Gregor MacGregor was deemed the ‘King of Con-Men’ by The Economist for pulling off the ‘greatest confidence trick of all time’. MacGregor earned this title by finding an uninhabited piece of land on the coast of Honduras, creating a fictitious country called Poyais, and selling over a billion dollars worth of ‘Poyais bonds’ in London by misleading investors with lies about how Poyais was a developed society. MacGregor claimed that Poyais was home to beautiful architecture, an opera house, parliamentary building, cathedral, and more. In reality, it was an uninhabited jungle.
MacGregor appointed himself the “Grand Cacique of Poyais”, and traveled to London to start his scheme. He heavily marketed Poyais to British investors, and as there was already speculative enthusiasm for Latin American bonds at the time, he had no problem finding investors. Offices were opened in London and Edinburgh to sell Poyais land grants at 4 shillings an acre, and in 1822 he issued $200,000 in bonds offering a 6% yield (billions in modern money).
Worst of all, many Scottish retirees relocated to Poyais based on MacGregor’s promises of paradise. In total, seven ships sailed to Poyais, but only 60 of the 240 settlers that arrived survived.
Read More: Troubles in Paradise