Pirate Legends of Belize
Pirates of the Caribbean isn’t some fictional tale. It’s true – a long time ago, pirates sailed the tropical Caribbean waters. Some even set up camp here in Belize. In fact, the infamous Blackbeard himself controlled the Caribbean Sea for a time. And sometimes, Belize Dive Haven guests and staff hear faint sounds of cannons shooting and see fleeting silhouettes of sailors with eye patches and peg legs. Local legend has it that Belize is rife with treasure buried by the bands of pirates that roamed these waters.
Set against ongoing territorial conflicts between Spain and England, these are the pirate legends of Belize…
Golden Age of Piracy in Belize
Belize was one of the major havens for pirates throughout every era of the Golden Age of Piracy. It was a prime location to stage attacks against the Spanish. The 17th century became the Buccaneering Era that saw buccaneers (pirates) sacking and plundering Spanish settlements on the coast, including what is now called Belize. In the area, there was a heavy presence of pirates – contrabandistas, bucaneros, corsarios, filibusteros, sea dogs and pechelinguas. Just how much treasure was buried by the buccaneers of Belize?
Brief History of Pirates in Belize
During the first half of the 1500’s, the Spanish searched the coast of Yucatan and Belize looking for gold and silver. While they found no gold or silver, they did discover an opportunity in logging, as the area was rich in dyewood and logwood. So, the Spanish established an operation cutting and exporting the wood materials, remnants of which can still be found in the rivers and shallow waters around Belize.
The Spanish experienced territorial conflicts with the English and confrontations by plundering pirates that had already set up camps along the coast. With its extensive coastline, sparse population, and lack of Spanish defenses, the waters of the east coast of Yucatan and Belize were a pivotal point for pirates. Here, pirates attacked and robbed shipments of gold and silver coming from Guatemala and Honduras, as well as other treasures from further south.
The pirates used shallow drafts, mangrove thickets, 400 islands, and coral reef to elude the Spanish ships that were hunting them. In 1798, the Battle of Saint George’s Caye occurred, in which a few soldiers and some Baymen apparently fought off the Spanish fleet in what is now the most-celebrated battle of the independence of Belize.
The first formal group of pirates in Belize were the Baymen. From the Belize coastline, they attacked Spanish merchant ships and engaged in logwood cutting. The Baymen originally settled on the north side of what is currently Belize City.
One of the most famous Baymen, Peter Wallace (also known as Ballis) was one of the first to venture to the area. Eventually, more followed and through a governmental system called the Public Meeting, they formed their own political structure. They not only engaged in piracy but other colonial ventures as well. The Baymen were also involved in slavery, which provided their workforce for their logwood industry.
Blackbeard the Pirate
One of the most famous pirates of the Caribbean sailed the tropical coastal waters of Belize. While you’ve probably never heard of Edward Thatch, Jr., you might be familiar with his more well-known designation: Blackbeard the pirate. Blackbeard was so named for his thick black beard and fearsome appearance. He was a big man who always wore 6-8 guns strapped to his chest, and his beard in braids or pigtails with ribbons tied at the ends. He would put fuses in his braids and light them on fire to create a lingering trail of smoke around his face – a tactic he used to inspire fear in his enemies.
Blackbeard did have a reputation as a terrifying man. However, he wasn’t as fierce as he’s made out to be. He used his reputation to scare enemies and other pirates but he rarely used violence. He even let some of his captives escape so they would spread stories of terror to further his reputation. Blackbeard also wasn’t the most successful pirate – in terms of the amount of treasure he plundered. But, he was successful in frightening his enemies and capturing other ships.
Blackbeard at Turneffe Island, Belize
By 1717, Blackbeard had become the head of a small fleet. They had captured a French slave ship with 16 cannons, claimed it as their own and equipped it with 40 cannons. With his new ship, renamed “Queen Anne’s Revenge”, Blackbeard then became the most feared pirate at sea. Throughout 1717, Blackbeard and his crew claimed many other ships.
In March of 1718, Blackbeard spotted a Jamaican logwood cutting ship named “The Adventurer” at Turneffe Island. He went on to capture the ship and its captain, David Herriot, whom he forced to join his piracy. From there, they sailed on past the Cayman Islands and on up along the North American coast, robbing, plundering, and capturing ships along the way.
Tales of Buried Treasure and Sunken Pirate Ships Abound in Belize
Along the treacherous Barrier Reef lie sunken pirate ships full of treasure. To this day, stories of buried treasure are still told. Expeditions to locate the loot continue but turn up empty-handed. Belize Dive Haven’s own staff have had encounters with ghosts of pirates telling them of treasure buried on the island. Still, no one has been able to find the long lost treasure of Belize.
If ye’ fancy yourself a dive or snorkel in waters rife with pirate legends and lore, Belize holds the history for you to explore!
Just 30 miles from Belize City, Belize Dive Haven is located in pristine Turneffe Atoll. Consisting of creeks, lagoons, mangrove islands and cays, the atoll is home to over 500 species of fish, 65 different species of stony corals as well as birds, turtles, manatees and dolphins.