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Nicaragua Mosquito Coast

British and United States interests in Nicaragua grew during the mid-1800s because of the country's strategic importance as a transit route across the isthmus. British settlers seized the port of San Juan del Norte -- at the mouth of the Ro San Juan on the southern Caribbean coast -- and expelled all Nicaraguan officials on January 1, 1848. The following year, Britain forced Nicaragua to sign a treaty recognizing British rights over the Miskito on the Caribbean coast. Britain's control over much of the Caribbean lowlands, which the British called the Mosquito Coast (present-day Costa de Mosquitos), from 1678 until 1894 was a constant irritant to Nicaraguan nationalists. J.M. Letts provides a contemporaneous account of British control of the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua in the middle of the 19th Century, and the coronation of the Mosquito King. "

The philanthropy of Great Britain has become proverbial. There is scarcely a port on the European continent that has not heard the music of her cannon, and been relieved of its surplus treasures. Three-fourths of a century ago, she succeeded in establishing, on the American continent, the government of the United States, and a few years thereafter voluntarily offered the use of a fleet and army at New Orleans, a part of which was used, the balance returned. Mexico has also been a recipient of her kind attentions. She has taken possession of the richest mines in Mexico, and worked them gratuitously, sending off millions under the protection of the “red cross of St. George.” Her sappers and miners have found their way to Peru and [Chili?], as well as other divisions on the Pacific coast of South America, the mines of all of which have been taken possession of, and worked on the same accommodating terms as those of Mexico. She sent a fleet free of charge to the Argentine Republic, took possession of her ports, and forced the navigation of her rivers. Texas, after emerging from her glorious struggle for liberty, was offered the kind wing of protection; Great Britain even going so far as to offer her assistance in maintaining a separate republic, thinking annexation to the United States inexpedient. She visited China in the capacity of doctor, and most magnanimously forced her prescription down their unwilling throats. Her philanthropic eye next took a survey of Central America. Here she found governments of that odious form called republican, that of Nicaragua having an extent of sea coast, with accessible ports, and numerous rivers.

"No one, up to this time, had interfered with the jurisdiction


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of Nicaragua, nor was her claim to this coast ever disputed. Great Britain, in her superior wisdom, however, decided that as Nicaragua had no particular use for seaports, they would be better in other hands, even if she herself should be compelled to assume the protectorate. The first step necessary to accomplish this magnanimous object was to find a suitable sovereign. She is supposed to have embarked in the search with her characteristic zeal and energy; it is presumed that the first inquiries were made at San Juan. At first the prospect of success was not flattering, but fortunately inquiries were made of a native Indian, who very innocently informed Her Britannic Majesty's agent that his chief was sojourning along the “Mosquito Coast.”

"What could have been more opportune? This was precisely the individual sought; here was a great man, a chief, in actual possession of the country, i. e., he had actually hunted 'possums there for a period of six months! The matter was immediately decided upon, and arrangements made to pay the monarch a visit on the following day, preparatory to his coronation. Artizans were employed in the manufacture of presents suitable for one who seemed pointed out by the finger of Providence to wear the “purple and ermine.” Tin pans were immediately transformed into crowns and collars, sardine boxes into breastplates and stars, pill-boxes into ear and finger-rings, and “extinguishers” into ornaments for the nose. These, after a revision by chamois and soap-stone, were safely boxed, that they might not be tarnished by the touch of vulgar hands. A demijohn was filled with rum--as was supposed, to prevent his Majesty from fainting under the operation of putting on his first pair of pantaloons.

"Early on the following morning, the ship having been ordered to drop along down the coast, the party were in motion under the pilotage of the Indian above mentioned. What momentous results sometimes attend the acts of individuals in the humble walks of life! This poor Indian, having been driven to the shore by hunger, had, while making a meal of raw fish, imparted a word, which single word was the means of bringing forth to the world a full-grown king. What were the feelings of this native, as he cut his way through the chaparrals? Had he aspirations? No doubt he had! In his wild delirium of pleasure, he, no doubt, dreamed of a canoe of his own, and a raw hide to sleep on; instead of going naked, as he had done all his life, he might have a red bandana to tie around his neck; he thought of abundance of broiled lizard, with plantain cooked in 'possum fat for dessert. With such bright visions in the future, it is not astonishing that, in wading swamps and cutting through chaparrals, he distanced those under his pilotage.

"Nor was there a want of zeal on the part of Her Britannic Majesty's agent. He too had aspirations. He was on a mission which, if successful, must result in incalculable benefit to the world in general, and to Her Britannic Majesty's government in particular. If successful, knighthood was the least he could expect, with the prospect of a niche, eventually, in Westminster Abbey.

" Taking advantage of divisions within the Conservative ranks, Jose Santos Zelaya led a Liberal revolt that brought him to power in 1893. Zelaya ended a longstanding dispute with Britain over the Atlantic Coast in 1894, and reincorporated that region into Nicaragua.



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