Belize evolved from an intrusive settlement of buccaneers on the Spanish Mainland of Central America, early in the 17th century. During this and the subsequent century, Belize suffered a series of Spanish invasions, one of which resulted in the sacking of St. George's Caye. The captured settlers were marched to Merida, Yucatan and from there they were shipped to prison in Havana,Cuba.
Those settlers who had avoided capture, reoccupied St. George's Caye. Several years later, reports were received of a further Spanish invasion being prepared. This caused much concern among the Baymen, as the settlers were called, and resulted in a public meeting to decide whether to evacuate the settlement or stand and fight. By the narrowest of margins, 65 to stay/51 to evacuate, (this number rose to 53 just three days before the battle) the decision was taken to stand and fight. The settlement was put on a war footing and preparations to defend the settlement were put in hand.
Meanwhile, the Spanish had mustered a fleet of 32 vessels, manned by 500 seamen, together with some 2000 soldiers to effect the invasion. The settlement for its part had mustered the following: 700 troops of all colours and descriptions; two sloops of war, the Towser and the Tickler, with one eighteen pounder gun/cannon with 25 men on each vessel; another sloop, the Mermaid with one short nine pounder gun/cannon and 25 men; two schooners, the Swinger and the Teaser, with six four pounder gun/cannons and 25 men; seven gun-flats with one nine pounder gun/cannon and 16 men, together with the HMS ‘MERLIN' in the command of Captain Moss.
Action started on September 3rd, 1798 when the Spanish tried to force a passage over the shoals, but were repelled. The battle culminated on September 10th, 1798 when 14 of the largest vessels of the Spanish fleet came to about a mile and a half away from the Baymen's flotilla. Nine of the Spanish vessels moved to attack and the engagement started about 2:30 p.m. as the Baymen's flotilla opened fire. The battle lasted about two and a half hours, when the Spanish started to fall into confusion and soon after cut their cables and made off, pursued by the Baymen's flotilla. The pursuit was called off as darkness approached because of the navigational hazards.
Over subsequent days the Spanish retreated to Yucatan and never again was the settlement of Belize to suffer military invasions by the Spanish. The Baymen later acknowledged, in writing, that the outcome showed the settlement could not have successfully been defended without the aid of 1200 or so adult male slaves. Their collective battle cry was "Shoulder to Shoulder." It has been shown that the battle was won by valour and brains. It was valiant men who stood against overwhelming odds and it took brains to prepare an impenetrable defense. In 1898, the 10th of September was declared a public holiday, in honor of the Baymen, to celebrate the Battle of St. George's Caye.
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