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    A Brief History of Puerto Rico

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    Puerto Rico served as a bridge between the north coast of South America and Florida for Amazonian tribes in the south and North American inhabitants before Columbus landed in the Caribbean. In 1493, on his second trip, Columbus claimed Puerto Rico for Spain and found it populated by up to 60,000 friendly Arawak or Taino Indians, unlike the warlike and cannibalistic Carib Indians on some of the more southerly islands. The conquest of the island was quick, and the peaceful Tainos were enslaved to mine the gold found on the island. However, the gold did not last long, and in 1511, there was an uprising of the Tainos, who believed the Spaniards were gods until then. They took a soldier named Sotomayor and dunked him headfirst in a river for several hours to see if he would die, preparing a feast in case he survived. The Spanish sword did not take most of the Arawaks’ lives, but the diseases brought from Europe for which the Indians had no defenses.

    In 1508, the first governor, Juan Ponce de León, arrived on the island. He is more famous for his search for the fountain of youth and his discovery of the state of Florida. Despite harassment and numerous conquest attempts by buccaneers, pirates, and English and Dutch expeditions, the island remained Spanish. To defend the island against these threats, two forts, El Morro and San Cristóbal, were built to guard the approaches to San Juan harbor. The defense of these forts foiled attempts by Sir Francis Drake in 1595, another English fleet in 1598, and 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 colonies. As much as 10 or 11 years would pass between the arrival of ships from Spain, and trade with other countries was prohibited. The island reverted to contraband trading with ships from England, the Netherlands, or whoever 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 strict military governors who stifled independence movements. Slavery and the importation of slaves reached its peak due to the need for workers on sugar and coffee plantations. However, slavery never reached the alarming proportions of freemen to slaves as it did in other colonies or parts of the United States. In 1834, the census established that 11% of the population were slaves, 35% were colored freemen, and 54% were white. Slavery was finally abolished in Puerto Rico in 1873.

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    A Brief History of Puerto Rico. (2019, Jan 04). Retrieved from

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