Pirate Havens > Belize

Belize

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

Belize was one of the major territories and havens for buccaneers all throughout every era of the Golden Age of Piracy. It offered a prime location to stage attacks against the Spanish Main and began to be inhabited by the earliest buccaneers in the 1650's. As with the rest of the New World it was initially claimed by Christopher Columbus for the Spanish Empire but the area had been populated by the Maya civilization for centuries before the Europeans ever arrived.

Belize - Belize Location Map

Belize Location Map

In the 17th century the area of Belize was not known as Belize. This territory was deeply contested between the Spanish and the British, each of which had their own respective name for the area as well as the Baymen themselves. The territory that would become Belize was called British Honduras but was not inhabited by any real colonial authorities.

Spanish Empire

The first Europeans arrived in the Gulf of Honduras during the fourth voyage of Columbus in 1502 and within a few decades the first Spanish Conquistadors landed on the shores of the Yucatan in 1527 and began their expeditions. The Maya civilization had already collapsed about a hundred years before the arrival of the Spanish and their massive ancient stone cities were already slowly beginning to be consumed by jungle. However, the Maya still did resist the Spanish invaders but the Spanish brought with them diseases like smallpox that simply decimated their populations.

By the 1600's the Spanish had constructed the first churches in the local Maya villages and sent missionaries to help convert the natives. With the transition of the world into the 17th century came the Buccaneering Era where throughout the next hundred years famous buccaneers would sack and plunder the Spanish settlements on the coast that developed to help send the loot back to Europe via the Spanish Treasure Fleet. This included the area that would become Belize which developed into a massive buccaneering haven that survived every pirate era and into the present.

Belize - Bay of Honduras Map (Juan Linares - 1756)

Bay of Honduras Map - Juan Linares (1756)

Due to their colonial claims based on the 'discoveries' of Columbus, the Spanish believed they owned the right to all of the Yucatan Peninsula and they viewed the Baymen with the same regard they viewed the French buccaneers that attempted to establish colonies at Saint Caroline on Spanish controlled La Florida along with Saint-Domingue and the infamous Tortuga. The interactions between these groups were openly hostile and the despite the Spanish attempt to retain their hegemony in the New World it was not meant to be. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries the other colonial powers such as the British, French, Dutch and Danish would all voyage over to the West Indies and establish colonies on the various islands that dot the Caribbean Sea.

In 1642 and later in 1648 buccaneers attacked the city of Salamanca de Bacalar which eventually caused the Spanish to abandon the settlement. This saw the Spanish first lost control over the Maya provinces of Chetumal and Dzuluinicob as Balacar had been the seat of the colonial Spanish government in the area. Even before this beginning around 1638 the Maya began to have independent rule from the Spanish in the Tipu area. But as the conflicts of the Buccaneering Era forced the Spanish to fortify their settlements more soldiers began to steam into the area.

By 1696 the Spanish were using Tipu as a base to help support missionaries and subdue and control the local populations. The following year in 1697 the Spanish conquered the Itza and in 1707 they forced the population of Tipu to move their settlements to Lake Petén Itzá. Following this the political center of the Maya province known as Dzuluinicob ceased to exist and the English and the Spanish started to really come into conflict with each other as their respective settlements grew.

The Baymen

The Baymen are the earliest formal group of pirates to make the area of Belize and later British Honduras their home. They used the coastline of Belize not only as a place to launch attacks on Spanish merchant ships but to engage in the lucrative practice of logwood (Haematoxylum campechianum) cutting as well. Logwood was essential in the production of a luxury dye for textiles and clothing. The original settlers were British and French buccaneers that were outrunning the Spanish authorities and settled on the north side of what is currently Belize City.

One of the famous Baymen was named Peter Wallace who was known to the Spanish as 'Ballis'. He was one of the first Baymen to venture to the area around 1638. Eventually more follow and through a system of government called the Public Meeting they organized their own political structure and not only engaged in piracy but in other colonial ventures as well. Throughout the 1650's and 1660's the industry of logwood cutting became the main venture of the settlement as the Buccaneering Era and only grew in popularity as the it came to a close. The British signed a treaty in 1667 which formalized this trend and encouraged logwood cutting as an alternative to suppress the rampant piracy affecting the region.

Pirate Chief burying treasure - R.J. Gallant

The Baymen were pirates that also engaged in slavery and brought the first institution of slavery to the country in order to have a manual labor force to cut the logwood. Some of the slaves were allowed to own their own while others were forced to depend on their masters for food, clothing and shelter. Eventually after a century the settlement of the Baymen grew into what is now British Honduras even though there were conflicts with the Spanish Empire over territory that continued throughout the 18th century.

Early in the 17th century, in southeastern Mexico and on the Yucatán Peninsula, English buccaneers began cutting logwood (Haematoxylum campechianum), which was used in the production of a textile dye. According to legend, one of these buccaneers, Peter Wallace, called "Ballis" by the Spanish, settled near and gave his name to the Belize River as early as 1638. English buccaneers began using the coastline as a base from which to attack Spanish ships. Buccaneers stopped plundering Spanish logwood ships and started cutting their own wood in the 1650s and 1660s. Logwood extraction then became the main reason for the English settlement for more than a century. A 1667 treaty, in which the European powers agreed to suppress piracy, encouraged the shift from buccaneering to cutting logwood and led to more permanent settlement.[2] Conflict continued between Britain and Spain over the right of the British to cut logwood and to settle in the region. In 1717 Spain expelled British logwood cutters from the Bay of Campeche west of the Yucatán.[2] During the 18th century, the Spanish attacked the British settlers repeatedly. The Spanish never settled in the region, however, and the British always returned to expand their trade and settlement. The 1763 Treaty of Paris conceded to Britain the right to cut logwood but asserted Spanish sovereignty over the territory. When war broke out again in 1779, the British settlement was abandoned until the Treaty of Versailles in 1783 allowed the British to again cut logwood in the area. By that time, however, the logwood trade had declined and Honduras Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) had become the chief export

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