Soldiers of the West India Regiment
In the mid-1800s, British woodcutters and other settlers had become well established in the southeastern Yucatán Peninsula, along the Belize and New Rivers and in the surrounding flat country of mangrove swamps and tropical forests. In 1862, the Bay Settlements became the Crown Colony of British Honduras.
As they moved inland and their numbers increased, the British had encountered conflict with the resident Maya people. When the Caste War burst into devastating violence to their north, the problems became a crisis. Thousands of Maya and mestizo refugees fled south. Fighting between Maya groups, pressure from Mexican military forces, and conflicting claims to the area all acted to bring the war into the territory claimed by the British. Far from innocent, the British had been engaging in illegal arms trade with the Maya rebels for years, and they now found the guns turned against themselves.
Against the threat of attacks, the British deployed troops of the 1st West India Regiment. These men were the descendants of slaves in the British Caribbean colonies. West Indian troops had distinguished themselves in combat, beginning in the War of American Independence, and their ability was well respected by their officers, who were, of course, all white. Members of the 1st Regiment were nearly all Jamaicans. They wore zouave-style uniforms — short open-fronted jackets, red with gold braid, over white shirts and sashes, loose-fitting black trousers, and tasseled red and white turbans — and were paid one-fourth less than regular British troops.
Print by R Sinkin Barbados Museum Bridgetown
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