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Dec 16, 2016

The Battle could have gone differently, Spanish documents show

In early September we told you about the preliminary findings on the St George’s Caye Battle from the Spanish perspective. A local team made up of historians, Archives and NICH personnel and researchers and educators from Quintana Roo have been transcribing 18th century manuscripts that provide first-hand account of the Spaniards’ activities surrounding the 1798 battle. Principal coordinator of the project historian Dr. Angel Cal spoke with us by phone today to share a general overview of the findings. The documents, he says, confirm what we already know from British sources but there were some things that stood out and some that are left to be answered. The transcription shows there was an attempt to mount a large expedition but the 3,000 plus land troop couldn’t gain access to St George’s. Cal says that from all indications had they been able to land the troops, there was a high possibility they would have succeeded.


On the Phone: Dr. Angel Cal, Project Lead

“They tried to mount a fairly large expedition that included a number of ships and a fairly large land contingent. When I say large, relative largely,  almost three thousand men were ready to be landed on Belize coast and to pretty much take prisoners; everyone who was there – the slaves, Baymen, whoever- to take them to as prisoners to Yucatan and very, very likely to initiate the occupation of Belize.Now, what would have happened after that wasn’t very clear. But we suspect that what the Yucatecans wanted to do was to colonize Belize; that’s what we suspect. As we know there were so many problems. What the documents are now showing us for the very first time is that there were some very serious disagreements among the Spaniards.  A key, a very very key – the commandant in charge of the two largest frigates that were supposed to have participated because they didn’t actually participate – and decided not to pursue the instructions of the Governor General of Yucatan.  That was a big blow. The other thing that was rather surprising is this big land army – this huge detachment of some 3,000 men – is not very clear from the documents what precisely was the plan- was it simply to land then and take prisoners and walk them to Yucatan as they did in 1779 or what was that. Because it appears they had no plan B for what would they do if they can’t land the troops with the use of the ships because that is what they were trying to do but they couldn’t not get around the shoals of St. George’s Caye 01.”


Andrea Polanco

“Would you consider anything that you discovered significant?”


On the Phone: Dr. Angel Cal

“I would regard the land troops as being significant because I don’t know we had a very good idea of how many troops. Now, these are land troops, these are not navy people. Clearly, they had the thought that they were going to have a major confrontation on land. The odd thing is that they wanted to land all of these troops in the vicinity of Belize City. If they didn’t know the coast very well, the odd thing is why they didn’t consider another way in which to land these troops. The other thing is that there are from both sides- none of the two sides indicated any casualties. None.”


On Tuesday there will be an official release of the findings because the project has reached a new milestone. It now has a collection of twenty documents detailing Spanish activities before, during and after the 1798 Battle.  According to a release issued this milestone opens the way for the eventual publication of a first-ever bilingual anthology of Spanish reports on the Battle.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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