The History of Puerto Rico
R.A. Van Middeldyk
Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Jayam Subramanian and PG Distributed Proofreaders
The Expansion of the Republic Series.
THE HISTORY OF PUERTO RICO
FROM THE SPANISH DISCOVERY TO THE AMERICAN OCCUPATION
BY R.A. VAN MIDDELDYK
EDITED BY MARTIN G. BRUMBAUGH, PH.D., LL.D. PROFESSOR OF PEDAGOGY,
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA AND FIRST COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION FOR
[Illustration: Columbus statue, San Juan.]
The latest permanent possession of the United States is also the
oldest in point of European occupation. The island of Puerto Rico was
discovered by Columbus in 1493. It was occupied by the United States
Army at Guanica July 25, 1898. Spain formally evacuated the island
October 18, 1898, and military government was established until
Congress made provision for its control. By act of Congress, approved
April 12, 1900, the military control terminated and civil government
was formally instituted May 1,1900.
Puerto Rico has an interesting history. Its four centuries under
Spanish control is a record of unusual and remarkable events. This
record is unknown to the American people. It has never been written
satisfactorily in the Spanish language, and not at all in the English
language. The author of this volume is the first to give to the reader
of English a record of Spanish rule in this "pearl of the Antilles."
Mr. Van Middeldyk is the librarian of the Free Public Library of San
Juan, an institution created under American civil control. He has had
access to all data obtainable in the island, and has faithfully and
conscientiously woven this data into a connected narrative, thus
giving the reader a view of the social and institutional life of the
island for four hundred years.
The author has endeavored to portray salient characteristics of the
life on the island, to describe the various acts of the reigning
government, to point out the evils of colonial rule, and to figure the
general historical and geographical conditions in a manner that
enables the reader to form a fairly accurate judgment of the past and
present state of Puerto Rico.
No attempt has been made to speculate upon the setting of this record
in the larger record of Spanish life. That is a work for the future.
But enough history of Spain and in general of continental Europe is
given to render intelligible the various and varied governmental
activities exercised by Spain in the island. There is, no doubt, much
omitted that future research may reveal, and yet it is just to state
that the record is fairly continuous, and that no salient factors in
the island's history have been overlooked.
The people of Puerto Rico were loyal and submissive to their parent
government. No record of revolts and excessive rioting is recorded.
The island has been continuously profitable to Spain. With even
ordinarily fair administration of government the people have been
self-supporting, and in many cases have rendered substantial aid to
other Spanish possessions. Her native life--the Boriquen
Indians--rapidly became extinct, due to the "gold fever" and the
intermarriage of races. The peon class has always been a faithful
laboring class in the coffee, sugar, and tobacco estates, and the
slave element was never large. A few landowners and the professional
classes dominate the island's life. There is no middle class. There is
an utter absence of the legitimate fruits of democratic institutions.
The poor are in every way objects of pity and of sympathy. They are
the hope of the island. By education, widely diffused, a great unrest
will ensue, and from this unrest will come the social, moral, and
civic uplift of the people.
These people do not suffer from the lack of civilization. They suffer
from the kind of civilization they have endured. The life of the
people is static. Her institutions and customs are so set upon them
that one is most impressed with the absence of legitimate activities.
The people are stoically content. Such, at least, was the condition in
1898. Under the military government of the United States much was done
to prepare the way for future advance. Its weakness was due to its
effectiveness. It did for the people what they should learn to do for
themselves. The island needed a radically new governmental
activity--an activity that would develop each citizen into a
self-respecting and self-directing force in the island's uplift. This
has been supplied by the institution of civil government. The outlook
of the people is now infinitely better than ever before. The progress
now being made is permanent. It is an advance made by the people for
themselves. Civil government is the fundamental need of the island.
Under civil government the entire reorganization of the life of the
people is being rapidly effected. The agricultural status of the
island was never so hopeful. The commercial activity is greatly
increased. The educational awakening is universal and healthy.
Notwithstanding the disastrous cyclone of 1898, and the confusion
incident to a radical governmental reorganization, the wealth per
capita has increased, the home life is improved, and the illiteracy of
the people is being rapidly lessened.
President McKinley declared to the writer that it was his desire "to
put the conscience of the American people into the islands of the
sea." This has been done. The result is apparent. Under wise and
conservative guidance by the American executive officers, the people
of Puerto Rico have turned to this Republic with a patriotism, a zeal,
an enthusiasm that is, perhaps, without a parallel.
In 1898, under President McKinley as commander-in-chief, the army of
the United States forcibly invaded this island. This occupation, by
the treaty of Paris, became permanent. Congress promptly provided
civil government for the island, and in 1901 this conquered people,
almost one million in number, shared in the keen grief that attended
universally the untimely death of their conqueror. The island on the
occasion of the martyr's death was plunged in profound sorrow, and at
a hundred memorial services President McKinley was mourned by
thousands, and he was tenderly characterized as "the founder of human
liberty in Puerto Rico."
The judgment of the American people relative to this island is based
upon meager data. The legal processes attending its entrance into the
Union have been the occasion of much comment. This comment has
invariably lent itself to a discussion of the effect of judicial
decision upon our home institutions. It has been largely a speculative
concern. In some cases it has become a political concern in the
narrowest partizan sense. The effect of all this upon the people of
Puerto Rico has not been considered. Their rights and their needs have
not come to us. We have not taken President McKinley's broad, humane,
and exalted view of our obligation to these people. They have
implicitly entrusted their life, liberty, and property to our
guardianship. The great Republic has a debt of honor to the island
which indifference and ignorance of its needs can never pay. It is
hoped that this record of their struggles during four centuries will
be a welcome source of insight and guidance to the people of the
United States in their efforts to see their duty and do it.
M. G. BRUMBAUGH. PHILADELPHIA, _January 1, 1903_.
Some years ago, Mr. Manuel Elzaburu, President of the San Juan
Provincial Atheneum, in a public speech, gave it as his opinion that
the modern historian of Puerto Rico had yet to appear. This was said,
not in disparagement of the island's only existing history, but rather
as a confirmation of the general opinion that the book which does duty
as such is incorrect and incomplete.
This book is Friar Inigo Abbad's Historia de la Isla San Juan
Bautista, which was written in 1782 by disposition of the Count of
Floridablanca, the Minister of Colonies of Charles III, and published
in Madrid in 1788. In 1830 it was reproduced in San Juan without any
change in the text, and in 1866 Mr. Jose Julian Acosta published a new
edition with copious notes, comments, and additions, which added much
data relative to the Benedictine monks, corrected numerous errors, and
supplemented the chapters, some of which, in the original, are
exceedingly short, the whole history terminating abruptly with the
nineteenth chapter, that is, with the beginning of the eighteenth
century. The remaining 21 chapters are merely descriptive of the
country and people.
Besides this work there are others by Puerto Rican authors, each one
elucidating one or more phases of the island's history. With these
separate and diverse materials, supplemented by others of my own, I
have constructed the present history.
The transcendental change in the island's social and political
conditions, inaugurated four years ago, made the writing of an English
history of Puerto Rico necessary. The American officials who are
called upon to guide the destinies and watch over the moral, material,
and intellectual progress of the inhabitants of this new accession to
the great Republic will be able to do so all the better when they have
a knowledge of the people's historical antecedents.
I have endeavored to supply this need to the best of my ability, and
herewith offer to the public the results of an arduous, though
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO, _November 3, 1902._
I.--THE DEPARTURE. 1493
II.--THE DISCOVERY. 1493
III.--PONCE AND CERON. 1500-1511
IV.--FIRST DISTRIBUTION OF INDIANS. "REPARTIMIENTOS" 1510
V.--THE REBELLION. 1511
VI.--THE REBELLION (_continued_.) 1511
VII.--NUMBER OF ABORIGINAL INHABITANTS AND SECOND
DISTRIBUTION OF INDIANS. 1511-1515
VIII.--LAWS AND ORDINANCES. 1511-1515
IX.--THE RETURN OF CERON AND DIAZ. PONCE'S FIRST
EXPEDITION TO FLORIDA. 1511-1515
X.--DISSENSIONS. TRANSFER OF THE CAPITAL. 1515-1520
XI.--CALAMITIES. PONCE'S SECOND EXPEDITION TO FLORIDA
AND DEATH. 1520-1537
XII.--INCURSIONS OF FUGITIVE BORIQUEN INDIANS AND CARIBS. 1520-1582
XIII.--DEPOPULATION OF THE ISLAND. PREVENTIVE MEASURES.
INTRODUCTION OF NEGRO SLAVES. 1515-1534
XIV.--ATTACKS BY FRENCH PRIVATEERS. CAUSE OF THE WAR WITH
FRANCE. CHARLES V. RUIN OF THE ISLAND. 1520-1556
XV.--SEDESO. CHANGES IN THE SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT 1534-1555
XVI.--DEFENSELESS CONDITION OF THE ISLAND. CONSTRUCTION
OF FORTIFICATIONS AND CIRCUMVALLATION
OF SAN JUAN. 1555-1641
XVII.--DRAKE'S ATTACK ON SAN JUAN. 1595
XVIII.--OCCUPATION AND EVACUATION OF SAN JUAN BY
LORD GEORGE CUMBERLAND. CONDITION OF
THE ISLAND AT THE END OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
XIX.--ATTACK ON SAN JUAN BY THE HOLLANDERS UNDER BOWDOIN. 1625
XX.--DECLINE OF SPAIN'S POWER. BUCCANEERS AND
XXI.--BRITISH ATTACKS ON PUERTO RICO. SIEGE OF SAN
JUAN BY SIR RALPH ABERCROMBIE. 1678-1797
XXII.--BRITISH ATTACKS ON PUERTO RICO (_continued_).
INVASIONS BY COLOMBIAN INSURGENTS. 1797-1829
XXIII.--REVIEW OF THE SOCIAL CONDITIONS IN PUERTO RICO AND THE
POLITICAL EVENTS IN SPAIN FROM 1765 TO 1820
XXIV.--GENERAL CONDITION OF THE ISLAND FROM 1815 TO 1833
XXV.--POLITICAL EVENTS IN SPAIN AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON AFFAIRS
IN PUERTO RICO. 1833-1874
XXVI.--GENERAL CONDITIONS OF THE ISLAND, THE DAWN OF FREEDOM.
THE PEOPLE AND THEIR INSTITUTIONS
XXVII.--SITUATION AND GENERAL APPEARANCE OF PUERTO RICO
XXVIII.--ORIGIN, CHARACTER, AND CUSTOMS OF THE PRIMITIVE
INHABITANTS OF BORIQUEN
XXIX.--THE "JIBARO" OR PUERTO RICAN PEASANT
XXX.--ORIGIN AND CHARACTER OF THE MODERN INHABITANTS OF PUERTO
XXXI.--NEGRO SLAVERY IN PUERTO RICO
XXII.--INCREASE OF POPULATION
XXIII.--AGRICULTURE IN PUERTO RICO
XXXIV.--COMMERCE AND FINANCES
XXXV.--EDUCATION IN PUERTO RICO
XXXVI.--LIBRARIES AND THE PRESS
XXXVII.--THE REGULAR AND SECULAR CLERGY
XXXVIII.--THE INQUISITION. 1520-1813
XXXIX.--GROWTH OF CITIES
XL.--AURIFEROUS STREAMS AND GOLD PRODUCED FROM 1609 TO 1536
XLI.--WEST INDIAN HURRICANES IN PUERTO RICO FROM 1515 TO 1899
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Columbus statue, San Juan
Ruins of Caparra
Columbus monument, near Aguadilla
Statue of Ponce de Leon, San Juan
Inner harbor, San Juan
Fort San Geronimo, at Santurce, near San Juan
Only remaining gate of the city-wall, San Juan
A tienda, or small shop
Planter's house, ceiba tree, and royal palms
San Francisco Church, San Juan; the oldest church in the city
Plaza Alphonso XII and Intendencia Building, San Juan
Casa Blanca and the sea wall, San Juan
PART I HISTORICAL
CHAPTER I THE DEPARTURE
Eight centuries of a gigantic struggle for supremacy between the
Crescent and the Cross had devastated the fairest provinces of the
Spanish Peninsula. Boabdil, the last of the Moorish kings, had
delivered the keys of Granada into the hands of Queen Isabel, the
proud banner of the united kingdoms of Castile and Aragon floated
triumphant from the walls of the Alhambra, and Providence, as if to
recompense Iberian knighthood for turning back the tide of Moslem
conquest, which threatened to overrun the whole of meridional Europe,
had laid a new world, with all its inestimable treasures and millions
of benighted inhabitants, at the feet of the Catholic princes.
Columbus had just returned from his first voyage. He had been scorned
as an adventurer by the courtiers of Lisbon, mocked as a visionary by
the learned priests of the Council in Salamanca, who, with texts from
the Scriptures and quotations from the saints, had tried to convince
him that the world was flat; he had been pointed at by the rabble in
the streets as a madman who maintained that there was a land where the
people walked with their heads down; and, after months of trial, he
had been able to equip his three small craft and collect a crew of
ninety men only by the aid of a royal schedule offering exemption from
punishment for offenses against the laws to all who should join the
At last he had sailed amid the murmurs of an incredulous crowd, who
thought him and his companions doomed to certain destruction, and now
he had returned bringing with him the living proofs of what he had
declared to exist beyond that mysterious ocean, and showed to the
astounded people samples of the unknown plants and animals, and of
_the gold_ which he had said would be found there in fabulous
It was the proudest moment of the daring navigator's life when, clad
in his purple robe of office, bedecked with the insignia of his rank,
he entered the throne-room of the palace in Barcelona and received
permission to be seated in the royal presence to relate his
experiences. Around the hall stood the grandees of Spain and the
magnates of the Church, as obsequious and attentive to him now as they
had been proud and disdainful when, a hungry wanderer, he had knocked
at the gates of La Rabida to beg bread for his son. It was the acme of
the discoverer's destiny, the realization of his dream of glory, the
well-earned recompense of years of persevering endeavor.
The news of the discovery created universal enthusiasm. When it was
announced that a second expedition was being organized there was no
need of a royal schedule of remission of punishment to criminals to
obtain crews. The Admiral's residence was besieged all day long by the
hidalgos who were anxious to share with him the expected glories
and riches. The cessation of hostilities in Granada had left thousands
of knights, whose only patrimony was their sword, without
occupation--men with iron muscles, inured to hardship and danger,
eager for adventure and conquest.
Then there were the monks and priests, whose religious zeal was
stimulated by the prospect of converting to Christianity the benighted
inhabitants of unknown realms; there were ruined traders, who hoped to
mend their fortunes with the gold to be had, as they thought, for
picking it up; finally, there were the proteges of royalty and of
influential persons at court, who aspired to lucrative places in the
new territories; in short, the Admiral counted among the fifteen
hundred companions of his second expedition individuals of the bluest
blood in Spain.
As for the mariners, men-at-arms, mechanics, attendants, and servants,
they were mostly greedy, vicious, ungovernable, and turbulent
The confiscated property of the Jews, supplemented by a loan and some
extra duties on articles of consumption, provided the funds for the
expedition; a sufficient quantity of provisions was embarked; twenty
Granadian lancers with their spirited Andalusian horses were
accommodated; cuirasses, swords, pikes, crossbows, muskets, powder and
balls were ominously abundant; seed-corn, rice, sugar-cane,
vegetables, etc., were not forgotten; cattle, sheep, goats, swine, and
fowls for stocking the new provinces, provided for future needs; and a
breed of mastiff dogs, originally intended, perhaps, as watch-dogs
only, but which became in a short time the dreaded destroyers of
natives. Finally, Pope Alexander VI, of infamous memory, drew a line
across the map of the world, from pole to pole, and assigned all
the undiscovered lands west of it to Spain, and those east of it to
Portugal, thus arbitrarily dividing the globe between the two powers.
At daybreak, September 25, 1493, seventeen ships, three caracas of one
hundred tons each, two naos, and twelve caravels, sailed from Cadiz
amid the ringing of bells and the enthusiastic Godspeeds of thousands
of spectators. The son of a Genoese wool-carder stood there, the equal
in rank of the noblest hidalgo in Spain, Admiral of the Indian Seas,
Viceroy of all the islands and continents to be discovered, and
one-tenth of all the gold and treasures they contained would be his!
Alas for the evanescence of worldly greatness! All this glory was soon
to be eclipsed. Eight years after that day of triumph he again landed
on the shore of Spain a pale and emaciated prisoner in chains.
It may easily be conceived that the voyage for these fifteen hundred
men, most of whom were unaccustomed to the sea, was not a pleasure
Fortunately they had fine weather and fair wind till October 26th,
when they experienced their first tropical rain and thunder-storm, and
the Admiral ordered litanies. On November 2d he signaled to the fleet
to shorten sail, and on the morning of the 3d fifteen hundred pairs of
wondering eyes beheld the mountains of an island mysteriously hidden
till then in the bosom of the Atlantic Ocean.
Among the spectators were Bernal Diaz de Pisa, accountant of the
fleet, the first conspirator in America; thirteen Benedictine friars,
with Boil at their head, who, with Moren Pedro de Margarit, the
strategist, respectively represented the religious and military
powers; there was Roldan, another insubordinate, the first alcalde of
the Espanola; there were Alonzo de Ojeda and Guevara, true
knights-errant, who were soon to distinguish themselves: the first by
the capture of the chief Caonabo, the second by his romantic
love-affair with Higuemota, the daughter of the chiefess Anacaona.
There was Adrian Mojica, destined shortly to be hanged on the ramparts
of Fort Concepcion by order of the Viceroy. There was Juan de
Esquivel, the future conqueror of Jamaica; Sebastian Olano, receiver
of the royal share of the gold and other riches that no one doubted to
find; Father Marchena, the Admiral's first protector, friend, and
counselor; the two knight commanders of military orders Gallego and
Arroyo; the fleet's physician, Chanca; the queen's three servants,
Navarro, Pena-soto, and Girau; the pilot, Antonio de Torres, who was
to return to Spain with the Admiral's ship and first despatches.
There was Juan de la Cosa, cartographer, who traced the first map of
the Antilles; there were the father and uncle of Bartolome de las
Casas, the apostle of the Indies; Diego de Penalosa, the first notary
public; Fermin Jedo, the metallurgist, and Villacorta, the mechanical
engineer. Luis de Ariega, afterward famous as the defender of the fort
at Magdalena; Diego Velasquez, the future conqueror of Cuba; Vega,
Abarca, Gil Garcia, Marguez, Maldonado, Beltran and many other doughty
warriors, whose names had been the terror of the Moors during the war
in Granada. Finally, there were Diego Columbus, the Admiral's brother;
and among the men-at-arms, one, destined to play the principal role in
the conquest of Puerto Rico. His name was Juan Ponce, a native of
Santervas or Sanservas de Campos in the kingdom of Leon. He had served
fifteen years in the war with the Moors as page or shield-bearer to
Pedro Nunez de Guzman, knight commander of the order of Calatrava, and
he had joined Columbus like the rest--to seek his fortune in the
[Footnote 1: March 15, 1493.]
[Footnote 2: Literally, "_hijos d'algo_," sons of something or
[Footnote 3: La Fuente. Hista. general de Espana.]
[Footnote 4: Along the 30th parallel of longitude W. of Greenwich.]
THE first island discovered on this voyage lies between 14 deg. and 15 deg.
north latitude, near the middle of a chain of islands of different
sizes, intermingled with rocks and reefs, which stretches from
Trinidad, near the coast of Venezuela, in a north-by-westerly
direction to Puerto Rico. They are divided in two groups, the Windward
Islands forming the southern, the Leeward Islands the northern portion
of the chain.
The Admiral shaped his course in the direction in which the islands,
one after the other, loomed up, merely touching at some for the
purpose of obtaining what information he could, which was meager
For an account of the expedition's experiences on that memorable
voyage, we have the fleet physician Chanca's circumstantial
description addressed to the Municipal Corporation of Seville, sent
home by the same pilot who conveyed the Admiral's first despatches to
the king and queen.
After describing the weather experienced up to the time the fleet
arrived at the island "de Hierro," he tells their worships that for
nineteen or twenty days they had the best weather ever experienced on
such a long voyage, excepting on the eve of San Simon, when they had a
storm which for four hours caused them great anxiety.
At daybreak on Sunday, November 3d, the pilot of the flagship
announced land. "It was marvelous," says Chanca, "to see and hear the
people's manifestations of joy; and with reason, for they were very
weary of the hardships they had undergone, and longed to be on land
The first island they saw was high and mountainous. As the day
advanced they saw another more level, and then others appeared, till
they counted six, some of good size, and all covered with forest to
the water's edge.
Sailing along the shore of the first discovered island for the
distance of a league, and finding no suitable anchoring ground, they
proceeded to the next island, which was four or five leagues distant,
and here the Admiral landed, bearing the royal standard, and took
formal possession of this and all adjacent lands in the name of their
Highnesses. He named the first island Dominica, because it was
discovered on a Sunday, and to the second island he gave the name of
his ship, Marie-Galante.
"In this island," says Chanca, "it was wonderful to see the dense
forest and the great variety of unknown trees, some in bloom, others
with fruit, everything looking so green. We found a tree the leaves
whereof resembled laurel leaves, but not so large, and they exhaled
the finest odor of cloves.
"There were fruits of many kinds, some of which the men imprudently
tasted, with the result that their faces swelled, and that they
suffered such violent pain in throat and mouth that they behaved
like madmen, the application of cold substances giving them some
relief." No signs of inhabitants were discovered, so they remained
ashore two hours only and left next morning early (November 4th) in
the direction of another island seven or eight leagues northward. They
anchored off the southernmost coast of it, now known as Basse Terre,
and admired a mountain in the distance, which seemed to reach into the
sky (the volcano "la Souffriere"), and the beautiful waterfall on its
flank. The Admiral sent a small caravel close inshore to look for a
port, which was soon found. Perceiving some huts, the captain landed,
but the people who occupied them escaped into the forest as soon as
they saw the strangers. On entering the huts they found two large
parrots (guacamayos) entirely different from those seen until then by
the Spaniards, much cotton, spun and ready for spinning, and other
articles, bringing away a little of each, "especially," says the
doctor, "four or five bones of human arms and legs."
From this the Admiral concluded that he had found the islands
inhabited by the redoubtable Caribs, of whom he had heard on his first
voyage, and who were said to eat human flesh. The general direction
in which these islands were situated had been pointed out to him by
the natives of Guanahani and the Espanola; hence, he had steered a
southwesterly course on this his second voyage, "and," says the
doctor, "by the goodness of God and the Admiral's knowledge, we came
as straight as if we had come by a known and continuous route."
Having found a convenient port and seen some groups of huts, the
inhabitants of which fled as soon as they perceived the ships, the
Admiral gave orders that the next morning early parties of men should
go on shore to reconnoiter. Accordingly some captains, each with a
small band of men, dispersed. Most of them returned before noon with
the tangible results of their expeditions; one party brought a boy of
about fourteen years of age, who, from the signs he made, was
understood to be a captive from some other island; another party
brought a child that had been abandoned by the man who was leading it
by the hand when he perceived the Spaniards; others had taken some
women; and one party was accompanied by women who had voluntarily
joined them and who, on that account, were believed to be captives
also. Captain Diego Marquiz with six men, who had entered the thickest
part of the forest, did not return that night, nor the three following
days, notwithstanding the Admiral had sent Alonzo de Ojeda with forty
men to explore the jungle, blow trumpets, and do all that could be
done to find them. When, on the morning of the fourth day, they had
not returned, there was ground for concluding that they had been
killed and eaten by the natives; but they made their appearance in
the course of the day, emaciated and wearied, having suffered great
hardships, till by chance they had struck the coast and followed it
till they reached the ships. They brought ten persons, with
them--women and boys.
During the days thus lost the other captains collected more than
twenty female captives, and three boys came running toward them,
evidently escaping from their captors. Few men were seen. It was
afterward ascertained that ten canoes full had gone on one of their
marauding expeditions. In their different expeditions on shore the
Spaniards found all the huts and villages abandoned, and in them "an
infinite quantity" of human bones and skulls hanging on the walls as
receptacles. From the natives taken on board the Spaniards learned
that the name of the first island they had seen was Cayri or Keiree;
the one they were on they named Sibuqueira, and they spoke of a third,
not yet discovered, named Aye-Aye. The Admiral gave to Sibuqueira the
name of Guadaloupe.
Anchors were weighed at daybreak on November 10th. About noon of the
next day the fleet reached an island which Juan de la Cosa laid down
on his map with the name Santa Maria de Monserrat. From the Indian
women on board it was understood that this island had been depopulated
by the Caribs and was then uninhabited. On the same day in the
afternoon they made another island which, according to Navarrete, was
named by the Admiral Santa Maria de la Redonda (the round one), and
seeing that there were many shallows in the neighborhood, and that it
would be dangerous to continue the voyage during the night, the fleet
came to anchor.
On the following morning (the 13th) another island was discovered (la
Antigua); thence the fleet proceeded in a northwesterly direction to
San Martin, without landing at any place, because, as Chanca observes,
"the Admiral was anxious to arrive at 'la Espanola.'"
After weighing anchor at San Martin on the morning of Thursday the
14th, the fleet experienced rough weather and was driven southward,
anchoring the same day off the island Aye-Aye (Santa Cruz).
Fernandez, the Admiral's son, in his description of his father's
second voyage, says that a small craft (a sloop) with twenty-five men
was sent ashore to take some of the people, that Columbus might obtain
information from them regarding his whereabouts. While they carried
out this order a canoe with four men, two women, and a boy approached
the ships, and, struck with astonishment at what they saw, they never
moved from one spot till the sloop returned with four kidnaped women
and three children.
When the natives in the canoe saw the sloop bearing down upon them,
and that they had no chance of escape, they showed fight. Two
Spaniards were wounded--an arrow shot by one of the amazons went clear
through a buckler--then the canoe was overturned, and finding a
footing in a shallow place, they continued the fight till they were
all taken, one of them being mortally wounded by the thrust of a
To regain the latitude in which he was sailing when the storm began to
drive his ships southwestward to Aye-Aye, the Admiral, after a delay
of only a few hours, steered north, until, toward nightfall, he
reached a numerous group of small islands. Most of them appeared bare
and devoid of vegetation. The next morning (November 15th) a small
caravel was sent among the group to explore, the other ships standing
out to sea for fear of shallows, but nothing of interest was found
except a few Indian fishermen. All the islands were uninhabited, and
they were baptized "the eleven thousand Virgins." The largest one,
according to Navarrete, was named Santa Ursula--"la Virgin Gorda" (the
fat Virgin) according to Angleria.
During the night the ships lay to at sea. On the 16th the voyage was
continued till the afternoon of the 17th, when another island was
sighted; the fleet sailed along its southern shore for a whole day.
That night two women and a boy of those who had voluntarily joined the
expedition in Sobuqueira, swam ashore, having recognized their home.
On the 19th the fleet anchored in a bay on the western coast, where
Columbus landed and took possession in the name of his royal patrons
with the same formalities as observed in Marie-Galante, and named the
island San Juan Bautista. Near the landing-place was found a deserted
village consisting of a dozen huts of the usual size surrounding a
larger one of superior construction; from the village a road or walk,
hedged in by trees and plants, led to the sea, "which," says
Munoz, "gave it the aspect of some cacique's place of seaside
After remaining two days in port (November 20th and 21st), and without
a single native having shown himself, the fleet lifted anchor on the
morning of the 22d, and proceeding on its northwesterly course,
reached the bay of Samana, in Espanola, before night, whence, sailing
along the coast, the Admiral reached the longed-for port of Navidad on
the 25th, only to find that the first act of the bloody drama that was
to be enacted in this bright new world had already been performed.
Here we leave Columbus and his companions to play the important roles
in the conquest of America assigned to each of them. The fortunes of
the yeoman of humble birth, the former lance-bearer or stirrup-page of
the knight commander of Calatrava, already referred to, were destined
to become intimately connected with those of the island whose history
we will now trace.
[Footnote 5: The "Caryophyllus pimienta," Coll y Toste.]
[Footnote 6: Navarrete supposes this to have been the fruit of the
Manzanilla "hippomane Mancinella," which produces identical effects.]
[Footnote 7: Historia del Nuevo Mundo.]
PONCE AND CERON
Friar Inigo Abbad, in his History of the Island San Juan Bautista de
Puerto Rico, gives the story of the discovery in a very short chapter,
and terminates it with the words: "Columbus sailed for Santo Domingo
November 22, 1493, and thought no more of the island, which remained
forgotten till Juan Ponce returned to explore it in 1508."
This is not correct. The island was not forgotten, for Don Jose Julian
de Acosta, in his annotations to the Benedictine monk's history (pp.
21 and 23), quotes a royal decree of March 24, 1505, appointing
Vicente Yanez Pinzon Captain and "corregidor" of the island San Juan
Bautista and governor of the fort that he was to construct therein.
Pinzon transferred his rights and titles in the appointment to Martin
Garcia de Salazar, in company with whom he stocked the island with
cattle; but it seems that Boriquen did not offer sufficient scope for
the gallant pilot's ambition, for we find him between the years 1506
and 1508 engaged in seeking new conquests on the continent.
As far as Columbus himself is concerned, the island was certainly
forgotten amid the troubles that beset him on all sides almost from
the day of his second landing in "la Espanola." From 1493 to 1500 a
series of insurrections broke out, headed successively by Diaz,
Margarit, Aguado, Roldan, and others, supported by the convict rabble
that, on the Admiral's own proposals to the authorities in Spain, had
been liberated from galleys and prisons on condition that they should
join him on his third expedition. These men, turbulent, insubordinate,
and greedy, found hunger, hardships, and sickness where they had
expected to find plenty, comfort, and wealth. The Admiral, who had
indirectly promised them these things, to mitigate the universal and
bitter disappointment, had recourse to the unwarrantable expedients of
enslaving the natives, sending them to Spain to be sold, of levying
tribute on those who remained, and, worst of all, dooming them to a
sure and rapid extermination by forced labor.
The natives, driven to despair, resisted, and in the encounters
between the naked islanders and the mailed invaders Juan Ponce
distinguished himself so that Nicolos de Ovando, the governor, made
him the lieutenant of Juan Esquivel, who was then engaged in
"pacifying" the province of Higueey. After Esquivel's departure on
the conquest of Jamaica, Ponce was advanced to the rank of captain,
and it was while he was in the Higueey province that he learned from
the Boriquen natives, who occasionally visited the coast, that there
was gold in the rivers of their as yet unexplored island. This was
enough to awaken his ambition to explore it, and having asked
permission of Ovando, it was granted.
Ponce equipped a caravel at once, and soon after left the port of
Salvaleon with a few followers and some Indians to serve as guides and
They probably landed at or near the same place at which their captain
had landed fifteen years before with the Admiral, that is to say, in
the neighborhood of la Aguada, where, according to Las Casas, the
ships going and coming to and from Spain had called regularly to take
in fresh water ever since the year 1502.
The strangers were hospitably received. It appears that the mother of
the local cacique, who was also the chief cacique of that part of the
island, was a woman of acute judgment. She had, no doubt, heard from
fugitives from la Espanola of the doings of the Spaniards there, and
of their irresistible might in battle, and had prudently counseled her
son to receive the intruders with kindness and hospitality.
Accordingly Ponce and his men were welcomed and feasted. They were
supplied with provisions; areitos (dances) were held in their honor;
batos (games of ball) were played to amuse them, and the practise,
common among many of the aboriginal tribes in different parts of the
world, of exchanging names with a visitor as a mark of brotherly
affection, was also resorted to to cement the new bonds of friendship,
so that Guaybana became Ponce for the time being, and Ponce Guaybana.
The sagacious mother of the chief received the name of Dona Inez,
other names were bestowed on other members of the family, and to
crown all, Ponce received the chief's sister in marriage.
Under these favorable auspices Ponce made known his desire to see the
places where the chiefs obtained the yellow metal for the disks which,
as a distinctive of their rank, they wore as medals round their neck.
Guaybana responded with alacrity to his Spanish brother's wish, and
accompanied him on what modern gold-seekers would call "a prospecting
tour" to the interior. The Indian took pride in showing him the rivers
Manatuabon, Manati, Sibuco, and others, and in having their sands
washed in the presence of his white friends, little dreaming that by
so doing he was sealing the doom of himself and people.
Ponce was satisfied with the result of his exploration, and returned
to la Espanola in the first months of 1509, taking with him the
samples of gold collected, and leaving behind some of his companions,
who probably then commenced to lay the foundations of Caparra. It is
believed that Guaybana accompanied him to see and admire the wonders
of the Spanish settlement. The gold was smelted and assayed, and found
to be 450 maravedis per peso fine, which was not as fine as the gold
obtained in la Espanola, but sufficiently so for the king of Spain's
purposes, for he wrote to Ponce in November, 1509: "I have seen your
letter of August 16th. Be very diligent in searching for gold mines in
the island of San Juan; take out as much as possible, and after
smelting it in la Espanola, send it immediately."
On August 14th of the same year Don Fernando had already written to
the captain thanking him for his diligence in the settlement of the
island and appointing him governor _ad interim_.
Ponce returned to San Juan in July or the beginning of August, after
the arrival in la Espanola of Diego, the son of Christopher Columbus,
with his family and a new group of followers, as Viceroy and Admiral.
The Admiral, aware of the part which Ponce had taken in the
insurrection of Roldan against his father's authority, bore him no
good-will, notwithstanding the king's favorable disposition toward the
captain, as manifested in the instructions which he received from
Ferdinand before his departure from Spain (May 13, 1509), in which his
Highness referred to Juan Ponce de Leon as being by his special grace
and good-will authorized to settle the island of San Juan Bautista,
requesting the Admiral to make no innovations in the arrangement, and
charging him to assist and favor the captain in his undertaking.
After Don Diego's arrival in la Espanola he received a letter from the
king, dated September 15, 1509, saying, "Ovando wrote that Juan Ponce
had not gone to settle the island of San Juan for want of stores; now
that they have been provided in abundance, let it be done."
But the Admiral purposely ignored these instructions. He deposed Ponce
and appointed Juan Ceron as governor in his place, with a certain
Miguel Diaz as High Constable, and Diego Morales for the office next
in importance. His reason for thus proceeding in open defiance of the
king's orders, independent of his resentment against Ponce, was the
maintenance of the prerogatives of his rank as conceded to his father,
of which the appointment of governors and mayors over any or all the
islands discovered by him was one.
Ceron and his two companions, with more than two hundred Spaniards,
sailed for San Juan in 1509, and were well received by Guaybana and
his Indians, among whom they took up their residence and at once
commenced the search for gold. In the meantime Ponce, in his capacity
as governor _ad interim_, continued his correspondence with the king,
who, March 2, 1510, signed his appointment as permanent governor.
This conferred upon him the power to sentence in civil and criminal
affairs, to appoint and remove alcaldes, constables, etc., subject to
appeal to the government of la Espanola. Armed with his new authority,
and feeling himself strong in the protection of his king, Ponce now
proceeded to arrest Ceron and his two fellow officials, and sent them
to Spain in a vessel that happened to call at the island, confiscating
all their property.
Diego Columbus, on hearing of Ponce's highhanded proceedings,
retaliated by the confiscation of all the captain's property in la
These events did not reach the king's ears till September, 1510. He
comprehended at once that his protege had acted precipitately, and
gave orders that the three prisoners should be set at liberty
immediately after their arrival in Spain and proceed to the Court to
appear before the Council of Indies. He next ordered Ponce (November
26, 1510) to place the confiscated properties and Indians of Ceron and
his companions at the disposal of the persons they should designate
for that purpose. Finally, after due investigation and recognition of
the violence of Ponce's proceedings, the king wrote to him June 6,
1511: "Because it has been resolved in the Council of Indies that the
government of this and the other islands discovered by his father
belongs to the Admiral and his successors, it is necessary to return
to Ceron, Diaz, and Morales their staffs of office. You will come to
where I am, leaving your property in good security, and We will see
wherein we can employ you in recompense of your good services."
Ceron and his companions received instructions not to molest Ponce nor
any of his officers, nor demand an account of their acts, and they
were recommended to endeavor to gain their good-will and assistance.
The reinstated officers returned to San Juan in the latter part of
1511. Ponce, in obedience to the king's commands, quietly delivered
the staff of office to Ceron, and withdrew to his residence in
Caparra. He had already collected considerable wealth, which was soon
to serve him in other adventurous enterprises.
[Footnote 8: The slaughter of rebellious Indians was called
"pacification" by the Spaniards.]
[Footnote 9: The document is signed by Ferdinand and his daughter,
Dona Juana, as heir to her mother, for the part corresponding to each
in the sovereignty over the island San Juan Bautista.]
FIRST DISTRIBUTION OF INDIANS. "REPARTIMIENTOS"
Soon after Ponce's return from la Espanola Guaybana sickened and died.
Up to this time the harmony established by the prudent cacique between
his tribesmen and the Spaniards on their first arrival had apparently
not been disturbed. There is no record of any dissension between them
during Ponce's absence.
The cacique was succeeded by his brother, who according to custom
assumed the name of the deceased chief, together with his authority.
The site for his first settlement, chosen by Ponce, was a low hill in
the center of a small plain surrounded by hills, at the distance of a
league from the sea, the whole space between being a swamp, "which,"
says Oviedo, "made the transport of supplies very difficult." Here the
captain commenced the construction of a fortified house and chapel, or
hermitage, and called the place Caparra.
[Illustration: Ruins of Caparra, the first capital.]
Among the recently arrived Spaniards there was a young man of
aristocratic birth named Christopher de Soto Mayor, who possessed
powerful friends at Court. He had been secretary to King Philip I,
and according to Abbad, was intended by Ferdinand as future governor
of San Juan; but Senor Acosta, the friar's commentator, remarks with
reason, that it is not likely that the king, who showed so much tact
and foresight in all his acts, should place a young man without
experience over an old soldier like Ponce, for whom he had a special
The young hidalgo seemed to aspire to nothing higher than a life of
adventure, for he agreed to go as Ponce's lieutenant and form a
settlement on the south coast of the island near the bay of Guanica.
"In this settlement," says Oviedo, "there were so many mosquitoes that
they alone were enough to depopulate it, and the people passed to
Aguada, which is said to be to the west-nor'-west, on the borders of
the river Culebrinas, in the district now known as Aguada and
Aguadilla; to this new settlement they gave the name Sotomayor, and
while they were there the Indians rose in rebellion one Friday in the
beginning of the year 1511."
* * * * *
The second Guaybana was far from sharing his predecessor's
good-will toward the Spaniards or his prudence in dealing with them;
nor was the conduct of the newcomers toward the natives calculated to
cement the bonds of friendship.
Fancying themselves secure in the friendly disposition of the
natives, prompted by that spirit of reckless daring and adventure that
distinguished most of the followers of Columbus, anxious to be first
to find a gold-bearing stream or get possession of some rich piece of
land, they did not confine themselves to the two settlements formed,
but spread through the interior, where they began to lay out farms and
to work the auriferous river sands.
In the beginning the natives showed themselves willing enough to
assist in these labors, but when the brutal treatment to which the
people of la Espanola had been subjected was meted out to them also,
and the greed of gold caused their self-constituted masters to exact
from them labors beyond their strength, the Indians murmured, then
protested, at last they resisted, and at each step the taskmasters
became more exacting, more relentless.
At the time of the arrival of the Spaniards the natives of Boriquen
seem to have led an Arcadian kind of existence; their bows and arrows
were used only when some party of Caribs came to carry off their young
men and maidens. Among themselves they lived at peace, and passed
their days in lazily swinging in their hammocks and playing ball or
dancing their "areytos." With little labor the cultivation of their
patches of yucca required was performed by the women, and beyond
the construction of their canoes and the carving of some battle club,
they knew no industry, except, perhaps, the chipping of some stone
into the rude likeness of a man, or of one of the few animals they
These creatures were suddenly called upon to labor from morning to
night, to dig and delve, and to stand up to their hips in water
washing the river sands. They were forced to change their habits and
their food, and from free and, in their own way, happy masters of the
soil they became the slaves of a handful of ruthless men from beyond
the sea. When Ponce's order to distribute them among his men confirmed
the hopelessness of their slavery, they looked upon the small number
of their destroyers and began to ask themselves if there were no means
of getting rid of them.
* * * * *
The system of "repartimientos" (distribution), sometimes called
"encomiendas" (patronage), was first introduced in la Espanola by
Columbus and sanctioned later by royal authority. Father Las Casas
insinuates that Ponce acted arbitrarily in introducing it in Boriquen,
but there were precedents for it.
The first tribute imposed by Columbus on the natives of la Espanola
was in gold and in cotton(1495). Recognizing that the Indians
could not comply with this demand, the Admiral modified it, but still
they could not satisfy him, and many, to escape the odious imposition,
fled to the woods and mountains or wandered about from place to place.
The Admiral, in virtue of the powers granted to him, had divided the
land among his followers according to rank, or merit, or caprice, and
in the year 1496 substituted the forced labor of the Indians for the
tribute, each cacique being obliged to furnish a stipulated number of
men to cultivate the lands granted. Bobadilla, the Admiral's
successor, made this obligation to work on the land extend to the
mines, and in the royal instructions given to Ovando, who succeeded
Bobadilla, these abuses were confirmed, and he was expressly charged
to see to it "that the Indians were employed in collecting gold and
other metals for the Castilians, in cultivating their lands, in
constructing their houses, and in obeying their commands." The pretext
for these abuses was, that by thus bringing the natives into immediate
contact with their masters they would be easier converted to
Christianity. It is true that the royal ordinances stipulated that the
Indians should be well treated, and be paid for their work like free
laborers, but the fact that they were _forced_ to work and severely
punished when they refused, constituted them slaves in reality. The
royal recommendations to treat them well, to pay them for their work,
and to teach them the Christian doctrines, were ignored by the
masters, whose only object was to grow rich. The Indians were tasked
far beyond their strength. They were ill-fed, often not fed at all,
brutally ill-treated, horribly punished for trying to escape from the
hellish yoke, ruthlessly slaughtered at the slightest show of
resistance, so that thousands of them perished miserably. This had
been the fate of the natives of la Espanola, and there can be no doubt
that the Boriquenos had learned from fugitives of that island what
was in store for them when Ponce ordered their distribution among the
The following list of Indians distributed in obedience to orders from
the metropolis is taken from the work by Don Salvador Brau. It was
these first distributions, made in 1509-'10, which led to the
rebellion of the Indians and the distributions that followed:
To the general treasurer, Pasamonte, a man described by
Acosta as malevolent, insolent, deceitful, and sordid...... 300
To Juan Ponce de Leon...................................... 200
To Christopher Soto Mayor...............................100
To Vicente Yanez Pinzon, on condition that he should settle
in the island.............................................. 100
To Lope de Conchillos, King Ferdinand's Chief Secretary,
as bad a character as Pasamonte............................ 100
To Pedro Moreno and Jerome of Brussels, the delegate and
clerk of Conchillos in Boriquen, 100 each...................200
To the bachelor-at-law Villalobos........................... 80
To Francisco Alvarado.......................................80
A total of 1,060 defenseless Indians delivered into the ruthless hands
of men steeped in greed, ambition, and selfishness.
[Footnote 10: The scanty remains of the first settlement were to be
seen till lately in the Pueblo Viejo Ward, municipal district of
Bayamon, along the road which loads from Catano to Gurabo.]
[Footnote 11: He may have been the tenth or the twentieth if what the
chroniclers tell us about the adoption of the defunct caciquess' names
by their successors be true.]
[Footnote 12: The manioc of which the "casaba" bread is made.]
[Footnote 13: A "cascabel" (a measure the size of one of the round
bells used in Spain to hang round the neck of the leader in a troop of
mules) full of gold and twenty-five pounds (an arroba) of cotton every
three months for every Indian above sixteen years of age.]
[Footnote 14: Puerto Rico y su historia, p. 173.]
[Footnote 15: Among the Indians given to Soto Mayor was the sister of
the cacique Guaybana second. She became his concubine, and in return
for the preference shown her she gave the young nobleman timely
warning of the impending rebellion.]
The sullen but passive resistance of the Indians was little noticed by
the Spaniards, who despised them too much to show any apprehension;
but the number of fugitives to the mountains and across the sea
increased day by day, and it soon became known that nocturnal
"areytos" were held, in which the means of shaking off the odious yoke
were discussed. Soto Mayor was warned by his paramour, and it is
probable that some of the other settlers received advice through the
same channels; still, they neglected even the ordinary precautions.
At last, a soldier named Juan Gonzalez, who had learned the native
language in la Espanola, took upon himself to discover what truth
there was in these persistent reports, and, naked and painted so as to
appear like one of the Indians, he assisted at one of the nocturnal
meetings, where he learned that a serious insurrection was indeed
brewing; he informed Soto Mayor of what he had heard and seen, and the
latter now became convinced of the seriousness of the danger.
Before Gonzalez learned what was going on, Guaybana had summoned the
neighboring caciques to a midnight "areyto" and laid his plan before
them, which consisted in each of them, on a preconcerted day, falling
upon the Spaniards living in or near their respective villages; the
attack, on the same day, on Soto Mayor's settlement, he reserved for
himself and Guarionez, the cacique of Utuao.
But some of the caciques doubted the feasibility of the plan. Had not
the fugitives from Quisqueia told of the terrible effects of the
shining blades they wore by their sides when wielded in battle by the
brawny arms of the dreaded strangers? Did not their own arrows glance
harmlessly from the glittering scales with which they covered their
bodies? Was Guaybana quite sure that the white-faced invader could be
killed at all? The majority thought that before undertaking their
extermination they ought to be sure that they had to do with a mortal
Oviedo and Herrera both relate how they proceeded to discover this.
Urayoan, the cacique of Yagueeca, was charged with the experiment.
Chance soon favored him. A young man named Salcedo passed through his
village to join some friends. He was hospitably received, well fed,
and a number of men were told to accompany him and carry his
luggage. He arrived at the Guaoraba, a river on the west side of the
island, which flows into the bay of San German. They offered to carry
him across. The youth accepted, was taken up between two of the
strongest Indians, who, arriving in the middle of the river, dumped
him under water--then they fell on him and held him down till he
struggled no more. Dragging him ashore, they now begged his pardon,
saying that they had stumbled, and called upon him to rise and
continue the voyage; but the young man did not move, he was dead, and
they had the proof that the supposed demi-gods were mortals after all.
The news spread like wildfire, and from that day the Indians were in
open rebellion and began to take the offensive, shooting their arrows
and otherwise molesting every Spaniard they happened to meet alone or
off his guard.
The following episode related by Oviedo illustrates the mental
disposition of the natives of Boriquen at this period.
Aymamon, the cacique whose village was on the river Culebrinas, near
the settlement of Soto Mayor, had surprised a lad of sixteen years
wandering alone in the forest. The cacique carried him off, tied him
to a post in his hut and proposed to his men a game of ball, the
winner to have the privilege of convincing himself and the others of
the mortality of their enemies by killing the lad in any way he
pleased. Fortunately for the intended victim, one of the Indians knew
the youth's father, one Pedro Juarez, in the neighboring settlement,
and ran to tell him of the danger that menaced his son. Captain Diego
Salazar, who in Soto Mayor's absence was in command of the settlement,
on hearing of the case, took his sword and buckler and guided by the
friendly Indian, reached the village while the game for the boy's life
was going on. He first cut the lad's bonds, and with the words "Do as
you see me do!" rushed upon the crowd of about 300 Indians and laid
about him right and left with such effect that they had no chance even
of defending themselves. Many were killed and wounded. Among the
latter was Aymamon himself, and Salazar returned in triumph with the
But now comes the curious part of the story, which shows the character
of the Boriquen Indian in a more favorable light.
Aymamon, feeling himself mortally wounded, sent a messenger to
Salazar, begging him to come to his caney or hut to make friends with
him before he died. None but a man of Salazar's intrepid character
would have thought of accepting such an invitation; but _he_ did, and,
saying to young Juarez, who begged his deliverer not to go: "They
shall not think that I'm afraid of them," he went, shook hands with
the dying chief, changed names with him, and returned unharmed amid
the applauding shouts of "Salazar! Salazar!" from the multitude, among
whom his Toledo blade had made such havoc. It was evident from this
that they held courage, such as the captain had displayed, in high
esteem. To the other Spaniards they used to say: "We are not afraid of
_you_, for you are not Salazar."
* * * * *
It was in the beginning of June, 1511. The day fixed by Guaybana for
the general rising had arrived. Soto Mayor was still in his grange in
the territory under the cacique's authority, but having received the
confirmation of the approaching danger from Gonzalez, he now resolved
at once to place himself at the head of his men in the Aguada
settlement. The distance was great, and he had to traverse a country
thickly peopled by Indians whom he now knew to be in open rebellion;
but he was a Spanish hidalgo and did not hesitate a moment. The
morning after receiving the report of Gonzalez he left his grange with
that individual and four other companions.
Guaybana, hearing of Soto Mayor's departure, started in pursuit.
Gonzalez, who had lagged behind, was first overtaken, disarmed,
wounded with his own sword, and left for dead. Near the river Yauco
the Indians came upon Soto Mayor and his companions, and though there
were no witnesses to chronicle what happened, we may safely assert
that they sold their lives dear, till the last of them fell under the
clubs of the infuriated savages.
That same night Guarionex with 3,000 Indians stealthily surrounded the
settlement and set fire to it, slaughtering all who, in trying to
escape, fell into their hands.
In the interior nearly a hundred Spaniards were killed during the
night. Gonzalez, though left for dead, had been able to make his way
through the forest to the royal grange, situated where now Toa-Caja
is. He was in a pitiful plight, and fell in a swoon when he crossed
the threshold of the house. Being restored to consciousness, he
related to the Spaniards present what was going on near the
Culebrinas, and they sent a messenger to Caparra at once.
Immediately on receipt of the news from the grange, Ponce sent Captain
Miguel del Toro with 40 men to the assistance of Soto Mayor, but he
found the settlement in ashes and only the bodies of those who had
[Footnote 16: La Espanola.]
[Footnote 17: The chroniclers say fifteen or twenty, which seems an
[Footnote 18: Salazar was able in the dark and the confusion of the
attack on the settlement to rally a handful of followers, with whom he
cut his way through the Indians and through the jungle to Caparra.]
THE REBELLION _(continued)_
Salazar's arrival at Caparra with a handful of wounded and exhausted
men revealed to Ponce the danger of his situation. Ponce knew that it
was necessary to strike a bold blow, and although, including the
maimed and wounded, he had but 120 men at his disposal, he prepared at
once to take the offensive.
Sending a messenger to la Espanola with the news of the insurrection
and a demand for reenforcements, which, seeing his strained relations
with the Admiral, there was small chance of his obtaining, he
proceeded to divide his force in four companies of 30 men to each, and
gave command to Miguel del Toro, the future founder of San German, to
Louis de Anasco, who later gave his name to a province, to Louis
Almanza and to Diego Salazar, whose company was made up exclusively of
the maimed and wounded, and therefore called in good-humored jest the
company of cripples.
Having learned from his scouts that Guaybana was camped with 5,000 to
6,000 men near the mouth of the river Coayuco in the territory between
the Yauco and Jacagua rivers, somewhere in the neighborhood of the
city which now bears the conqueror's name, he marched with great
precaution through forest and jungle till he reached the river. He
crossed it during the night and fell upon the Indians with such
impetus that they believed their slain enemies to have come to life.
They fled in confusion, leaving 200 dead upon the field.
The force under Ponce's command was too small to follow up his victory
by the persecution of the terror-stricken natives; nor would the
exhausted condition of the men have permitted it, so he wisely
determined to return to Caparra, cure his wounded soldiers, and await
the result of his message to la Espanola.
Oviedo and Navarro, whose narratives of these events are repeated by
Abbad, state that the Boriquen Indians, despairing of being able to
vanquish the Spaniards, called the Caribs of the neighboring islands
to their aid; that the latter arrived in groups to make common cause
with them, and that some time after the battle of Coayuco, between
Caribs and Boriquenos, 11,000 men had congregated in the Aymaco
But Mr. Brau calls attention to the improbability of such a
gathering. "Guaybana," he says, "had been able, after long
preparation, to bring together between 5,000 and 6,000 warriors--of
these 200 had been slain, and an equal number, perhaps, wounded and
made prisoners, so that, to make up the number of 11,000, at least as
many Caribs as the entire warrior force of Boriquen must have come to
the island in the short space of time elapsed since the first battle.
The islands inhabited by the Caribs--Santa Cruz, San Eustaquio, San
Cristobal, and Dominica--were too distant to furnish so large a
contingent in so short a time, and the author we are quoting justly
remarks that, admitting that such a feat was possible, they must have
had at their disposition a fleet of at least 200 canoes, each capable
of holding 20 men, a number which it is not likely they ever
There is another reason for discrediting the assertions of the old
chroniclers in this respect. The idea of calling upon their enemies,
the Caribs, to make common cause with them against a foe from whom the
Caribs themselves had, as yet, suffered comparatively little, and the
ready acceptance by these savages of the proposal, presupposes an
amount of foresight and calculation, of diplomatic tact, so to speak,
in both the Boriquenos and Caribs with which it is difficult to credit
The probable explanation of the alleged arrival of Caribs is that some
of the fugitive Indians who had found a refuge in the small islands
close to Boriquen may have been informed of the preparations for a
revolt and of the result of the experiment with Salcedo, and they
naturally came to take part in the struggle.
On hearing of the ominous gathering Ponce sent Louis Anasco and Miguel
del Toro with 50 men to reconnoiter and watch the Indians closely,
while he himself followed with the rest of his small force to be
present where and when it might be necessary. Their approach was soon
discovered, and, as if eager for battle, one cacique named
Mabodomaca, who had a band of 600 picked men, sent the governor an
insolent challenge to come on. Salazar with his company of cripples
was chosen to silence him. After reconnoitering the cacique's
position, he gave his men a much-needed rest till after midnight, and
then dashed among them with his accustomed recklessness. The Indians,
though taken by surprise, defended themselves bravely for three hours,
"but," says Father Abbad, "God fought on the side of the Spaniards,"
and the result was that 150 dead natives were left on the field, with
many wounded and prisoners. The Spaniards had not lost a man, though
the majority had received fresh wounds.
Ponce, with his reserve force, arrived soon after the battle and found
Salazar and his men resting. From them he learned that the main body
of the Indians, to the number of several thousand, was in the
territory of Yacueeca (now Anasco) and seemingly determined upon the
extermination of the Spaniards.
The captain resolved to go and meet the enemy without regard to
numbers. With Salazar's men and the 50 under Anasco and Toro he
marched upon them at once. Choosing an advantageous position, he gave
orders to form an entrenched camp with fascines as well, and as
quickly as the men could, while he kept the Indians at bay with his
arquebusiers and crossbowmen each time they made a rush, which they
did repeatedly. In this manner they succeeded in entrenching
themselves fairly well. The crossbowmen and arquebusiers went out from
time to time, delivered a volley among the close masses of Indians
and then withdrew. These tactics were continued during the night and
all the next day, much to the disgust of the soldiers, who, wounded,
weary, and hungry, without hope of rescue, heard the yells of the
savages challenging them to come out of their camp. They preferred to
rush among them, as they had so often done before. But Ponce would not
Among the arquebusiers the best shot was a certain Juan de Leon. This
man had received instructions from Ponce to watch closely the
movements of Guaybana, who was easily distinguishable from the rest by
the "guanin," or disk of gold which he wore round the neck. On the
second day, the cacique was seen to come and go actively from group to
group, evidently animating his men for a general assault. While thus
engaged he came within the range of Leon's arquebus, and a moment
after he fell pierced by a well-directed ball. The effect was what
Ponce had doubtless expected. The Indians yelled with dismay and ran
far beyond the range of the deadly weapons; nor did they attempt to
return or molest the Spaniards when Ponce led them that night from the
camp and through the forest back to Caparra.
This was the beginning of the end. After the death of Guaybana no
other cacique ever attempted an organized resistance, and the partial
uprisings that took place for years afterward were easily suppressed.
The report of the arquebus that laid Guaybana low was the death-knell
of the whole Boriquen race.
The name of the island remained as a reminiscence only, and the island
itself became definitely a dependency of the Spanish crown under the
new name of San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico.
[Footnote 19: Puerto Rico y su Historia, p. 189.]
NUMBER OF ABORIGINAL INHABITANTS AND SECOND DISTRIBUTION OF INDIANS
Friar Bartolome de Las Casas, in his Relation of the Indies, says with
reference to this island, that when the Spaniards under the orders of
Juan Ceron landed here in 1509, it was as full of people as a beehive
is full of bees and as beautiful and fertile as an orchard. This
simile and some probably incorrect data from the Geography of Bayaeete
led Friar Inigo Abbad to estimate the number of aboriginal inhabitants
at the time of the discovery at 600,000, a number for which there is
no warrant in any of the writings of the Spanish chroniclers, and
which Acosto, Brau, and Stahl, the best authorities on matters of
Puerto Rican history, reject as extremely exaggerated.
Mr. Brau gives some good reasons for reducing the number to about
16,000, though it seems to us that since little or nothing was known
of the island, except that part of it in which the events related in
the preceding chapters took place, any reasoning regarding the
population of the whole island, based upon a knowledge of a part of
it, is liable to error. Ponce's conquest was limited to the northern
and western littoral; the interior with the southern and eastern
districts were not settled by the Spaniards till some years after the
death of Guaybana; and it seems likely that there were caciques in
those parts who, by reason of the distance or other impediments, took
no part in the uprising against the Spaniards. For the rest, Mr.
Brau's reasonings in support of his reduction to 16,000 of the number
of aborigines, are undoubtedly correct. They are: First. The
improbability of a small island like this, _in an uncultivated state_,
producing sufficient food for such large numbers. Second. The fact
that at the first battle (that of Jacaguas), in which he supposes the
whole available warrior force of the island to have taken part, there
were 5,000 to 6,000 men only, which force would have been much
stronger had the population been anything near the number given by
Abbad; and, finally, the number of Indians distributed after the
cessation of organized resistance was only 5,500, as certified by
Sancho Velasquez, the judge appointed in 1515 to rectify the
distributions made by Ceron and Moscoso, and by Captain Melarejo in
his memorial drawn up in 1582 by order of the captain-general, which
number would necessarily have been much larger if the total aboriginal
population had been but 60,000, instead of 600,000.
* * * * *
The immediate consequence to the natives of the panic and partial
submission that followed the death of their leader was another and
more extensive distribution. The first distributions of Indians had
been but the extension to San Juan of the system as practised in la
Espanola, which consisted in granting to the crown officers in
recompense for services or as an inducement to settle in the island, a
certain number of natives. In this way 1,060 Boriquenos had been
disposed of in 1509 to 9 persons. The ill usage to which they saw them
subjected drove the others to rebellion, and now, vae victis, the king,
on hearing of the rebellion, wrote to Ceron and Diaz (July, 1511): "To
'pacify' the Indians you must go well armed and terrorize them. Take
their canoes from them, and if they refuse to be reduced with reason,
make war upon them by fire and sword, taking care not to kill more
than necessary, and send 40 or 50 of them to 'la Espanola' to serve us
as slaves, etc." To Ponce he wrote on October 10th: "I give you credit
for your labors in the 'pacification' and for having marked with an F
on their foreheads all the Indians taken in war, making slaves of them
and selling them to the highest bidders, separating the fifth part of
the product for Us."
This time not only the 120 companions of Ponce came in for their share
of the living spoils of war, but the followers of Ceron claimed and
obtained theirs also.
The following is the list of Indians distributed after the battle of
Yacueeca (if battle it may be called) as given by Mr. Brau, who
obtained the details from the unpublished documents of Juan Bautista
To the estates (haciendas) of their royal Highnesses 500
Baltasar de Castro, the factor 200
Miguel Diaz, the chief constable 200
Juan Ceron, the mayor 150
Diego Morales, bachelor-at-law 150
Amador de Lares 150
Louis Soto Mayor 100
Miguel Diaz, Daux-factor 100
the (municipal) council 100
the hospitals 100
Bishop Manso 100
Sebastian de la Gama 90
Gil de Malpartida 70
Juan Bono (a merchant) 70
Juan Velasquez 70
Antonio Rivadeneyra 60
Gracian Cansino 60
Louis Aqueyo 60
the apothecary 60
Francisco Cereceda 50
40 other individuals 40 each 1,600
Distributed in 1509 1,060
These numbers included women and children old enough to perform some
kind of labor. They were employed in the mines, or in the rivers
rather (for it was alluvium gold only that the island offered to the
greed of the so-called conquerors); they were employed on the
plantations as beasts of burden, and in every conceivable capacity
under taskmasters who, in spite of Ferdinand's revocation of the order
to reduce them to slavery (September, 1514), had acted on his first
dispositions and believed themselves to have the royal warrant to work
them to death.
The king's more lenient dispositions came too late. They were
powerless to check the abuses that were being committed under his own
previous ordinances. The Indians disappeared with fearful rapidity.
Licentiate Sancho Velasquez, who had made the second distribution,
wrote to the king April 27, 1515: " ... Excepting your Highnesses'
Indians and those of the crown officers, there are not 4,000 left." On
August 8th of the same year the officers themselves wrote: " ... The
last smeltings have produced little gold. Many Indians have died from
disease caused by the hurricane as well as from want of food...."
To readjust the proportion of Indians according to the position or
other claims of each individual, new distributions were resorted to.
In these, some favored individuals obtained all they wanted at the
expense of others, and as the number of distributable Indians grew
less and less, reclamations, discontent, strife and rebellion broke
out among the oppressors, who thus wreaked upon each other's heads the
criminal treatment of the natives of which they were all alike guilty.
Such had been the course of events in la Espanola. The same causes had
the same effects here. Herrera relates that when Miguel de Pasamente,
the royal treasurer, arrived in the former island, in 1508, it
contained 60,000 aboriginal inhabitants. Six years later, when a new
distribution had become necessary, there were but 14,000 left--the
others had been freed by the hand of death or were leading a
wandering life in the mountains and forests of their island. In this
island the process was not so rapid, but none the less effective.
[Footnote 20: The king's favorites in the metropolis, anxious to
enrich themselves by these means, obtained grants of Indians and sent
their stewards to administer them. Thus, in la Espanola, Conehillos,
the secretary, had 1,100 Indians; Bishop Fonseca, 800; Hernando de la
Vega, 200, and many others, "The Indians thus disposed of were, as a
rule, the worst treated," says Las Casas.]
LAWS AND ORDINANCES
We have seen how Diego Columbus suspended Ponce in his functions as
governor _ad interim_, and how the captain after obtaining from the
king his appointment as permanent governor sent the Admiral's nominees
prisoners to the metropolis. The king, though inclined to favor the
captain, submitted the matter to his Indian council, which decided
that the nomination of governors and mayors over the islands
discovered by Christopher Columbus corresponded to his son. As a
consequence, Ceron and Diaz were reinstated in their respective
offices, and they were on their way back to San Juan a few months
after Ponce's final success over the rebellious Indians.
Before their departure from Spain they received the following
instructions, characteristic of the times and of the royal personage
who imparted them:
"1. You will take over your offices very peaceably, endeavoring to
gain the good-will of Ponce and his friends, that they may become
_your_ friends also, to the island's advantage.
"2. This done, you will attend to the 'pacification' of the Indians.
"3. Let many of them be employed in the mines and be well treated.
"4. Let many Indians be brought from the other islands and be well
treated. Let the officers of justice be favored (in the distributions
"5. Be very careful that no meat is eaten in Lent or other fast days,
as has been done till now in la Espanola.
"6. Let those who have Indians occupy a third of their number in the
"7. Let great care be exercised in the salt-pits, and one real be paid
for each celemin extracted, as is done in la Espanola.
"8. Send me a list of the number and class of Indians distributed, if
Ponce has not done so already, and of those who have distinguished
themselves in this rebellion.
"9. You are aware that ever since the sacraments have been
administered in these islands, storms and earthquakes have ceased. Let
a chapel be built at once with the advocation of Saint John the
Baptist, and a monastery, though it be a small one, for Franciscan
friars, whose doctrine is very salutary.
"10. Have great care in the mines and continually advise Pasamonte
(the treasurer) or his agent of what happens or what may be necessary.
"11. Take the youngest Indians and teach them the Christian doctrine;
they can afterward teach the others with better results.
"12. Let there be no swearing or blasphemy; impose heavy penalties
"13. Do not let the Indians be overloaded, but be well treated rather.
"14. Try to keep the Caribs from coming to the island, and report what
measures it will be advisable to adopt against them. To make the
natives do what is wanted, it will be convenient to take from them,
with cunning (con mana), all the canoes they possess.
"15. You will obey the contents of these instructions until further
Tordesillas, 25th of July, 1511.
It is clear from the above instructions that, in the king's mind,
there was no inconsistency in making the Indians work in the mines and
their good treatment. There can be no doubt that both he and Dona
Juana, his daughter, who, as heir to her mother, exercised the royal
authority with him, sincerely desired the well-being of the natives as
far as compatible with the exigencies of the treasury.
For the increase of the white population and the development of
commerce and agriculture, liberal measures, according to the ideas of
the age, were dictated as early as February, 1511, when the same
commercial and political franchises were granted to San Juan as to la
On July 25th the price of salt, the sale of which was a royal
monopoly, was reduced by one-half, and in October of the same year the
following rights and privileges were decreed by the king and published
by the crown officers in Seville:
"1st. Any one may take provisions and merchandise to San Juan, which
is now being settled, and reside there with the same freedom as in la
"2d. Any Spaniard may freely go to the Indies--that is, to la
Espanola and to San Juan--by simply presenting himself to the
officials in Seville, _without giving any further information_ (about
"3d. Any Spaniard may take to the Indies what arms he wishes,
notwithstanding the prohibition.
"4th. His Highness abolishes the contribution by the owners of one
'castellano' for every Indian, they possess.
"5th. Those to whom the Admiral grants permission to bring Indians
(from other islands) and who used to pay the fifth of their value (to
the royal treasurer) shall be allowed to bring them free.
"6th. Indians once given to any person shall never be taken from him,
except for delinquencies, punishable by forfeiture of property.
"7th. This disposition reduces the king's share in the produce of the
gold-mines from one-fifth and one-ninth to one-fifth and one-tenth,
and extends the privilege of working them from one to two years.
"8th. Whosoever wishes to conquer any part of the continent or of the
gulf of pearls, may apply to the officials in Seville, who will give
him a license, etc."
The construction of a smelting oven for the gold, of hospitals and
churches for each new settlement, the making of roads and bridges and
other dispositions, wise and good in themselves, were also decreed;
but they became new causes of affliction for the Indians, inasmuch as
_they_ paid for them with their labor. For example: to the man who
undertook to construct and maintain a hospital, 100 Indians were
assigned. He hired them out to work in the mines or on the
plantations, and with the sums thus received often covered more than
the expense of maintaining the hospital.
The curious medley of religious zeal, philanthropy, and gold-hunger,
communicated the first governors under the title of "instructions" did
not long keep them in doubt as to which of the three--the observance
of religious practises, the kind treatment of the natives, or the
remittance of gold--was most essential to secure the king's favor. It
was not secret that the monarch, in his _private_ instructions, went
straight to the point and wasted no words on religious or humanitarian
considerations, the proof of which is his letter to Ponce, dated
November 11, 1509. "I have seen your letter of August 16th. Be very
diligent in searching for gold. Take out as much as you can, and
having smolten it in la Espanola, send it at once. Settle the island
as best you can. Write often and let Us know what happens and what may
It was but natural, therefore, that the royal recommendations of
clemency remained a dead letter, and that, under the pressure of the
incessant demand for gold, the Indians were reduced to the most abject
state of misery.
[Illustration: Columbus monument, near Aguadilla.]
Until the year 1512 the Indians remained restless and subordinate, and
in July, 1513, the efforts of the rulers in Spain to ameliorate their
condition were embodied in what are known as the Ordinances of
These ordinances, after enjoining a general kind treatment of the
natives, recommend that small pieces of land be assigned to them on
which to cultivate corn, yucca, cotton, etc., and raise fowls for
their own maintenance. The "encomendero," or master, was to construct
four rustic huts for every 50 Indians. They were to be instructed in
the doctrines of the Christian religion, the new-born babes were to be
baptized, polygamy to be prohibited. They were to attend mass with
their masters, who were to teach one young man in every forty to read.
The boys who served as pages and domestic servants were to be taught
by the friars in the convents, and afterward returned to the estates
to teach the others. The men were not to carry excessively heavy
loads. Pregnant women were not to work in the mines, nor was it
permitted to beat them with sticks or whips under penalty of five gold
pesos. They were to be provided with food, clothing, and a hammock.
Their "areytos" (dances) were not to be interrupted, and inspectors
were to be elected among the Spaniards to see that all these and
former dispositions were complied with, and all negligence on the part
of the masters severely punished.
The credit for these well-intentioned ordinances undoubtedly belongs
to the Dominican friars, who from the earliest days of the conquest
had nobly espoused the cause of the Indians and denounced the
cruelties committed on them in no measured terms.
Friar Antonia Montesinos, in a sermon preached in la Espanola in 1511,
which was attended by Diego Columbus, the crown officers, and all the
notabilities, denounced their proceedings with regard to the Indians
so vehemently that they left the church deeply offended, and that same
day intimated to the bishop the necessity of recantation, else the
Order should leave the island. The bishop answered that Montesinos had
but expressed the opinion of the whole community; but that, to allay
the scandal among the lower class of Spaniards in the island, the
father would modify his accusations in the next sermon. When the day
arrived the church was crowded, but instead of recantation, the
intrepid monk launched out upon fresh animadversion, and ended by
saying that he did so in the service not of God only, but of the king.
The officials were furious. Pasamonte, the treasurer, the most
heartless destroyer of natives among all the king's officers, wrote,
denouncing the Dominicans as rebels, and sent a Franciscan friar to
Spain to support his accusation. The king was much offended, and when
Montesinos and the prior of his convent arrived in Madrid to
contradict Pasamonte's statements, they found the doors of the palace
closed against them. Nothing daunted and imbued with the true
apostolic spirit, they made their way, without asking permission, to
the royal presence, and there advocated the cause of the Indians so
eloquently that Ferdinand promised to have the matter investigated
immediately. A council of theologians and jurists was appointed to
study the matter and hear the evidence on both sides; but they were so
long in coming to a decision that Montesinos and his prior lost
patience and insisted on a resolution, whereupon they decided that the
distributions were legal in virtue of the powers granted by the Holy
See to the kings of Castilla, and that, if it was a matter of
conscience at all, it was one for the king and his councilors, and not
for the officials, who simply obeyed orders. The two Dominicans were
ordered to return to la Espanola, and by the example of their virtues
and mansuetude stimulate those who might be inclined to act wickedly.
The royal conscience was not satisfied, however, with the sophistry of
his councilors, and as a quietus to it, the _well-meaning_ ordinances
just cited were enacted. They, too, remained a dead letter, and not
even the scathing and persevering denunciations of Las Casas, who
continued the good work begun by Montesinos, could obtain any
practical improvement in the lot of the Indians until it was too late,
and thousands of them had been crushed under the heel of the
* * * * *
King Ferdinand's efforts to make Puerto Rico a prosperous colony were
rendered futile by the dissensions between the Admiral's and his own
partizans and the passions awakened by the favoritism displayed in the
distribution of Indians. That the king took a great interest in the
colonization of the island is shown by the many ordinances and decrees
issued all tending to that end. He gave special licenses to people in
Spain and in Santo Domingo to establish themselves in Puerto Rico.
In his minute instructions to Ponce and his successors he regulated
every branch of the administration, and wrote to Ceron and Diaz: " ...I
wish this island well governed and peopled as a special affair of
mine." On a single day (February 26, 1511) he made, among others of a
purely private character, the following public dispositions: "That the
tithes and 'primicias'"  should be paid in kind only; that the
fifth part of the output of the mines should be paid only during the
first ten years; that he ceded to the colony for the term of four
years all fines imposed by the courts, to be employed in the
construction of roads and bridges; that the traffic between San Juan
and la Espanola should be free, and that this island should enjoy the
same rights and privileges as the other; that no children or
grandchildren of people executed or burned for crimes or heresy should
be admitted into the colony, and that an exact account should be sent
to him of all the colonists, caciques, and Indians and their
He occupied himself with the island's affairs with equal interest up
to the time of his death, in 1516. He made it a bishopric in 1512. In
1513 he disposed that the colonists were to build houses of adobe,
that is, of sun-dried bricks; that all married men should send for
their wives, and that useful trees should be planted. In 1514 he
prohibited labor contracts, or the purchase or transfer of slaves or
Indians "encomendados" (distributed). Finally, in 1515, he provided
for the defense of the island against the incursions of the Caribs.
If these measures did not produce the desired result, it was due to
the discord among the colonists, created by the system of
"repartimientos" introduced in an evil hour by Columbus, a system
which was the poisoned source of most of the evils that have afflicted
[Footnote 21: The twelfth part of a "fanega," equal to about two
gallons, dry measure.]
[Footnote 22: Cedulas de vecindad.]
[Footnote 23: First-fruits.]
THE RETURN OF CERON AND DIAZ--PONCE'S FIRST EXPEDITION TO FLORIDA
Ceron and Diaz returned to San Juan in November, 1511.
Before their departure from Seville they received sundry marks of
royal favor. Among these was permission to Diaz and his wife to wear
silken garments, and to transfer to San Juan the 40 Indians they
possessed in la Espanola.
We have seen that the first article of the king's instructions to them
enjoins the maintenance of friendly relations with Ponce, and in the
distribution of Indians to favor those who had distinguished
themselves in the suppression of the revolt.
They did nothing of the kind.
Their first proceeding was to show their resentment at the summary
treatment they had received at the captain's hands by depriving him of
the administration of the royal granges, the profits of which he
shared with King Ferdinand, because, as his Highness explained to
Pasamente in June, 1511, "Ponce received no salary as captain of the
They next sent a lengthy exposition to Madrid, accusing the captain of
maladministration of the royal domain, and, to judge by the tenor of
the king's letter to Ponce, dated in Burgos on the 23d of February,
1512, they succeeded in influencing him to some extent against his
favorite, though not enough to deprive him of the royal patronage. "I
am surprised," wrote the king, "at the small number of Indians and the
small quantity of gold from our mines. The fiscal will audit your
accounts, that you may be at liberty for the expedition to Bemini,
which some one else has already proposed to me; but I prefer _you_, as
I wish to recompense your services and because I believe that you will
serve us better there than in our grange in San Juan, _in which you
have proceeded with some negligence_."
In the redistribution of Indians which followed, Ceron and Diaz
ignored the orders of the sovereign and openly favored their own
followers to the neglect of the conquerors', whose claims were prior,
and whose wounds and scars certainly entitled them to consideration.
This caused such a storm of protest and complaint against the doings
of his proteges that Diego Columbus was forced to suspend them and
appoint Commander Moscoso in their place.
This personage only made matters worse. The first thing _he_ did was
to practise another redistribution of Indians. This exasperated
everybody to such an extent that the Admiral found it necessary to
come to San Juan himself. He came, accompanied by a numerous suite of
aspirants to different positions, among them Christopher Mendoza, the
successor of Moscoso (1514). After the restoration of Ceron and Diaz
in their offices, Ponce quietly retired to his residence in Caparra.
He was wealthy and could afford to bide his time, but the spirit of
unrest in him chafed under this forced inaction. The idea of
discovering the island, said to exist somewhere in the northwestern
part of these Indies, where wonderful waters flowed that restored old
age to youth and kept youth always young, occupied his mind more and
more persistently, until, having obtained the king's sanction, he
fitted out an expedition of three ships and sailed from the port of
Aguada March 3, 1512.
Strange as it may seem, that men like Ponce, Zuniga, and the other
leading expeditionists should be glad of an opportunity to risk their
lives and fortunes in the pursuit of a chimera, it must be remembered
that the island of Bemini itself was not a chimera.
The followers of Columbus, the majority of them ignorant and
credulous, had seen a mysterious new world rise, as it were, from the
depths of the ocean. As the islands, one after the other, appeared
before their astonished eyes, they discovered real marvels each day.
The air, the land, the sea, were full of them. The natives pointed in
different directions and spoke of other islands, and the adventurers'
imaginations peopled them with fancied wonders. There was, according
to an old legend, a fountain of perennial youth somewhere in the
world, and where was it more likely to be found than in this hitherto
unknown part of it?
Ponce and his companions believed in its existence as firmly as, some
years later, Ferdinand Pizarro believed in the existence of El Dorado
and the golden lake of Parime.
The expedition touched at Guanakani on the 14th of March, and on the
27th discovered what Ponce believed to be the island of which he was
in search. On April 2d Ponce landed and took possession in the king's
name. The native name of the island was Cansio or Cautix, but the
captain named it "la Florida," some say because he found it covered
with the flowers of spring; others, because he had discovered it on
Resurrection day, called "Pascua Florida" by the Spanish Catholics.
The land was inhabited by a branch of the warlike Seminole Indians,
who disputed the Spaniards' advance into the interior. No traces of
gold were found, nor did the invaders feel themselves rejuvenated,
when, after a wearisome march or fierce fight with the natives, they
bathed in, or drank of, the waters of some stream or spring. They had
come to a decidedly inhospitable shore, and Ponce, after exploring the
eastern and southern littoral, and discovering the Cayos group of
small islands, turned back to San Juan, where he arrived in the
beginning of October, "looking much older," says the chronicler, "than
when he went in search of rejuvenation."
Two years later he sailed for the Peninsula and anchored in Bayona in
April, 1514. King Ferdinand received him graciously and conferred on
him the titles of Adelantado of Bemini and la Florida, with civil and
criminal jurisdiction on land and sea. He also made him commander of
the fleet for the destruction of the Caribs, and perpetual "regidor"
(prefect) of San Juan Bautista _de Puerto Rico_. This last surname
for the island began to be used in official documents about this time
The fleet for the destruction of the Caribs consisted of three
caravels. With these, Ponce sailed from Betis on May 14, 1515, and
reached the Leeward Islands in due course. In Guadeloupe, one of the
Carib strongholds, he landed a number of men without due precaution.
They were attacked by the natives. Fifteen of them were wounded, four
of whom died. Some women who had been sent ashore to wash the soiled
linen were carried off. Ponce's report of the event was laconic: "I
wrote from San Lucas and from la Palma," he writes to the king (August
7th to 8th). "In Guadeloupe, while taking in water the Indians wounded
some of my men. They shall be chastised." Haro, one of the crown
officers in San Juan, informed the king afterward of all the
circumstances of the affair, and added: "He (Ponce) left the (wounded)
men in a deserted island on this side, which is Santa Cruz, and now he
sends a captain, instead of going himself ..."
Ponce's third landing occurred June 15, 1515. He found the island in a
deplorable condition. Discontent and disorder were rampant. The king
had deprived Diego Columbus of the right to distribute Indians
(January 23, 1513), and had commissioned Pasamonte to make a new
distribution in San Juan. The treasurer had delegated the task to
licentiate Sancho Velasquez, who received at the same time power to
audit the accounts of all the crown officers. The redistribution was
practised in September, 1514, with no better result than the former
ones. It was impossible to satisfy the demands of all. The
discontented were mostly Ponce's old companions, who overwhelmed the
king with protests, while Velasquez defended himself, accusing Ponce
and his friends of turbulence and exaggerated ambition.
As a consequence of all this strife and discord, the Indians were
turned over from one master to another, distributed like cattle over
different parts of the islands, and at each change their lot became
Still, there were large numbers of them that had never yet been
subjugated. Some, like the caciques of Humacao and Daguao, who
occupied the eastern and southeastern parts of the island, had agreed
to live on a peace footing with the Spaniards, but Ponce's impolitic
proceeding in taking by force ten men from the village of the
first-named chief caused him and his neighbor of Daguao to burn their
villages and take to the mountains in revolt. Many other natives had
found a comparatively safe refuge in the islands along the coast, and
added largely to the precarious situation by pouncing on the Spanish
settlements along the coast when least expected. Governor Mendoza
undertook a punitive expedition to Vieques, in which the cacique
Yaureibo was killed; but the Indians had lost that superstitious dread
of the Spaniards and of their weapons that had made them submit at
first, and they continued their incursions, impeding the island's
progress for more than a century.
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