General Gregor MacGregor, born in December 1786, was the ‘Prince of the Principality of Poyais’, a non-existent colony, on the Bay of Honduras.
MacGregor became a successful conman who persuaded many English and French people to invest in the imaginary colony of Poyais.
Some of his victims fells for his lies so hard that they even emigrated to his supposed tropical paradise.
Gregor MacGregor began his working life in the Royal Navy in 1803 before going on to serve in both the Spanish and Portuguese armies.
By 1811 he was a Colonel in the army of the Captaincy General of Venezuela in 1811 who were fighting for their independence from Spain.
It was reported that, in 1817, the now General MacGregor took a small group of men and captured San Fernandina on Amelia Island, Florida from the Spanish.
From then on, MacGregor’s career became somewhat more notorious.
THE PRINCE OF POYAIS
In 1820 MacGregor and his wife Josefa arrived in London.
MacGregor claimed to be the ‘Cazique’, or Prince, of the Principality of Poyais which he claimed was an independent nation on the Bay of Honduras.
He said that Poyais occupied 12,500 square miles and had been granted to him by the local native chief.
Furthermore, MacGregor claimed that he had all the necessary infrastructure in place but his new nation lacked the necessary people to inhabit it.
He said he was looking for both investors and settlers and that he wanted to give the opportunity for both to residents of major cities, such as London, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
To this end, MacGregor began selling shares in Poyais and even managed to raise a loan of £200,000 in October 1822.
On the 10th of September 1822 some seventy colonists had been recruited and they set sail on board the Honduras Packet.
Those that went looking for a better life included lawyers and doctors.
Later, in January of 1823, another two hundred settlers sailed to Poyais from Leith, complete with the ‘Poyais Dollars’ that had been printed by MacGregor and so thoughtfully exchanged for their Sterling currency.
When the settlers arrived in the Bay of Honduras they discovered that their new home was nothing but virgin jungle.
They failed to settle and were then evacuated a month later by a ship out of British Honduras.
Some of the survivors settled in the Americas but around 50 of them returned to London, leading to the story of Poyais featuring heavily in the newspapers in 1823.
Unsurprisingly, Gregor MacGregor disappeared from the limelight.
REPEATING THE SCAM
Soon afterwards, however, he reappeared across the Channel.
In France he repeated the same scam in1825, this time raising a loan of £300,000 and selling shares to French investors and settlers.
The French authorities stepped in, however, when they realised that a ship full of their citizens was about to depart for a non-existent country and many involved were arrested, including MacGregor.
The following year MacGregor returned once more to London and attempted to borrow £800,000 for the development of Poyais.
He failed to acquire this loan though because investors had become wise to the scam, especially since other conmen were also trying to sell the same spot of land!
Eventually MacGregor returned to Venezuela in 1839 where he lived until his death in 1845.
Whilst there he was awarded an army general’s pension for his services during the war for independence.