Puerto RicoThe Caribbean before the landing of Columbus served almost as a bridge
between the north coast of South America and Florida for the Amazonian
tribes in the south and the north american inhabitants. When Christopher
Columbus on his second trip in 1493 landed in Puerto Rico and claimed it for
Spain, he found the island populated by as many as 60,000 Arawak or Taino
indians, which for the most part, were friendly compared to the Carib indians in
some of the more southerly islands which were warlike and to some degree
The conquest of the island didn’t take long, and the peaceful Tainos were put
to the task as slaves for the purpose of mining the gold that was found on the
island. The gold didn’t last long and in 1511 there was an uprising of the
Tainos, who up to this point had believed that the Spaniards were Gods, and
took a soldier by the name of Sotomayor and dunked him head first in a river
for several hours to see if he would die. Just in case, they had prepared a feast
for the Spaniard if he came out alive. However, it wasn’t the Spanish sword
that took most of the lives of the Arawaks, but the diseases that were brought
from Europe and for which the indians had no defenses.
In 1508 the first governor arrived, Juan Ponce de Le?n (who is more famous
as the searcher for the fountain of youth and discoveror of the state of Florida).
The island remained Spanish despite harassment and numerous conquest
attempts by buccaneers and pirates and English and Dutch expeditions. To
defend the island against these threats, two forts, El Morro and San
Crist?bal,were built to guard the approaches to San Juan harbor. Defense of
these forts foiled attempts by Sir Francis Drake in 1595, by another English
fleet in 1598, and by the Dutch in 1625 to capture Puerto Rico for their
respective empires. The defeat of the British in 1797 finally thwarted that
country’s designs on the island, and the Spanish colony was kept intact.
During the 16th to the 19th century Puerto Rico was characterized primarily by
underpopulation, poverty and neglect by Spain. It was mainly a garrison for the
ships that would pass on their way to or from the other and richer colonies.
During this time as much as 10 or 11 years would pass between the arrival of
ships from Spain and as trade with other countries was prohibited, the island
reverted to contraband trading with ships from England, Netherlands or
whomever would trade for the main produce of the island, which at that time
was ginger. This peasant agriculture continued until the early 19th century,
when Spanish law was changed to allow unrestricted trade with the neighbors.
The 19th century in Puerto Rico was characterized by a series of strict if not
brutal military governors which stifled the independence movements in Puerto
Rico that were shaking the foundations of its other American colonies. Slavery
and the importation of slaves reached its peak, with the need for workers on
the sugar and coffee plantations. Slavery, however, never reached the alarming
proportions of freemen to slaves as it did on the other colonies or even on
parts of the United States. While in Haiti in 1789 the slaves comprised 90% of
the population and in Jamaica 85%, in Puerto Rico in 1834 the census
established that 11% of the population were slaves, 35% were colored
freemen and 54% were white. It was only until 1873, however, that slavery
was finally abolished in Puerto Rico.