Pirates to Loggers
Belize’s history dates back thousands of years and it’s as colorful as the country’s landscape. Belize’s treacherous coral reef was the perfect hideout for pirates and buccaneers after plundering merchant ships. However, these outlaws of the sea soon realized that there were 2 very valuable commodities in the bountiful lands of Belize – logwood and mahogany. After treaties to suppress piracy were signed in Europe, these pirates soon realized it was better worth their time to dedicate themselves completely to logging, which fetched hefty prices in Europe. So they settled around Belize’s Bay and became known as the Baymen. Some took Maya women as common-law wives, starting up the famous Belizean melting pot. As the demand for mahogany increased, there was a need for a larger workforce at the camps, resulting in the arrival of African slaves.
The Spanish Threat
Although there were vast fortunes to be made in the Belizean forest, there was a looming Spanish threat, which had official claim to the land. The story of the 18th century is one of constant conflict between the settlers, who had very little support from England, and the surrounding enemy. The conflict finally culminated with the Battle of St. George’s Caye. On September 3, 1798, a massive Spanish naval fleet bore down on the Baymen. The Baymen fought along with slaves with only a few schooners and a single battleship. But the Baymen knew the treacherous reef studded waters intimately and while the Spanish ships were stuck, they attacked and ravaged the ships. Had this pivotal battle been lost, “Belize” would probably have been a Spanish-speaking country! However, news of this great victory barely reached the halls of power in London. It was not until 1862 that Westminster officially recognized Belize, somewhat reluctantly, as the Colony of British Honduras.
Road to Independence
Even as Belize was being drawn into the fold of British colonial rule, the surrounding Spanish Empire in Central America was breaking into independent republics – creating waves of civil war that spilled over into Belize. Just as the Baymen had to defend themselves from the Spaniards, so the colonial Belizeans spent the entire 19th century fending of their new neighbors. The racial amalgamation continued during this period, with a flux of freed slaves, Mayans fleeing the Caste Wars in Mexico, American Ex-Confederate soldiers looking to recreate the Old South and British expatriates. Anti-Colonialism was brewing among the people and the long struggle for self-governance began as Belizeans started taking a hand in improving their own affairs. The people started rallying together, labor unions were formed, political movements were set in effect and activist groups began fighting for rights. Finally, on September 21, 1981, the British Union Jack was lowered and the Belizean flag rose in its place. Belize had now become an independent nation.