Sunday, November 6, 2016

Master Con Artist MacGregor

General Gregor MacGregor (24 December 1786 – 4 December 1845) was a Scottish soldier, adventurer and confidence trickster who from 1821 to 1837 attempted to draw British and French investors and settlers to "Poyais", a fictional Central American territory he claimed to rule as "Cazique". Hundreds invested their savings in supposed Poyaisian government bonds and land certificates, while about 250 emigrated to MacGregor's invented country in 1822–23 to find only an untouched jungle; over half of them died. MacGregor's Poyais scheme has been called one of the most brazen confidence tricks in history.

                                                          General Gregor MacGregor

From the Clan Gregor, MacGregor was an officer in the British Army from 1803 to 1810, and served in the Peninsular War. He joined the republican side in the Venezuelan War of Independence in 1812, quickly became a general and over the next four years operated against the Spanish on behalf of both Venezuela and its neighbour New Granada—his successes included a difficult month-long fighting retreat through northern Venezuela in 1816. Under a mandate from revolutionary agents to conquer Florida from the Spanish, MacGregor captured Amelia Island in 1817 and there proclaimed a short-lived "Republic of the Floridas". He then oversaw two calamitous operations in New Granada during 1819 that each ended with him abandoning British volunteer troops under his command.

                                              Poyais Hard Dollar "signed" by MacGregor

On his return to Britain in 1821, MacGregor claimed that King George Frederic Augustus of the Mosquito Coast in the Gulf of Honduras had created him Cazique of Poyais, which he described as a developed colony with an existing community of British settlers. When the British press reported on MacGregor's deception following the return of fewer than 50 survivors in late 1823, some of his victims leaped to his defence, insisting that the general had been let down by those he had put in charge of the emigration party. A French court tried MacGregor and three others for fraud in 1826 after he attempted a variation on the scheme there, but convicted only one of his associates. Acquitted, MacGregor attempted lesser Poyais schemes in London over the next decade. In 1838 he moved to Venezuela, where he was welcomed back as a hero. He died in Caracas in 1845, aged 58, and was buried with full military honours in Caracas Cathedral.

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