1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mosquito Coast and Reserve

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18
Mosquito Coast and Reserve

MOSQUITO COAST AND RESERVE (Mosquitía or Reserva Mosquita), a division of the republic of Nicaragua, officially styled the department of Zelaya. Pop. (1905), about 15,000. Although its name is sometimes applied to the whole eastern seaboard of Nicaragua—and even to Mosquitía in Honduras, i.e. the coast region as far west as the Rio Negro or Tinto—the Mosquito Coast is more accurately defined as a narrow strip of territory, fronting the Caribbean Sea, and extending from about 11° 45′ to 14° 10′ N. It stretches inland for an average distance of 40 m., and measures about 225 m. from north to south. In the north, its boundary skirts the river Wawa; in the west, it corresponds with the eastern limit of the Nicaraguan highlands; in the south, it is drawn along the river Rama. The chief towns are 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 (pop. about 2000) is the capital and the largest town. It is the seat of a Moravian mission, and has a good harbour, with regular steamship services to Greytown in Nicaragua, and to New Orleans. It exports bananas and other fruit.

The Mosquito Coast is so called from its principal inhabitants, the Misskito Indians, whose name was corrupted into Mosquito by European settlers and has been entirely superseded by that form except in the native dialects. The Mosquito Indians, of whom there are several tribes, are an unusually intelligent people, short of stature and very dark-skinned. Their colour is said to be due to intermarriage with shipwrecked slaves.

The first white settlement in the Mosquito country was made in 1630, when the agents of an English chartered company—of which the earl of Warwick was chairman and John Pym treasurer—occupied two small cays, and established friendly relations with the Indians. 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, colonize 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 the 28th of 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 à 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 recognize 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 the 20th of November 1894 their territory was formally incorporated in that of the republic of Nicaragua, as the department of Zelaya.

Bibliography.—See “A Bibliography of the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua,” by Courtney de Kalb, in Bulletin of the American Geog. Soc., vol. xxvi. (1894); and “Studies of the Mosquito Shore in 1892,” by the same author, and in the same publication, vol. xxv. (1893). “A Forgotten Puritan Colony,” in No. 165 of Blackwood's Magazine (Edinburgh, 1898), described the attempt at colonization made in 1630. See also “Die Streit um die Mosquito-Küste,” by J. Richter, in Zeitschr. f. Gesellschaft d. Erdkunde, No. 30 (Berlin, 1895).