Buccaneers > Baymen

Baymen

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

The Baymen were a group of buccaneers that landed on the resource rich shores of Belize where they established a lucrative logwood cutting operation. They were a group of primarily English buccaneers that around the same time the British invaded and seized the island of British Jamaica in the 1650's.

The buccaneers were a well diverse group and while they did not pillage cities or raid ships like others they certainly were pirates in their own right. The Baymen were experienced enough to continually outrun the colonial authorities in the area that attempted to remove them. They were persistent in the guerrilla fight against the Spanish and soon built a pirate haven on the north side of what is currently Belize City. Their government was run through Public Meeting that managed all the municipal and national affairs of the Baymen.

The Baymen were the first group of Europeans to establish the trade of slavery in Belize and they were used as manual labor to cut down the valuable logwood trees that would then be shipped back to Europe. The Baymen were so prolific in their trade that they cut down many trees all along the Yucatan Peninsula, far into Spanish territory. Slavery in Belize was a very informal system where slaves could own their own plantations or forced to rely on their master depending on his personality. Slavery was eventually abolished in 1833 and compensation of £50.

Logwood Cutting

While it seems simple on its face the reality was the Baymen plundered enormous wealth in the term of natural resources from Spanish controlled territory. Due to this the Spanish and British would fight over this territory much longer than other places in the West Indies. Between 1717 and 1780 the Baymen were chased out at least four times from the area but in typical buccaneer fashion always returned.

In 1763 the British and Spanish signed a treaty that would give the British Empire the right to cut logwood in the area of what eventually became British Honduras. More treaties were signed in 1783 and 1786 but this was still not enough to alleviate a full out hot conflict between the two powers at the end of the 18th century long after the pirates of the Post Spanish Succession Period. The Baymen helped assist the British in assuming formal control over the territory at the Battle of St. George's Caye in 1798 and it was later made into a Crown colony in 1863.

By the end of the 18th century the logwood supply began to diminish on the island. Coupled with falling prices in Europe due to other competing products the Baymen transitioned their industries to the cutting of exotic woods such as tropical cedar and mahogany. The pursuit of these valuable trees led them to venture further and further into the interior of the jungles of Belize. Here was where the seemingly bland trade of wood cutting in the 18th century gets interesting.

Conflict with Natives

As their principle trade was the cutting of trees the Baymen generally spent their time away from the coast and slowly ventured closer and closer to the interior of the Yucatan. Despite the local natives generally being pushed away from the coast by the Spanish there were still pockets of Maya and Garinagu civilizations that existed throughout the region. The Maya in particular in Belize were recovering from conflicts with the Spanish and had already retreated into the interior.

The buccaneers themselves were also responsible for this movement as they would steal crops, raid native coastal settlements and capture the natives as slaves. Some of the Mayan slaves were sold in Jamaica but others were sold as far away as the slave ports of British North America. Throughout the end of the 18th century the Maya and the Baymen began to engage more frequently and there were several attacks reported in 1788 and 1802.

The conflicts with the natives would continue long past the Golden Age of Piracy and the Maya joined in Corozal and Orange Walk as part of the Caste War. During this period the Maya sided with the Mexicans to attempt to dislodge the British colonial settlement from the Yucatan. The infamous buccaneers of the bay would resist the assault until the 1870s' when the Maya simply gave out in their struggle against the Baymen. By the end of the 19th century the Maya and the British were technically at peace however, structured mining companies would continue and still continue to this day to destroy local villages in their pursuit of natural resources.

The Baymen were also engaged with a local group known as the Garinagu as well. While the relationship was not as hostile, the natives did not appreciate the culture of the British imperialists and did not like slavery. The Baymen respected their agricultural skills which is partially why they were able to survive so well, but eventually conflict arose between the two groups. The Baymen soon began to persecute the natives and claim they practiced devil worship and the cannibalism of babies.

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