The Battle of St. George's Caye

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 14, No. 32            September 9, 2004

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Every year on September 10th, Belizeans celebrate the Battle of St. George's Caye, as a day of honor. On this occasion, everyone and everything in this country is dressed in patriotic colors: blue, white, and red. The San Pedro Sun will attempt to take you back in time, to relive this historic event.

    Belize evolved from an intrusive settlement of buccaneers on the Spanish mainland of Central America. Early in the 17th century, and during  the subsequent century, Belize suffered a series of Spanish invasions, one of which resulted in the sacking of St. George's Caye. The captured settlers were marched to Merida, Yucatan and from there, they were shipped to prison in Havana, Cuba.

    Those settlers who had avoided capture, re-occupied St. George's Caye. Several years later, reports were received about another planned Spanish invasion. This caused much concern among the "Baymen," as the settlers were called, which resulted in a public meeting to decide whether to evacuate the settlement, or stand and fight. By the narrowest of margins, (65 to stay/51 to evacuate this number rose to 53 just three days before the battle) the decision was made to stand and fight. The settlement was put on alert and preparations were made to defend the settlement.

    In the meantime, the Spanish had mustered a fleet of 32 vessels manned by 500 seamen, together with some 2,000 soldiers, to effect the invasion. The settlement, for its part, had gathered together the following: 700 troops of all colors and descriptions; two sloops of war, the Towser and Tickler, with one 18-pound gun/cannon with 25 men on each vessel; another sloop, the Mermaid with one short, 9-pound gun/cannon and 16 men; plus the HMS Merlin under the command of Captain Moss.

    The action began on September 3rd, 1798 when the Spanish tried to force a passage over the shoals, but were repelled. The battle culminated on September 10th, when 14 of the largest vessels of the Spanish fleet came within a mile and a half of the Baymen's fleet. Nine of the Spanish vessels moved to attack and the engagement started around 2:30 p.m. as the Baymen's flotilla opened fire. The battle lasted about two and a half hours, until the Spanish began to fall into confusion. Soon after, they cut their cables and made off, pursued by the Baymen's flotilla. As darkness approached, the pursuit was called off due to navigational hazards.

    Over the next few days, the Spanish retreated to Yucatan and never again did the settlement of Belize suffer military invasion by the Spanish. The Baymen later acknowledged, in writing, that the outcome showed the settlement could not have been successfully defended without the aid of 1,200 or so adult male slaves. Their collective battle cry was "Shoulder to Shoulder." It has been proven that the battle was only won by valor and brains the valiant men who stood against overwhelming odds with the brains to prepare an impenetrable defense. In 1898, the 10th of September was declared a public holiday, in celebration of the Baymen, who defended their country's honor at the Battle of St. George's Caye.
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