The History of Belize records back thousands of years. The Mighty Maya civilization spread into Belize between 1500 BCE to 1200 BCE and flourished until about 1000 CE. Numerous Maya ruin sites, including Lamanai, Cahal Pech, Caracol, Altun Ha, Lubaantun, and Xunantunich, reflect the superior civilization and much denser population of that era.
However, today we will look at the Colonial rivalry between Spain and Britain in Belize. Let’s explore.
In the 16th and 17th centuries CE, Spain sought to secure a monopoly on trade and total colonization in its New World colonies. Still, northern European powers were drawn to the province by the potential for settlement and trade. These powers resorted to piracy, smuggling, and war in their efforts to confront and then stop Spain’s monopoly. In the 17th century CE, the English, Dutch, and French infringed on so-called Spain’s New World possessions.
Early in the 17th century CE, in southern Mexico and on the Yucatán Peninsula, English pirates began cutting logwood, which was used to produce a textile dye. English pirates started using the seaside as a base from which to raid Spanish ships. Pirates stopped looting Spanish logwood ships and began cutting their own wood in the 1650s CE and 1660s CE. However, English pirates did not found permanent establishments. A 1667 CE treaty, in which the European powers agreed to contain piracy, supported the shift from piracy to cutting logwood.
The first known British permanent settlement in present-day Belize was established in the late 1710s CE on Cayo Cosina, AFTER the destruction by the Spanish of initial British logging villages in the Laguna de Términos region west of the modern-day Yucatán. During the winter of 1717–1718 CE, the notorious pirate Blackbeard raided shipping sailing to and from Vera Cruz, Mexico, while luxuriously sailing in the Bay of Honduras. In April 1718 CE, at Turneffe Atoll, Blackbeard apprehended the logwood cutting sloop Adventure and pushed its captain David Herriot to join him. Blackbeard then made Israel Hands the one last captain of the Adventure and started sailing for North Carolina.
The conflict remained between Spain and Britain over the freedom of the British to cut logwood and stay in the region. During the 18th century, CE the Spanish besieged the British settlers whenever the two authorities were at war. However, the Spanish never settled in the area, and the British always returned to expand their settlement and trade. The 1763 CE Treaty of Paris granted Britain the right to cut logwood but asserted Spanish autonomy over the territory. When war broke out again in 1779 CE, the British settlement was deserted until the Treaty of Versailles in 1783 CE allowed the British to cut logwood in the region again. By that time, however, the logwood trade had dipped, and Honduras Mahogany had become the chief export.
The British were unwilling to set up any formal government for the town to provoke the Spanish. On their initiative, settlers had started electing magistrates to practice common law as early as 1738 CE. In 1765 CE, these regulations were expanded and codified into Burnaby’s Code. When the British townspeople started returning to the area in 1784 CE, Colonel Edward Marcus Despard was announced superintendent to supervise the Belize Settlement in the Bay of Honduras.
The scenario changed when the Spanish colonies around Belize became the Federal Republic of Central America and the newly independent states of Mexico. In 1825 CE, Mexico was officially recognized by Britain, and in 1826 CE abandoned any claims over Belize.