Amerindians, who led way to the Maya, were the original inhabitants of Belize. The Maya civilization spread itself over Belize beginning around 1500 BC, and flourished until about AD 900. European settlement began with British Jews, privateers and English seamen as early as 1638.
The origin of the name Belize is unclear, but one idea is that it derives from the Spanish pronunciation of the surname of the pirate who created the first settlement in Belize in 1638, Peter Wallace. Another possibility is that the name is from the Maya word belix, meaning "muddy water", applied to the Belize River.
The early settlement of "Belize in the Bay of Honduras" grew from a few habitations located at Belize Town and St. George's Caye into a de-facto colony of the United Kingdom during the late 18th century. In the early 19th century the settlement was called British Honduras, and in 1871 it became a Crown Colony.
Taking advantage of Spain's inability to establish control over present-day Belize, Englishmen began to cut logwood, a dyewood greatly valued in Europe as the principal dyestuff for the expanding wool industry. By the 1770s, a second tropical exotic timber, mahogany, replaced logwood as the main export from Belize. The economy of Belize remained based on the extraction of mahogany until the early 1900s when the cultivation of export crops such as citrus fruits, sugar cane, and bananas came to dominate the economy.