History of Roatan Honduras

Roatan Bay Islands HondurasRoatan Geography - The Island of Roatan is the largest of the 7 bay islands and is located 10 to 40 miles off of the coast of Honduras in the Caribbean sea. Roatan is approximately 40 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. The island of Roatan total land size is 49.5 square miles. The highest point on Roatan is 900 feet above sea level.

Roatan MapRoatan Geology - Somewhere around 50 million years ago, two tectonic plates collided forming the Motagua and Swan island faults. Somewhere around 25 million years ago the remnants of this collision emerged from the ocean as the bay islands. The bay islands are primarily made of basalt and limestone from ancient reefs. The Cayman Trench is located just to the north of Roatan and is approximately 25,000 feet deep.

Roatan - Yaba Ding DingsRoatan's First Inhabitants - The first recorded inhabitants of Roatan were the Paya Indians. Paya artifacts are discovered on Roatan almost every day. Paya pottery and idols are called "Yaba Ding Dings". Based on the volume of Paya Indian artifacts, the Paya were a thriving civilization on the island of Roatan, with a population of about 1,000 Paya Indians. Christopher Columbus explored the Bay islands and Roatan on his fourth and final trip to the new world in 1505 and wrote of the Paya Indian inhabitants on Roatan. Christopher Columbus and crew were the first Europeans to visit the island of Roatan. The Paya Indians of Roatan were peaceful farmers and expert fishermen. Columbus also noted the Paya Indians were a matriarchal society on Roatan.

Roatan PiratesIn 1516 Diego Velasquez de Cuellar of Spain sent two ships to Roatan to enslave the Paya Indians. 300 Paya Indians of Roatan were captured and put on a slave ship headed to Havana Cuba. The Paya Indians escaped and took over the ship as it neared Havana. They were able to sail back to Roatan and their families. The Spanish returned to Roatan with reinforcements and massacred over 500 Paya Indians. The remaining Paya were enslaved on Roatan and forced to farm for the Spanish.

Roatan Pirate ShipRoatan Pirates - The Spanish were using Roatan to resupply gold filled Spanish Galleons headed back to Spain around 1580. Once the Roatan Pirates realized how much gold was passing through Roatan, they set up several pirate colonies on Roatan near the modern city of Port Royal. Spanish records show 547 Spanish treasure ships were captured an looted by Roatan Pirates between 1580 to 1636. Pirate colonies on Roatan were well established and thriving.

Roatan Pirate GoldThe Paya Indians of Roatan were very supportive and helpful to the Roatan Pirates due to their longstanding hate of the Spanish. The Paya fishermen of Roatan would light a lantern on their boats whenever they sighted a Spanish Galleon to signal the Roatan pirates that a Spanish treasure ship was near. The Spanish Galleons were slow moving due to their holds being filled with stolen Inca gold and treasure. This made the Spanish easy targets for the Roatan Pirates.

Roatan Pirate HistoryAround 1640 the English Pirate William Jackson established his own Pirate fleet on Roatan, with 16 ships and 1500 men he sailed to Trujillo, Honduras. He sacked the city of Trujillo and looted the Spanish fort above the city. William Jackson freed the Paya Indian slaves of Roatan in Trujillo and returned them to Roatan, looting large amounts of stolen Inca gold and killing many Spanish in the process.

Roatan HistoryThe Spanish retaliated against William Jackson and the Roatan Pirates and attacked Roatan in the late 1640's with over 30 Spanish ships. The Spanish destroyed every home on Roatan, and burned all of the crops. The Spanish even destroyed most of Roatan's old growth mahogany trees. The remaining Paya Indians of Roatan that survived this attack were enslaved again by the Spanish and shipped throughout the Caribbean. By 1650 Roatan was completely deserted.

Roatan Pirate FlagIn the 1660's Pirate Captain Henry Morgan set up his base of operations on Roatan. The looting was so good that the Pirate ships would have to stop looting for fear that their own ships would sink as they were so overloaded with Spanish gold. Captain Morgan would sail back to Roatan, bury their Pirate plunder and go back after more Spanish Galleons. There were almost 5,000 pirates operating out of Roatan by 1670.

Roatan FortEngland's claim for Roatan - In 1742 England was at war with Spain and England realized the strategic value of Roatan. England built two forts in Port Royale, Roatan to protect the natural harbor. Fort Frederick was protected by 6 cannons and Fort George was equipped with 17 cannons. Four years after the forts were built and fortified, they were abandoned completely due to England making peace with Spain.

Roatan HistoryThe peace between England and Spain was short lived. In 1780 the war was back on and the English quickly re-fortified Fort George and Fort Frederick on Roatan. The Spanish attacked the English forts on Roatan in 1782 with a fleet of ships including 2 Spanish Man-o-Wars. The English had lost both forts on Roatan within 2 days. The Spanish destroyed the forts, farms and all the houses on Roatan. Then looted what they could carry, and left Roatan deserted once again.

RoatanThe Garifuna on Roatan - In 1797 there was a slave rebellion on the island of St. Vincent. The English rounded up over 5,000 rebellious black slaves from St. Vincent and abandoned them on the shore of Roatan with no supplies, just the clothes on their backs. The Spanish "rescued" many of the abandoned slaves and transported them to to mainland Honduras, fearing another English settlement on Roatan. The slaves that remained on Roatan are the Garifuna people. They established the city of Punta Gorda and survived by fishing and planting crops. The Garifuna have kept their own culture, language and traditions separate from the rest of Roatan's Paya Indians.

The island of Roatan was previously known as Isla De La Bahia.

Jimmy Buffett wrote his classic song, "Cheeseburger In Paradise" in Roatan while waiting for some repairs to be made on his schooner "Music".

Roatan Honduras History Tags
Roatan Honduras History, History of Roatan Honduras, Island of Roatan