BECK index

Central America 1580-1850

by Sanderson Beck

Central America 1580-1744
Central America 1744-1817
Central America & Confederation 1817-52
Costa Rica 1835-50
Guatemala & Carrera 1837-50
El Salvador 1839-50
Honduras 1839-50
Nicaragua 1838-50
Panama 1817-50

This chapter has been published in the book Latin America & Canada to 1850. For ordering information please click here.

Central America 1580-1744

Caribbean & Central America 1521-80

      In 1574 Nicaragua bishop Gomez Fernandez de Cordoba transferred to Guatemala and ministered to the natives until his death in 1598. A college opened at Santiago in 1592, and by 1600 Guatemala had 22 Franciscan convents and 14 Dominican. In the 17th century the Spanish towns and haciendas (plantations) of Central America exploited the native settlements by collecting tribute and exacting forced labor. Mestizo laborers were paid salaries but were kept in debt peonage to their employers. Cattle ranching spread along the Pacific coast. Herds were driven to the markets in Panama, but in the second half of the century piracy caused a decline in the fairs at Puerto Bello. Trade with Peru had been forbidden, but it was gradually allowed with restrictions. Only in Honduras were there gold and silver mines that made their Spanish owners rich. Captain William Parker attacked and captured Puerto Bello in 1602. Many diseases and a poor economy took their toll, and by 1610 the population of Panama was one-third of what it had been in 1585.
      Dominicans led by Juan de Esguerra penetrated the Manche territory of Guatemala in 1603, and within five years they were teaching Christianity to eight villages. Franciscan Estévan Verdelete tried peaceful conversion in Nicaragua, but in 1609 he asked for help from Captain Daza. Verdelete bravely entered a burning village to persuade the natives to be less hostile, but in 1612 Daza and Verdelete were killed at Tologalpa. Bishoprics were organized in Chiapas, Guatemala, Honduras, and Leon. In 1621 the Franciscan Diego Delgado established the town of Zaclun in Bacalar. In 1622 two missionaries and five native interpreters sailed from Trujillo to Cape Gracias a Dios and founded seven villages for different tribes. Benito Lopez volunteered in Guatemala, and the next year they baptized 5,000 people. Governor Cardenas and Captain Francisco Mirones tried to subjugate the Itzas. Mirones went to the Itzas capital in 1623; but he treated the Zaclunes badly, and they killed his party and him the next year. In 1626 the Lacandones attacked converted natives and carried off prisoners. After the Itzas invaded the next year and captured 300 converts, most of the Manches abandoned Christianity. Spanish efforts to pacify the central part of Guatemala of the Lacandones, Itzas, Manches, and Choles continued throughout the 17th century without much success. Army captains doubted that kindness would win over these natives, but a royal decree threatened the death penalty for violating the royal prohibition against entering into hostilities without provocation.
      The Church received part of the tribute from the natives and tithes from the Europeans. The religious Order of Mercy, Dominicans, Franciscans, and Bethlehemites were very influential. Pedro de Vetancur was a saintly Franciscan who helped the sick and the poor. He celebrated the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, and his followers were known as Bethlehemites. In 1660 Governor Rodrigo Arias de Maldonado of Costa Rica resolved to subjugate 26 tribes of Talamanca with the sword and Christianity. He spent his own money on an expedition with 110 men and gathered the natives into villages; but after they left, the villages and the churches were deserted. Maldonado fell in love with the wife of a high official, and one night she collapsed in his arms. He prayed he would devote his life to Pedro de Vetancur’s work if she survived, and the friar revived her. After Pedro died in 1667, Maldonado was called Fray Rodrigo de la Cruz. He went to Madrid and Rome as an advocate, and in 1681 the Bethlehemite Order was sanctioned by King Carlos II and Pope Innocent XI. In 1684 the Franciscans Melchior Lopez and Antonio Margil went into the interior without arms and in five years baptized 40,000 Indians, establishing fourteen villages. Others suffered martyrdom in these missions, but these early efforts were seldom lasting.
      Dutch rovers raided Nicaragua along the Rio San Juan to Lake Nicaragua in 1640 and 1649. A Portuguese slave ship was wrecked on the islands off the coast of Honduras in 1641. The Africans who survived lived among the Missikis Caribs, who came to be called Mosquito Indians by the Spanish. This area of Honduras and Nicaragua was named the Mosquito Coast, and the people of the mixed race were called zambos. The English were expelled from the island of Providence off of Nicaragua in 1641, and two years later they retaliated by sacking Trujillo. In 1651 the governor of Costa Rica complained to King Felipe (Philip) IV that the 800 Indians were extremely poor and that the royal treasury had no money to pay the salaries of officials and priests. After the  English captured Jamaica in 1655, they taught some zambos English and used them to raid Spanish settlements, especially in Costa Rica. After the gold mines of Santo Domingo were worked out and the natives had been exterminated, slaves were too expensive. Domestic cattle herds were abandoned and multiplied in the wild. The Caribs who ate human flesh used wooden racks to dry the meat over a smoky fire and called the wooden frame barbecue. The system and the resulting meat was called boucan, and the French called the hunters who used these boucaniers. Thus the English pirates who smoked the meat of the wild cattle they caught were buccaneers, but the French preferred the name flibustiers from the Dutch word for freebooters, referring to boats. Later the word “filibuster,” which meant a mercenary, came to have a political meaning. Dutch pirates used the term roovers (rovers).
      The buccaneers would take over Spanish ships and often threw the crew overboard. Then they would capture Spanish towns and lock up the citizens for ransom. The French François L’Olonnois was one of the most cruel. He gave Spaniards no quarter and once personally beheaded all the survivors on a captured ship that had been sent against him. In the early 1660s he commanded six ships with 700 men and raided the north coast of Central America, murdering Indians and destroying their villages. Finally L’Olonnois and his men were looking for provisions near the gulf of Darien when they were killed and roasted.
      Like many pirates, Henry Morgan had been made a slave and was cruelly treated at sea but escaped. He and some companions saved their share of the profits from raids and bought a ship. He became the lieutenant of Edward Mansvelt, who led the invasion of Costa Rica in 1666. After Mansvelt died, Morgan was in command of 700 men on a dozen ships. They plundered Puerto Principe of Cuba but got only 50,000 pesos. In 1668 they attacked Puerto Bello. When those at nearby Puerto Ponto refused to surrender, he burned the castle with the prisoners. Then he used priests and nuns as shields to carry the scaling ladders for his men in order to take Fort San Lorenzo. The buccaneers drank, feasted, and raped the women; prisoners were tortured to find out where their treasures were hidden. President Juan Perez de Guzman of Panama led 1,500 men to Puerto Bello; but they were routed, and Morgan made him pay a ransom of 100,000 pesos for citizens at Puerto Bello. The value of the other booty was estimated at 260,000 pesos. Morgan gathered 15 vessels and 960 men and raided the southern coast of Española for 260,000 pesos.
      The largest collection of buccaneers gathered at Española in 1670 with more than two thousand men and 37 ships. The captains elected Morgan their commander for a venture across the isthmus to the city of Panama, and he flew the royal banner of England. First they captured the Spanish penal colony on the island of Santa Catarina (Providence). They tortured two Indians from Panama to be guides; one died; the other and a mulatto served them. To save face the Spanish commander and Morgan agreed to stage a battle using gunpowder without shot, and then the Spaniard surrendered. The Spaniards in Panama were warned, and battles were difficult. The castle of San Lorenzo did not fall until a buccaneer wrapped cotton around an arrow and fired it from a musket, causing a fire that spread. A hundred buccaneers were killed, and only thirty of the 300 inside the fort survived.
      In January 1671 Morgan and 1,200 men began crossing the isthmus by the Rio Chagres. The people had abandoned their homes and left no supplies, and so the buccaneers could not steal food. After eating leather, they found some maize and ate dogs and cats; wine they found made them sick. The largest battle ever fought between Europeans in Panama occurred on January 28. The Spaniards had 400 cavalry, 2,400 infantry, and 2,000 wild oxen guided by Indians. Yet the Spaniards gave way and had 600 killed. Some Franciscans giving the last rites to the dying were killed. Fires got out of control and burned down the town except for the stone buildings. Most of the inhabitants had already fled with the gold and the nuns. To keep his men from deserting him, Morgan had the masts of all the ships in the harbor cut down. A large golden altar had been painted, and none of the prisoners revealed the secret. The buccaneers led 600 prisoners and pack animals with booty worth 4,500,000 pesos back across the isthmus. Morgan and his accomplices kept most of it, and each buccaneer got only 200 pesos. The city of Panama, which had 30,000 inhabitants, was rebuilt at a more strategic location with massive walls.
      Puerto Bello was plundered by pirates again in 1679. The next year five English captains with 350 buccaneers crossed the isthmus again and sailed into the South Sea. As others returned, their physician Lionel Wafer was injured and stayed with the Indians. He helped cure the wife of the cacique Lacenta and promised to return to marry his daughter but never did. Wafer wrote the following description of the natives:

The young women are very plump and fat, well-shap’d;
and have a brisk eye.
They are little better than slaves to their husbands;
yet they do their work so readily and cheerfully,
that it appears to be rather their own choice
than any necessity laid upon them.
They are in general very good condition’d,
pitiful and courteous to one another,
but especially to strangers;
ready to give any just attendance or assistance they can.
They observe their husbands
with a profound respect and duty upon all occasions;
and on the other side their husbands are very kind
and loving to them.
I never knew an Indian beat his wife,
or give her any hard words.
They seem very fond of their children,
both fathers and mothers, and I have scarce seen them
use any severity towards them.
And the children are suffered to divert themselves
which way they will.1

In the next seven years buccaneers raided Realejo, Leon, Granada, Villa de los Santos, and Nueva Segovia.
      William Paterson persuaded the Scottish Parliament to charter the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies, and they raised £100,000. After a friend of Paterson’s lost £8,000, Paterson was not part of the governing council. Paterson believed in free trade without violence, and his idea of establishing a colony at Darien for overland trade between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was kept secret until the 1,200 people sailed from Scotland on five ships in July 1698. They landed in November at what they called Caledonia Bay and built Fort St. Andrew. Paterson was in the delegation that made a Treaty of Friendship with the natives. The seven councilors included ship captains, and each councilor presided for a week at a time, canceling previous orders. The initial settlement was located in a mangrove swamp and had to be moved. The colonists had brought goods that were hard to sell, and they lacked food. In April 1699 Paterson’s proposed parliament was elected, but drenching rain and mosquitoes caused disease and 300 deaths. News came from Jamaica that King William III had disowned the colony, and his subjects were not to trade with them. Panic led to colonists getting on the ships to leave. Paterson and Thomas Drummond planned to stay with thirty people, but Paterson became ill and was carried to a ship in June. His ship went to New York, and only one ship made it back to Scotland.
      A second expedition of 1,300 colonists left Scotland before learning the lessons of the first. Drummond managed to charter a trading sloop to get food. The second expedition was poorly led by the autocratic James Byres, and they remained on the ships in Caledonia Bay. Byres hanged a carpenter for criticizing the council and arrested Drummond, whom others wanted to follow instead of going to Jamaica. Byres bought a sloop with company money and left for Jamaica in February 1700. Four days later Captain Alexander Campbell of Fonab arrived from Scotland, released Drummond and the other prisoners, cancelled the order to send people to Jamaica, and set them to work on defenses. With 200 veterans he went to attack an approaching Spanish army by surprise. When they returned, eight Spanish ships were blockading the bay. Byres ordered his ship to return to Jamaica, but Drummond sailed in at night. The Scots were besieged, but eventually Juan Pimienta offered them a more favorable capitulation that allowed them to leave with their guns. None of the ships made it back to Scotland, and more than two thousand people died on the two disastrous expeditions.
      In the 1660s extensive logging was done along the Yucatán coast. Governor Lynch of Jamaica reported that 2,000 tons of logwood had been cut in 1671. The next year a Spanish royal cedula declared that anyone trading in a Spanish port without a license would be punished as a pirate, and in three years 75 ships were seized. In 1680 the Spanish captured all the British subjects on the island of Trist and imprisoned them at Veracruz. In 1681 Governor Lynch tried to forbid cutting logwood in the Bay of Campeche and Honduras. In 1686 the Swallow was seized at Jamaica because it did not give a bond that it would take the logwood to England or an English colony. The Spanish attacked the Bay of Campeche in 1696 and imprisoned the British survivors.
      The English got the right in 1713 to send one vessel annually to trade at Puerto Bello. In 1726 Panama governor Alderete authorized the mestizo Luis Garcia to lead Indians against the French filibusters who were still raiding the isthmus. When war broke out in 1739, the English designated Captain Edward Vernon to lead an attack. They captured Puerto Bello, and he did not allow his men to pillage the town. After blowing up the fortifications, he left in February 1740.

      Missionaries gathered some Talamancans into settlements, but the natives revolted in 1709, killing friars and ten soldiers. Governor Lorenzo Antonio de Granda y Balbin sent a detachment of soldiers that killed many Talamancans in revenge and took more than five hundred prisoners. A decade later Governor de la Haya reported that the missionaries still were not being protected. Haya said that Costa Rica was the poorest province, and they were raided by pirates twice in 1740. That year Fort San Fernando de Omoa was ordered built to protect Honduras, but it was not completed until 1756.
      In Santiago, Guatemala a Dominican college became the University of San Carlos Borromeo in 1678. Guatemala suffered plagues and famine in the 1680s and earthquakes in 1688 and 1717. The Zendas (Tzendales) Indians in Chiapas revolted in 1712 led by a girl who claimed to be inspired by the Virgin Mary. The Spaniards took Cancuc, but the rebellion spread throughout the province. Guatemala lacked money until they established a mint in 1733. The cathedral of Leon took 37 years and five million pesos to build, and it was completed in 1743. The British built a fort in 1740 to control the Mosquito Coast, and four years later Col. Robert Hodgson was appointed superintendent.
      In 1716 the Spaniards removed many of the English from Laguna de Terminos, and two years later was their first effort to remove settlers from the Belize River. Seven vessels were captured on the Belize River in 1730.

Central America 1744-1817

      In 1745 Panama’s Governor Dionisio de Alcedo had Fort San Rafael de Terable built by the river and bay of Darien, and natives attacked it six years later, killing all but two or three men in the garrison. In 1756 the Chucunaques massacred the Yavisa, who were friendly with the Europeans. The Chucunaques also slaughtered and plundered the garrison at Port Ypelisa in 1768. Andrés de Ariza became governor in 1774, and he made special efforts to control the Indians.
      The Panama Isthmus was under the Spanish viceroyalty of Bogota while the rest of Central America was under Mexico’s viceroy. The provinces in Panama were Portobello, Veragua, and Darien. In 1803 not one ship came from Spain, and the merchants of Panama smuggled with those of Jamaica. In 1809 Panama was allowed to trade with Jamaica, and newspapers from there brought news.
      Because of the independence movement in Bogota, in 1812 the new Viceroy Benito Perez established his residence on the Isthmus with the Audiencia and other offices, making Panama the capital of New Granada for four years. Perez requested three men-of-war from Cuba and a battalion of soldiers from Spain. He sent reinforcements to Santa Marta to fight Cartagena which was under blockade. The rebels sent two commissioners to negotiate with Viceroy Perez, and Vice Admiral Charles Sterling of Jamaica guaranteed their safe return. The commissioners arrived in Panama in October and stalled for time. Perez was informed and had the commissioners arrested and tried, but Sterling persuaded him to send them back to Cartagena. The commissioners told them people wanted independence and that Governor Carlos Meyner could not prevent it. The rebels besieged and captured Santa Marta, and the Spanish government recalled Perez and appointed Francisco Montalvo who brought reinforcements from Havana, Cuba in May 1813.
      The people of Panama were glad that the viceregal seat was moved to Santa Marta, and the independence party agreed to join the proposed confederation with New Granada, Quito, and Venezuela. The Panama Cabildo demanded that Cadiz remove the bishop and transfer the officials of the Audiencia, but the senior Oidor Joaquin Carrion understood the patriotic party and opposed the majority of the Audiencia that continued until 1816. During the reconquista or counter-revolution Spain sent forces to Panama under Governor Alejandro de Hore, though some of his forces were captured by the rebels as he barely escaped to establish a royal force at the Isthmus.

      In the middle of the 18th century the governor of Guatemala ruled over the provinces of Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Soconusco, San Antonio, San Salvador, Chiapas, Sonsonate, and Vera Paz. The first archbishop of Guatemala arrived in 1745. Coins from the Guatemala mint helped trade with Peru and Mexico, and indigo grown on the Pacific slopes replaced cocoa in the mid-18th century. The indigo trade increased and reached the height of its prosperity in 1790. The mercantile economy decreased the tribute collected from 73% of state income in the late 17th century to 18% in the early 19th century. The secularization of Guatemala’s missions began in 1754. Prohibiting the sale of some liquors in 1756 provoked a riot, which was suppressed. The state imposed monopolies on liquor in 1758 and tobacco in 1765, but protests got the price of tobacco lowered. The monopolies on gunpowder and playing cards moved from Mexico to Guatemala. Much revenue was also collected from sales and port taxes.
      The 1763 Treaty of Paris obliged the English to withdraw their military forces from Guatemala, but the settlers remained. Hodgson was replaced by Col. Lawrie in 1776. In the first half of the 18th century the Bourbon kings of Spain had taxed the economy and built defense infrastructure in order to drive the English from the Atlantic coast. In 1774 the diocese of Guatemala that included El Salvador had 122 curates and a patrimony of about 300,000 pesos with 50,000 cattle. Two years after an earthquake devastated Santiago in 1773, a new Guatemala City was built; the old Santiago came to be called Antigua. The Spaniards built Fort Imaculada Concepcion at the outlet of Lake Nicaragua. After the commander Jose de Herrera died in 1769, his daughter Rafaela led the defense that defeated an English siege. The Free Trade Act of 1778 established new merchant guilds with their own commercial court. In 1779 the English twice attacked Fort San Fernando de Omoa in Honduras and took four hundred prisoners and booty worth three million pesos. In 1780 vaccinations were used against a smallpox epidemic for the first time in Guatemala. Also that year an English expedition from Jamaica came back for revenge and captured Fort Imaculada Concepcion. Guatemala’s Captain General Matias de Galvez led a flotilla in 1782 that caused the British to retreat to Cape Gracias a Dios. In the 1783 peace treaty England agreed to evacuate the Miskito Coast, but in the 1786 revision they were allowed to cut dyewood and mahogany in Belize on the Yucatán coast.
      In 1785 the Ordenanza de Intendente decentralized government by authorizing local intendants in San Salvador, Chiapas, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The captain-general of Guatemala ruled over the thirteen provinces of Soconusco, Chiapas, Suchitepec, Vera Paz, Honduras, Izalcos, San Salvador, San Miguel, Nicaragua, Jerez de la Choluteca, Tegucigalpa, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. Also Guatemala City asserted its power in 1793 with a commercial consulate. In the last two decades of the 18th century and the first in the 19th century military expenditures caused major deficits in Guatemala’s fiscal situation. Trade with neutral countries was allowed in 1797, and smuggling was tolerated.
      In 1795 the Economic Society of Guatemala was founded by a group of reformers. The Costa Rican friar, Jose Antonio Liendo y Goicoechea, wanted to improve the curriculum of the University of San Carlos de Guatemala. The Honduran lawyer, Jose Cecilio del Valle, urged the study of political economy. Alejandro Ramirez and Simon Bergaños y Villegas edited the liberal Gazeta de Guatemala that was published by Ignacio Beteta. The Salvadoran planter and merchant, Juan Bautista Irisarri, favored free trade and construction of a port on the Pacific Coast. The cleric Antonio Garcia advocated giving Ladinos more economic opportunity in agriculture. The Gazeta sponsored classes not in the university such as economics, bookkeeping, mathematics, languages, and drafting, but the government suppressed them in 1800. Commercial indigo and cattle caused a labor shortage and increased the price of food, and locusts devastated crops in 1769, 1773, 1800, and 1805. Competition from Venezuela, India, and the Dutch Antilles caused the price of indigo to collapse at the turn of the century.
      On 28 July 1801 Gonzalez Mollinedo y Saravia became governor, captain-general, and president of the Audiencia of Guatemala. An ordinance tried to equalize tributes in 1806, and the Cortes of Cadiz abolished them in 1811. After Napoleon’s French army overthrew the Spanish monarchy, the Council of the Indies on 21 November 1808 recommended granting the American dominions representation. On 22 January 1809 the Supreme Central Junta notified President Saravia of Guatemala to let the people in the provinces elect deputies to reside at court as part of the Junta. On 3 March 1810 the electors in Guatemala chose as deputy Col. Manuel Jose Pavon y Muñoz. The deputies from Central America did not arrive in time and were represented by the proxies, Andrés del Llano and Col. Manuel del Llano. The Cortes began by confirming the principle that all Spanish dominions had the same rights.
      Saravia was promoted from being Governor of Guatemala to be Commander-in-chief of the Spanish army in Mexico. Captain-general Jose de Bustamante y Guerra was transferred from Montevideo and began governing Guatemala on 14 March 1811. On August 1 the American representatives at Cadiz presented a memorial to the Cortes on behalf of the friends of independence in America. The independence struggle in Central America began on November 5 when several leaders led an attack on the royal treasury in San Salvador and took 3,000 new muskets and $200,000. They were supported by people from the city as well as from Metapan, Zacatecoluca, Usulutan, and Chalatenango while San Miguel, Santa Ana, San Vicente, and Sonsonate pledged their fealty to the government. The rebels soon gave up, and the dismissal of Intendente Antonio Gutierrez Ulloa and other officials restored the peace. Bustamante sent Col. Jose de Aycinena to take over the Intendencia and restore order. His forces arrived at San Salvador on December 3, and he offered a general amnesty.
      A second rebellion broke out on December 13 in Leon, Nicaragua when people deposed Intendente Jose Salvador. On December 22 in the municipal hall of Granada people demanded that all Spanish officials retire. On 8 January 1812 the rebels captured Fort San Carlos, and the officials fled to Masaya. Other towns in Nicaragua did the same. A board of government was organized in Leon, and the towns recognized Bishop Fray Nicolas Garcia Jerez as Intendente as long as he did not favor deposed officials. Royal officials at Masaya asked for help, and Bustamante sent at least a thousand men under Sargento Mayor Pedro Gutierrez. People in Granada set up defenses around the plaza, and royalists led by Jose M. Palomar approached on April 21. Several hours of gunfire ensued, but the next day people accepted the pledge of Gutierrez and surrendered. However, after royal troops entered the city on the 28th, Bustamante ignored the guarantees and ordered the leaders arrested. After two years of prosecutions 16 leaders were sentenced to be shot, 9 were given life on the chain gang, and 133 were condemned to terms of hard labor. The death penalties were not carried out, and most were shipped to Spain. Those who survived were finally released on 25 June 1817.
      The liberal Spanish Cortes that lasted from 1810 to 1814 restored the Guatemalan Economic Society and created legislatures for Guatemala, Leon (Nicaragua), and Ciudad Real (Chiapas). They allowed the election of ayuntamientos, founded a university at Leon, and liberalized trade. Representatives from all six provinces in Central America, including Antonio Larrazabal from Guatemala, signed the liberal Constitution of 1812. On 12 March 1812 the Cortez passed the organic code for constitutional monarchy and with a new plan for administering the Indies. Only descendants of Africans were denied citizenship. On May 23 the Cortes ordered elections for members to the ordinary Cortes of 1813. Guatemala received the new Constitution from Spain on September 10 and proclaimed it on the 24th. The government and the people swore to it on November 3.
      Governor Bustamante was loyal to the Crown, censored the press, and blocked creole ayuntamientos and legislative councils. To stop smuggling he limited foreign trade. To increase productivity Bustamante distributed land to Indians and those of mixed race called ladinos, further irritating the creole aristocrats. He demanded back taxes from the Aycinenas and took away their previous protection. Some engaged in contraband trading. After the fall of Oaxaca during Mexico’s revolution for independence, Bustamante sent 700 men under Lt. Col. Dambrini who took along merchandise for trading. They captured a few insurgents on February 25 in Niltepec, and Dambrini had thirty men shot the next day including the commander and a Dominican priest. On April 20 the rebels led by Matamoros defeated the Guatemalans who fled, leaving behind their arms, ammunition, and Dambrini’s goods.
      In December 1813 a few men led by Fray Ramon de la Concepcion and the Indian Tomas Ruiz plotted against Bustamante at the Belen Monastery. They and some who were innocent were imprisoned. King Fernando VII ordered them freed on 28 July 1817, but they were not released until 1819. Jose Francisco Barrundia escaped by hiding for six years and later became a prominent statesman. In January 1814 a conspiracy in San Salvador also failed, and Manuel Jose Arce was imprisoned for several years. After Fernando VII regained the throne and decreed an end to the Constitution and the liberal reforms on 4 May 1814, Bustamante published it in Guatemala on August 19. Larrazabal was imprisoned in Spain, and the liberal Aycinena clan was suppressed. In 1816 Spain imposed higher taxes on overseas trade to pay for expeditions against Bolivar’s revolution.

      The English settlers by the Belize River were harassed by Spaniards in 1745, 1747, and 1754. Logwood imports to Britain increased from 3,471 tons in 1717 to 18,000 tons in 1756, but in the second half of the 18th century mahogany became more popular than logwood. In 1765 William Burnaby called a meeting of the European settlers at Belize, and they agreed on twelve regulations that included penalties for cursing, theft, harboring a deserter, hiring a servant without a written agreement, and kidnapping anyone to act as a servant. They also established a court of seven elected magistrates, and all future legislation and taxes were to be approved by a majority of the inhabitants. However, when Burnaby returned at the end of the year, he found such “anarchy and confusion” that he suggested the English government appoint a superintendent with a salary of £1,000 a year. Two years later Admiral Pavey in Jamaica reported that the Spaniards were still destroying logcutters’ houses, taking their Africans, and imprisoning settlers.
      In 1773 an African slave revolt broke out on the upper reaches of the Belize River that killed six Europeans. In 1779 Yucatán’s Governor Roberto Rivas Vetancur led 800 Spanish forces and captured about 140 prisoners and 250 slaves at St. George’s Cay, and they were not released until 1782. The treaty of 1783 fixed the British territory between the Belize and Hondo rivers, and this was qualified three years later in the Treaty of London. In 1796 a superintendent was established at the Bay of Honduras, and two years later the British fought off an attack led by Yucatán’s Governor-general Arturo O’Neil without one defender being killed.

Central America & Confederation 1817-52

      Captain-general Jose de Bustamante y Guerra governed Guatemala for seven years until he was replaced on 28 March 1818 by the elderly Lt. General Carlos Luis de Urrutia. The independence struggle in Central America had begun in November 1811. Bustamante had 16 leaders arrested in April 1812, and those who survived were released on 25 June 1817. Spain’s Fernando VII ordered other prisoners freed on July 28, but they were not let go until 1819. In April 1820 King Fernando restored the laws passed by the Cortes for the progress of the American provinces. On August 9 the Cortes confirmed Guatemala’s Junta Suprema de Censura formed to adjudicate offenses against laws regulating the press. The conservative gazistas led by José del Valle won the elections over the liberal cacos whose chief was José María Delgado. Pedro Molina began publishing El Editor Constitucional to promote American rights, and the Amigo de la Patria opposed his radical views. In 1820 Central America had 1,227,000 people with 595,000 in Guatemala and 248,0000 El Salvador.
      On 25 June 1821 the Central American deputies presented to the Cortes their proposals for peace. They demanded free trade with Spain. Ailing Urrutia was replaced by Gabino Gaínza who opposed independence but was lured to support it by promises of being made the chief magistrate of the new nation. Ciudad de Real in Chiapas accepted the Iguala plan of Agustín de Iturbide and Vicente Guerrero in Mexico and separated from Spain on September 3. Two days after this news reached Guatemala, on the 15th delegates from the six provinces of Central America (Guatemala, Chiapas, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica) signed the Act of Independence of Central America. They agreed to invite one representative for every 15,000 people to a national congress in March 1822. On September 17 Gaínza proclaimed the Act and declared that any attempt to restore Spanish domination was treason. The Junta Consultiva passed decrees that were approved by Gaínza who was made captain-general with a salary of $10,000 a year.
      On September 21 the Ayuntamiento (Council) of Salvador declared independence, and they elected a junta. Honduras was divided by Comayagua which associated with Mexico while Tegucigalpa and Gracias related to Guatemala. On October 11 the city of Leon in Nicaragua seceded from Guatemala, but Granada refused to agree; on the 21st Leon joined Nicaragua with the Mexican empire. On the 27th Costa Rica removed their governor and seceded from Spain. The ayuntamientos in Central America voted, and on December 31 the count showed that a majority favored being annexed by Mexico. On 5 January 1822 the Junta decreed that all of Central America was annexed to the empire of Mexico. Four days later Gaínza decreed that conversations on this subject in public were prohibited. Iturbide sent a Mexican military force of 5,000 men; but many deserted, and only 600 reached Guatemala. The Junta in Guatemala was dissolved on February 21, but Gaínza was retained as captain-general. Tegucigalpa and Gracias rejected union with Mexico, and Granada continued relations with Gaínza. Costa Rica was neutral.
      The revolutionary Salvadoran Manuel José Arce had spent four years in prison, but in 1822 San Salvador’s government gave him a command in defense of the city on June 3 that drove out the Guatemalan troops led by Col. Arzú supporting Mexico. Gaínza was summoned to Mexico and was replaced by General Vicente Filisola who led 600 men, arrived in Guatemala on June 12, and took over the government ten days later. On November 4 the Mexican government decreed the annexation of Central America. Filisola with 2,000 troops took control of Santa Ana and attacked San Salvador. Their government on December 2 repealed incorporation with Mexico and appealed to the government of the United States of America. Filosola’s army defeated the Arce’s Salvadorans and entered San Salvador on 9 February 1823.
      Filosola declined to use force against disobedient Granada. After Mexico’s revolution at Casa Mata on February 1 he believed his duty was to stabilize the government of Central America, and on March 29 he canceled its incorporation into Mexico. Archbishop Casaus of Guatemala and Bishop Máximo Jerez of Nicaragua wanted to make Costa Rica a province of Mexico; but liberals withdrew from San José, gathered an army, and defeated the imperialists at Las Lagunas on April 15. On May 10 the Assembly of Honduras voted to join the union of Central America.
      During their time under Mexico heavy taxes had been imposed, and in elections the Central Americans elected republicans. A Congress of the five provinces without Chiapas met on June 24 with José Matias Delgado presiding. On the first of July they declared their independence, and the next day they formed the Constituent National Assembly that met for 19 months to organize a government with the Assembly as the legislature, three elected executives, and a judiciary of existing courts. They acknowledged the public debt, proclaimed Catholicism the state religion, and decreed a free press. Liberals favored a federal republic while their opponents strove to retain Guatemala’s influence. To the executive the liberals elected General Arce, Dr. Pedro Molina, and Juan Vicente Villacorta.
      Negotiations persuaded Filisola to withdraw the Mexican forces from Costa Rica and Nicaragua on 3 August 1823. On the 21st they annulled the acts of the previous imperial government, and on October 27 they directed Central American deputies except for Chiapas to withdraw from the Mexican Congress. Unpaid soldiers led by Captain Rafael Ariza mutinied. After some disturbance negotiations led to Ariza being made commander-in-chief. When he refused to follow orders, he was sent to Antigua and then fled. On October 12 a Salvadoran force came to Guatemala City to support the rebelling soldiers, but after some brawls they left three weeks later. The principles of the constitutional republic were decreed and published on December 17. By April 1824 they had emancipated all slaves including those coming from other countries, and they prohibited the slave trade. The constitution was not promulgated until November 22, and the national congress finally ratified it on 1 September 1825. Two senators from each state acted as an executive council, and their president was vice president of the republic. The members of the supreme court were popularly elected. The treasury was depleted, but they got a favorable loan of $7 million from a London firm, using tobacco and customs duties as pledges for repayment.
      On 6 February 1825 the Congress of the Federal States of Central America met and chose the liberal Mariano Gálvez as their president. They began diplomatic relations with Britain and the Netherlands. Pedro Molina had resigned, but as plenipotentiary to Colombia he negotiated a treaty on March 25. On April 21 the Congress declared that Arce had been re-elected to the executive. Central America made a treaty with the United States of America on December 5. Arce tried to please both parties and lost the confidence of the Liberals. A second constitutional congress met on 1 March 1826. Arce was accused of squandering the money borrowed from London, and he dissolved the Congress. Deputies from Salvador and Costa Rica left their seats, and most of the opposing party called “serviles” resented liberal attacks on the clergy and left the chamber without a quorum. Arce survived a coup attempt by the state of Guatemala’s chief executive Juan Barrundia, and Arce had him arrested.
      President Arce summoned an unconstitutional congress on October 10. Salvadoran forces marched toward the capital in March 1827 and were routed at Arrazola on the 23rd. Arce led a federal force that marched into Salvador and attacked the capital on May 18 but suffered heavy losses. They retreated, and by the end of the month Arce had only 300 men. Friends brought reinforcements, and they regained Santa Ana. Arce returned to Guatemala City to restore peace and summoned a new congress on December 5. On 14 February 1828 Arce turned his office over to Beltramena who put Brigadier Manuel Arzú in command of the federal army. They drove Salvadorans back to their state in March; but after much fighting in San Salvador and San Miguel the federal army surrendered on September 20 at Mejicanos and on October 9 at San Antonio in San Miguel. Victorious General Morazán led a Salvadoran army that besieged Guatemala City on 5 February 1829, but they were driven away. Morazán’s army went back to Mixco and defeated federal forces at Las Charcas on March 15, and on April 9 they attacked and plundered Guatemala City.
      Morazán had Beltramena, the allied commander Aycinema, and Arce arrested, and he assumed power and reinstated Juan Barrundia as chief of Guatemala. Many celebrated the defeat of the serviles. Prisoners were allowed to go into exile if they paid their prison expenses and a third of their estates. Morazán had the archbishop and friars of several orders deported to Havana, and on September 7 the Federal Congress declared that no religious orders would be recognized. Pedro Molina was elected President of Guatemala, but the state rejected his plan to make Guatemala City a federal district in 1830. Molina wanted a confederation with little federal government, and he was removed from office. Spain was planning an invasion, and in the fall of 1829 President Barrundia passed a law prohibiting Spaniards from entering Central American territory until Spain recognized its independence.
      In August 1829 the Federal Congress decreed the expulsion of troublemakers, and some went to British Honduras (Belize) where they aroused people in Olancho. Federal troops and the Assembly of Guatemala sent 500 soldiers on November 24 to Honduras. Morazán was chief in Honduras and commander of the Central American army, and they marched to Olancho and Opoteca with troops raised in Guatemala. The Olancho rebels surrendered, and on 21 January 1830 they agreed to obey the government. On February 19 Morazán’s force defeated the resistance in Opoteca. He sent the liberal Honduran Dionisio Herrera to Nicaragua where he was made the chief on May 12.
      The Federal Congress had opened on 27 March 1830, and the Supreme Court was in place. Morazán was elected President, and Barrundia turned over the government to him on September 16 during the national celebration of independence. The liberal Mariano Prado of Salvador became Vice President. Barrundia had persuaded the British to return the island of Roatan they had seized. The servile party opposed the liberals, and Arce led an invasion from Mexico; but General Raoul’s forces defeated them at Escuintla de Soconusco on 24 February 1832. On 21 November 1831 Ramón Guzmán had seized the Omoa Fort with 200 blacks and raised the Spanish flag; but their ship to Cuba was captured, and after a five-month siege the rebel garrison surrendered on 12 September 1832.
      Arce supported Salvador’s chief José María Cornejo. Morazán wanted to use San Salvador as headquarters, and Guatemala’s chief Mariano Gálvez sent Col. Nicolás Espinosa to resolve the conflict with Conejo who rebelled on 6 January 1832 and drove Morazán away. The next day the Salvadoran Congress seceded from the federal government. Morazán led troops from Salvador and Honduras, and they defeated Cornejo’s force of 600 men at Jocoro in Santa Ana on March 14. Next on the 28th Morazán attacked San Salvador and deposed the state government, sending them to Guatemala. Morazán’s taking over Salvador was considered illegal by other states. On May 2 the Federation ended the Catholic Church being the state religion and recognized freedom of conscience. Congress adjourned mid-year, and there was peace for a while.
      Between 1829 and 1831 the Guatemala government expelled Archbishop Ramón Casaus and his friars, censored church writings, seized their funds, and confiscated monastic property. In 1831 Gálvez revived native tribute. In 1832 the government stopped the collection of tithes and imposed a land tax on caballeria (knights). They abolished religious feast days in 1834, and that year Guatemala ceded nearly three-quarters of its land to foreign companies for colonization. A poll tax of 2 pesos per person began in 1836. On the first day of 1837 the liberals abolished corporate fueros (markets) to reform the legal system with the Livingston Codes that included trial by jury.
      The smaller states resented Guatemala. As antagonism increased in 1833, the new Congress met on April 20. The federal government moved to Sonsonate on February 5 and then to San Salvador. Elections were held, and José del Valle was elected president; but he died on 2 March 1834. Congress called a new election in June. Morazán was elected again, and José Gregorio Salazar became vice president, succeeding Prado who was chosen to be chief of Salvador. A fight broke out on June 23. General Salazar led the federal forces, and they overthrew the local government. Local oligarchs turned people against the liberal ruling party. On 7 February 1835 San Salvador was made a federal district with a new constitution based on the one from 1824.
      President Morazán led 1,500 troops from San Salvador and returned to Guatemala, and after three months of fighting he entered the city. The serviles had gained strength, and they persuaded Morazán to be dictator. On 30 May 1838 the Federal Congress allowed the states to act on their own. He returned to San Salvador in July to suppress a revolt. The last Federal Congress meeting was on the 20th, and two days later, the state government of Guatemala dissolved and was replaced by federal officers. Carrera’s force defeated federal troops at Jalapa and Petapa in August. They pillaged La Antigua and then marched toward Guatemala City. General Carlos Salazar led the garrison of 900 men who defeated Carrera’s army of 2,400 at Villa Nueva on September 11. Carrera gathered forces again, and in October he invaded Ahuachapan and Santa Ana before returning to Guatemala City; but on November 4 he was defeated and retreated to Mita. On December 23 he agreed to give up his arms but turned over only a few useless ones. On 24 March 1839 Carrera denounced the cruelty of Morazán, and on April 13 he led his army into Guatemala City and restored Rivera Paz with his conservative government. The Assembly restored the religious orders, and in December they made natives wards of the state with special treatment. In 1840 the tobacco monopoly was revived. The army demanded the return of the military fuero, and the government agreed to extend that privilege to the militia as well.
      Morazán’s presidential term ended on 1 February 1839. Nicaragua and Honduras had formed an alliance on January 18, and they invaded Salvador in March; but Salvadorans whom Morazán led as federals defeated them near Lempa on April 6. Later that year they invaded Honduras, routed the allies, and captured Tegucigalpa. However, on 31 January 1840 Nicaraguans and Hondurans led by Manuel Quijano defeated the federals and forced them to leave Honduras.
      Liberals in Los Altos had declared its independence, but Carrera’s forces crushed them in January 1840. He had announced his support for the sovereignty of the states, and the serviles asked him to take over Guatemala. Morazán marched an army there and entered the city on March 18. He freed the liberal prisoners including General Agustín Guzmán who was crippled by shackles in a dungeon. The next day Carrera’s forces attacked them, and after 22 hours Morazán retreated. He returned to San Salvador but found little support. He embarked but was not allowed to stay in Costa Rica and went to South America. Antonio José Cañas became the leader of Salvador, but a diplomatic mission from Guatemala led by Carrera forced Salvador to agree to their conditions in a convention signed on 13 May 1840.
      A convention at Chinandega on 11 April 1842 declared a provisional national government with seven articles, and Antonio José Cañas was named the supreme delegate; but the Guatemala Assembly rejected the compact. Costa Rica accepted but with conditions on July 20. One week later delegates from Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua formed the Central American Confederation under a constitution with sixteen articles. Guatemala’s envoy Jerónimo Carcache said his government would accept a treaty made in October that Costa Rica agreed to in May 1843. On 29 March 1844 Nicaragua’s Fruto Chamorro, who had edited the Mentor Nicaragüense 1841-42, was chosen to be the supreme delegate, and Juan Lindo of Honduras became president of the council. Honduras accepted this on April 27, and Salvador and Nicaragua were satisfied; but Guatemala still considered the Confederation dissolved, and Costa Rica wanted an amendment. The executive of Honduras secretly opposed.
      President Malespín of Salvador was trying to create a theocratic regime to please Bishop Viteri when they learned that troops from Guatemala led by Manuel José Arce had invaded Salvador. Malespín mobilized an army of 4,000 men who forced the invaders to flee. Then he disobeyed the supreme delegate and invaded Guatemala to Jutiapa. The Salvadoran army lacked support and was reduced to 3,000 men. Honduras and Salvador made a treaty on July 10 that both governments ratified, and Salvador and Guatemala made peace on August 5. Two weeks later Hondurans forced a Nicaraguan force to leave Honduras. Malespín wanted to attack Nicaragua and Ferrera; but 1,000 Nicaraguans were defeated at Nacaome in Honduras on October 24, and the Nicaraguans returned to their country. Malespín invaded Nicaragua and then held a conference at Nacaome with the Honduran army on October 31, and on  November 7 they recognized him as commander-in-chief. Nicaraguans from Leon made a peace treaty two weeks later, but Nicaragua rejected a secret clause.
      On 24 January 1845 Malespín led the allied army that plundered Leon, committing many atrocities. In San Salvador on February 15 a speech in the Assembly by Joaquín Eufrasio Guzmán led to Malespín being deposed, and they chose Guzmán to be president. Honduras and Salvador agreed to a treaty at Chinameca on April 18; but Honduras did not ratify it, and they invaded Salvador which allied with Guatemala. Hondurans attacked San Salvador on August 15 but lost two-thirds of their force. Nicaragua mediated a peace treaty made between Honduras and Salvador on November 27 that forbade Malespín and Espinosa from entering Salvador.
      In early 1848 Lindo of Honduras and Guerrero in Nicaragua agreed with Salvador to form a Central American union with a diet at Nacaome. Guatemala refused to join. Costa Rica sent deputies to Nacaome but later declared itself an independent state. In November 1849 commissioners from Honduras, Salvador, and Nicaragua met at Leon and agreed on a union, and it went into effect on 9 January 1851. The national constituent congress met at Tegucigalpa on 9 October 1852. They elected Trinidad Cabañas supreme chief, and the executive also included Pedro Molina as vice chief, four senators, and two ministers of state. Fear of dictatorship led the assemblies of Salvador and Nicaragua to declare their independence.

Costa Rica 1835-50

      Costa Rica had elected Braulio Carrillo chief, and he began governing in April 1835. A revolt broke out in Cartago on 24 September, and Alajuela and Heredia supported the rebellion. They marched on San José, but the government had more weapons. They also suppressed an invasion from Nicaragua in Guanacaste. Carrillo’s term ended in April 1837, and he was succeeded by Joaquin Mora for one month and then by Manuel Aguilar. In May 1838 Carrillo and his followers used force to depose Aguilar and his Vice Chief Juan Mora. A constituent assembly met in November.
      On 8 March 1841 Costa Rica’s President Carrillo claimed life tenure and inviolability. His enemies appealed to Morazán who landed at Caldera on 7 April 1842 with 500 men. The government had a force of 1,000 men led by Col. Vicente Villaseñor. Morazán announced that he only wanted to remove Carrillo from power, and on the 11th the two sides had a friendly meeting at Jocote and joined forces. They agreed to let Morazán govern with Villaseñor acting in his absence, and Carrillo at San José accepted this. They revived the state’s constitution of 1825, and the people elected 13 to a constituent assembly that met on July 10 and unanimously accepted Morazán as Chief of Costa Rica. Those who did not like this gathered, and 600 men came together under the command of Florentin Alfaro. They marched to besiege San José, and their numbers increased to 5,000. Morazán and a few supporters retreated to Cartago where they were captured. Villaseñor stabbed himself but survived. On 15 September 1842, the anniversary of their independence, a firing squad executed him and Morazán.
      Alfaro was made provisional chief at San José. Minister-general José María Castro summoned a constituent assembly that met on 1 June 1843 and enacted human rights. They adopted a constitution that was promulgated on 11 April 1844. On June 28 Alfaro resumed the executive office, and on November 15 the legislature elected Francisco María Oreamuno chief of Costa Rica. He was opposed by many and resigned on the 26th. He was succeeded by the Senate President Rafael Moya Murillo until 30 April 1845 when his senatorial term ended. Then the Chamber of Deputies elected Senator José Rafael Gallegos. When four regiments mutinied in June, Alfaro once again resume power as Gallegos returned to being President of the Senate. The elections made Alfaro chief and Castro vice chief.
      The Constituent Assembly met in September and completed the constitution that was promulgated on 7 March 1847. On 30 August 1848 the Republic of Costa Rica declared itself an independent nation. Juan Rafael Mora Porras became President on 26 November 1849. He granted amnesty for political offenses, but to prevent revolts he exiled prominent citizens. Costa Rica was the first Central American nation to be recognized by Spain on 10 May 1850.

Guatemala & Carrera 1837-50

      In February 1837 Guatemala City had 3,000 sickened by cholera, and 900 died. Natives resented being forced to work building prisons, and on March 6 they rebelled at Ostuncalco. The cholera epidemic was spreading. The insurrection was greatest at Mita, and on May 6 they forced a magistrate with 40 dragoons to flee. These rebels were led by 21-year-old Rafael Carrera of mixed race who looked so native that he was called “El Indio.” The government forces defeated the rebels near Mataquescuintla on June 15. That month Carrera announced his revolutionary plan to abolish the Livingston Codes and the poll tax, to grant amnesty to exiles, to restore the religious orders, and to gain respect for law by threatening death. In October he annulled the law on marriage and divorce, and he canceled English colonization contracts. He raised a large force and avoided fighting the army, but they defeated detached regulars. Many rebels gathered in La Antigua, and they threatened Guatemala City where a federal garrison mutinied on 26 January 1838. Three days later 800 rebels entered the capital, and on February 1 they were joined by about 10,000 natives led by Carrera who let 4,000 guerrillas pillage the city. Gálvez stepped down as chief of Guatemala and was succeeded by Pedro Valenzuela. Carrera wanted to sack the city but was bought off by 1,000 pesos and 10,000 for his troops, and he was appointed commandant of Mita. Carrera survived an assassination attempt by the bandit Andrés Monreal who stayed to loot and was killed.
      Although Carrera could not write, he had others write for him. While Rivera Paz was Guatemala’s head of state, Carrera often governed as the military leader, and on 7 December 1841 he had Paz and others arrested. He chose José Francisco Barrundia as his deputy, but he resigned in March 1842. Paz became president again in May. In March 1844 Carrera had the Assembly replaced by a council, and the Assembly dissolved itself. On September 20 unpaid troops began looting Guatemala City, and Lt. General Rafael Carrera stopped the violence. President Rivera Paz resigned, and on December 11 the Guatemala Assembly elected Carrera president to protect the elites as well as the natives. In January 1845 he took a leave of absence to visit his estates, and on February 2 conservative politicians and army officers led a revolt in the capital; but his brother Sotero Carrera fined the capital 20,000 pesos to pay his native troops. On 23 May 1846 the British consul-general Chatfield lectured Rafael Carrera on foreign policy and urged him to restrain the hostility to Europeans by General Pais, and he removed Pais.
      On 21 March 1847 Guatemala declared its independence, and President Carrera issued a manifesto explaining the reasons why. The caudillo José Lucio López challenged Carrera and was found and killed, but on October 16 the Lucios who followed him plundered Carrera’s estate at Palencia. In February 1848 Carrera was persuaded not to resign. France was the first European nation to make a treaty with Guatemala on March 8. Carrera’s brother Sotero was killed, and his friends defected to the enemies. In August creoles in the Oriente united with Los Altos to oppose Carrera, and they allied with the guerrilla Francisco Carrillo. On August 15 Carrera asked the Assembly to protect the natives who work the land, and he left for Mexico. In early 1849 he went to Los Altos and helped indigenous people rise up against the creole government. In August he was welcomed back to Guatemala as commander-in-chief to pacify the rebellions.

El Salvador 1839-50

      Salvador had formed a constituent assembly in August 1839, and during a new session in January 1841 the chief Norberto Ramírez resigned and was succeeded by Juan Lindo, but he and the Assembly were led by the commandant Col. Francisco Malespín. On the 30th they called their country the República del Salvador, and they adopted their second constitution on February 18 with a legislature having two chambers. Some were friends of Morazán, and Lindo dissolved the chambers on November 6 in a coup d’état for Malespín. On 13 January 1842 three senators organized a constitutional meeting at San Vicente. Juan José Guzman emerged as the provisional president in September, and he tolerated the press, especially El Amigo del Pueblo. Malespín urged the rebelling volcaneños in Santa Ana to overthrow the government. Bishop Viteri quarreled with Malespín, but both supported Friar Vazquez. He criticized President Guzman who praised Carrera. Guzman ordered the friar arrested, but Viteri, Malespín, and Vazquez aroused crowds. Malespín returned to Salvador and banished several people. Guzman resigned and was succeeded by Vice President Pedro Arce. No presidential candidate had a majority, and the Assembly made Malespín the President on 5 February 1844. Viteri exerted his influence which was resented by many as revolutionary.
      El Salvador’s presidential election once again did not give any candidate a majority, and in January 1846 the Assembly chose Eugenio Aguilar who believed in constitutional government. Bishop Viteri aroused people
against him in July and demanded that Aguilar resign, but people upheld his authority, causing Viteri to flee to Guatemala. Malespín attacked Chalatenango, and Viteri hailed him as the providential defender of Salvadorans. Malespín tried to preach religion, but he was unpopular and was defeated by 800 men led by General Nicolás Angulo. Malespín fled to Honduras where he was killed at San Fernando on 25 November 1846. Bishop Viteri moved to Nicaragua, and Pope Pius IX assigned him to that diocese.
      Liberals elected Doroteo Vasconcelos president of El Salvador, and his term began on 7 February 1848. He hoped to reunite the Central American nations, but opposition rose with the revolution in Guatemala in August. Bishop Zaldaña of Antigua was given the diocese of Salvador. The constitution did not allow the President to be re-elected; but his friends re-elected Vasconcelos anyway in 1850, and this divided the liberals. In 1837 El Salvador had an estimated 230,000 Ladinos, 90,000 Indians, and 80,000 “Whites” (Europeans). In 1850 El Salvador had only 201 schools for boys with 6,696 students out of a population of 372,815.

Honduras 1839-50

      During the difficult years in the early 1840s Francisco Ferrera had been President of Honduras in 1841 and 1842 and from 23 February 1843 to the end of 1844. Troops mutinied at Olancho in early December 1844. After its quick resolution Ferrera decreed stringent measures against the leaders on the 13th. The 1839 constitution did not allow Ferrera to be re-elected, but he became Minister of War with command of the army. No candidate obtained a majority in the election, and the legislature chose Ferrera’s follower Coronado Chavez as President. While Ferrera was leading the army in Nicaragua, the former chief Rivera invaded Honduras to try to overthrow the government; but they were defeated. He and three others were captured on 4 January 1845, and Rivera was hanged.
      After another election with no majority candidate the Assembly chose Ferrera; but he declined, and they selected Juan Lindo as president in January 1847. While the United States was fighting in Mexico, he issued manifestos on June 1 and 2 opposing the US. A constituent assembly created a new Charter that was adopted at Comayagua on 4 February 1848 that gave all residents born in Central America citizenship and allowed foreigners to be naturalized. Literate citizens could vote, and only the Catholic religion was allowed. President Lindo reported that they were at peace on 10 June 1849, though he recognized party divisions. General Santos Guardiola was influenced by aristocrats in Guatemala and the British Chatfield, and his announcement at Tegucigalpa on 12 February 1850 persuaded President Lindo to flee and ask for help from Salvador and Nicaragua. Guardiola had little foreign assistance, and on March 25 he submitted to Lindo’s government.
      During this era Belize was called British Honduras, and the people there abolished slavery on 1 August 1840. They exported 20,000 tons of mahogany per year, but it was declining. In October 1849 a British warship at Trujillo demanded that Hondurans pay $111,061, and a force occupied the town’s fort. The Honduran commandant raised $1,200, and the British commander accepted this on account. The British also seized various islands. On 29 December 1849 Felipe Jáuregui claiming to be a commissioner for Honduras agreed to a convention with British envoy Chatfield at San Jose, Costa Rica; but the government of Honduras disavowed the treaty. Honduras appointed a commissioner.

Nicaragua 1838-50

       Nicaragua’s population was estimated at 186,000 in 1820 and 278,000 in 1860, and during this period the rest of Central America had more than twice as much population density. In 1838 Nicaragua’s second constitution called for the Director Supremo to have a term of two years. Pablo Buitrago acted as the first director, though the chambers did not declare him constitutionally the Director Supremo until 4 March 1841. He replaced the liberal Minister General Francisco Castellón with Simon Orozco. Buitrago rejected Costa Rica’s chief Morazán and favored Guatemala. On 1 April 1843 he was succeeded by Juan de Dios Orozco temporarily until the Assembly chose Manuel Perez because no candidate had a majority. He brought back Castellón as Minister General. A civil war ended with Leon being sacked a second time in January 1845. That year Nicaragua spent $146,000 on the army and had a deficit of $100,102. (Dollars were equal to pesos at that time.) While the government was in San Fernando, General J. Trinidad Muñoz supervised the elections, helping the conservative José León Sandoval gain a plurality. On April 4 the Assembly declared him elected. He moved the capital from Leon to Granada. Nicaragua allied with El Salvador on May 6. Revolutionaries in Managua were arrested, and Muñoz subdued a revolt in Leon on June 24. In late July about 200 revolutionaries led by José M. Valle took over the town of Chinandega, and on the 26th Muñoz defeated in Leon those that Sandoval called robbers and assassins. The Nicaraguan government then moved to Managua.
      In August 1846 the British ship Daphne blockaded the port of Realejo to demand that Nicaragua pay claims to three British citizens, and the government pledged to use funds from its tobacco monopoly. After the next election José Guerrero became Supreme Director on 6 April 1847, and he moved the government to Leon on July 20. Along the Mosquito coast of Nicaragua the British had planted the colony Belize, and on 12 August 1841 its superintendent Macdonald had brought a king of the Mosquitos to San Juan del Norte. Three days later British officers arrested the commandant and revenue officer, Lt. Col. Quijano. Most American nations protested except the chief Ferrera of Honduras who was influenced by Guatemala and consul Chatfield and recognized the Mosquito nation on 16 December 1843. In January 1848 two British warships occupied the San Juan port and replaced Nicaraguan officials with Englishmen serving the Mosquito King. Nicaragua sent a force but had to yield to returning British warships in March.
      In 1849 the Gordon expedition began transporting foreigners across Nicaragua from the San Juan River to Lake Nicaragua and then overland to Realejo. On 19 April 1850 the United States and Britain agreed to the Clayton-Bulwer treaty which claimed dominion over Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Mosquito Coast or any other part of Central America so that they could build a canal and railroads. Spain made a commercial treaty with Nicaragua on July 25 and recognized its independence. The British withdrew their control over San Juan.
      Norberto Ramírez became Supreme Director of Nicaragua on 1 April 1849, and he sent a force led by General J. T. Muñoz that defeated Bernabé Somoza who had captured Rivas. Somoza was arrested at San Jorge and was convicted and executed on 17 June 1849.

Panama 1817-50

      On 18 December 1818 Scottish Gregor MacGregor led 417 men from England, and on 8 April 1819 they took over the town of Portobello in the Colon province of Panama. The unpaid invaders lacked discipline, and some sold ammunition for liquor. Governor Alejandro de Hore sent troops who occupied the nearly deserted town on the 29th, the day a ship from Jamaica brought supplies to the invaders. The next day Hore’s troops took back Portobello. MacGregor fled on a ship, and 340 of his men were captured. They were cruelly treated in chain-gangs with some officers shot, and only 121 survived and were deported to Jamaica on 20 September 1820. That year Panama got its first printing press.
      On 10 November 1821 José de Fábrega in Panama City called for Panama’s independence. On the 28th leaders in the City Council declared Panama free of Spain with Fábrega as head of state, and they joined the Republic of Colombia that included New Granada. In February 1822 José María Carreño became intendent, and Fábrega was made governor of Alange, Veragua, and annexes. They prohibited the importing or exporting of African slaves, and future children of slave mothers were declared free. In 1824 the British navy captain Charles Cochrane journeyed across the isthmus of Panama and wrote a book about his experience. In September 1830 General José Domingo Espinar led the Panamanians withdrawing from Colombia.
      In early 1831 Panama became part of New Granada which included most of what was Colombia. In May 1836 the US Congress approved a road across the isthmus of Panama. Charles Biddle of Pennsylvania and fourteen citizens of New Granada got a grant of 140,000 acres and bought 750,000 more acres for $375,000, and he returned to Washington in September; but his death and the Panic of 1837 ended the venture. In November 1840 Panamanians led by General Tomás Herrera as their President tried to become independent of Bogotá as the Free State of the Isthmus; but they rejoined New Granada on the last day of 1841. In 1846 the Mallarino-Bidlack Treaty gave the United States the right to move across the Isthmus of Panama usually between Colón on the Caribbean side and Panama City by the Pacific Ocean.
      News of gold discovered in California in 1848 spread gradually at first, but United States President Polk mentioned it in his state-of-the-union address on December 5. In 1848 only 735 people traveled across the isthmus, but in 1849 about 31,500 would cross, and by 1860 the total crossings were about 416,500. Those crossing in the 1850s had to wait for a ship on the Pacific side, and many suffered from diseases. A bridge over the Chagres River was completed on 26 November 1853. A locomotive was brought to Panama City in January 1854, and the railway from Colón began operating on 28 January 1855. An American company charged $25 to take passengers from one port to the other in under four hours.
      In 1848 General José Hilario López of the Liberal Party was elected President of New Granada, and he served four years from April 1849.


1. Panama by David Howarth, p. 106.

Copyright © 2005-2006, 2022 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book Latin America & Canada to 1850. For ordering information please click here.


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