Gregor MacGregor – 1820

By | November 12, 2016

For a few trinkets he bought 3.2 million hectares (8 million acres) of land.

gregor-mac-gregor

MacGregor is depicted here as a young soldier, in the uniform of 57th Regiment of Foot

THE CRIME:

Gregor MacGregor was born in Edinburgh on 24 December 1786 and joined the army in 1803. Two years later he bought a captaincy and married Maria Bowater. In 1810 he decided that he was not cut out for British military life after all and sold his commission. The next year his wife died and he sailed for Venezuela to join the struggle for independence from Spain. In 1812 he married Sim6n Bolivar’s niece, Josefa Antonia Andrea Aristiguieta y Llovera. When the first Venezuelan republic collapsed the same year, MacGregor and his wife fled to Colombia and then on to Haiti. He participated when Bolivar recaptured Venezuela but was disappointed at his reward.

The two eventually fell out and in 1820 MacGregor travelled to the Mosquito Shore of what is now Honduras. For a few trinkets he bought 3.2 million hectares (8 million acres) of land from King George Frederick Augustus of the Mosquito Indians. Returning to England, he registered his land and began calling himself Gregor I, Cacique (or prince) of Poyais, the name he gave his fictional country. MacGregor even opened a legation and land office in London selling commissions in the non-existent Poyaisian navy and army, plus land in Poyais at three shillings and three pence an acre. He published leaflets extolling the greateness of Poyais and its capital St Josephs. The city supposedly had a bank, a cathedral and many beautiful public buildings.

In 1822 MacGregor published a 350-page guidebook entitled Sketch of the Mosquito Shore, including the Territory of Poyais, Descriptive of the Country. As a result more than 200 people, mainly Scottish, invested in Poyais and embarked from London on 10 September 1822 and Leith on 22 January 1823. On arrival they found only swamps, jungles and disease. In 1823 MacGregor launched a £200,000 Poyais bond on the Stock Exchange and raised £50,000 before his fraud was uncovered and in October he fled to Paris. In 1825 he sold 195,000 hectares (480,000 acres) of Poyais to a French trading company, which led to his imprisonment for fraud on 7 December 1825. He was tried on 6 April 1826 and acquitted on appeal on 14 July 1826, MacGregor returned to London and spent 12 years moving between London, Paris and Edinburgh selling Poyais land grants.

WHERE:

London, England

WHEN:

1820

THE AFTERMATH:

In 1838 following the death of his wife, MacGregor returned to Venezuela and resumed his position as a general becoming a respected, if not respectable, member of the community. He died peacefully in bed on 4 December 1845. The president and cabinet attended his military funeral.

YOU SHOULD KNOW:

Of the more than 200 people who sailed to Poyais in 1822-23, fewer than 50 survived to return to Britain.

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