In our last blog post we mentioned that the lack of riches to rival the Aztecs of the north and the resistance of the Maya kept the Spanish from establishing a colonial presence in what is now Belize. Despite the Spanish departure, however, the Maya were weakened by disease and conflict, which led them to largely abandon their major sites and settle in the interior. Into this vacuum stepped British pirates. As the Spanish began to extract gold and silver from the Western Hemisphere, British pirates used the Bay of Honduras adjacent to Belize as their base of operations, and thus became known as "Baymen." Protected by mangroves, islands, and the Mesoamerican barrier reef that stretches along the coats of Belize, Honduras, and Nicragua (second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef) the Baymen harassed the Spanish.
The British found Belize attractive, as the Maya had driven out the Spanish and then themselves retreated into the interior, leaving the area fertile, but uninhabited. To their raiding of the Spanish the British soon added a valuable commerce in the extraction of lumber. Mahogany was the most valuable hardwood extracted, exported to Britain for use in furniture and shipbuilding. Belize also possessed an abundance of logwood trees, from which a valuable textile dye could be extracted. 1638 marks the alleged date of the first British settlement at the mouth of the Belize River, where Belize City now sits. A Scottish pirate, Peter Wallace, is said to have founded the settlement on a foundation of wood chips and empty rum bottles, the former from the logwood trade and the latter from the residue of what the logwood traders spent their receipts upon when they brought the wood to the coast for sale.
As Britain developed its own strong navy, their need for pirates and privateers declined and they began to assert more direct authority over the Baymen. Eventually the Spanish burned Belize City in 1779, but then in 1798 the Baymen defeated another Spanish naval attack. From that point forward the Spanish gave up on kicking out the British. First administered by the latter from Jamaica, what is now Belize became the Crown Colony of British Honduras, which it remained until Belize gained its independence in 1981.
Team Occoquan-Prince William will be participating in the Belikin La Ruta Maya 2019 Belize River Challenge March 8 through March 11. Please consider supporting our efforts as we compete and raise funds for ACTS and CASA of Prince William. You can pledge 10 cents, 20 cents, or more per mile of our 170-mile journey by clicking here and filling out the pledge form. We will collect from you after the race and your entire pledge will go to ACTS and CASA.
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