St. George’s Caye Day: A Tribute to the Past
What defines a nation’s character? People. Natural resources. And history. The past always defines the future, which is why Belizeans are proud to celebrate events that shaped its evolution from pirate haven to the next epicenter of culture and commerce in Central America. St. George’s Caye Day, celebrated every September 10th, is more than a legacy. It’s the foundation from which this nation reshaped its destiny, so whether your idea of a tribute to this important date calls for a moment of silence, a public expression of patriotism or a fiesta, you’ll be in plenty of good company.
If you’re clueless about the roots of St. George’s Caye Day, allow us to educate you. Around the time the U.S.A. was struggling to free itself from British tyranny in the late 1700s, the people of Belize experienced an equally frightening threat: Belize forefathers—made up of African-born slaves and English-speaking Baymen, who knew a thing or two about domination—convened a town hall meeting to deal with news that Spain was sending an armada of ships to Belize with the intent of invading and enslaving settlers and claiming the land in the name of the Spanish king. What to do? There was no option. They would stand and fight for their freedom.
It wasn’t long before Spanish fighting forces made good on their threat. An estimated 2,000 soldiers and 500 sailors onboard a Spanish fleet of 32 vessels sailed west. Awaiting their arrival was Captain John Moss, commander of the HMS Merlin—plus the remainder of a rudimentary navy composed of the sloops Mermaid, Tickler and Towser and smaller boats fitted with available armaments.
The settlers battened down the hatches as they awaited the onslaught. Though described as a “rag-tag militia of colourful settlers and African slaves,” these patriots would do battle proudly and bravely on a field of sandy beaches and sheltering palm trees. It would be unfair to tell this story without mentioning the elixir that fueled spirits as the nation awaited the Spanish invasion: the local version of rum!
As the Spanish fleet’s mastheads appeared on the horizon approaching the Belize Barrier Reef on September 3, 1789, a call went out to defenders marshalled along the beachhead not unlike the war cry of Paul Revere who alerted New Englanders of the arrival of British military forces. Positioning the majority of Belize fighters in the vicinity of St. George’s Caye, the unlikely, diverse mix of vanguards repelled the fleet during a fierce week of battle before admirals and generals realized that they could not win.
The armada was finally able to retreat north along the shoreline of the Yucatan Peninsula and never again tried to invade, conquer or otherwise presume to lay claim to the feisty society that was to become Belize over a century later. If accounts written by Baymen, and sent home to England, were any indication of how united this mix of African slaves and English patriots were, it certainly foreshadowed what was to come in the 21st century: A harmonious mix of races, creeds and colors that represent the true essence of what the Battle of St. George’s Caye has come to mean: One people. Indivisible.
St. George’s Caye remains a symbol of that week in 1789 when proud ancestors of today’s citizenry stood their ground and refused to give an inch. Those early defenders had no flag under which to march, nor did they have a formal military structure under which to organize, plan and set strategies. What they did have was the unbeatable combination of zeal, belief and brotherhood—a trio of attributes that cannot be conquered under any circumstances and that’s exactly what’s celebrated every September 10th on St. George’s Caye.