Twists of Fate
Roatan’s Role in Demise of the Filibuster

October 26th, 2012
by

[private]

American soldier of fortune (filibuster) William Walker tried to rally support on Roatan before meeting his demise at the hands of Honduran troops and the British fleet at Trujillo in 1860. (Matthew Brady photo)

American soldier of fortune (filibuster) William Walker tried to rally support on Roatan before meeting his demise at the hands of Honduran troops and the British fleet at Trujillo in 1860. (Matthew Brady photo)

One hundred fifty-three years ago this month Great Britain signed a treaty with Honduras recognizing the latter’s sovereignty over the Bay Islands, much to the dismay of many of the islands’ British subjects, who petitioned Queen Victoria to reject the treaty. Every Roatan schoolchild knows this, because every April there is a parade through Coxen Hole to commemorate the ratification of that treaty in 1860.

The following month, December 1859, American filibuster (soldier of fortune) William Walker sent a ship with 100 followers toward Honduras to stage an invasion to reclaim the presidency of Nicaragua. Four and a half years earlier, Walker had sold his services, and those of the 58 Immortals under his command, to the Democratic faction in Nicaragua’s civil war. He then exploited the weaknesses and divisions among his rivals to establish military supremacy and make himself president in 1856. A Central American coalition, with assistance from the US Navy, sent him packing back to the US a year later.

What school kids here may not know is the extent to which the subsequent fates of Roatan and William Walker were intertwined.

Walker’s December expedition foundered literally when the schooner Susan wrecked on a reef off Belize and his men had to hitch a ride home with the British Navy. Roataners’ desires were similarly thwarted when Queen Victoria ignored their pleas and ratified the treaty handing them over to Honduras.

Before the Queen could ratify the treaty, however, Walker saw in the islanders’ rejection of it one last opening to realize his objective of invading Nicaragua through Honduras. He began infiltrating recruits into Roatan on fruit boats from New Orleans in April 1860. By June, when Walker himself arrived off the coast of Roatan, their number had reached 100. But because their activities on Roatan were drawing suspicion from the British Navy, Walker transported his men to the island of Cozumel, within sight of Trujillo.

It was from Cozumel that Walker launched his ill-fated invasion of Trujillo in August. Shortly after storming and taking the fortress at Trujillo, Walker issued a proclamation in which he compared his own fate as the allegedly dispossessed president of Nicaragua to that of the Bay Islanders, struggling for “the maintenance of their rights of person and property” as guaranteed under the 1859 treaty, which he said Honduran President José Santos Guardiola was not honoring. Santos Guardiola, a general, had become president following a coup that removed Liberal President Trinidad Cabañas, a one-time would-be Walker ally.

Walker soon found himself cornered in Trujillo and forced to surrender to the British Navy. Rather than accept safe transit back to the US as a US citizen per the surrender terms, however, he remained defiant, claiming to be a citizen and president of Nicaragua, and thus was handed over to the Hondurans, who executed him days later at the order of Santos Guardiola himself.

And thus is it that today on Roatan there are schools, monuments and an entire municipality named for Santos Guardiola, but none for William Walker or Queen Victoria.

From: The Filibuster, Laurence Greene, 1937, in the Bay Islands Voice library. [/private]

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