This very rare, separately published map is the cartographic ‘Birth Certificate’ of what is today Belize, being the first printed map to depict the region in the wake of the ‘Logwood Treaty’ (1786), the agreement which legally conferred British control over the region for the first time. The map is also the first broadly accurate map of modern Northern Belize, said to have been drafted by a “Bay-Man”, or resident of the region, most likely a colonist with official responsibilities for land management. The map was printed by William Faden, then the World’s leading commercial map publisher, and Geographer to King George III. The map seeks to establish the limits of the newly-confirmed colony, as well as to underpin the legitimacy of the British settlement in the region, based on the historical precedents of occupation and activity.
The map covers what is approximately the northern half of modern Belize (from Dangriga northwards), which was then the focus of British interest in the region. While far from being scientifically precise, the map is nevertheless broadly accurate, with major features placed roughly in the correct place and interrelation, rendering the map of considerable practical use. The map shows the region to sparsely populated with British settlements concentrated on the New River, in the north, featuring several named properties. Traditionally, British interests had operated in the region on an informal basis, primarily for the purpose of harvesting valuable Logwood and Mahogany stands, and innumerable locations of which are noted on the map, along with notes as to their qualities. In this sense, the work is a highly detailed natural resource map.
Spain, the regional hegemon, had long actively contested the British presence in the Bay of Honduras. It was only in the period immediately before the present map was issued that British rights in the region were conferred international legitimacy, as agreed by Spain. As shown on map, the areas bathed in a pink wash, running between the Río Hondo, in the north, and the Black Creek and Belize River, in the south, were recognized as being open to British activities by the Treaty of Paris (1783). The tract to the south, located between the Belize River and the Sibun River, bathed in a yellow wash, was opened to British development by the Convention of London, popularly known as the ‘Logwood Treaty’ of 1786. The small areas coloured in orange indicate locations of British settlement prior to the aforementioned treaties.
The two treaty tracts, as indicated on the map, formed the basis of what was officially known as the colony of ‘His Majesty’s Settlement in the Bay of Honduras’, later British Honduras, and modern Belize. The present work was considered, by both the Crown and commercial concerns, to be the authoritative map defining the parameters of the new colony and, in this sense, it serves as the cartographic ‘Birth Certificate’ of what would become Belize. Accordingly, it legitimizes the British presence in the region, establishing the basis for the permanent settlement and the future expansion of the colony.
In the words of the historian, Odile Hoffman, the present work is a “Mapped History” of the British presence in the Bay of Honduras, stubbornly carved out of the Hispano-American world. The map features innumerable British place names, named properties, as well as locations of British logging sites, which are pointedly asserted as being well-established, with notes reading “[home to] English Logwood Cutters [for] 30 years”, while some logging areas are noted as having already been “cut out”. Expressive toponymy, such as ‘Rogues Point’, future site of Belize City, and ‘Rebellions Creek’ appear along with names intimately connected to the natural environment, such as ‘Mangrove River’.
The ‘References’, in the right, below the title, employ letters to identify the locations events relating to the Baymen’s efforts to defend their territory against Spanish encroachment. For instance, the first two such notes read: ‘a.a... where the Spaniards to the amount of 1500 Men, mostly Regulars, came down in the mouth of April 1754, from Petent [sic] Castle to cooperate with the Sea forces, and expell the Baymen’; followed by the successful Baymen defence: ‘b.b... where Eight Men Maintain’d a post against the above troops for two days when 210 White and Black Men arrived and routed the whole Detachment.’ Further down, are the symbols of ‘houses’, denoting Baymen homesteads, while ‘crosses’ indicate the markers of international boundaries as fixed by the Spanish.
The inset map, ‘Mosquitia or the Mosquito Shore with the Eastern Part of Yucatan as far as the 20.th Degree of North Latitude’, in the upper left, depicts the location of the Bay Colony in within the greater context of Central America, illustrating how the Baymen were boldly establishing themselves amidst a large Spanish realm.
The present example of the map is complete as issued. However, it is worth noting that a small number examples of the map were accompanied by a narrow letterpress text leaf, pasted to the map’s left margin, that included the text of the Logwood Treaty of 1786. This text sheet was an addition to the map, as opposed to an integral piece of the map itself, and was not added to most examples.
Historical Context: ‘His Majesty's Settlement in the Bay of Honduras’
From the 1630s onwards, English nationals maintained a presence in what is today the Mosquito Coast (the Caribbean littoral regions of Nicaragua and Honduras); Honduras’s Bay Islands; and, more tenuously, in what is today Belize, known as the ‘Bay of Honduras’ region. Many of the Englishmen were privateers and pirates, preying on Spanish shipping. The region also possessed superb forests of Logwood, which yielded a red dye precious on the European market; as well as mahogany, a top-grade hardwood ideal for shipbuilding, the paneling of grand buildings and the creation of fine furniture.
After the Treaty of Madrid (1670), England gave formal recognition to their colony along the Mosquito Coast. However, the British presence in what is today Belize generally consisted of transient lumber camps, with the first permanent settlements being founded in 1677. The Belize colony did not receive formal recognition from London until 1749.
‘His Majesty's Settlement in the Bay of Honduras’ was officially under the administrative umbrella of Jamaica; however, distance assured that the colony would enjoy a good measure of self-government. The colony was overseen by a Superintendent, assisted by a small number of commissioners, who, in essence, possessed powers similar to a colonial governor and his executive council.
Spain did not accept the British presence on the Central American mainland, and was deeply threatened by the presence of British pirates in the region. They made frequent raids upon the British settlements from Nicaragua to Belize, yet the outposts stubbornly persisted, simply rebuilding their crude structures from the day after the Spanish left. This situation persisted until the American Revolutionary War (1775-83).
While Britain lost the American Revolutionary conflict overall, she actually prevailed in the West Indian theatre. Accordingly, the Treaty of Paris (1783) that ended the war actually resulted in Spain granting Britain new privileges in Central America, an arrangement that was expanded upon by the Convention of London (1786), popularly known as the ‘Logwood Treaty’. While Britain agreed to evacuate its settlements on the Mosquito Coast (a somewhat insincere promise that was never fully implemented), Spain agreed to grant Britain a concession to allow them to harvest Logwood and Mahogany within a tract of land in what is now northern Belize. In 1783, this concession amounted to a tract located along the coast between the Río Hondo, in the north (the southern limit of the Yucatán Peninsula), and the Belize River, in the south. In 1786, the concession was expanded further southwards as far as the Sibun River.
However, controversy would linger, in that Britain interpreted the agreement as officially ceding sovereignty of the territory to them; while Spain maintained that the treaties merely amounted to a temporary lease of land for commercial use. This matter formed the basis of interminable diplomatic disputes that continue up to the present day between Belize and Guatemala, Britain and Spain’s successor states in the region.
From 1783, the established Baymen, in what is now Belize, were joined by 2,000 British migrants from the Mosquito Coast. The entire New River valley, extending many miles up for the sea, was claimed as private property. This caused overcrowding in the region resulting in competition for land and lumber that resulted in countless legal disputes. For some time, tensions between the established Baymen and the new arrivals were high. However, this wave of settlement fueled the creation of numerous fixed plantations (as opposed to transient camps), allowing the British to found a permanent colony in the region that could endure Spanish opposition.
Hoffman observes that the present map rhetorically supports the Baymens’ grievances in the face of the Mosquito Coast migration, as it shows that many of the prime logging areas had already been depleted, giving the (exaggerated) impression that the colony was already under strain due to a lack of natural resources. The essential message was that the Baymen both needed and deserved (due to their heroic defense of the colony) the support of the Crown, including protection and compensation against the losses brought about by competition from the Mosquito Coast migrants.
Tensions between the established Bay residents and the new arrivals gradually abated; however, the Bay of Honduras Colony would remain caught up in melodrama. Colonel Edward Marcus Despard (1751 – 1803), the Superintendent of the colony from 1787 to 1790, came to the job highly-regarded, having fought the Spanish in the region for many years, at times at the side of the future naval hero Horatio Nelson. However, the Superintendent had falling out with the leading colonists when he announced that he wanted to abolish slavery, the lifeblood of the colonial economy. Despard had married a Black woman and, understandably, his attitude to the ignoble institution had changed. He was promptly sacked and recalled to London, where he ended up in debtor’s prison. In 1802, Despard was responsible for the ‘Despard Plot’, an elaborate scheme to assassinate George III, seize the Tower of London, and overthrow the British government, fueled by the support of disgruntled workers and Irishmen. His design was foiled before it ever came into motion and Despard was executed, despite the pleas of Admiral Nelson, who had remained loyal to his old friend.
By 1835, most of the great Mahogany stands of the Bay Colony area were depleted, and the focus of the regional economy turned towards agriculture, such as the cultivation of maize, fruit and, gradually, sugar, the latter being lucrative, but technically complex and labour intensive. Indeed, the Abolition of slavery, phased-in between 1833 and 1838, created a severe labour shortage at the very time that the area had to transition towards agriculture, so retarding the changeover.
The territory of Bay Colony gradually expanded southwards to the Sarstoon River, taking in all of what is today Southern Belize. The colony officially became known as British Honduras in 1862, and its course was largely directed (until WWII) by an enormous private enterprise, the Belize Estate & Produce Co., which came to own 50% of the colony’s private property. British Honduras’ name was changed to Belize in 1973, and the colony achieved its independence from Great Britain in 1981.
A Note on Rarity
The present map is very rare on the market; we can trace only a single other example as having appeared at auction or in dealers’ catalogues since 1999.
References: U.K. National Archives: CO 700/BritishHonduras12/1; Odile Hoffman, British Honduras: The Invention of a Colonial Territory, Mapping and Spatial Knowledge in the 19th Century (Belize City: Cubola Productions & Paris: Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), 2014), pp. 25-29.