Wednesday, April 12, 2017

British Honduras: Around The World From 80 Countries

My previous blog described two coins from Central America.  Today's object is a third coin from that area.  Belize is a small country located on the Caribbean coast between Honduras, Guatemala and the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico-- land that Christopher Columbus claimed for Spain in 1502. It eventually became part of the Kingdom of Guatemala, the same as Nicaragua and El Salvador.
So why is the head of King George V of England on this coin? Although part of New Spain, the area did not attract many Spanish settlers because they found the climate and the natives inhospitable and the area lacked deposits of precious metals.  Just off the coast of Belize, however, is the largest coral reef outside of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. British pirates sailing in the Caribbean to plunder Spanish treasure ships often found it useful to hide behind the reef amid the many cays and islands there. They also discovered that some Spanish ships coming from the Gulf coast of the Yucatan carried a profitable cargo of logwood (also known as dyewood or campeachy) used to make purple dye for the textile industry.  As efforts to end piracy accelerated, some of the men turned instead to logging in the coastal areas of Belize and Honduras.  The settlements grew and allied with the natives, making them harder to eliminate.  In 1670, the Spanish granted the British logging concessions in this area. These rights were confirmed in the treaty of Paris in 1783, in which Britain agreed to give up its settlements further south along the coast of Honduras in exchange for maintaining the logging concessions in Belize. Although the Spanish granted the rights to the British, they never surrendered their claim on the territory.

It was only after Guatemala declared independence from Spain that the British gained formal control of the territory they had settled much earlier. In 1859, Guatemala ceded the territory to Britain in return for construction of a road from Guatemala City to the Caribbean.  In 1864, the area officially became the separate crown colony of British Honduras, the name that appears on this 1916 coin.

British Honduras was renamed Belize in 1973 and became an independent nation in 1981.  

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

Note: This coins is one of the many artifacts in the Benton County Historical Society artifact collection which fits the theme of the 2017 “Around The World From 80 Countries” exhibition but is not currently on public display. 

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