Macgregor, Gregor (1786–1845)
Macgregor, Gregor (1786–1845)
Gregor MacGregor (b. 1786; d. 4 December 1845), British soldier of fortune and speculator in colonization. MacGregor was often regarded as either a visionary idealist or an unscrupulous promoter. A young man of twenty-five with some experience in the British army, this flamboyant Scottish army captain arrived in Venezuela in 1811 to support the cause of independence. MacGregor fought with distinction under Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar and was decorated. During his years with the insurgents he cruised the Caribbean from Florida to Venezuela. At some point he saw his fortune interwoven with the lush tropical environment he had adopted.
Sailing for New Granada in 1819, MacGregor occupied the island of San Andrés off the Nicaragua coast and later landed on the desolate Mosquito Coast, where an assortment of European adventurers had long maintained close ties with the Indians. The imaginative MacGregor concocted a visionary scheme to establish an overseas Acadia on the Mosquito Coast as a haven for surplus population in his native Scotland and as a staging point for introducing the Presbyterian faith to the natives. On 29 April 1820 he received from the compliant Mosquito king, George Frederick, title to the Black River (Río Tinto) district of Honduras, abandoned by the British in 1787.
Styling himself "His Excellency General Sir Gregor MacGregor, Prince of Poyais," he returned home in 1821 to launch his grandiose project on an unsuspecting public, looking to Scotland for settlers and to London for funds. Although preoccupied with financing, MacGregor sent four ships with more than 300 settlers to Black River, where Governor Hector Hall had elaborate instructions on how to proceed. Totally unprepared for frontier survival, two-thirds of the settlers died of malaria, yellow fever, or dysentery. Belize Superintendent Edward Codd authorized Marshall Bennett and George Weston to evacuate the survivors in 1823. About forty-five eventually reached England, where their revelations blackened the name of MacGregor.
Still seeking support, MacGregor returned to England, paid a fine, and then was arrested in France in 1825 but acquitted. Attempts by Poyais bondholders to revive the project in 1837, under various names, failed. MacGregor gave up, leaving England in 1839 for Venezuela, where he was reinstated in his former military rank and granted a pension.
Victor Allen, "The Prince of Poyais," in History Today 2 (1952): 53-58.
William J. Griffith, Empires in the Wilderness: Foreign Colonization and Development in Guatemala, 1834–1844 (1965).
Alfred Hasbrouck, "Gregor MacGregor and the Colonization of Poyais Between 1820 and 1824," in Hispanic American Historical Review 7 (1927): 438-459.
Robert A. Naylor, Penny Ante Imperialism: The Mosquito Shore and the Bay of Honduras, 1600–1914 (1989).
Bennett, Charles E. General MacGregor, Hero or Rogue? Jacksonville, FL: Mid Nite Books, 2001.
Sinclair, David. Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Land that Never Was: The Extraordinary Story of the Most Audacious Fraud in History. London: Review, 2003.
Robert A. Naylor
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