Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Famous Scams - Gregor MacGregor

Gregor MacGregor (December 24, 1786 - December 3, 1845) was a Scottish soldier, adventurer and colonizer who fought in the South American struggle for Independence. Upon his return to England in 1820, he claimed to be cacique of Poyais (also known as Principality of Poyais. Poyais was a fictional Central American country that MacGregor had invented which, with his help, drew investors and eventually colonists.
MacGregor was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on Christmas Eve 1786. His parents were Captain Daniel MacGregor and Ann Austin. In 1803 he joined the Royal Navy. He married Marie Bowater in 1805, who died soon after that. He then served in the Spanish and Portuguese armies, after which he returned to Edinburgh. By this time, MacGregor heard about the independence movements in South America and in the Captaincy General of Venezuela in particular, where he arrived in 1811 with the rank of Colonel.
Gregor MacGregor came From Latin America to London, England, in 1820 and pronounced that he had been created cacique (highest authority of prince) of the Principality of Poyais, an independent nation on the Bay of Honduras. Native chief King George Frederic Augustus I of the Mosquito Shore and Nation had given him the territory of Poyais, 12,000 square miles of fertile land with untapped resources, a small number of settlers of British origin, and cooperative natives eager to please. He had created the beginnings of a country with civil service, army and democratic government. Now he needed settlers and investment and had come back to the United Kingdom to give people the opportunity.
At the time, British merchants were all too eager to enter the South American market that Spain had denied to them. The region had already become more promising in the wake of wars of South American independence, when the new governments of Colombia, Chile and Peru had issued bonds in London Royal Exchange to raise money.
London high society welcomed the colourful figure of MacGregor, and he and his Spanish American wife Josefa Andrea Lovera received many invitations.
MacGregor also claimed that one of his ancestors was a rare survivor of the Darien Scheme, a failed Scottish attempt of colonization in Panama in 1690s. In order to compensate for this, he said he had decided to draw most of his settlers from Scotland.
In Edinburgh, MacGregor began to sell land rights for 3 shillings and 3 pence per acre. Note that the workers weekly wage at the time was about £1, which meant that the price was very generous.. The price steadily rose to 4 shillings. Many people willing to have a new start in a new land signed on with their families. On October 23, 1822 MacGregor raised a loan with the total of £200,000 on behalf of the Poyais government. It was in the form of 2,000 bearer bonds worth £100 each.
On September 10, 1822 the Honduras Packet departed from Port of London with 70 would-be-settlers aboard. They included doctors, lawyers and a banker. Some had purchased officer commissioners in the Poyaisian army. On January 22, 1823 another ship, the Kennersley Castle left Leith Hardbour in Scotland for Poyais with 200 would-be-settlers. On arrival they spent two days searching for a port, before eventually meeting up with settlers who had sailed on the Honduras Packet. What the settlers found was an untouched jungle, some natives and a couple of American hermits who had made their home there. There was no settlement of any kind. The Honduras Packet had been swept away by a storm, and the Kennersley Castle sailed away.
The would-be-settlers began to argue. Tropical diseases also began to take their toll. One settler having used his life savings to gain passage, committed suicide.
In April, the Mexican Eagle, an official ship from British Honduras with the chief magistrate on board, accidentally found the settlers. Chief Bennet listened to their story and told them that there was no such place as Poyais. He agreed to take them to British Honduras. The Mexican Eagle took sixty settlers to British Honduras the rest were rescued later.
Many settlers were weakened on their short sea voyage and many of them later died in hospital in British Honduras. 180 of the would-be-settlers had perished during the ordeal.
Edward Codd, Superintendent for Belize. sent a warning to London where naval vessels were sent to call back five ships of would-be-settlers that had departed after the Kennersley Castle. Those survivors who did not decide to settle on the British Honduras or move elsewhere in America sailed on the Ocean on August 1, 1823 to London. More people died during that journey, and fewer than 50 came back alive to Britain.
72 days later the Ocean docked in London. The next day, city papers published the whole story.
MacGregor himself however, had already left for Paris, France, in October.
MacGregor continued to sell fake certificates for land in Poyais up until 1937. In 1839 Gregor MacGregor moved to Venezuela where he requested and received a pension as a general who had fought for independence. He died on December 4, 1845.

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Thought For Today

No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.
Alice Walker