THE BATTLE OF ST. GEORGE’S CAYE

Belizean Flag

A day late, but still worth knowing about.

Every September 10th, the Central American country of Belize celebrates the Battle of St. George’s Caye with parades and other festivities.
Despite the Armada fiasco of the sixteenth century, the Spanish were unable to accept that Britannia ruled the waves. Spain and England went on warring with each other, and some of their spats involved Belize, which was under British control and would be known as British Honduras from 1862 to 1973. Being possessed of the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, Belize provided the British with a good refuge from the large Spanish warships that gave chase when little British ships attacked and plundered gold laden Spanish ships. Once there, they found it had a lot of valuable logwood and mahogany trees. Not surprisingly, they decided to colonize the place and were granted the right to cut and export timber by the 1763 Treaty of Paris.
This didn’t go over well with the opposition, and periodic attacks from the Spanish usually resulted in the settlers (known as Bayman) evacuating the area and letting them do whatever. (They always came back though). The evacuation policy was the one a logging bigwig, Colonel James Pitt Lawrie, and some others wanted to follow when fresh hostilities broke out in 1796, but a group led by Thomas Paslow and Marshall Bennett thought they should stand their ground and repel the Spanish. As Paslow put it, “A man who will not defend his country is not entitled to reap the benefit thereof.” Like most of the British, Paslow was a slave owner (and not a particularly nice one, by all accounts), but some of the black population were freemen, and in June of 1797, twelve black Belizeans, William Crofts, David Dawson, John Dawson, Adam Flowers, Caesar Flowers, William Flowers, George Grant, James Hercules, William Pinder, Joseph Toney, William Scott, and Joseph Smith, along with two white men, tavern keeper Thomas Robertson, and American Loyalist George Raybon, travelled from Flowers Bank to Belize City to attend a Public Meeting to vote against Evacuation. Because of them, Evacuation was defeated 65-51 (with 11 abstentions), and the men who had cast the deciding votes became known as the Flowers Fourteen. The twelve black voters also became the first Black Heroes of Belize to have their names recorded in the Public Records of the Settlement.
On September 10th, 1798, the Spanish made their move in what is now known as the Battle of St. George’s Caye. As with the Armada fiasco, they came in with a strong force, but the Baymen knew the waters betters and were in a good defensive position. Assisted by an armed sloop, three companies from a West Indian regiment, free blacks, and a number of slaves (who had no personal stake other than the thought that being slaves to the Spanish might be even worse than being slaves to the British), the British routed the Spanish so thoroughly that the latter never again sought to gain control of Belize.
Guatemalans did, and were still trying to when I was a member of a World Peace and Development group working in Belize back in 1976. They didn’t succeed either, thus showing that the indomitable spirit characterized by the Battle of St. George’s Caye celebrations still prevails. Like thousands of Belizean Creoles who have names reflective of the Flowers Fourteen, some of the children I taught had the surname ‘Flowers’ and were doubtless descendants of Adam, Caesar, and William Flowers.

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