Credit: Gregor MacGregor and W.H. Lizars/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Historical Insights The Poyais Scheme

Many of the settlers who ventured to Poyais in 1822 and 1823 traded in their life savings for worthless “Poyan” currency. About 1822. Credit: Gregor MacGregor and W.H. Lizars/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Poyais Scheme

Numerous people were lured into investing and settling in a fictitious territory in Central America called Poyais in the early 1820s.

A mere Scottish solider, Gregor MacGregor, pulled off a notorious swindle known as the Poyais Scheme. Titling himself “Cazique,” or prince, of the fictitious territory “Poyais” in Central America, MacGregor enticed enthusiastic investors with bonds he advertised. He convinced fellow Scotsmen to buy tracts of Poyaisian land and settle there as his loyal subjects. By January 1823, two ships carrying around 250 passengers had arrived in Poyais to find not a thriving town as promised, but untamed jungle. Disease and malnutrition soon set in and about 180 of them died; some even after the settlers were rescued by a passing ship in May 1823. Word of MacGregor’s fraud quickly reached England. He escaped to France, where he was imprisoned but ultimately acquitted. In its October 25, 1823 story about the scheme, The Guardian called MacGregor, “a person of whom we do not choose to say all that we think.”