This website is in need of a new Coordinator - if you are interested, please contact Nathan
A very special thanks to José Rivera Nieves who was the original coordinator for Puerto Rico. We have lost contact with him and hope that if he sees this that he will contact us.
The ancient history of the archipelago known today as Puerto Rico is not well known. Unlike other larger, more advanced indigenous communities in the New World (Aztec and Inca) whose people left behind abundant archeological and physical evidence of their societies, the indigenous population of Puerto Rico left scant artifacts and evidence. The scarce archaeological findings and early Spanish scholarly accounts from the colonial era constitute the basis of knowledge about them. The first comprehensive book on the history of Puerto Rico was written by Fray Íñigo Abbad y Lasierra in 1786, almost three centuries after the first Spaniards arrived on the island.
The first settlers were the Ortoiroid people, an Archaic Period culture of Amerindian hunters and fishermen who migrated from the South American mainland. Some scholars suggest that their settlement dates back 4000 years. An archeological dig at the island of Vieques in 1990 found the remains of a man, named the "Puerto Ferro Man", which was dated to around 2000 BC. The Ortoiroid were displaced by the Saladoid, a culture from the same region that arrived on the island between 430 and 250 BC.
The Igneri, a tribe from the region of the Orinoco river in northern South America, migrated to the island between 120 and 400 AD. The Arcaico and Igneri co-existed on the island between the 4th and 10th centuries, and perhaps clashed.
Between the 7th and 11th centuries, the Taíno culture developed on the island; by approximately 1000 AD, it had become dominant. At the time of Columbus' arrival, an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 Taíno Amerindians, led by the cacique (chief) Agüeybaná, inhabited the island. They called it Boriken, meaning "the great land of the valiant and noble Lord." The natives lived in small villages, each led by a cacique. They subsisted by hunting and fishing, done generally by men, as well as by the women's gathering and processing of indigenous cassava root and fruit. This lasted until Columbus arrived in 1493.
Royal Decree of Graces, 1815, which allowed foreigners to enter Puerto Rico
When Columbus arrived in Puerto Rico during his second voyage on November 19, 1493, the island was inhabited by the Taíno. They called it Borikén (Borinquen in Spanish transliteration). Columbus named the island San Juan Bautista, in honor of the Catholic saint, John the Baptist. Juan Ponce de León, a lieutenant under Columbus, founded the first Spanish settlement, Caparra, on August 8, 1508. He later served as the first governor of the island. Eventually, traders and other maritime visitors came to refer to the entire island as Puerto Rico, and San Juan became the name of the main trading/shipping port.
In the beginning of the 16th century, the Spaniards began to colonize the island. They forced the Taíno into an encomienda system of forced labor and used them for laborers. Together with the harsh working conditions, the Taíno suffered epidemics of infectious disease, to which they had no natural immunity. For example, a smallpox outbreak in 1518–1519 killed much of the Island's indigenous population. In 1520, King Charles I of Spain issued a royal decree collectively emancipating the remaining Taíno population. By that time, the Taíno people were few in number. The Spanish began to import slaves from sub-Saharan Africa to have sufficient laborers to develop agriculture and settlements. However, the number of slaves on the island was smaller than on Cuba, Saint-Domingue and Guadeloupe, where Spanish and French developed large sugar plantations based on slave labor.
African slaves were used primarily in the coastal ports and cities where the island's population was concentrated. The interior of the island continued to be essentially unexplored and undeveloped. Puerto Rico soon became an important stronghold and a significant port for the Spanish Main colonial expansion. They built various forts and walls, such as La Fortaleza, El Castillo San Felipe del Morro and El Castillo de San Cristóbal, to protect the strategic port of San Juan from numerous European raids and invasion attempts. San Juan served as an important port-of-call for ships of all European nations, who needed to take on water, food and other commercial provisions and mercantile exchange as part of the Atlantic trade.
During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Spain concentrated its colonial efforts on the more prosperous mainland North, Central, and South American colonies. The island of Puerto Rico was left virtually unexplored, undeveloped, and (excepting coastal outposts) largely unsettled before the 19th century. As independence movements in the larger Spanish colonies gained success, Spain began to pay attention to Puerto Rico as one of its last remaining maritime colonies.
In 1809, to secure its political bond with the island and in the midst of the European Peninsular War, the Supreme Central Junta based in Cádiz recognized Puerto Rico as an overseas province of Spain. It gave the island residents the right to elect representatives to the recently convened Spanish parliament (Cádiz Cortes), with equal representation to mainland Iberian, Mediterranean (Balearic Islands) and Atlantic maritime Spanish provinces (Canary Islands).
Ramon Power y Giralt, the first Spanish parliamentary representative from the island of Puerto Rico, died after serving a three-year term in the Cortes. These parliamentary and constitutional reforms were in force from 1810 to 1814, and again from 1820 to 1823. They were twice reversed during the restoration of the traditional monarchy by Ferdinand VII. Nineteenth century immigration and commercial trade reforms increased the island's ethnic European population and economy, and expanded Spanish cultural and social imprint on the local character of the island.
Minor slave revolts had occurred on the island throughout the years with the revolt planned and organized by Marcos Xiorro in 1821 being the most important. Even though the conspiracy was unsuccessful, Xiorro achieved legendary status and is part of Puerto Rico's folklore.
In the early 19th century, Puerto Rico had an independence movement which, due to harsh persecution by the Spanish authorities, convened in the island of St. Thomas. The movement was largely inspired by the ideals of Simón Bolívar in establishing a United Provinces of New Granada, which included Puerto Rico and Cuba. Among the influential members of this movement were Brigadier General Antonio Valero de Bernabe and María de las Mercedes Barbudo. The movement was discovered and Governor Miguel de la Torre had its members imprisoned or exiled.
With the increasingly rapid growth of independent former Spanish colonies in the South and Central American states in the first part of the 19th century, the Spanish Crown considered Puerto Rico and Cuba of strategic importance. To increase its hold on its last two New World colonies, the Spanish Crown revived the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815. Printed in three languages: Spanish, English and French, it was intended to attract non-Spanish Europeans, with the hope that the independence movements would lose their popularity if new settlers had stronger ties to the Crown. Hundreds of families, mainly from Corsica, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Scotland, immigrated to the island.
Free land was offered as an incentive to those who wanted to populate the two islands on the condition that they swear their loyalty to the Spanish Crown and allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. It was very successful and European immigration continued even after 1898. Puerto Rico today still receives Spanish and European immigration.
Poverty and political estrangement with Spain led to a small but significant uprising in 1868 known as Grito de Lares. It began in the rural town of Lares, but was subdued when rebels moved to the neighboring town of San Sebastián.
Leaders of this independence movement included Ramón Emeterio Betances, considered the "father" of the Puerto Rican independence movement, and other political figures such as Segundo Ruiz Belvis. Slavery in Puerto Rico was abolished in 1873.
Leaders of "El Grito de Lares" went into exile in New York City. Many joined the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Committee, founded on December 8, 1895, and continued their quest for Puerto Rican independence. In 1897, Antonio Mattei Lluberas and the local leaders of the independence movement in Yauco organized another uprising, which became known as the Intentona de Yauco. They raised what they called the Puerto Rican flag, which was adopted as the national flag. The local conservative political factions opposed independence. Rumors of the planned event spread to the local Spanish authorities who acted swiftly and put an end to what would be the last major uprising in the island to Spanish colonial rule.
In 1897, Luis Muñoz Rivera and others persuaded the liberal Spanish government to agree to Charters of Autonomy for Cuba and Puerto Rico. In 1898, Puerto Rico's first, but short-lived, autonomous government was organized as an "overseas province" of Spain. This bilaterally agreed-upon charter maintained a governor appointed by Spain - who held the power to annul any legislative decision - and a partially elected parliamentary structure. In February, Governor-General Manuel Macías inaugurated the new government under the Autonomous Charter. General elections were held in March and the autonomous government began to function on July 17, 1898.
In 1890, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, a member of the Navy War Board and leading U.S. strategic thinker, wrote a book titled The Influence of Sea Power upon History in which he argued for the creation of a large and powerful navy modeled after the British Royal Navy. Part of his strategy called for the acquisition of colonies in the Caribbean, which would serve as coaling and naval stations. They would serve as strategic points of defense with the construction of a canal through the Isthmus of Panama, to allow easier passage of ships between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
William H. Seward, the former Secretary of State under presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, had also stressed the importance of building a canal in Honduras, Nicaragua or Panama. He suggested that the United States annex the Dominican Republic and purchase Puerto Rico and Cuba. The U.S. Senate did not approve his annexation proposal, and Spain rejected the U.S. offer of 160 million dollars for Puerto Rico and Cuba.
Since 1894, the United States Naval War College had been developing contingency plans for a war with Spain. By 1896, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence had prepared a plan that included military operations in Puerto Rican waters. Except for one 1895 plan, which recommended annexation of the island then named Isle of Pines (later renamed as Isla de la Juventud), a recommendation dropped in later planning, plans developed for attacks on Spanish territories were intended as support operations against Spain's forces in and around Cuba. Recent research suggests that the U.S. did consider Puerto Rico valuable as a naval station, and recognized that it and Cuba generated lucrative crops of sugar – a valuable commercial commodity which the United States lacked.
On July 25, 1898, during the Spanish–American War, the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico with a landing at Guánica. As an outcome of the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, along with the Philippines and Guam, then under Spanish sovereignty, to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris. Spain relinquished sovereignty over Cuba, but did not cede it to the U.S.
The United States and Puerto Rico began a long-standing metropolis-colony relationship. In the early 20th century, Puerto Rico was ruled by the military, with officials including the governor appointed by the President of the United States. The Foraker Act of 1900 gave Puerto Rico a certain amount of civilian popular government, including a popularly elected House of Representatives. (The upper house and governor were appointed by the United States; at the time, the US did not have popular election of senators. Until passage of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, most US senators were elected by their respective state legislatures.)
Its judicial system was constructed to follow the American legal system; a Puerto Rico Supreme Court and a United State District Court for the territory were established. It was authorized a non-voting member of Congress, by the title of "Resident Commissioner", who was appointed. In addition, this Act extended all U.S. laws "not locally inapplicable" to Puerto Rico, specifying, in particular, exemption from U.S. Internal Revenue laws.
The Act empowered the civil government to legislate on "all matters of legislative character not locally inapplicable," including the power to modify and repeal any laws then in existence in Puerto Rico, though the U.S. Congress retained the power to annul acts of the Puerto Rico legislature. During an address to the Puerto Rican legislature in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt recommended that Puerto Ricans become U.S. citizens.
In 1914, the Puerto Rican House of Delegates voted unanimously in favor of independence from the United States, but this was rejected by the U.S. Congress as "unconstitutional," and in violation of the 1900 Foraker Act.
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