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Gregor MacGregor the Cacique of Poyais
December 31, 2012 1:11 AM   Subscribe

In 1820 Gregor MacGregor, chieftain of the Central American principality of Poyais arrived in London and explained his problem: his principality had a fine climate, friendly natives, and a democratic government, but it needed investors and settlers to help develop it and exploit its abundant natural resources. To this end his government was to issue a £200,000 bond which would pay off at a generous 6%, as well as land rights for a modest 3 shillings an acre. MacGregor would eventually raise funds worth £3.2 billion -at today's prices- for the entirely fictional principality; this makes him arguably the most successful con-men of all time.

Gregor MacGregor was part of the same Scottish clan as his better known kinsmen Rob Roy. He gave Poyais a flag and coat of arms, some favourable artist's impressions as well as money and the above mentioned bonds. All this was written up in the fabulously fraudulent book "Sketch of the Mosquito Shore: including the territory of Poyais" which can be downloaded here. The colony had echoes of the real - but disastrous - Darien Scheme which had also lured in many Scots in the 1690s. This time the majority of the settlers were rescued - but about 200 died. After finding that the British were becoming wise to his con MacGregor moved to France and tried the same story there. Finally he fled to Venezuela where he persuaded the country to recognise him as a General and where he lived out the rest of his days. This paper describes the scheme and the country in more detail. Poyais had an area which roughly corresponds to Olancho region in Honduras - it is still sparsely developed.
posted by rongorongo (16 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Another famous Scottish scam: pass yourself off as the King of France in order to defraud balooning enthusiasts. Thank you rongorongo, never heard this story before and I will go read all of these links now.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:29 AM on December 31, 2012


I have heard of him, but never in this much detail.

What's 3 shillings an acre in today's money?
posted by Mezentian at 2:12 AM on December 31, 2012


What's 3 shillings an acre in today's money?

15p. *grins*

Inflation adjusted it's £10.14.
posted by jaduncan at 2:47 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Half-educated members of the tribe, who had been to Jamaica, were invested by the British with empty titles and mock honors, and were accepted as kings by their tribe. These ignorant Sambos were easily prevailed upon..... "

Whoa. WTF?

OK. So I see the paper was published in 1927 and I guess that's how all white academics wrote back then, but it sort of makes me assume that all the other views in this paper are infected by similar prejudice.
posted by three blind mice at 2:52 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Inflation adjusted it's £10.14.

Same as in town?
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:51 AM on December 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've read a novel which borrowed this scheme for part of the plot -- I didn't know it was real t the time, but (I'm ashamed to say) I thought it was a bit unbelievable. Shows what I (don't) know.
posted by jb at 7:45 AM on December 31, 2012


The Land that Never Was by David Sinclair is an excellent book about this.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:25 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


During his time promoting revolution in South America, he came into contact with (self link) Col. Francis Macerone who thought he was a bad'un from the get go.

I guess that's how all white academics wrote back then,

Whoa, check those broad brushes at the door, Tex!
posted by BWA at 9:33 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think "casual racism was pretty much par for the course in English-language writing by white academics in the 1920s" is an accurate statement.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:57 AM on December 31, 2012


This is fascinating. It reminds me of Lord Gordon Gordon, the great swindler who conned Jay Gould. (previously on MeFi)
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:12 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suppose the solution is to never trust an European nobleman with repeating names.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:31 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why limit it to Europeans? I never trusted Boutros Boutros Ghali
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:49 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


These ignorant Sambos were easily prevailed upon

While there is a definite cultural paternalism in force, the word seems to be used technically here as a word for half-breeds of Indian and African descent. This was actually a word with legal force in Spanish territories (cf. quadroon, etc.) through the classifications called in Spanish casta ("caste system").
posted by dhartung at 11:02 AM on December 31, 2012


Department of Truth is Stranger than Fiction strikes again. Looking forward to reading the links.
posted by immlass at 11:04 AM on December 31, 2012


There's also John Law, who, granted is directly responsible for a lot of my ancestors coming to America, but also singlehandedly destroyed the French economy.
posted by Sara C. at 7:21 PM on December 31, 2012


I think "casual racism was pretty much par for the course in English-language writing by white academics in the 1920s" is an accurate statement.

Yes, although a discussion of ethnic stereotyping that features the sentence "I guess that's how all white academics wrote back then" is somewhat ironic.
posted by jaduncan at 5:58 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


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