Pembroke Hall Plantation in Libertad, Corozal circa 1785
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Wednesday May 30, 2018

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It is saddening to reflect that no great ancient races inhabited these lovely Isles, that no great man ever lived, and laboured, and worked, and fought, and died, and left a name for posterity to honour and to cherish as a ‘household word’; that no time-honoured tower or world-famed temple, or pilgrim haunted shrine ever stood on yonder cape—in short, that the past is all a blank.
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Pembroke Hall Plantation in Libertad, Corozal circa 1785

It must be understood that the area now known as COROZAL was a English Settlement with farms and wood-cutting areas with names like Lowry's Bight and Pembroke Hall. It is reported that in 1847 one Mr Blake of Lowry's Bight encouraged asylum seekers fleeing the "rebellion" from the neighboring state of Yucatan to move to the settlement.

With the permission of Mr Blake the first "refugee" to build a house in the area was Don Solis, who then invited others to join him. He laid out the town in a Spanish style, with a public square, straight streets (manzanas) and a big plaza . He named it Corozos (Spanish) after the lush Cohune palms in the area at the time. He christened it San Narciso de Corozal(Cohune patch) . The Spanish are legendary for dedicating the name of places by the name of the saint or feast, on whose day the place was discovered or declared open. That being said COROZAL (Corozos [Cohune palms]) must have been declared open on Oct 29, 1847 the date of the feast of San Narciso.

Corozal, the northmost town in Belize, was founded in 1848 by refugees from the Maya Indian uprising against the Spanish in neighbouring Yucatán. This uprising, known as the Caste War of Yucatán (from the Spanish "castas" or race), began as a war against the Spaniards, but it eventually became a war against the Mestizos. The Mestizos, half Spanish and half Indian, had proved to be formidable allies of the Spaniards, and were thus mortal enemies of the Maya Indians.

A massacre at Bacalar, Mexico — a Mestizo stronghold about thirty miles north of Corozal Town — finally led to the exodus of thousands of Mestizos from Bacalar and the surrounding area. Between 1848 and 1856 more than 10,000 refugees crossed the Rio Hondo, the river that now serves as a boundary between Belize and Mexico. These immigrants sought refuge in northern Belize, and increased the population of Corozal Town to 4500. Mr. James Blake, a magistrate, let them settle on lands in the Corozal District and helped them to establish the new crop — sugar cane.

The Mestizo refugees were far from safe in Corozal Town as the Maya Indians from the Mexican base in Santa Cruz Bravo — today Carrillo Puerto — made several incursions in Corozal Town. In defense, Corozal became a garrison town and Fort Barlee was built here in 1870. Today, the brick corner supports of the fort surround the post office complex of the buildings across from the central town square.

The immigrants brought with them Maya Mestizo culture: Spanish and Yucatec Maya language, Catholicism and Maya folklore, the use of alcalde, their family structure and way of life. Soon, there emerged a local replication of the society of the Yucatán within the boundaries of a country ruled by English expatriates.

Across the bay from Corozal Town are the mounds of Cerros, the first Maya coastal trading centre. Cerros is considered one of the most important late preclassic Maya sites because it represented the first experiment with kingship in the Maya world. The remains include a number of temples, plazas, ballcourts, canals, and minor structures. The most interesting artifacts so far discovered are the five jade head pendants.

Within Corozal itself can be found another Maya ruin from the fourteenth century AD. Known as Santa Rita, the pyramid site sits atop the remains of a Maya city that dominated the area for more, than 2000 years. Burial sites rich in jewelry and artifacts have recently been unearthed here. Santa Rita was probably part of ancient Chactumal, the Maya capital of the area at the time of the first Spanish attempt to conquer the Yucatec Mayas in the early 16th century. The ruins of Santa Rita is located near the town's Hospital and is surrounded by the villages of San Andres, San Antonio, and Paraiso, by walking distances. An estimated 90% of the town was destroyed by Hurricane Janet in 1955, and most of the present structures post-date that hurricane.

Drawing courtesy Belize Abroad

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