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Mosquito Coast

The Mosquito Coast historically consisted of an area of present-day Nicaragua long dominated by British interests.

Although its name sometimes applies to the whole eastern seaboard of Nicaragua - and even to Mosquitia in Honduras, i.e. the coast region as far west as the Rio Negro or Tinto - the Mosquito Coast more accurately consisted of a narrow strip of territory, fronting the Caribbean Sea, and extending from about 11° 45’ to 14° 10’ N. It stretched inland for an average distance of 40 miles, and measured about 225 miles from north to south. In the north, its boundary skirted the river Wawa; in the west, it corresponded with the eastern limit of the Nicaraguan highlands; in the south, it followed the river Rama. The chief towns were Bluefields or Blewfields, Magdala on Pearl Cay, Prinzapolca on the river of that name, Vounta near the mouth of the Cuculaia, and Carata near the mouth of the Wawa. Bluefields, the largest town, functioned as the capital. It has a good harbour.

The Mosquito Coast is so called from its principal inhabitants, the Misskito Indians, whose name was corrupted into Mosquito by European settlers. The Mosquito Indians, of whom there are several tribes, are short of stature and very dark-skinned. Their colour is said to be due to intermarriage with shipwrecked slaves.

The first European settlement in the Mosquito country started in 1630, when the agents of the English chartered Providence Company — of which the earl of Warwick was chairman and John Pym treasurer — occupied two small cays and established friendly relations with the local inhabitatnts.

From 1655 to 1850 Great Britain claimed a protectorate over the Mosquito Indians; but little success attended the various endeavours to plant colonies, and the protectorate was disputed by Spain, the Central American republics, and the United States. The opposition of the United States was due very largely to the fear that Great Britain would acquire a privileged position in regard to the proposed interoceanic canal. In 1848, the seizure of Greytown (San Juan del Norte), by the Mosquito Indians, with British support, aroused great excitement in the United States, and even involved the risk of war. But by the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850 both powers pledged themselves not to fortify, colonise or exercise dominion over any part of Central America; and in November 1859 Great Britain delegated its protectorate to Honduras.

This caused great dissatisfaction among the Indians, who shortly afterwards revolted; and on 28 January 1860 Great Britain and Nicaragua concluded the treaty of Managua, which transferred to Nicaragua the suzerainty over the entire Caribbean coast from Cape Gracias a Dios to Greytown, but granted autonomy to the Indians in the more limited Mosquito Reserve (the area described above). The local chief accepted this change on condition that he should retain his local authority, and receive a yearly subvention of £1000 until 1870. But on his death in 1864 Nicaragua refused to recognise his successor.

The reserve nevertheless continued to be governed by an elected chief, aided by an administrative council, which met in Bluefields; and the Indians denied that the suzerainty of Nicaragua connoted any right of interference with their internal affairs. The question was referred for arbitration to the emperor of Austria, whose award (published in 1880) upheld the contention of the Indians, and affirmed that the suzerainty of Nicaragua was limited by their right of self-government. After enjoying almost complete autonomy for fourteen years, the Indians voluntarily surrendered their privileged position, and on 20 November, 1894 their territory formally became incorporated in that of the republic of Nicaragua by Nicaraguan president José Santos Zelaya. The former Mosquito Coast is today the Nicaraguan department of Zelaya.


Text slightly modified after that of the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica; this article is in need of updating and clarification of some facts