Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

T he inhabitants of Roatan and the other Bay Islands were much relieved in 1683, when notorious Dutch pirate, Nicholas Van Hoorn, attacked Trujillo in his massive “triple-decker warship.” His St Nicholas Day carried a small army of 300 men.

The pirate became infuriated when he discovered that the two Spanish boats anchored in the bay, which he presumed to be loaded with valuable indigo, were in fact empty. The cruel Van Hoorn murdered the entire garrison of the fort, as well as most of the Trujillo’s population. He didn’t stop there and burned Trujillo to the ground.

After this latest outrage, the Spanish deemed the town indefensible against foreign attacks and abandoned it. The northeast coast of Honduras became virtually abandoned by the Spanish crown. The Spanish would not return to this part of Honduras for almost a hundred years.

Without troublesome Spanish interference, the British, Dutch, and French , solidified their settlements and trading posts on the Bay Islands and along the Miskito shore all the way to what is today Costa Rica. The British took advantage and established two fully equipped military forts. One was at Roatan’s Old Port Royal, improved by stones taken from fort in Trujillo. The other one was built at a prosperous sugar cane and mahogany logging town known as the Black River Settlement, 80 miles east of Trujillo.

The soldiers had little to do except to go hunting and fishing, as can be evinced from a menu from the 3rd Buff’s regimental dinner in Black River in 1770. On the menu were: calipash (a turtle delicacy), warree or wild pig steaks, broiled Indian rabbit, armadillo curry, barbaqued monkey; turtle soup, roasted antelope, giant mullet, smoked peccary, parrot, and stewed hicatee (a type of river turtle).

Soon the pirate’s idyllic lifestyle would come to an end. In 1779, with the American war of independence raging and all available British troops sent to fight in that campaign, the Spanish decided that the weakened British were worth attacking. They set out to expel the pirates from the Bay Islands and Miskito bases once and for all.

An army of 1600 men, including 200 battle hardened storm troopers assembled in Guatemala City under the command of the governor of Guatemala and Honduras, 57 year old Matias de Galvez. On December 17,1782 the expeditionary force began their long march to Trujillo.

British, Dutch, and French , solidified their settlements and trading posts on the Bay Islands

They reached Olanchito by February the following year and took the old Indian trail known as La Culebrina- the little snake, over the mountains. Reaching the Bay of Trujillo, they spent three days resting up in a place still known as Campamento, before attacking the town. Trujillo was empty as the small British army contingent there had prudently fled to Roatan upon hearing of the Spaniards approach.

The British sailed north and joined the small garrison of sixty soldiers under the command of Colonel Dalrymple at Old Port Royal. Here they awaited the Spanish attack.

It was not long in coming. The Spanish formally reoccupied Trujillo for the first time in 99 years. They secured the town’s defenses by manning the fort with 1,000 men. The remaining 600 men set sail for Roatan on March 15,1783 in three frigates: Santa Matilde, Antiope and Santa Cecilla.

Despite being outnumbered by eight men to one, Dalrymple initially vowed to fight to the death. However after a two day cannon bombardment that had reduced his fort to rubble and knocked out his only cannons, he was given the ultimatum of Deguello (no quarter) by Galvez and Dalrymple surrendered on March 18. The Spaniards spread out all over Roatan capturing runaway slaves, destroying farms, crops and torching any homes they found. In total some 500 dwellings were raised to the ground.

On March 21, 1783 the 81 surviving British soldiers and 135 settlers, were transported to Havana, Cuba as prisoners of war. Their boats, livestock, weapons, tools and furniture were shipped back to Trujillo as prizes of war. The 300 captured slaves were auctioned off in Havana.

The total cost of the invasion of Roatan was minimal. The Spanish had two men killed and four wounded, and the British suffered two dead and two wounded.

Galvez next turned his attention to “the tiny thorn in the foot of the Spanish empire,” the Black River settlement. That would prove to be a much harder nut to crack.

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