Historian Richard Slatta describes the Scottish adventurer as “indominable and perhaps not completely sane.” The label seems to fit. Gregor MacGregor was a young Scottish soldier who had fought in the wars against Napoleon, but whose real claim to fame was in adopting invented knightly and noble titles for himself and parading about Edinburgh in a luxurious coach. After hearing of Latin America’s struggles against Spanish domination, MacGregor moved to Caracas seeking to get in on the action and declared his willingness to support the revolutionary cause. The local military, overlooking or ignoring MacGregor’s quirks, saw the benefit in having a veteran soldier in their employ, and set MacGregor to training troops.
He soon found himself in military action again, and his most famous maneuver involved not a victory, but a retreat. After a loss to Spanish forces, MacGregor moved his troops across Venezuela, keeping one step ahead of pursuing royalists. Then, finding himself cut off by a new force, he lured his enemies into a swamp and pinned them down with volleys of arrows from his mostly indigenous archers. For this, Bolívar dubbed him the “Xenophon of the Americas,” naming him after the Greek commander who stunned pursuing Persian forces.
Later, MacGregor began a series of odd (mis)adventures. He conceived of an invasion of Florida, thinking that the area – still Spanish at the time – would make a convenient base to launch more anti-colonial interventions in the Caribbean. The attempt, however, was stopped by the United States, which would soon purchase Florida from Spain for itself.
Then, he returned to Europe and claimed to be the leader of a (fictitious) South American country. He collected money from wealthy English and Scottish investors and amassed a small fortune before being found out – when investors arrived in “Poyais,” they found nothing but jungle. Later in life he returned to Venezuela where he successfully convinced his former comrades to let him retire on a veteran’s pension.