romero, son of "one of the principal merchants of Corozal," whose brother Manuel owned the Saltillo sugarmill, employing 37-40 workers on property comprising some 1000 acres (Colonial Guardian 1.12.1907).

(To be continued.)


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Corozal's 19th century elite

Cornelio Lizarraga, whose father came from Valladolid, in northern Yucat�n, installed modern milling equipment at San M�ximo, which he leased from Schofield. He married Petrona Staines (niece of Bernab� Carillo), and their daughter married Leopoldo Rosado, son of merchant Jos� Rem�gio Rosado and sister of Catalina Mar�a Rosado de Schofield.

Juan de la Cruz Ram�rez, whose parents both came from M�rida, owned sugar mills at San Francisco and San Pedro Patchacan; from there his sons, Juan, Felipe, and Lu�s Felipe, expanded into stock raising and more shops, and in 1958 Lu�s Felipe bought the 377-acre San Pedro estate from William Schofield. Eulogio Perez, son of Francisco Perez and Fernaba Brise�o, was another Corozal merchant; his daughter wed L. A. Alpuche, owner of Chan Chen sugar estate.

Yucatecan immigrants, though viewed by successive regional administrators with characteristic British contempt for the Spaniard - on either side of the ocean - had one thing going for them that was not true of the British fortune hunters: they intended to stay. As Fowler notes, "The Europeans or whites (principally Scotch) are birds of passage, business or duty calling them here, and but very few entertain the thought of making permanent homes in the Colony" (1879:50) - a situation much regretted by Swayne some years later (1917:175). By contrast, according to Fowler, the "Spanish element" appreciate the "freedoms and security of our institutions � [and] are gradually begetting a confidence which order and good government engender" (1879:52). The marriages, partnerships, and contracting relationships they established with British merchants and representatives in the 1850s were to endure long after the senior partner had retired to Britain.

A good example was the experience of Jos� Mar�a Rosado, whose colorful history as a captive of the Santa Cruz Maya as a boy of ten is the subject of a memoir. His father Tiburcio was the son of a Spaniard in the Spanish army, "sent by the King of Spain with the troops long before the Independence of Mexico," who married in Bacalar and had several children, "who nearly all followed the military career" (Rosado 1915:6). Rosados were prominent in the Caste War: Colonel Octavio, comandante of the southeast frontier; Felipe, who as a partisan of a Yucatecan insurgent vacillated constantly between courting the rebellious Mayas and joining the official forces when it looked like they might be the winners; and perhaps most notoriously Colonel Eulogio, comandante of Valladolid, whose determination to show Indian rebels that they would be punished more harshly than blancos did as much as anything to turn a factional conflict into a race war (Bricker 1981:95-97; Reed 1964).

In 1858, while his father was defending the city, Jos� and his mother, three brothers, and three sisters, along with a nurse and two servants, were captured by the victorious Santa Cruz. Following the futile efforts of a Belizean magistrate and British naval captain to gain their release, some of the women and children, including Jos� and two sisters, were separated from the rest; the others, including his mother, were shot.

Tiburcio became a successful trader in Corozal, from which he endeavored to secure the release of his son. The boy was taken by General Leonardo Santos, a mestizo leader of the Santa Cruz Mayas, to a ranch in the country, where he stayed for nine months, until Santos negotiated for his release with two friends of his father's, also residing in Corozal. United with his father, he went to Belize City to complete his schooling, staying with a cousin, Tiburcio Rosado Mart�nez, a storeowner in Belize City. At age 19 he became a clerk in the firm of Johnston & Co., established in the 1830s (Honduras Almanack 1836, 1839), and rose to manager in 1871. In 1882, on the death of John Johnston, the firm became Stevens Brothers, and Rosado became a partner, with James Steven in London and Ewing Steven, Rosado, and a Scot, John Pourie Robertson, partners in Belize. In 1896, Rosado was appointed to the Legislative Council, remaining until 1912, when he resigned to sit on the Executive Council.

At its founding in 1892 Stevens Bros. - which had a store in Corozal as well as Belize City - was one of the largest landowners in the northern district, holding some 48,000 acres of mahogany and logwood works. Johnston had been one of the first of the merchant houses to start a large-scale sugar plantation and Stevens Bros. continued the operations at Santa Rita, one of the two large estates monopolizing local sugar production during the 1880s and 1890s. Robertson duly retired to Scotland in 1904, after which Rosado and Stevens were the only partners.

However, Stevens later became insolvent, and pulled out in 1909, leaving Rosado with a large debt, and he soon thereafter turned over the business for liquidation to an attorney, W. J. Slack. In 1922 his property on Gabourel Lane in Belize City, along with his mahogany work on the Northern River, was offered for sale.

A cousin, Jes�s Jos� Rem�gio Rosado, prospered as a merchant in Corozal. His son Juan Jes�s Rem�gio owned a successful sugar factory in Corozal, and married Juana Mart�nez; their daughter Catalina Mar�a married William Schofield, last owner of the Corozal and Goshen estates.

(To be continued.)


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Ernest Augustus Henry Schofield

Goshen and Pembroke Hall, meanwhile, were purchased by John Carmichael, manager of Carmichael, Vidal, & Co., who took over a $41,639 debt from the French company in 1868. Though by 1871 he was one of the four largest landowners in the north, with some 25,000 acres (Bolland 1977b:187), Carmichael too overextended himself in order to modernize his sugar operations, borrowing some $15,000 from a British expatriate, Thomas Schofield.

He purchased a quantity of Chinese laborers in 1865 - who largely deserted to the Santa Cruz Maya (Fowler 1879:51) - as well as a sugar mill and a steam engine. For a time he tried to pay his creditors by selling parts of his two estates - Santa Rita was sold to Captain A. H. Hall, a Jamaican East Indian, Santo Tomas to James Steven, and Santa Carolina to W. R. Purvis - and transferring the estate rents to Schofield, but it was not enough. Within a few years he returned to Liverpool, where he died in 1873. Though he had a child in Belize in 1865, he left his property to his British widow, Sarah Ann, his sole heir and executrix. After lengthy litigation, she conveyed title in 1878 to the London firm of Skelton and Schofield, who paid the French concern $10,000 for their interests. Thomas Schofield's son, Ernest Augustus, was then in Corozal as the company's agent (Cal 1994b:43).

Ernest Augustus Henry Schofield, born in Blackpool in 1858, like James Hume Blake, married a Yucateca, Petrona Novelo, and returned the estates to the Spanish family networks. At his death in 1934 his son William, who married Catalina Maria Rosado, inherited Goshen and Pembroke Hall; his son Octavio, one of the first graduates of St. John's College, inherited the family's five coconut plantations. The rest received money - $15,000 each: one daughter married into the Perez family, another married a Riverol, both in Corozal, while a third married into the Sharp family, white creole planters from Jamaica (Will Bk3, pg. 751). Although Ramirez and Lizarraga eventually bought their estates outright, William held on to the bulk of the land of Goshen and Pembroke Hall until 1956, when he sold 35,000 acres to the government - embracing the towns of Corozal, Xaibe, Patchacan, Calcutta, and Ranchito (Jones 1969: 162).

Schofield also experimented with henequen, having studied its cultivation in the Yucatan, and imported a steam-powered fiber scraping machine. To encourage its cultivation he offered land "rent free in perpetuity" to anyone who would grow the plant. He also leased out large tracts for sugar cultivation to mestizo contractors, including such large employers of labor as Juan Ramirez (at San Pedro Patchacan), Cornelio Lizarraga (at San Maximo), and Nicholas Aguilar (at Aventura). Although these tenants all purchased modern steam-driven equipment for their sugar mills, because of an antiquated land tenure law Schofield retained all rights to their improvements.

One other Yucateca immigrant incorporated a white planter into an enduring mestizo network: Petronila Espejo. She married a John Wallace Price, a Louisiana confederate, who bought the San Roman sugar estate in the 1860s. The couple had four daughters: one married Teodoro Santiago Castillo, a prosperous planter and chicle merchant from Guinea Grass; a second wed John Ross, a white expatriate, and a third married first Father Kevlin, who built the Sisters of Mercy convent in Corozal, and later Theodore Hudson, Cayo District Commissioner.

The next generation expanded the kin network and contacts: the Kevlins' daughter married the son of George and Juanita Parham in San Pedro. Teodoro Santiago Castillo's sister Basilia married Antonio Alamilla, son of Jose Alamilla and Elena Avilez from Yucatan; their son Maclovio, born in 1895, was one of the largest chicle contractors in Corozal until a 1955 hurricane. The Castillos' son Santiago, who married Ercanacia Vega, now owns a large commercial empire in Belize City, rivaled only by the current owner of the Belize Estate Co. lands, Barry Bowen.

Petronila Price carried on the merchant manufacturing firm of "Estate of J. W. Price" for several years after her husband's death in 1878; listed in the 1919 Guide to British Honduras (Sologaistoa 1919:170), the firm owned the San Roman sugar estate as late as 1935. "Mrs. Price" was a pillar of Orange Walk society till the end of the century.

These Yucateca immigrants - Antonia Andrade, Petrona Novelo, Petronila Espejo - succeeded not only in improving their own fortunes - they put new life in a languishing elite. Individuals such as Blake and Carmichael and Schofield were among the few who held on to their lands after most of the European landowners had been bought out by the large merchant firms. By marrying Yucatecan women they gained a stake in the future: valuable experience with commercial sugar production as well as access to a new source of labor, the Yucatan Mayas.


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Orange Walk was regarded as a rough frontier town

Mestizo social life in the rapidly growing northern towns reflected the newcomers who built them, focusing on the family and community, which included the church. The self presentation that was so essential to creole public life, was not a feature of church and community life in the newly settled villages and towns of the north. There were no papers in the districts. And while by the 1870's a succession of newspapers announced their commitment to news of interest to Spanish-speaking residents, and made periodic efforts to publish such news in Spanish, their editors were creole, both white and coloured, and they all lived in Belize City. While they might be concerned with general district issues, such as agricultural development, land tenure legislation, or the best labor for the plantations, their personal network rarely went beyond the creole events and inhabitants of Belize City.

The fiestas that so crowded the social calendar in Yucat�n at the time of Stephens' travels (1848), continued in Corozal and Orange Walk, but under the patronage of the large landowners and merchants, whose names were known to Belize City readers. An example was the mestiza dance, which from time to time a correspondent described. In "News from the North" the Guardian (5.7.1887) noted that Mr. Ernest Schofield had revived the "old Xaib� festival" - discontinued for some years - by calling together his Indian tenants and holding the preliminary meeting, at which pledges were obtained for the proposed mestiza dances. Victoria's Jubilee that year was celebrated in Orange Walk with another mestiza dance, along with horse races, a review of the constabulary, and church services.

Official visits were another occasion for describing local festivities, of course, and sometimes the two coincided. Governor Goldsworthy, so despised in Belize City, made increasingly frequent visits north after 1890. A visit to Corozal that year included a tea party and Court House ball (Colonial Guardian 6.7.1890), and a trip to Orange Walk in February 1893 included a carnival celebration. "Carnival at Orange Walk" opened with a Mestizada, "a dance peculiar to the mestizos," and was followed by several more.

Monday was devoted to the "Cinta" or ribbon dance. This dance is peculiar to the people of Yucat�n; and their descendants, in Orange Walk, keep up this custom by frequent observance � On this occasion the band of festive doncellas visited the houses of the principal inhabitants, after the ribbon dance had been performed.

On Tuesday a band of strange Indians suddenly made its appearance in the town, to the surprise of the majority of the inhabitants. After wandering about for some time, they commenced to execute the Xtol or aboriginal native dance, to the amusement of those present. Sometime afterwards it leaked out that these were only sham Indians, being certain of the inhabitants, who had so well disguised themselves that they were actually believed to be genuine Maya Indians.

When the dance ended at midnight, the band accompanied the colonial officials to the fort and "thus ended the carnival at Orange Walk, pleasantly breaking the monotony of the daily avocations of its inhabitants."

Orange Walk received a new governor, Sir David Wilson, in April 1897, but he apparently kept his distance; a communication in the Guardian (4.17.1897) ended: "One thing only left us in a painful state, and that is, that not one of us Yucatecans had the honor and pleasure of being presented to and of shaking the hands with such a worthy Governor, not even the President of the [reception] committee [Tiburcio Escalante]."

As official interest declined, reports of such festivities disappeared - though in 1902 the Clarion noted that Carnival was celebrated in Corozal and in 1909 a Mestizada in Belize City occasioned a Guardian report (1.2.1909): "The dancers, on Christmas Day, went in full Indian gala costume to the house of the Hacendado or chief of the Indian cow boys and, headed by him, marched to the dance. A number of people went to view the unaccustomed spectacle and each curious male had to pay 25 cents for being captured by a Mestiza and, if he chose to put his hat on her head, he had to pay 25 cents more."

Rural Cousins: The First Orange Walk Settlers

Throughout the 19th century, while Corozal became the center of "Spanish" society, Orange Walk remained a frontier town. Larger tracts of land were available for leasing or subcontracting. While Corozalenos combined small sugar ranchos with shops in town, those who ventured south along the Hondo or New River relied more on timber cutting and chicl� bleeding on large landholdings, expanding into sugar production when it looked profitable. Among these were Manuel Castillo and Francisco Escalante.

By 1892, when Pembroke Hall and Goshen were already in the hands of the Schofield family, Castillo and Escalante were included among the largest landowners in the northern district, a list dominated by five British merchant houses: British Honduras Co., R.N. and Andrew Byass, Mutrie, Arthur and Currie, Bernard Cramer, and Stevens Brothers.

Northern District

Landowner Acreage
Bel. Est. & Pro Co Ltd. 536,280
R.N. and A. Byass 67,840
Mutrie, Arthur & Currie 140,680
Stevens Bros & Co 48,000
Mrs. Bowen 17,280
Wardlaw & Usher 17,280
B. Cramer & Co 17,280
Mrs. Usher 12,800
Miss Altereith 6,400
E.A.H. Schofield 32,000
C.T. Hunter 9,600
M.J. Castillo 12,800
F. Escalante 20,480
Gabriel & Smith 12,800
Est of G. Estevez 10,240

In order to clear and drain their land, Yucatecans borrowed heavily from the large landowning firms: thus in 1863, Manuel Jesus Castillo mortgaged 625 acres of Albion Island on the Rio Hondo (including the village of San Antonio) to Young Toledo & Co. for $5864, and drew another $5864 the following year on the same property (Deed Bk 2). That same year he died, and Young Toledo & Co acquired the land. Meanwhile, however, Young Toledo & Co was encountering its own financial difficulties, and by 1880, when it dissolved, most of its lands had been purchased by the Belize Estate and Produce Company (BepCo) Bolland and Shoman 1977). Thus in 1874, Castillo's son, Manuel Jesus, a logwood cutter from Orange Walk, purchased 625 acres from BepCo for $3000 (Deed Bk 4).

For the next thirty years Castillo and his son Policarpio operated as logwood and mahogany cutters and sugar cultivators as the firm of M. J. Castillo and Son. But by 1904 the prices for all three items had dropped and Castillo and Son again sold the land to James Currie, surviving partner of Mutrie, Arthur and Currie, together with a mahogany work called Eight Mile Creek and adjoining work, 2 mules, 9 cows, and 5 steers, all buildings except their residences, and two U.S. insurance policies. When Currie died in 1915, the value was assessed at �20,000. Currie's heirs tried to hold onto the property, but could not find anyone to manage it properly, and in 1918, Belizean millionaire Robert Turton bought the property for the rock bottom price of $700. Thirty years later, when the colonial government had committed money to develop sugar, Crispin, Policarpio's nephew, bought it back for $BZ2900.

While the bulk of Albion, some 10,000 acres, remained throughout in the hands of BepCo, the Castillos continued as resident squires: Olga Stavrakis, who did fieldwork in San Antonio in the 1970s, pointed out that among the Maya villagers, the Castillos were said to have "amassed their wealth (gold) and their peons" and come to the village, where they buried the gold in order to "keep it out of the hands of the Indians" (1979:46).

Francisco Escalante, who established a store in Orange Walk, then a town of only some 1200 people, traded with Mayas and Yucatecans on both sides of the Hondo, and was said to have prospered considerably in the trade in guns and ammunition (Emond 1983). By 1872 he was one of the town's wealthiest residents and known locally as a hero of the 1872 Battle of Orange Walk (reputedly having shot the Mayan leader Marcus Canul). By 1882 he had acquired the two large sugar plantations at Indian Hill and Trial Farm initially owned by trader and planter Henry Oswald.

Oswald's experience illuminates the fortunes to be made and lost in sugar. Oswald came to Belize in 1848 from Nassau, where he was persuaded by a Frenchman, Adolphus Lanabit, of better prospects in Belize. After failing to make a go of an initial hotel venture, the two invested in a trading expedition to the Yucat�n, where they had become established by 1850 (Cal 1983:64), trading further and further inland. After a few years Oswald "settled down as a sugar planter for a year or two" at Corozal, drawing on some money inherited from his family in Scotland. In 1856, he sold his plantation, and bought two works on the Sittee River - Uncle Sam and Plenty - from Charles Usher Forman (Deeds Bk 2, p. 67). In 1861 he sold both to Young, Toledo & Co, at a profit, and purchased the land he had been leasing from the same firm called Indian Hill, followed by another purchase a mile up on the New River, called Trial Farm.

An "enthusiastic agriculturalist," Oswald bought out his partner in 1861 and began to experiment with cacao and coffee, but while he did well at first, he found the plants died when their roots reached the subsoil (Colonial Guardian 7.15.1905). In 1872 he too played a heroic role in the Battle of Orange Walk, rescuing the town magistrate "from the clutches of hostile Indians," and escorting a group of refugees (including his own wife and children) down river to San Est�van. Thereafter, however, he had a series of setbacks: a fire and an explosion ruined his cane fields, rum stores, and distillery at Indian Hill. He tried to plant at Trial Farm, but the swampy nature of the land required him to invest in an extensive series of drains. He took a loan, at typically high interest, from Mr. Hodge, of British Honduras Company, to expand his acreage and purchase a new steam mill, mortgaging both properties and consigning his produce to Hodge. Hodge of course thereby obtained both properties not long afterward. Oswald died in 1877, and Francisco Escalante shortly thereafter purchased the sugar estates from the Belize Estate and Produce Company.

Francisco's two plantations were willed to his son Tiburcio, with shares to his brother Eliodoro, a merchant in Orange Walk. After Tiburcio's death in 1920 the land remained in the estates until 1964, when Indian Hill was acquired by the government on behalf of the Belize Sugar Company. By then, there were other fortunes to be made in sugar, and the Escalantes were among those who made them.

However, Orange Walk was always regarded as something of a rough frontier town; only a few saw it as a land of opportunity. Corozal was where the Yucatecan elite made their homes, and (to be continued...)


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