The formation of a colonial society : Belize, from conquest to Crown Colony

Bolland, Orlando Nigel

June 1975

Thesis or dissertation

© 1975 Orlando Nigel Bolland. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The purpose of the thesis is to examine the socioeconomic development of the British Settlement at Belize in its formative period from the seventeenth century to the establishment of Crown Colony rule in 1871. The connections between the political economy and the social structure of the Settlement are the primary focus of the study.

Initially founded to provide logwood for use in the British woollen industry, the Settlement expanded rapidly in the eighteenth century with the importation of slaves who soon constituted about three quarters of the population. The organization of slavery in Belize (used first to extract logwood and then, after about 1770, mahogany) differed in several respects from that found in Caribbean societies based upon the plantation production of sugar. The dominance of a merchant and mahogany-cutter elite, both before and immediately after emancipation, severely retarded the development of agriculture and almost completely stopped the growth of an independent peasantry. The dependence of the Settlement's political economy upon the metropole, however, meant that, from about 1850, the decline of the mahogany trade and the assertion of Colonial Office control over the territory undermined the power of the hitherto dominant white settler oligarchy.

The settler oligarchy, having completely controlled the Settlement in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, was virtually eliminated after 1850, losing control of the political and administrative apparatus to the Colonial Office and of its land to metropolitan companies. The establishment of Crown Colony rule confirmed these developments in the colonial political economy and left the Maya, Carib, and Creole population in the control of the Colonial Office and the metropolitan companies. The problems of development facing the emerging nation of Belize have their roots in this period when the structure of the colonial society was formed.

Department of Sociology, The University of Hull
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