Baymen

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The Baymen are the earliest European settlers of the eventual colony of British Honduras, modern-day Belize.

Settlement[edit]

The first Baymen settled in the Belize City area in the 1650s. They were buccaneers and pirates trying to outrun the Spanish rulers in Mexico and Central America. They found that they could make a living cutting and selling logwood to the home country. Many of the first Baymen settled on what is now the Northside of Belize City. They controlled all affairs of municipal and national government through the Public Meeting.

It was the Baymen who established the system of slavery in Belize, in order to have servants to cut logwood. Some slaves were allowed their own plantations, while others had to depend on their owner's rations. The Baymen also reluctantly allowed slaves to participate in the Battle of St. George's Caye, in some cases facing former employees who had run away or been taken in by the Spaniards. The slaves were freed in 1838 and denied land at first; Belizean slaveowners received the highest compensation for emancipated territories at over 50 pounds.

The British and Spanish engaged in frequent dispute over the territory even after the 1763 Treaty of Paris established the former's rights to cut logwood. The Baymen were chased out no less than four times between 1717 and 1780. Treaties in 1783 and 1786 gave them more security, but only after the Battle of St. George's Caye in 1798 did the Baymen have full control of the settlement, affirmed by its admission to colonial status in 1863.

Conflict with the Maya[edit]

The Maya peoples of Belize were reeling from conflict with the Spanish, and some had retreated or already occupied the depths of the dense forests of central and western Belize. Buccaneers had also raided most of the coastal settlements, stealing crops, and taking men and women as slaves. Some Mayan slaves were then sold in Jamaica, and even as far away as Virginia and the Carolinas. When the supply of logwood began to diminish, and prices fell in Europe because other dyestuffs became available, the Baymen began to cut tropical cedar and mahogany. This brought them deeper into the forest where they began to have hostile encounters with Maya villages. Attacks were reported in 1788 and 1802. But the main thrust of the Baymen clash with the Maya came in Corozal and Orange Walk as part of the Caste War, which featured Mexican and Belizean Maya challenging British encampments, with limited success. Resistance continued until the 1870s, representing the last stand of indigenous independent Maya people. By the late 19th century the Maya and British were at peace, though logging companies continued to displace villages afterwards.

Conflict with the Garifuna[edit]

The Garinagu people held an ambivalent relationship with the Baymen. While they valued the Garinagu's agricultural skills, they did not fancy their resistance to European control and their friendly attitude toward the slaves. A campaign of misinformation, including charges of "devil worshipping" and "baby eating", poisoned relationships between the Kriols and "Kerobs", as they were derogatorily called.