The History of Puerto Rico
R.A. Van Middeldyk
Part 2 out of 5
[Footnote 24: Washington Irving says January.]
DISSENSIONS--TRANSFER OF THE CAPITAL
The total number of Spaniards in the island at the time of the
rebellion did not exceed 200. Of these, between 80 and 100 were killed
by the Indians. The survivors were reenforced, first by the followers
of Ceron and Diaz, then by some stray adventurers who accompanied
Diego Columbus on his visit to the island. We may assume, therefore,
with Mr. Acosta, that at the time of which we write the Spanish
population numbered about 400, who Arango, in a memorial addressed to
the Cardinal Regent, classifies as Government officials, old
conquerors, new hirelings, and "marranos hijos de reconciliados,"
which, translated, means, "vile brood of pardoned criminals," the
latter being, in all probability, the immigrants into whose
antecedents the king had recommended his officers in Seville not to
This population was divided into different hostile parties. The most
powerful at the time was Ponce's party, led by Sedeno, the auditor,
and Villafranca, the treasurer; opposed to whom were the partizans of
Ceron and Diaz, the proteges of the Admiral, and those who had found
favor with Velasquez, all of them deadly enemies because of the
unequal division among them of the unhappy Indians.
The expedition to Florida and the honors conferred upon him by the
king naturally enhanced Ponce's prestige among his old companions.
Diego Columbus himself was fain to recognize the superior claim of him
who now presented himself with the title Adelantado of Bemini and
Florida, so that the captain's return to office was effected without
With his appointment as perpetual prefect, Ponce assumed the right to
make a redistribution of Indians, but could not exercise it, because
Sancho Velasquez had made one, as delegate of Pasamonte, only the year
before (September, 1515).
In virtue of his special appointment as judge auditor of the accounts
of all the crown officers, he had condemned Ponce during his absence
to pay 1,352 gold pesos for shortcomings in his administration of the
The licentiate's report to the king, dated April 27, 1515, gives an
idea of the state of affairs in San Juan at the time. " ... I found
the island under tyranny, as will be seen from the documents I
enclose. Juan Ceron and Miguel Diaz are responsible for 100,000
Castellanos for Indians taken from persons who held them by
schedule from your Highness."
"It would be well to send some bad characters away from here and some
of the Admiral's creatures, on whom the rest count for protection."
"The treasurer (Haro) and the auditor are honest men. The accountant
(Sedeno) is not a man to look after your Highness's interests. The
place of factor is vacant."
"To your Highness 200 Indians have been assigned in Puerto Rico and
300 in San German."
A few days later (May 1, 1515) Velasquez himself was accused of gross
abuse in the discharge of his duties by Inigo de Zuniga, who wrote to
the king: " ... This licentiate has committed many injustices and
offenses, as the attorney can testify. He gave Indians to many
officers and merchants, depriving conquerors and settlers of them. He
gambled much and always won, because they let him win in order to have
him in good humor at the time of distribution of Indians. He carried
away much money, especially from the 'Naborias.'" 
"He took the principal cacique, who lived nearest to the mines, for
himself, and rented him out on condition that he keep sixteen men
continually at work in the mines, and if any failed he was to receive
half a ducat per head a day."
"He has taken Indians from other settlers and made them wash gold for
Before Ponce's departure for Spain the island had been divided into
two departments or jurisdictions, the northern, with Caparra as its
capital, under the direct authority of the governor, the southern
division, with San German as the capital, under a lieutenant-governor,
the chain of mountains in the interior being the mutual boundary.
This division was maintained till 1782.
Caparra, or Puerto Rico, as it was now called, and San German were the
only settlements when Ponce returned. The year before (1514) another
settlement had been made in Daguao, but it had been destroyed by the
Caribs, and this ever-present danger kept all immigration away.
The king recognized the fact, and to obviate this serious difficulty
in the way of the island's settlement, he wrote to his officers in
" ... Spread reports about the great quantities of gold to be found in
Puerto Rico, and do not trouble about the antecedents of those who
wish to go, for if not useful as laborers they will do to fight."
That Ferdinand was well aware of the insecurity of his hold on the
island is shown by his subsequent dispositions. To the royal
contractors or commissaries he wrote in 1514: "While two forts are
being constructed, one in Puerto Rico and the other in San German,
where, in case of rebellion, our treasure will be secure, you will
give arms and ammunition to Ponce de Leon for our account, with an
artilleryman, that he may have them in his house, which is to do
duty as a fortress." And on May 14, 1515, he wrote from Medina del
Campo: " ... Deliver to Ponce six 'espingardas.'" 
During this same period the island was constituted a bishopric, with
Alonzo Manso, ex-sacristan of Prince John and canon of Salamanca as
prelate. He came in the beginning of 1513, when the intestine troubles
were at their worst, bringing instructions to demand payment of tithes
_in specie_ and a royal grant of 150 Indians to himself, which, added
to the fact that his presence would be a check upon the prevalent
immorality, raised such a storm of opposition and intrigue against him
that he could not exercise his functions. There was no church fit for
services. This furnished him with a pretext to return to the
Peninsula. When Ponce arrived the bishop was on the point of
departure. There can be no doubt that King Ferdinand, in reappointing
Ponce to the government of the island, trusted to the captain's
military qualities for the reestablishment of order and the
suppression of the attacks of the Caribs, but the result did not
correspond to his Majesty's expectations.
Haro, the treasurer, reported to the king on October 6, 1515: " ...
From the moment of his arrival Ponce has fomented discord. In order to
remain here himself, he sent Zuniga, his lieutenant, with the fleet.
He caused the caciques Humacao and Daguao, who had but just submitted,
to revolt again by forcibly taking ten men for the fleet."
The crown officers confirmed this statement in a separate report.
These accusations continued to the time of Ferdinand's death (February
23, 1516), when Cardinal Jimenez de Cisneros became Regent of Spain.
This renowned prelate, whom Prince Charles, afterward Emperor Charles
V, when confirming him in the regency, addressed as "the Very
Reverend Father in Christ, Cardinal of Spain, Archbishop of Toledo,
Primate of all the Spanish Territories, Chief Chancellor of Castilla,
our very dear and much beloved friend and master," was also Grand
Inquisitor, and was armed with the tremendous power of the terrible
It was dangerous for the accusers and the accused alike to annoy such
a personage with tales inspired by petty rivalries from an
insignificant island in the West Indies. Nevertheless, one of the
first communications from Puerto Rico that was laid before him was a
memorial written by one Arango, accusing Velasquez, among other
things, of having given Indians to soldiers and to common people,
instead of to conquerors and married men. "In Lent," says the accuser,
"he goes to a grange, where he remains without hearing mass on
Sundays, eating meat, and saying things against the faith ..."
The immediate effect of these complaints and mutual accusations was
the suspension in his functions of Diego Columbus and the appointment
of a triumvirate of Jerome friars to govern these islands. This was
followed two years later by the return of Bishop Manso to San Juan,
armed with the dreadful powers of General Inquisitor of the Indies and
by the nomination of licentiate Antonio de la Gama as judge auditor of
the accounts of Sancho Velasquez. The judge found him guilty of
partiality and other offenses, and on June 12, 1520, wrote to the
regent: "I have not sent the accounts of Sancho Velasquez, because it
was necessary that he should go with them, but the bishop of this
island has taken him for the Holy Inquisition _and he has died in
The Jerome fathers on their way to la Espanola, in 1516, touched at
what they describe as "the port of Puerto Rico, which is in the island
of San Juan de Boriquen," and the treasurer, Haro, wrote of them on
January 21, 1518: " ... They have done nothing during the year, and
the inhabitants are uncertain and fear changes. This is the principal
cause of harm to the Indians. It is necessary to dispose what is to be
done ... Although great care is now exercised in the treatment of the
Indians their numbers grow less for all that, because just as they are
ignorant of things concerning the faith, so do they ignore things
concerning their health, and they are of very weak constitution."
The frequent changes in the government that had been made by Diego
Columbus, the arrest of Velasquez and his death in the gloomy dungeons
of the Inquisition, the arrival of de la Gama as judge auditor and
governor _ad interim_, and his subsequent marriage with Ponce's
daughter Isabel, all these events but served to embitter the strife of
parties. "The spirit of vengeance, ambition, and other passions had
become so violent and deep-rooted among the Spaniards," says
Abbad, "that God ordained their chastisement in various ways."
The removal of the capital from its swampy location to the islet which
it now occupies was another source of dissension. It appears that the
plan was started immediately after Ceron's accession, for the king
wrote to him November 9, 1511: "Juan Ponce says that he located the
town in the best part of the island. We fear that you want to change
it. You shall not do so without our special order. If there is just
reason for change you must inform us first."
Velasquez, in his report of April, 1515, mentions that he accompanied
the Town Council of Caparra to see the site for the new capital, and
that to him it seemed convenient.
In 1519 licentiate Rodrigo de Figueroa sent a lengthy exposition
accompanied by the certified declarations of the leading inhabitants
regarding the salubrity of the islet and the insalubrity of Caparra,
with a copy of the disposition of the Jerome fathers authorizing the
transfer, and leaving Ponce, who strenuously opposed it, at liberty to
live in his fortified house in Caparra as long as he liked.
On November 16, 1520, Baltazar Castro, in the name of the crown
officers of San Juan, reported to the emperor: "The City of Puerto
Rico has been transferred to an islet which is in the port where the
ships anchor, a very good and healthy location."
[Footnote 25: Annotations, p. 96.]
[Footnote 26: Ponce protested and appealed to the Audiencia, but did
not obtain restitution till 1520.]
[Footnote 27: A Castellano was the 150 part of a mark of gold. The
mark had 8 ounces.]
[Footnote 28: Indians distributed to be employed as domestic
[Footnote 29: Small pieces of ordnance.]
[Footnote 30: XII, p. 89.]
CALAMITIES--PONCE'S SECOND EXPEDITION TO FLORIDA AND DEATH
Among the calamities referred to by Friar Abbad as visitations of
Providence was one which the Spaniards had brought upon themselves.
Another epidemic raged principally among the Indians. In January, 1519,
the Jerome friars wrote to the Government from la Espanola: " ... It
has pleased our Lord to send a pestilence of smallpox among the Indians
here, and nearly one-third of them have died. We are told that in the
island of San Juan the Indians have begun to die of the same disease."
Another scourge came in the form of ants. "These insects," says Abbad,
quoting from Herrera, "destroyed the yucca or casabe, of which the
natives made their bread, and killed the most robust trees by eating
into their roots, so that they turned black, and became so infected
that the birds would not alight on them. The fields were left barren
and waste as if fire from heaven had descended on them. These insects
invaded the houses and tormented the inmates night and day. Their bite
caused acute pains to adults and endangered the lives of children. The
affliction was general," says Abbad, "but God heard the people's vows
and the pests disappeared." The means by which this happy result was
obtained are described by Father Torres Vargas: "Lots were drawn to
see what saint should be chosen as the people's advocate before God.
Saint Saturnine was returned, and the plague ceased at once."
"Some time after there appeared a worm which also destroyed the yucca.
Lots were again drawn, and this time Saint Patrick came out; but the
bishop and the ecclesiastical chapter were of opinion that this saint,
being little venerated, had no great influence in heaven. Therefore,
lots were drawn again and again, three times, and each time the
rejected saint's name came out. This was clearly a miracle, and Saint
Patrick was chosen as advocate. To atone for their unwillingness to
accept him, the chapter voted the saint an annual mass, sermon, and
procession, which was kept up for many years without ever anything
happening again to the casabe ..."
To the above-described visitations, nature added others and more cruel
ones. These were the destructive tempests, called by the Indians
The first hurricane since the discovery of the island by Columbus of
which there is any record happened in July, 1515, when the crown
officers reported to the king that a great storm had caused the death
of many Indians by sickness and starvation. On October 4, 1526, there
was another, which Juan de Vadillo described thus: " ... There was a
great storm of wind and rain which lasted twenty-four hours and
destroyed the greater part of the town, with the church. The damage
caused by the flooding of the plantations is greater than any one can
estimate. Many rich men have grown poor, among them Pedro Moreno, the
In July and August, 1530, the scourge was repeated three times in six
weeks, and Governor Lando wrote to Luis Columbus, then Governor of la
Espanola: " ... The storms have destroyed all the plantations, drowned
many cattle, and caused a great dearth of food. Half of the houses in
this city have been blown down; of the other half those that are least
damaged are without roofs. In the country and at the mines not a house
is left standing. Everybody has been impoverished and thinking of
going away. There are no more Indians and the land must be cultivated
with negroes, who are a monopoly, and can not be brought here for less
than 60 or 70 'castellanos' apiece. The city prays that the payment of
all debts may be postponed for three years."
Seven years later (1537), three hurricanes in two months again
completely devastated the island. " ... They are the greatest that
have been experienced here," wrote the city officers. " ... The floods
have carried away all the plantations along the borders of the rivers,
many slaves and cattle have been drowned, want and poverty are
universal. Those who wanted to leave the island before are now more
than ever anxious to do so."
The incursions of Caribs from the neighboring islands made the
existence of the colony still more precarious. Wherever a new
settlement was made, they descended, killing the Spaniards,
destroying the plantations, and carrying off the natives.
[Illustration: Statue of Ponce de Leon, San Juan]
* * * * *
The first news of the wonderful achievements of Cortez in Mexico
reached San Juan in 1520, and stirred the old adventurer Ponce to
renewed action. On February 10, 1521, he wrote to the emperor: "I
discovered Florida and some other small islands at my own expense, and
now I am going to settle them with plenty of men and two ships, and I
am going to explore the coast, to see if it compares with the lands
(Cuba) discovered by Velasquez. I will leave here in four or five
days, and beg your Majesty to favor me, so that I may be enabled to
carry out this great enterprise."
Accordingly, he left the port of Aguada on the 26th of the same month
with two ships, well provided with all that was necessary for
But the captain's star of fortune was waning. He had a stormy passage,
and when he and his men landed they met with such fierce resistance
from the natives that after several encounters and the loss of many
men, Ponce himself being seriously wounded, they were forced to
reembark. Feeling that his end was approaching, the captain did not
return to San Juan, but sought a refuge in Puerto Principe, where he
One of his ships found its way to Vera Cruz, where its stores of arms
and ammunition came as a welcome accession to those of Cortez.
The emperor bestowed the father's title of Adelantado of Florida and
Bemini on his son, and the remains of the intrepid adventurer, who had
found death where he had hoped to find perennial youth, rested in
Cuban soil till his grandchildren had them transferred to this island
and buried in the Dominican convent.
A statue was erected to his memory in 1882. It stands in the plaza of
San Jose in the capital and was cast from the brass cannon left behind
by the English after the siege of 1797.
INCURSIONS OF FUGITIVE BORIQUEN INDIANS AND CARIBS
The conquest of Boriquen was far from being completed with the death
The panic which the fall of a chief always produces among savages
prevented, for the moment, all organized resistance on the part of
Guaybana's followers, but _they_ did not constitute the whole
population of the island. Their submission gave the Spaniards the
dominion over that part of it watered by the Culebrinas and the
Anasco, and over the northeastern district in which Ponce had laid the
foundations of his first settlement. The inhabitants of the southern
and eastern parts of the island, with those of the adjacent smaller
islands, were still unsubdued and remained so for years to come. Their
caciques were probably as well informed of the character of the
newcomers and of their doings in la Espanola as was the first
Guaybana's mother, and they wisely kept aloof so long as their
territories were not invaded.
The reduced number of Spaniards facilitated the maintenance of a
comparative independence by these as yet unconquered Indians, at the
same time that it facilitated the flight of those who, having bent
their necks to the yoke, found it unbearably heavy. According to
"Regidor" (Prefect) Hernando de Mogollon's letter to the Jerome
fathers, fully one-third of the "pacified" Indians--that is, of those
who had submitted--had disappeared and found a refuge with their
kinsmen in the neighboring islands.
The first fugitives from Boriquen naturally did not go beyond the
islands in the immediate vicinity. Vieques, Culebras, and la Mona
became the places of rendezvous whence they started on their
retaliatory expeditions, while their spies or their relatives on the
main island kept them informed of what was passing. Hence, no sooner
was a new settlement formed on the borders or in the neighborhood of
some river than they pounced upon it, generally at night, dealing
death and destruction wherever they went.
In vain did Juan Gil, with Ponce's two sons-in-law and a number of
tried men, make repeated punitive expeditions to the islands. The
attacks seemed to grow bolder, and not till Governor Mendoza himself
led an expedition to Vieques, in which the cacique Yaureibo was
killed, did the Indians move southeastward to Santa Cruz.
That the Caribs inhabiting the islands Guadeloupe and Dominica
made common cause with the fugitives from Boriquen is not to be
doubted. The Spaniard was the common enemy and the opportunity for
plunder was too good to be lost. But the primary cause of all the
so-called Carib invasions of Puerto Rico was the thirst for revenge
for the wrongs suffered, and long after those who had smarted under
them or who had but witnessed them had passed away, the tradition of
them was kept alive by the areytos and songs, in the same way as the
memory of the outrages committed by the soldiers of Pizarro in Peru
are kept alive _till this day_ among the Indians of the eastern slope
of the Andes. The fact that neither Jamaica nor other islands occupied
by Spaniards were invaded, goes to prove that in the case of Puerto
Rico the invasions were prompted by bitter resentment of natives who
had preferred exile to slavery, coupled, perhaps, with a hope of being
able to drive the enemies of their race from their island home, a hope
which, if it existed, and if we consider the very limited number of
Spaniards who occupied it, was not without foundation.
* * * * *
It was Nemesis, therefore, and not the mere lust of plunder, that
guided the Boriquen Indians and their Carib allies on their invasions
of Puerto Rico.
Diego Columbus during his visit in 1514 had founded a settlement with
50 colonists along the borders of the Daguao and Macao rivers on the
They had constructed houses and ranchos, introduced cattle, and
commenced their plantations, but without taking any precautions
against sudden attacks or providing themselves with extra means of
One night they were awakened by the glare of fire and the yells of the
savages. As they rushed out to seek safety they fell pierced with
arrows or under the blows of the terrible Macanas. Very few of them
The next attack was in the locality now constituting the municipal
district of Loiza.
This place was settled by several Spaniards, among them Juan Mexia, a
man said to have been of herculean strength and great courage. The
Indian woman with whom he cohabited had received timely warning of the
intended attack, a proof that communications existed between the
supposed Caribs and the Indians on the island. She endeavored to
persuade the man to seek safety in flight, but he disdained to do so.
Then she resolved to remain with him and share his fate. Both were
killed, and Alejandro Tapia, a native poet, has immortalized the
woman's devotion in a romantic, but purely imaginative, composition.
Ponce's virtual defeat in Guadeloupe made the Caribs bolder than ever.
They came oftener and in larger numbers, always surprising the
settlements that were least prepared to offer resistance. Five years
had elapsed since the destruction of Daguao. A new settlement had
gradually sprung up in the neighborhood along the river Humacao and
was beginning to prosper, but it was also doomed. On November 16,
1520, Baltazar Castro, one of the crown officers, reported to the
"It is about two months since 5 canoes with 150 Carib warriors came to
this island of San Juan and disembarked in the river Humacao, near
some Spanish settlements, where they killed 4 Christians and 13
Indians. From here they went to some gold mines and then to some
others, killing 2 Christians at each place. They burned the houses and
took a fishing smack, killing 4 more. They remained from fifteen to
twenty days in the country, the Christians being unable to hurt them,
having no ships. They killed 13 Christians in all, and as many Indian
women, and '_carried off_' 50 natives. They will grow bolder for being
allowed to depart without punishment. It would be well if the Seville
officers sent two light-draft vessels to occupy the mouths of the
rivers by which they enter."
On April 15, 1521, a large number of Indians made a descent on the
south coast, but we have no details of their doings; and in 1529 their
audacity culminated in an attempt on the capital itself. La Gama's
report to the emperor of this event is as follows: "On the 18th of
October, after midnight, 8 large pirogues full of Caribs entered the
bay of Puerto Rico, and meeting a bark on her way to Bayamon, manned
by 5 negroes and some other people, they took her. Finding that they
had been discovered, they did not attempt a landing till sunrise, then
they scuttled the bark. Some shots fired at them made them leave.
Three negroes were found dead, pierced with arrows. The people of this
town and all along the coast are watching. Such a thing as this has
not been heard of since the discovery. A fort, arms, artillery, and 2
brigantines of 30 oars each, and no Caribs will dare to come. If not
sent, fear will depopulate the island."
In the same month of the following year (1530) they returned, and this
time landed and laid waste the country in the neighborhood of the
capital. The report of the crown officers is dated the 31st of
October: "Last Sunday, the 23d instant, 11 canoes, in which there may
have been 500 Caribs, came to this island and landed at a point where
there are some agricultural establishments belonging to people of this
city. It is the place where the best gold in the island is found,
called Daguao and the mines of Llagueello. Here they plundered the
estate of Christopher Guzman, the principal settler. They killed him
and some other Christians, whites, blacks, and Indians, besides
some fierce dogs, and horses which stood ready saddled. They burned
them all, together with the houses, and committed many cruelties with
the Christians. They carried off 25 negroes and Indians, _to eat them,
as is their wont_. We fear that they will attack the defenseless city
in greater force, and the fear is so great that the women and children
dare not sleep in their houses, but go to the church and the
monastery, which are built of stone. We men guard the city and the
roads, being unable to attend to our business.
"We insist that 2 brigantines be armed and equipped, as was ordered by
the Catholic king. No Caribs will then dare to come. Let the port be
fortified or the island will be deserted. The governor and the
officers know how great is the need, but they may make no outlays
without express orders."
As a result of the repeated requests for light-draft vessels, 2
brigantines were constructed in Seville in 1531 and shipped, in
sections, on board of a ship belonging to Master Juan de Leon, who
arrived in June, 1532. The crown officers immediately invited all who
wished to man the brigantines and make war on the Caribs, offering
them as pay half of the product of the sale of the slaves they should
make, the other half to be applied to the purchase of provisions.
The brigantines were unfit for service. In February, 1534, the emperor
was informed: "Of the brigantines which your Majesty sent for the
defense of this island only the timber came, and half of that was
unfit.... We have built brigantines with the money intended for
Governor Lando wrote about the same time: "We suffer a thousand
injuries from the Caribs of Guadeloupe and Dominica. They come every
year to assault us. Although the city is so poor, we have spent 4,000
pesos in fitting out an expedition of 130 men against them; but,
however much they are punished, the evil will not disappear till your
Majesty orders these islands to be settled." The expedition referred
to sailed under the orders of Joan de Ayucar, and reached Dominica in
May, 1534. Fifteen or 16 villages of about 20 houses each were burned,
103 natives were killed, and 70 prisoners were taken, the majority
women and boys. The Spaniards penetrated a distance of ten leagues
into the interior of the island, meeting with little resistance,
because the warrior population was absent. Eight or 10 pirogues and
more than 20 canoes were also burned. With this punishment the fears
of the people in San Juan were considerably allayed.
In 1536 Sedeno led an expedition against the Caribs of Trinidad and
Bartholome. Carreno fitted out another in 1539. He brought a number of
slaves for sale, and the crown officers asked permission to brand them
on the forehead, "as is done in la Espanola and in Cubagua."
The Indians returned assault for assault. Between the years 1564 and
1570 they were specially active along the southern coast of San Juan,
so that Governor Francisco Bahamonde Lugo had to take the field
against them in person and was wounded in the encounter. Loiza, which
had been resettled, was destroyed for the second time in 1582, and a
year or so later the Caribs made a night attack on Aguada, where they
destroyed the Franciscan convent and killed 3 monks.
With the end of the sixteenth and the commencement of the seventeenth
centuries the West Indian archipelago became the theater of French and
English maritime enterprise. The Carib strongholds were occupied, and
by degrees their fierce spirit was subdued, their war dances
relinquished, their war canoes destroyed, their traditions forgotten,
and the bold savages, once the terror of the West Indian seas,
succumbed in their turn to the inexorable law of the survival of the
[Footnote 31: The West Indian islands were inhabited at the time of
discovery by at least three races of different origin. One of these
races occupied the Bahamas. Columbus describes them as simple,
peaceful creatures, whose only weapon was a pointed stick or cane.
They were of a light copper color, rather good-looking, and probably
had formerly occupied the whole eastern part of the archipelago,
whence they had been driven or exterminated by the Caribs, Caribos, or
Guaribos, a savage, warlike, and cruel race, who had invaded the West
Indies from the continent, by way of the Orinoco. The larger Antilles,
Cuba, la Espanola, and Puerto Rico, were occupied by a race which
probably originated from some southern division of the northern
continent. The chroniclers mention the Guaycures and others as their
ancestors, and Stahl traces their origin to a mixture of the
Phoenicians with the Aborigines of remote antiquity]
[Footnote 32: Abbad says 30.]
DEPOPULATION OF THE ISLAND--PREVENTIVE MEASURES--INTRODUCTION OF
The natural consequence of natural calamities and invasions was the
rapid disappearance of the natives. "The Indians are few and serve
badly," wrote Sedeno in 1515, about the same time that the crown
officers, to explain the diminution in the gold product, wrote that
many Indians had died of hunger, as a result of the hurricane. " ...
The people in la Mona," they said, "have provided 310 loads of bread,
with which we have bought an estate in San German. It will not do to
bring the Indians of that island away, because they are needed for the
production of bread."
Strenuous efforts to prevent the extinction of the Indians were made
by Father Bartolome Las Casas, soon after the death of King Ferdinand.
This worthy Dominican friar had come to the court for the sole purpose
of denouncing the system of "encomiendas" and the cruel treatment of
the natives to which it gave rise. He found willing listeners in
Cardinal Cisneros and Dean Adrian, of Lovaino, the regents, who
recompensed his zeal with the title of "Protector of the Indians." The
appointment of a triumvirate of Jerome friars to govern la Espanola
and San Juan (1517) was also due to Las Casas's efforts. Two years
later the triumvirate reported to the emperor that in compliance with
his orders they had taken away the Indians from all non-resident
Spaniards in la Espanola and had collected them in villages.
Soon after the emperor's arrival in Spain Las Casas obtained further
concessions in favor of the Indians. Not the least important among
these were granted in the schedule of July 12, 1520, which recognized
the principle that the Indians were born free, and contained the
1st. That in future no more distributions of Indians should take
2d. That all Indians assigned to non-residents, from the monarch
downward, should be _ipse facto_ free, and be established in villages,
under the authority of their respective caciques; and
3d. That all residents in these islands, who still possessed Indians,
were bound to conform strictly, in their treatment of them, to the
ordinances for their protection previously promulgated.
Antonio de la Gama was charged with the execution of this decree. He
sent a list of non-residents, February 15,1521, with the number of
Indians taken from each, his Majesty himself heading the list with 80.
The total number thus liberated was 664.
These dispositions created fierce opposition. Licentiate Figueroa
addressed the emperor on the subject, saying: " ... It is necessary to
overlook the 'encomiendas,' otherwise the people will be unable to
maintain themselves, and the island will be abandoned."
However, the crown officers ascribe the licentiate's protest to other
motives than the desire for the good of the island. "He has done much
harm," they wrote. "He has brought some covetous young men with him
and made them inspectors. They imposed heavy fines and gave the
confiscated Indians to their friends and relations. He and they are
rich, while the old residents have scarcely wherewith to maintain
But Figueroa had foreseen these accusations, for he concludes his
above-mentioned letter to the emperor, saying: " ... Let your Majesty
give no credence to those who complain. Most of them are very cruel
with the Indians, and care not if they be exterminated, provided they
themselves can amass gold and return to Castilla."
Martin Fernandez Enciso, a bachelor-at-law, addressed to the emperor a
learned dissertation intended to refute the doctrine that the Indians
were born free, maintaining that the right of conquest of the New
World granted by the Pope necessarily included the right to reduce the
inhabitants to slavery.
And thus, in spite of the philanthropic efforts of Las Casas, of the
well-intentioned ordinances of the Catholic kings, and of the more
radical measures sanctioned by Charles V, the Indian's lot was not
bettered till it was too late to save him from extinction.
"The Indians are dying out!" This is the melancholy refrain of all the
official communications from 1530 to 1536. The emperor made a last
effort to save the remnant in 1538, and decreed that all those who
still had Indians in their possession should construct stone or adobe
houses for them under penalty of losing them. In 1543 it was ordained
by an Order in Council that all Indians still alive in Cuba, la
Espanola, and Puerto Rico, were as free as the Spaniards themselves,
and they should be permitted to loiter and be idle, "that they might
increase and multiply."
Bishop Rodrigo Bastidas, who was charged to see to the execution of
this order in Puerto Rico, still found 80 Indians to liberate.
Notwithstanding these terminant orders, so powerless were they to
abolish the abuses resulting from the iniquitous system, that as late
as 1550 the Indians were still treated as slaves. In that year
Governor Vallejo wrote to the emperor: "I found great irregularity in
the treatment of these few Indians, ... they were being secretly sold
as slaves, etc."
Finally, in 1582, Presbyter Ponce de Leon and Bachelor-at-Law Santa
Clara, in a communication to the authorities, stated: "At the time
when this island was taken there were found here and distributed 5,500
Indians, without counting those who would not submit, and to-day there
is not one left, excepting 12 or 15, who have been brought from the
continent. They died of disease, sarampion, rheum, smallpox, and
ill-usage, or escaped to other islands with the Caribs. The few that
remain are scattered here and there among the Spaniards on their
little plantations. Some serve as soldiers. They do not speak their
language, because they are mostly born in the island, and they are
good Christians." This is the last we read of the Boriquen Indians.
* * * * *
With the gradual extinction of the natives, not only the gold output
ceased, but the cultivation of ginger, cotton, cacao, indigo, etc., in
which articles a small trade had sprung up, was abandoned. The Carib
incursions and hurricanes did the rest, and the island soon became a
vast jungle which everybody who could abandoned.
"We have been writing these last four years," wrote the crown
officers, February 26, 1534, "that the island is becoming depopulated,
the gold is diminishing, the Indians are gone. Some new gold deposits
were discovered in 1532, and as much as 20,000 pesos were extracted.
We thought this would contribute to the repeopling of the island, but
the contrary has happened. The people, ruined by the hurricanes of the
year 1530, thinking that they might find other gold deposits, bought
negroes on credit at very high prices to search for them. They found
none, and have not been able to pay their creditors. Some are fugitive
in the mountains, others in prison, others again have stolen vessels
belonging to the Administration and have gone with their negroes no
one knows where. With all this and the news from Peru, not a soul
would remain if they were not stopped."
When the news of the fabulous riches discovered in Peru reached this
island, the desire to emigrate became irresistible. Governor Lando
wrote to the emperor, February 27, 1534: " ... Two months ago there
came a ship here from Peru to buy horses. The captain related such
wonderful things that the people here and in San German became
excited, and even the oldest settlers wanted to leave. If I had not
instantly ordered him away the island would have been deserted. _I
have imposed the death penalty on whosoever shall attempt to leave the
On July 2d he wrote again: " ... Many, mad with the news from Peru,
have secretly embarked in one or other of the numerous small ports at
a distance from the city. Among the remaining settlers even the oldest
is constantly saying: 'God help me to go to Peru.' I am watching day
and night to prevent their escape, but can not assure you that I shall
be able to retain the people.
"Two months ago I heard that some of them had obtained possession of a
ship at a point on the coast two leagues from here and intended to
leave. I sent three vessels down the coast and twenty horsemen by
land. They resisted, and my presence was required to take them. Three
were killed and others wounded. _I ordered some of them to be flogged
and cut off the feet of others_, and then I had to dissimulate the
seditious cries of others who were in league with them and intended to
join them in la Mona, which is twelve leagues from here. If your
Majesty does not promptly remedy this evil, I fear that the island
will be entirely depopulated or remain like a country inn. This island
is the key and the entrance to all the Antilles. The French and
English freebooters land here first. The Caribs carry off our
neighbors and friends before our very eyes. If a ship were to come
here at night with fifty men, they could burn the city and kill every
soul of us. I ask protection for this noble island, now so
depopulated that one sees scarcely any Spaniards, only negroes ..."
But even the negro population was scarce. The introduction of African
slaves into la Espanola had proceeded _pari passu_ with the gradual
disappearance of the Indians. As early as 1502 a certain Juan Sanchez
had obtained permission to introduce five caravels of negro slaves
into that island free of duty, though Ovando complained that many of
them escaped to the mountains and made the Indians more insubordinate
than ever; but in San Juan a special permission to introduce negroes
was necessary. Geron in 1510 and Sedeno in 1512 were permitted to
bring in two negroes each only by swearing that they were for their
own personal service. In 1513 the general introduction of African
slaves was authorized by royal schedule, but two ducats per head had
to be paid for the privilege. Cardinal Cisneros suspended the export
of slaves from Spain in 1516, but the emperor sanctioned it again in
1517, to stop, if possible, the destruction of the natives.
Father Las Casas favored the introduction of African slaves for the
same reason, and obtained from the emperor a concession in favor of
his high steward, Garrebod, to send 4,000 negroes to la Espanola,
Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Garrebod sold the concession to a Genovese firm
(1517), but negroes remained very scarce and dear in San Juan till
1530, when, by special dispensation of the empress in favor of some
merchants, 200 negroes were brought to this island. They were greedily
taken up on credit at exorbitant prices, which caused the ruin of the
purchasers and made the city authorities of San Juan petition her
Majesty April 18, 1533, praying that no more negro islaves might be
permitted to come to the island for a period of eighteen months,
because of the inability of the people to pay for them.
In Governor Lando's letter of July, 1534, above quoted, he informs the
emperor that in the only two towns that existed in the island at that
time (San Juan and San German) there were "very few Spaniards and only
6 negroes in each." The incursions of the French and English
freebooters, to which he refers in the same letter, had commenced six
years before, and these incursions bring the tale of the island's
calamities to a climax.
ATTACKS BY FRENCH PRIVATEERS--CAUSE OF THE WAR WITH FRANCE--CHARLES
V.--RUIN OF THE ISLAND
The depredations committed by the privateers, which about this time
began to infest the Antilles and prey upon the Spanish possessions,
were a result of the wars with almost every nation in Europe, in which
Spain became involved after the accession of Charles, the son of
Juana, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella and Philip I, Archduke of
The young prince had been educated amid all the pomp and splendor of
the imperial court. He was a perfect type of the medieval cavalier,
who could break a lance with the proudest knight in the empire, and
was worthy in every respect of the high destiny that awaited him. At
the age of twenty he became the heir to eight kingdoms, the
recognized ruler of the Netherlands, lord of vast territories in
Africa, and absolute arbiter of the destinies of the Spanish division
of the New World.
Scarcely had this powerful young prince been accepted and crowned by
the last and most recalcitrant of his kingdoms (Cataluna), and while
still in Barcelona, the news arrived of the death of his grandfather,
Maximilian, King of the Romans and Emperor elect of Germany.
Intrigues for the possession of the coveted crown were set on foot at
once by the prince, now Charles I of Spain and by Francis I, King of
France. The powers ranged themselves on either side as their interests
dictated. Henry VIII of England declared himself neutral; Pope Leon X,
who distrusted both claimants, was waiting to see which of them would
buy his support by the largest concessions to the temporal power of
the Vatican; the Swiss Cantons hated France and sided with Charles;
Venice favored Francis I.
The German Diet assembled at Frankfort June 17, 1519, and unanimously
elected Frederick of Saxony, surnamed the Prudent. He showed his
prudence by declining the honor, and in an address to the assembly
dwelt at some length on the respective merits of the two pretenders,
and ended by declaring himself in favor of the Spanish prince, one
reason for his preference being that Charles was more directly
interested in checking the advance of the Turks, who, under Soleiman
the Magnificent, threatened, at the time, to overrun the whole of
Charles I of Spain was elected, and thus became Charles V, King of the
Romans and Emperor of Germany--that is, the most powerful monarch of
his time, before he had reached the age of manhood. His success, added
to other political differences and ambitions, was not long in
provoking a war with France, which, with short intervals, lasted the
lifetime of the two princes.
* * * * *
Spain was most vulnerable in her ultramarine possessions. They offered
tempting prizes to the unscrupulous, adventurous spirits of the
period, and the merchants on the coast of Normandy asked and obtained
permission to equip privateers to harass Spanish commerce and attack
the unprotected settlements.
San Juan was one of the first to suffer. An official report dated
September 26, 1528, informs us that "on the day of the Apostle Saint
John a French caravel and a tender bore down on the port of Cubagua
and attempted to land artillery from the ship with the help of Indians
brought from Margarita, five leagues distant. On the 12th of August
they took the town of San German, plundered and burned it; they also
destroyed two caravels that were there...."
French privateers were sighted off the coast continually, but it would
seem that the island, with its reputation for poverty, its two
settlements 40 leagues apart, and scanty population, offered too
little chance for booty, so that no other landing is recorded till
1538, when a privateer was seen chasing a caravel on her way to San
German. The caravel ran ashore at a point two leagues from the capital
and the crew escaped into the woods. The Frenchmen looted the vessel
and then proceeded to Guadianilla, where they landed 80 men, 50 of
them arquebusiers. They burned the town, robbed the church and
Dominican convent; but the people, after placing their families in
security, returned, and under favor of a shower of rain, which made
the arquebuses useless, fell upon them, killed 15 and took 3
prisoners, in exchange for whom the stolen church property was
restored. The people had only 1 killed.
The attack was duly reported to the sovereign, who ordered the
construction of a fort, and appointed Juan de Castellanos, the
treasurer, its commander (October 7, 1540). The treasurer's reply is
characteristic: "The fort which I have been ordered to make in the
town of San German, of which I am to be the commander, shall be made
as well as we may, though there is great want of money ... and of
carts, negroes, etc. It will be necessary to send masons from Sevilla,
as there is only 1 here, also tools and 20 negroes....
"Forts for this island are well enough, but it would be better to
favor the population, lending money or ceding the revenues for a few
years, to construct sugar-mills...."
On June 12th of the same year the treasurer wrote again announcing
that work on the San German fort had commenced, for which purpose he
had bought some negroes and hired others at _two and a half pesos per
But on February 12, 1542, the crown officers, including Castellanos,
reported that _the emperor's order to suspend work on the fort of San
German had been obeyed_.
In February, 1543, the bishop wrote to the emperor: "The people of San
German, for fear of the French privateers, have taken their families
and property into the woods. If there were a fort they would not be
so timid nor would the place be so depopulated."
As late as September, 1548, he reported: "I came here from la Espanola
in the beginning of the year to visit my diocese. I disembarked in San
German with an order from the Audiencia to convoke the inhabitants,
and found that there were a few over 30, who lived half a league from
the port for fear of the privateers. They don't abandon the important
place, but there ought to be a fort."
But the prelate pleaded in vain.
Charles V, occupied in opposing the French king's five armies, could
not be expected to give much attention to the affairs of an
insignificant island in a remote corner of his vast dominions. Puerto
Rico was left to take care of itself, and San German's last hour
struck on Palm Sunday, 1554, when 3 French ships entered the port of
Guadianilla, landed a detachment of men who penetrated a league
inland, plundering and destroying whatever they could. From that day
San German, the settlement founded by Miguel del Toro in 1512,
disappeared from the face of the land.
The capital remained. No doubt it owed its preservation from French
attacks to the presence of a battery and some pieces of artillery
which, as a result of reiterated petitions, had been provided. The
population also was more numerous. In 1529 there were 120 houses, some
of them of stone. The cathedral was completed, and a Dominican convent
was in course of construction with 25 friars waiting to occupy it.
Thus, one by one, all the original settlements disappeared. Guanica,
Sotomayor, Daguao, Loiza, had been swept away by the Indians. San
German fell the victim of the Spanish monarch's war with his neighbor.
The only remaining settlement, the capital, was soon to be on the
point of being sacrificed in the same way. The existence of the island
seemed to be half-forgotten, its connection with the metropolis
half-severed, for the crown officers wrote in 1536 that _no ship from
the Peninsula had entered its ports for two years_.
"Negroes and Indians," says Abbad, "seeing the small number of
Spaniards and their misery, escaped to the mountains of Luquillo and
Anasco, whence they descended only to rob their masters."
[Footnote 33: Castilla and Aragon, Navarro, Valencia, Cataluna,
Mallorca, Sicily, and Naples.]
[Footnote 34: Hista. general de Espana por Don Modesto Lafuente.
SEDENO--CHANGES IN THE SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT
A slight improvement in the gloomy situation of the people of San Juan
took place when, driven by necessity, they began to dedicate
themselves to agriculture. At this time, too (1535), Juan Castellanos,
the island's attorney at the court, returned with his own family and
75 colonists. Yet scarcely had they had time to settle when they were
invited to remigrate by one of Ponce's old companions.
This was Sedeno, a perfect type of the Spanish adventurer of the
sixteenth century--restless, ambitious, unscrupulous. The king had
made him "contador" (comptroller) of San Juan in 1512 and perpetual
"regidor" (alderman) in 1515. In 1518 we find him in prison under
accusation of having brought a woman and child from a convent in
Sevilla. He broke out of the prison and escaped in a ship. In 1521 he
was in prison again for debt to the Government. On this occasion the
judge auditor wrote to the emperor: " ... It is said of the
comptroller that he has put his hands deep into your Majesty's
treasure. He is the one who causes most strife and unrest in the
island, ... everybody says that it would be well if he were removed."
In 1524 Villasante accused him of malversation of public funds. In
1531 he appears as Governor of Trinidad, accused of capturing natives
of the neighboring continent, branding them and selling them as
slaves. In 1532, reinstated in his post as comptroller, he leaves
Alonzo de la Fuente as his deputy and goes on an expedition to conquer
Trinidad. In 1535 he complains to the emperor that the authorities in
San Juan have not assisted him in his enterprise, and in the following
year the governor and crown officers address a complaint against him
to the empress, saying: "Sedeno presented a schedule authorizing him
to bring 200 men from the Canary Islands to make war with fire and
sword on the Caribs of Trinidad, and permitting him, or any other
person authorized by him, to fit out an expedition for the same
"Under this pretext he has collected people to go to the conquest of
Meta. We wrote to the Audiencia in la Espanola, and an order came
that he should not go beyond the limits of his government, but he
continues his preparations and has already 50 horses and 120 men on
the continent, and is now going with some 200 men more and another 100
horses. He takes no notice of your Majesty's commands, collects people
from all parts without a license, and causes grave injury to the
island, because since the rage for going to Peru began the population
is very scarce and we can not remedy the evil...."
This restless adventurer died of fever on the continent in 1538.
Sedeno's emigration schemes deprived the island of many of its best
settlers. The wish to abandon it was universal. Lando's drastic
measures to prevent it roused the people's anger, and they clamored
for his removal. The Audiencia sent Juan Blasquez as judge auditor,
and Vasco de Tiedra was appointed Lando's successor in 1536. But in
the following year a radical change was made in the system of
The quarrels, the jealousies, and mutual accusations between the
colonists and the Government officials that kept the island in a
continual ferment, were the natural consequence of the prerogatives
exercised by Diego Columbus, which permitted him to fill all lucrative
positions in the island with his own favorites, often without any
regard to their aptitude.
The incessant communications to the emperor, and even to the empress,
on every subject more or less connected with the public service, but
dictated mostly by considerations of self-interest, coming, as they
did, from the smallest and poorest and least important of his
Majesty's possessions, must have been a source of great annoyance to
the imperial ministers, consequently they resolved to remove the
cause. The Admiral was deprived of the prerogative of appointing
governors, and henceforth the alcaldes (mayors) and "chief alguaciles"
(high constables), to be elected from among the colonists by a body of
eight aldermen (regidores), were to exercise the governmental
functions for one year at a time, and could not be reelected till two
years after the first nomination. The wisdom of this innovation was
not generally acknowledged. The crown officers wrote: " ... All are
not agreed on the point whether the governor should or should not be
elected among the residents of the island. For the country's good he
should, no doubt, be a resident."
Alonzo la Fuente was of a different opinion. He wrote in November,
1536: "It has been a great boon to take the appointment of governors
out of the Admiral's hands. As a rule, some neighbor or friend was
made supreme judge, and he usually proceeded with but little regard
for the island's welfare. All the rest were servants and employees of
the Admiral, which caused me much uneasiness, seeing the results.
Appoint a governor, but a man from abroad, not a resident." In the
following year he wrote regarding the elective system just introduced:
" ... If the alcaldes must take cognizance of everything, this will
become a place of confusion and disorder. A few will lord it over all
the rest, and the alcaldes themselves will but be their creatures."
The new system of government was unsatisfactory. Castro and
Castellanos asked for the appointment of a supreme judge in March,
1539, because an appeal to the authorities in la Espanola was made
against every decision of the alcalde. Alderman La Fuente and Martel
confirmed this in December, 1541. They wrote: " ... There is great
want of a supreme judge. More than fifteen homicides have been
committed in less than eight years, and only one of the delinquents
has been punished ..." In January, 1542, the city officers sent a
deputy to lay their grievances before the emperor, not daring to write
them "for their lives," and in February the island's attorney, Alonzo
Molina, stated the causes of the failure of the elective system to be
the ignorance of the laws of those in authority and the reduced number
of electors. "It is necessary," he said, "to name a mayor or governor
who is a man of education and conscience, _not a resident_, because
the judges have their 'compadres.' The governor must be a man of
whom they stand in fear, and if some one of this class is not sent
soon, he will find few to govern, for the majority intend to abandon
A law passed, it appears, at the petition of a single individual, in
1542, increased the confusion and discord still more. This law made
the pastures of the island, as well as the woods and waters, public
property. The woods and waters had been considered such from the
beginning, but the pastures, included in the concessions of lands made
at different times by the crown, were private property. The result of
this law was aggression on the part of the landless and resistance on
the part of the proprietors, with the consequent scenes of violence
and civil strife.
Representations against the law were made by the ecclesiastical
chapter, by the city attorney, and by the three crown officers in
February, 1542; but the regidores, on the other hand, insisted on the
compliance with the royal mandate, and reported that when the law was
promulgated, all the possessors of cattle-ranges opposed it, and four
of their body who voted for compliance with the law were threatened to
be stoned to death and have their eyes pulled out. "We asked to have
the circumstance testified to by a notary, and it was refused. We
wanted to write to your Majesty, and to prevent any one conveying our
letters, they bought the whole cargo of the only ship in port, and did
the same with another ship that came in afterward...."
On the 2d of June following they wrote again: " ... An alcalde, two
aldermen, and ten or twelve wealthy cattle-owners wanted to kill us.
We had to lock ourselves up in our houses.... The people here are so
insubordinate that if your Majesty does not send some one to chastise
them and protect his servants, there will soon be no island of San
The system of electing annual governors among the residents was
abolished in 1544, and the crown resumed its prerogative with the
appointment of Geronimo Lebron, of la Espanola, as governor for one
year. He died fifteen days after his arrival, and the Audiencia
named licentiate Cervantes de Loayza in his place, who was compelled
to imprison some of the ringleaders in the party of opposition
against the pasture laws. This governor wrote to the emperor in July,
1545: " ... I came to this island with my wife and children to serve
your Majesty, but I found it a prey to incredible violences...."
Cervantes was well received at first, and the city officials asked the
emperor to prorogue his term of office, but as Bishop Bastidas said of
the islanders, it was not in their nature to be long satisfied with
any governor, and the next year they clamored for his "residencia." He
rendered his accounts and came out without blame or censure.
It appears that about the year 1549 the system of electing alcaldes as
governors was resumed, for in that year Bishop Bastidas thanks the
emperor, and tells him "the alcaldes were sufficient, considering the
small population." But in 1550 we again find a governor appointed by
the crown for five years, a Doctor Louis Vallejo, from whose
communications describing the conditions of the island we extract the
following: "It is a pity to see how the island has been ruined by the
attacks of Frenchmen and Caribs. The few people that remain in San
German live in the worst possible places, in swamps surrounded by
rough mountains, a league from the port...." And on the 4th of
December, 1550: " ... The island was in a languishing condition
because the mines gave out, but now, with the sugar industry, it is
comparatively prosperous. The people beg your Majesty's protection."
However, in October, 1553, we find Bishop Alonzo la Fuente and others
addressing King Philip II, and telling him that "the land is in great
distress, ... traffic has ceased for fear of the corsairs...." The
same complaints continue during 1554 and 1555. Then Vallejo is
subjected to "residencia" by the new governor, Estevez, who, after a
few months' office, is "residentiated" in his turn by Caraza, who had
been governor in 1547.
After this the chronicles are so scanty that not even the diligent
researches of Friar Abbad's commentator enabled him to give any
reliable information regarding the government of the island. It
remained the almost defenseless point of attack for the nations with
which Spain was constantly at war, and this small but bright pearl in
her colonial crown was preserved only by fortunate circumstances on
the one hand and the loyalty of the inhabitants on the other.
[Footnote 35: Protectors or proteges--literally, "godfathers."]
DEFENSELESS CONDITION OF THE ISLAND--CONSTRUCTION OF
FORTIFICATIONS AND CIRCUMVALLATION OF SAN JUAN
San German disappeared for want of means of defense, and if the French
privateers of the time had been aware that the forts in San Juan were
without guns or ammunition it is probable that this island would have
become a French possession.
The defenses of the island were constructed by the home authorities in
a very dilatory manner. Ponce's house in Caparra had been fortified in
a way so ineffective that Las Casas said of it that the Indians might
knock it down butting their heads against it. This so-called fort soon
fell in ruins after the transfer of the capital to its present site.
There is no information of what became of the six "espingardas" (small
ordnance or hand-guns) with which it had been armed at King
Ferdinand's expense. They had probably been transferred to San Juan,
where, very likely, they did good service intimidating the Caribs.
In 1527 an English ship came prowling about San Juan bay, la Mona, and
la Espanola, and this warning to the Spanish authorities was
disregarded, notwithstanding Blas de Villasante's urgent request
for artillery and ammunition.
[Illustration: Inner harbor, San Juan.]
After the burning of San German by a French privateer in August, 1537,
Villasante bought five "lombardas" (another kind of small ordnance)
for the defense of San Juan. In 1529 and 1530 both La Gama, the acting
governor, and the city officers represented to the emperor the
necessity of constructing fortifications, "_because the island's
defenseless condition caused the people to emigrate_."
It appears that the construction of the first fort commenced about
1533, for in that year the Audiencia in la Espanola disposed of some
funds for the purpose, and Governor Lando suggested the following year
that if the fort were made of stone "it would be eternal." The
suggestion was acted upon and a tax levied on the people to defray the
This fort must have been concluded about the year 1540, for in that
same year the ecclesiastical and the city authorities were contending
for the grant of the slaves, carts, and oxen that had been employed,
the former wanting them for the construction of a church, the latter
for making roads and bridges.
This "Fortaleza" is the same edifice which, after many changes, was at
last, and is still, used as a gubernatorial residence, the latest
reconstruction being effected in 1846. As a fort, Gonzalez
Fernandez de Oviedo denounced it as a piece of useless work which,
"if it had been constructed by blind men could not have been located
in a worse place," and in harmony with his advice a battery was
constructed on the rocky promontory called "the Morro."
San Juan had now a fort (1540) but no guns. The crown officers,
reporting an attack on Guayama by a French privateer in 1541, again
clamor for artillery. Treasurer Castellanos writes in March and June
of the same year: "The artillery for this fort has not yet arrived.
How are we to defend it?"
Treasurer Salinas writes in 1554: "The French have taken several
ships. It would have been a great boon if your Majesty had ordered
Captain Mindirichaga to come here with his four ships to defend this
island and la Espanola. He would have found Frenchmen in la Mona,
where they prepare for their expeditions and lay in wait. They declare
their intention to take this island, and it will be difficult for us
to defend it without artillery or other arms. If there is anything in
the fort it is useless, nor is the fort itself of any account. It is
merely a lodging-house. The bastion on the Morro, if well constructed,
could defend the entrance to the harbor with 6 pieces. We have 60
horsemen here with lances and shields, but no arquebusiers or pikemen.
Send us artillery and ammunition."
The demand for arms and ammunition continued in this way till 1555,
when acting Governor Caraza reported that 8 pieces of bronze ordnance
had been planted on the Morro.
The existing fortifications of San Juan have all been added and
extended at different periods. Father Torres Vargas, in his chronicles
of San Juan, says that the castle grounds of San Felipe del Morro
were laid out in 1584. The construction cost 2,000,000 ducats. The
Boqueron, or Santiago fort, the fort of the Canuelo, and the
extensions of the Morro were constructed during the administration of
Gabriel Royas (1599 to 1609). Governor Henriquez began the
circumvallation of the city in 1630, and his successor, Sarmiento,
concluded it between the years 1635 and 1641. Fort San Cristobal was
begun in the eighteenth century and completed in 1771. Some
fortifications of less importance were added in the nineteenth
When Caraza reported, in 1555, that the first steps in the
fortification of the capital had been taken, the West Indian seas
swarmed with French privateers, and their depredations on Spanish
commerce and ill-protected possessions continued till Philip II signed
the treaty of peace at Vervins in 1598.
But before that, war with England had been declared, and a more
formidable enemy than the French was soon to appear before the capital
of this much-afflicted island.
[Footnote 36: The inscription on the upper front wall of the building
is: "During the reign of her Majesty, Dona Isabel II, the Count of
Mirasol being Captain-General, Santos Cortijo, Colonel of Engineers,
reconstructed this royal fort in 1846."]
[Footnote 37: Ducat, a coin struck by a duke, worth, in silver, about
$1.15, in gold, twice as much. It was also a nominal money worth
eleven pesetas and one maravedi.]
DRAKE'S ATTACK ON SAN JUAN
Of all the English freebooters that preyed upon Spain and her colonies
from the commencement of the war in 1585 to the signing of peace in
1604, Francis Drake was the greatest scourge and the most feared.
Drake early distinguished himself among the fraternity of sea-rovers
by the boldness of his enterprises and the intensity of his hatred of
the Spaniards. When still a young man, in 1567-'68, he was captain of
a small ship, the Judith, one of a fleet of slavers running between
the coast of Africa and the West Indies, under the command of John
Hawkyns, another famous freebooter. In the harbor of San Juan de Ulua
the Spaniards took the fleet by stratagem; the Judith and the Minion,
with Hawkyns on board, being the only vessels that escaped. Young
Drake's experiences on that occasion fixed the character of his
relations to the Dons forever afterward. He vowed that they should pay
for all he had suffered and all he had lost.
At that time the Spaniards were ostensibly still friends with England.
To Drake they were then and always treacherous and forsworn enemies.
In 1570 he made a voyage to the West Indies in a bark of forty tons
with a private crew. In the Chagres River, on the coast of Nombre de
Dios, there happened to be sundry barks transporting velvets and
taffetas to the value of 40,000 ducats, besides gold and silver. They
were all taken.
Two years later he made a most daring attempt to take the town of
Nombre de Dios, and would probably have succeeded had he not been
wounded. He fainted from loss of blood. His men carried him back on
board and suspended the attack. On his recovery he met with complete
success, and returned to Plymouth in 1573 with a large amount of
treasure openly torn from a nation with which England was at peace,
arriving at the very time that Philip's ambassador to Queen Elizabeth
was negotiating a treaty of peace. Drake had no letters of marque, and
consequently was guilty of piracy in the eyes of the law, the penalty
for which was hanging. The Spaniards were naturally very angry, and
clamored for restitution or compensation and Drake's punishment, but
the queen, who shared the pirate's hatred of the Spaniards, sent him
timely advice to keep out of the way.
In 1580 he returned from another voyage in the West Indies, just when
a body of so-called papal volunteers had landed in Ireland. They had
been brought by a Spanish officer in Spanish ships, and the queen,
pending a satisfactory explanation, refused to receive Mendoza, the
Spanish ambassador, and hear his complaints of Drake's piracies. When
his ships had been brought round in the Thames, she visited him on
board and conferred on him the honor of knighthood. From this time
onward he became a servant of the crown.
It was this redoubtable sea-rover who, according to advices received
early in 1595, was preparing an expedition in England for the purpose
of wresting her West Indian possessions from Spain. The expedition was
brought to naught, through the disagreements between Drake and Hawkyns,
who both commanded it, by administrative blunders and vexatious delays
in England. The Spaniards were everywhere forewarned and goaded to
action by the terror of Drake's name.
Notwithstanding this, the island's fate, seeing its defenseless
condition, would, no doubt, have been sealed at that time but for a
most fortunate occurrence which brought to its shores the forces that
enabled it to repulse the attack. Acosta's annotations on Abbad's
history contains the following details of the events in San Juan at
"General Sancho Pardo y Osorio sailed from Havana March 10, 1595, in
the flagship of the Spanish West Indian fleet, to convoy some
merchantmen and convey 2,000,000 pesos in gold and silver, the greater
part the property of his Majesty the king. The flagship carried 300
"On the 15th, when in the Bermuda channel, a storm separated the
convoy from the other ships, sent her mainmast overboard, broke her
rudder, and the ship sprang a leak. In this condition, after a
consultation among the officers, it was decided to repair the damage
as well as possible and steer for Puerto Rico, which they reached on
the 9th of April. The treasure was placed in security in the fort and
messengers despatched to the king to learn his Majesty's commands.
"A few days later official advice of the preparations in England was
brought to the island in a despatch-boat. Governor Juarez, General
Sancho, and the commander of the local infantry held a council, in
which it was resolved to land the artillery from the dismasted ship
and sink her and another vessel in the channel at the entrance to the
harbor, while defenses should be constructed at every point where an
enemy could attempt a landing. The plan was carried out under the
direction of General Sancho, who had ample time, as no enemy appeared
during the next seven months.
"On the 13th of November 5 Spanish frigates arrived under the command
of Pedro Tello de Guzman, with orders from the king to embark the
treasure forthwith and take it to Spain; but Tello, on his way hither,
had fallen in off Guadeloupe with two English small craft, had had a
fight with one of them, sank it, and while pursuing the other had come
suddenly in sight of the whole fleet, which made him turn about and
make his way to Puerto Rico before the English should cut him off.
From the prisoners taken from the sunken vessel he had learned that
the English fleet consisted of 6 line-of-battle ships of 600 to 800
tons each, and about 20 others of different sizes, with launches for
landing troops, 3,000 infantry, 1,500 mariners, all well armed and
provided with artillery, bound direct for Puerto Rico under the
command of Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkyns.
"Tello's 5 frigates made a very important addition to the island's
defenses. Part of his men were distributed among the land forces, and
his ships anchored in the bay, just behind the two sunken ships.
"All was now ready for a determined resistance. General Sancho had
charge of the shore defenses, Admiral Gonzalo Mendez de Cauzo
commanded the forts, Tello, with his frigates and 300 men, defended
the harbor. The bishop promised to say a mass and preach a sermon
every day, and placed a priest at every post to give spiritual aid
where necessary. Lastly, despatch-boats were sent to la Espanola and
to Cuba to inform the authorities there of the coming danger.
"The defensive forces consisted of 450 men distributed at different
points on shore with 34 pieces of ordnance of small caliber. In the
forts there were 36 pieces, mostly bronze ordnance, with the
respective contingent of men. On board of Tello's frigates there were
"General Sancho, after an inspection of the defenses, assured the
governor that the island was safe if the men would but fight.
"At daybreak on the 22d of November the English fleet hove in sight.
The call to arms was sounded, and everybody," says the chronicler,
"ran joyfully to his post."
A caravel with some launches showing white flags came on ahead,
sounding, but on passing the Boqueron were saluted with a cannon shot,
whereupon they withdrew replacing the white flags by red ones.
The whole fleet now came to anchor in front of the "Caleta del Cabron"
(Goat's Creek), much to the surprise of the islanders, who had no idea
that there was anchoring ground at that point; but, being within range
of the 3 pieces of cannon on the Morrillo and of the 2 pieces planted
at the mouth of the creek, they were fired upon, with the result, as
became known afterward, of considerable damage to the flagship and the
death of 2 or 3 persons, among them Hawkyns, Drake's second in
This unexpectedly warm reception made it clear to the English admiral
that the islanders had been forewarned and were not so defenseless as
they had been reported. Some launches were sent to take soundings in
the vicinity of Goat Island, and at 5 in the afternoon the fleet
lifted anchor and stood out to sea. Next morning at 8 o'clock it
returned and took up a position under the shelter of the said island,
out of range of the artillery on the forts.
More soundings were taken during the day in the direction of Bayamon,
as far as the Canuelo. That night, about 10 o'clock, 25 launches, each
containing from 50 to 60 men, advanced under cover of the darkness and
attacked Tello's frigates. The flames of 3 of the ships, which the
English succeeded in firing, soon lit up the bay and enabled the
artillery of the 3 forts to play with effect among the crowded
launches. The Spaniards on board Tello's ships succeeded in putting
out the fire on board 2 of the ships, the third one was destroyed.
After an hour's hard fighting and the loss by the English, as
estimated by the Spanish chronicler, of 8 or 10 launches and of about
400 men, they withdrew. The Spanish loss that night was 40 killed and
The next day the English fleet stood out to sea again, keeping to
windward of the harbor, which made Tello suspect that they intended to
return under full sail when the wind sprang up and force their way
into the harbor. To prevent this, 2 more ships and a frigate were sunk
across the entrance with all they had on board, there being no time to
As expected, the fleet came down at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, but
did not try to force an entrance. It quietly took up the same position
between the Morro and Goat Island, which it had occupied the day
before, and this made the Spaniards think that another night attack on
the 3 remaining frigates was impending. After dark the frigates were
removed to a place of safety within the bay.
The night passed without an alarm. The next day the English launches
were busy all day sounding the bay as far as the Boqueron, taking care
to keep out of range of the artillery on shore. Night came on and when
next morning the sun lit up the western world there was not an enemy
visible. Drake had found the island too well prepared and deemed it
prudent to postpone the conquest.
Two days later news came from Arecibo that the English fleet had
passed that port. A messenger sent to San German returned six days
later with the information that the enemy had been there four days
taking in wood and water and had sailed southward on the 9th of
It is said that when Drake afterward learned that his abandonment of
the conquest of Puerto Rico had made him miss the chance of adding
2,000,000 pesos in gold and silver to the Maiden Queen's exchequer, he
pulled his beard with vexation.
[Footnote 38: Drake and his Successors. The Edinburgh Review, July,
OCCUPATION AND EVACUATION OF SAN JUAN BY LORD GEORGE
CUMBERLAND--CONDITION OF THE ISLAND AT THE END OF THE SIXTEENTH
Puerto Rico and his Majesty's treasure were now safe. When there was
no longer any fear of the enemy's return, haste was made to reembark
the money and get rid of General Sancho and Tello and their men who
were fast consuming the island's scanty resources.
Two years after Drake's ineffectual attack on the island another
English fleet, with a large body of troops under the orders of Lord
George Cumberland, came to Puerto Rico. A landing was effected at
Cangrejos (the present Santurce). The bridge leading to the capital
was not then fortified, but its passage was gallantly disputed by
Governor Antonio Mosquera, an old soldier of the war in Flanders. The
English were far superior in numbers and armament, and Mosquera had to
fall back. Captain Serralta, the brothers John and Simon Sanabria, and
other natives of the island, greatly distinguished themselves in this
action. The English occupied the capital and the forts without much
more opposition. An epidemic of dysentery and yellow fever carried off
400 Englishmen in less than three months and bid fair to exterminate
the whole invading force, so that, to save his troops, the English
commander was obliged to evacuate the island, which he did on the 23d
of November. He carried with him 70 pieces of artillery of all sizes
which he found in the fortifications. The city itself he left unhurt,
except that he took the church-bells and organ and carried off an
artistically sculptured marble window in one of the houses which had
taken his fancy.
Mr. Brau mentions some documents in the Indian archives of Spain, from
which it appears that another invasion of Puerto Rico took place a
year after Cumberland's departure. On that occasion the governor and
the garrison were carried off as prisoners, but as there was a cruel
epidemic still raging in the island at the time the English did not
The death of Philip II (September 13, 1598) and of his inveterate
enemy, Queen Elizabeth (March 24, 1603), brought the war with England
to a close. The ambassador of Philip III in London negotiated a treaty
of peace with James I, which was signed and ratified in the early part
So ended the sixteenth century in Boriquen. If the dictum of Las
Casas, that the island at the century's beginning was "as populous as
a beehive and as lovely as an orchard," was but a rhetorical figure,
there is no gainsaying the fact that at the time of Ponce's landing it
was thickly peopled, not only that part occupied by the Spaniards but
_the whole island_, with a comparatively innocent, simple, and
peaceably disposed native race. The end of the century saw them no
more. The erstwhile garden was an extensive jungle. The island's
history during these hundred years was condensed into the one word
"strife." All that the efforts of the king and his governors had been
able to make of it was a penal settlement, a presidio with a
population of about 400 inhabitants, white, black, and mongrel. The
littoral was an extensive hog-and cattle-ranch, with here and there a
patch of sugar-cane; there was no commerce. There were no roads.
The people, morally, mentally, and materially poor, were steeped in
ignorance and vice. Education there was none. The very few who aspired
to know, went to la Espanola to obtain an education. The few spiritual
wants of the people were supplied by monks, many of them as ignorant
and bigoted as themselves. War and pestilence and tempest had united
to wipe the island from the face of the earth, and the very name of
"Rich Port," given to it without cause or reason, must have sounded in
the ears of the inhabitants as a bitter sarcasm on their wretched
[Footnote 39: A precarious traffic in hides and ginger did not deserve
the name of commerce.]
ATTACK ON SAN JUAN BY THE HOLLANDERS UNDER BOWDOIN
Holland emancipated itself from Spanish domination in 1582 and assumed
the title of "the United Provinces of Netherland." After nearly half a
century of an unequal struggle with the most powerful kingdom in
Europe, the people's faith in final success was unbounded, while Spain
was growing weary of the apparently interminable war. At this
juncture, proposals for a suspension of hostilities were willingly
entertained by both nations, and after protracted negotiations, a
truce of twelve years was signed in Bergen-op-Zoom, April 9, 1609. In
it the absolute independence of the United Provinces was recognized.
This gave the Spanish colonies a welcome respite from the ravages of
privateers till 1621, the first year of the reign of King Philip IV,
when hostilities immediately recommenced. France and England both came
to the assistance of the Provinces with money for the raising of
troops, and the wealthy merchants of Holland, following the example of
the French merchants in the former century, fitted out fleets of
privateers to prey upon the commerce and colonies of Spain and
Portugal. The first exploits of these privateers were the invasion of
Brazil and the sacking of San Salvador, of Lima and Callao (1624).
Puerto Rico was just beginning to recover from the prostration in
which the last invasion had left it, when on the morning of the 24th
of September, 1625, the guard on San Felipe del Morro announced 8
ships to windward of the port.
Juan de Haro, the governor, who had assumed the command only a few
months before, mounted to an outlook to observe them, and was informed
that more ships could be seen some distance down the coast. He sent
out horsemen, and they returned about 8 o'clock at night with the news
that they had counted 17 ships in all.
Alarm-bells were now rung and some cannon fired from the forts to call
the inhabitants together. They were directed to the plaza, where arms
and ammunition were distributed. During the night the whole city was
astir preparing for events, under the direction of the governor.
Next morning the whole fleet was a short distance to windward. Lest a
landing should be attempted at the Boqueron or at Goat's Creek, the
two most likely places, the governor ordered a cannon to be planted at
each and trenches to be dug. In the meantime, the people, who had
promptly answered the call to arms, and the garrison were formed into
companies on the plaza and received orders to occupy the forts,
marching first along the shore, where the enemy could see them, so as
to make a great show of numbers.
The artillery in the fort was in bad condition. The gun-carriages were
old and rotten. Some of the pieces had been loaded four years before
and were dismounted at the first firing. One of them burst on the
sixth or seventh day, killing the gunners and severely wounding the
governor, who personally superintended the defense.
In the afternoon of the day of their arrival the Hollanders came down
under full sail "with as much confidence," says the chronicler, "as if
they were entering a port in their own country."
That night the fort was provisioned as well as the scanty resources of
the island permitted. The defenders numbered 330, and the food supply
collected would not enable them to stand a long siege. The supply
consisted of 120 loads of casabe bread, 46 bushels of maize, 130 jars
or jugs of olive oil, 10 barrels of biscuit, 300 island cheeses, 1
cask of flour, 30 pitchers of wine, 200 fowls, and 150 small boxes of
preserved fruit (membrillo).
Fortunately during the night 50 head of cattle and 20 horses were
driven in from the surrounding country.
From the 26th to the 29th the enemy busied himself landing troops,
digging trenches, and planting 6 pieces of cannon on a height called
"the Calvary." Then he began firing at the fort, which replied, doing
At 9 o'clock on the morning of the 30th, a drummer under a flag of
truce presented himself before the castle with a letter addressed to
the governor. It was couched in the following terms:
"Senor Governor Don Juan Faro, you must be well aware of the reasons
of our coming so near and of our intentions. Therefore, I, Bowdoin
Hendrick, general of these forces, in the name of the States General
and of his Highness the Prince of Orange, do hereby demand that you
deliver this castle and garrison into our hands, which doing we will
not fail to come to terms with you. And if not, I give you notice,
that from this day forward we will spare neither old nor young, woman
nor child; and to this we wait your answer in a few words.
To which epistle the governor replied:
"I have seen your paper, and am surprised that you should ask such a
thing of me, seeing that I have served thirteen years in Flanders,
where I have learned to value your boastings and know what sieges are.
On the contrary, if you will deliver the ships in which you have come
to me, I will let you have one to return with. And these are the
orders of my King and Master, and none other, with which I have
answered your paper, in the Castle of San Felipe del Morro, the 30th
of September, 1625.
"JUAN DE HARO."
The next day a heavy cannonading commenced, the Hollanders firing over
150 shots at the castle with small effect. The same day a Spanish ship
arrived with wine and provisions, but seeing the danger it ran of
being taken, did not enter the port, but steered to la Espanola, to
the great disappointment of the people in the fort.
On the 4th of October the governor ordered a sortie of 80 men in three
parties. On the 5th Captain Juan de Amezquita led another sortie, and
so between sorties, surprises, night attacks, and mutual cannonadings
things continued till the 21st of October.
On that day Bowdoin sent another letter announcing his intention of
burning the city if no understanding was arrived at. To which letter
the governor replied that there was building material enough in the
island to construct another city, and that he wished the whole army of
Holland might be here to witness Spanish bravery.
Bowdoin carried his threat into effect, and the next day over a
hundred houses were burned. Bishop Balbueno's palace and library and
the city archives were also destroyed. To put a stop to this wanton
destruction Captains Amezquita and Botello led a sortie of 200 men.
They attacked the enemy in front and rear with such _elan_ that they
drove them from their trenches and into the water in their haste to
reach their launches.
This, and other remarkable exploits, related by the native
chroniclers, so discouraged the Hollanders that they abandoned the
siege on the 2d of November, leaving behind them one of their largest
ships, stranded, and over 400 dead.
The fleet repaired to la Aguada to refit. Bowdoin, who, apparently,
was a better letter writer than general, sent a third missive to the
governor, asking permission to purchase victuals, which was, of
course, flatly refused.
The king duly recompensed the brave defenders. The governor was made
Chevalier of the Order of Santiago and received a money grant of 2,000
ducats. Captain Amezquita received 1,000 ducats, and was later
appointed Governor of Cuba. Captain Botello also received 1,000
ducats, and others who had distinguished themselves received
Puerto Rico's successful resistance to this invasion encouraged the
belief that, provided the mother country should furnish the necessary
means of defense, the island would end by commanding the respect of
its enemies and be left unmolested. But the mother country's wars with
England, France, and Holland absorbed all its attention in Europe and
consumed all its resources. The colonies remained dependent for their
defense on their own efforts, while privateers, freebooters, and
pirates of the three nations at war with Spain settled like swarms of
hornets in every available island in the West Indies.
DECLINE OF SPAIN'S POWER--BUCCANEERS AND FILIBUSTERS
The power of Spain received its death-blow during the course of the
war with England. The destruction of the Armada and of the fleets
subsequently equipped by Philip II for the invasion of Ireland were
calamities from which Spain never recovered.
The wars with almost every European nation in turn, which raged during
the reigns of the third and fourth Philips, swallowed up all the
blood-stained treasure that the colonial governors could wring from
the natives of the New World. The flower of the German and Italian
legions had left their bones in the marshes of Holland, and Spain, the
proudest nation in Europe, had been humiliated to the point of
treating for peace, on an equal footing, with a handful of rebels and
recognizing their independence. France had four armies in the field
against her (1637). A fleet equipped with great sacrifice and
difficulty was destroyed by the Hollanders in the waters of Brazil
(1630). Van Tromp annihilated another in the English Channel,
consisting of 70 ships, with 10,000 of Spain's best troops on board.
Cataluna was in open revolt (1640). The Italian provinces followed
(1641). Portugal fought and achieved her emancipation from Spanish
rule. The treasury was empty, the people starving. Yet, while all
these calamities were befalling the land, the king and his court,
under the guidance of an inept minister (the Duke of Olivares), were
wasting the country's resources in rounds of frivolous and immoral
pleasures, in dances, theatrical representations, and bull-fights. The
court was corrupt; vice and crime were rampant in the streets of
Under such a regime the colonists were naturally left to take care of
themselves, and this, coupled with the policy of excluding them from
all foreign commerce, justified Spain's enemies in seeking to wrest
from her the possessions from which she drew the revenues that enabled
her to make war on them. Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Hollanders made of
the Antilles their trysting-ground for the purpose of preying upon the
These were the buccaneers and filibusters of that period, the most
lawless class of men in an age of universal lawlessness, the refuse
from the seaports of northern Europe, as cruel miscreants as ever
blackened the pages of history.
The buccaneers derived their name from the Carib word "boucan," a
kind of gridiron on which, like the natives, they cooked their meat,
hence, bou-canier. The word filibuster comes from the Spanish
"fee-lee-bote," English "fly-boat," a small, swift sailing-vessel
with a large mainsail, which enabled the buccaneers to pursue
merchantmen in the open sea and escape among the shoals and shallows
of the archipelago when pursued in their turn by men-of-war.
They recognized no authority, no law but force. They obeyed a leader
only when on their plundering expeditions. The spoils were equally
divided, the captain's share being double that of the men. The maimed
in battle received a compensation proportionate to the injury
received. The captains were naturally distinguished by the qualities
of character that alone could command obedience from crews who feared
neither God nor man.
One of the most dreaded among them was a Frenchman, a native of Sables
d'Olonne, hence called l'Olonais. He had been a prisoner of the
Spaniards, and the treatment he received at their hands had filled his
soul with such deadly hatred, that when he regained his liberty he
swore a solemn oath to live henceforth for revenge alone. And he did.
He never spared sex or age, and took a hellish pleasure in torturing
his victims. He made several descents on the coast of this island,
burned Maracaibo, Puerto Cabello, Veragua, and other places, and was
killed at last by the Indians of Darien.
Sir Henry Morgan, a Welsh aristocrat turned pirate, was another famous
scourge of the Spanish colonies. His inhuman treatment of the
inhabitants of Puerto Principe, in 1668, is a matter of history. He
plundered Porto Bello, Chagres, Panama, and extended his depredations
to the coast of Costa Rica. He used to subject his victims to torture
to make them declare where they had hidden their valuables, and many a
poor wretch who had no valuables to hide was ruthlessly tortured to
Pierre Legrand was another Frenchman who, after committing all kinds
of outrages in the West Indies, passed with his robber crew to the
Pacific and scoured the coasts as far as California.
The atrocities committed by a certain Montbras, of Languedoc, earned
him the name of "the Exterminator."
* * * * *
When the first buccaneers made their appearance in the Antilles
(1520), the Windward Islands were still occupied by the Caribs. Here
they formed temporary settlements, which, by degrees, grew into
permanent pirates' nests. In some of these islands they found large
herds of cattle, the progeny of the first few heads introduced by the
early Spanish colonists, who afterward abandoned them. In 1625 a party
of English and French occupied the island San Cristobal. Four years
later Puerto Rico, being well garrisoned at the time, the governor,
Enrique Henriquez, fitted out an expedition to dislodge them, in which
he succeeded only to make them take up new quarters in Antigua.
The next year the French and English buccaneers who occupied the small
island of Tortuga made a descent upon the western part of la Espanola,
called Haiti by the natives (mountainous land), and maintained
themselves there till that part of the island was ceded to France by
the treaty of Ryswyk, in 1697.
Spain equipped a fleet to clear the West Indies from pirates in 1630,
and placed it under the command of Don Federico de Toledo. He was met
in the neighborhood of San Cristobal by a numerous fleet of small
craft, which had the advantage over the unwieldy Spanish ships in that
they could maneuver with greater rapidity and precision. There are no
reliable details of the result of the engagement. Abbad tells us that
the Spaniards were victorious, but the buccaneers continued to occupy
all the islands which they had occupied before.
In 1634 they took possession of Curagao, Aruba, and Bonaire, near the
coast of Venezuela, and established themselves in 1638 in San
Eustaquio, Saba, San Martin, and Santa Cruz.
In 1640 the Governor of Puerto Rico sought to expel them from the
last-named island. He defeated them, killing many and taking others
prisoners; but as soon as he returned to Puerto Rico the Hollanders
from San Eustaquio and San Martin reoccupied Santa Cruz, and he was
compelled to equip another expedition to dislodge them, in which he
was completely successful. This time he left a garrison, but in the
same year the French commander, Poincy, came with a strong force and
compelled the garrison to capitulate. The island remained a French
possession under the name of Saint Croix until it was sold to Denmark,
in 1733, for $150,000. Another expedition set out from Puerto Rico in
1650, to oust the French and Hollanders from San Martin. The Spaniards
destroyed a fort that had been constructed there, but as soon as they
returned to this island the pirates reoccupied their nest. In 1657 an
Englishman named Cook came with a sufficient force and San Martin
became an English possession.
About 1665 the French Governor of Tortuga, Beltran Ogeron, planned the
conquest of Puerto Rico. He appeared off the coast with 3 ships, but
one of the hurricanes so frequent in these latitudes came to the
island's rescue. The ships were stranded, and the surviving Frenchmen
made prisoners. Among them was Ogeron himself, but his men shielded
him by saying that he was drowned. On the march to the capital he and
his ship's surgeon managed to escape, and, after killing the owner of
a fishing-smack, returned to Tortuga, where he immediately commenced
preparations for another invasion of Puerto Rico. When he came back he
was so well received by the armed peasantry (jibaros) that he was
forced to reembark.
From this time to 1679 several expeditions were fitted out in San Juan
to drive the filibusters from one or another of the islands in the
neighborhood. In 1780 a fleet was equipped with the object of
definitely destroying all the pirates' nests. The greater part of the
garrison, all the Puerto Ricans most distinguished for bravery,
intelligence, and experience, took part in the expedition. The fleet
was accompanied by the Spanish battle-ship Carlos V, which carried 50
cannon and 500 men. Of this expedition not a soul returned. It was
totally destroyed by a hurricane, and the island was once more plunged
in mourning, ruin, and poverty, from which it did not emerge till
nearly a century later.
[Footnote 40: In fifteen days 110 men and women were assassinated in
the capital alone, some of them persons of distinction. Canovas,
Decadencia de Espana, Libro VI.]
BRITISH ATTACKS ON PUERTO RICO--SIEGE OF SAN JUAN BY SIR RALPH
The _entente cordiale_ which had existed between England under Charles
I and Spain under Philip IV ceased with the tragic death of the
Immediately after Cromwell's elevation both France and Spain made
overtures for an alliance with England. But the Protector well knew
that in the event of war with either power, Spain's colonies and
treasure-laden galleons offered a better chance for obtaining booty
than the poor possessions of France. He favored an alliance with Louis
XIV, and ended by signing a treaty with him in 1657.
The first result of the hostilities that ensued was the capture by the
English Admirals Blake and Stayner of several richly laden galleons.
From that time to the end of the eighteenth century England's attempts
to secure the two most-coveted Antilles (Cuba and Puerto Rico)
continued with short intervals of peace.
In 1768 an English fleet of 22 ships, with a landing force under the
command of the Earl of Estren, appeared before San Juan and demanded
its surrender. Before a formal attack could be made a furious
hurricane wrecked the fleet on Bird Island, and everybody on board
perished excepting a few soldiers and marines, who escaped a watery
grave only to be made prisoners.
It is certain, however, that on August 5, 1702, an English brigantine
and a sloop came to Arecibo and landed 30 men, who were forced to
reembark with considerable loss, though the details of this affair, as
given by Friar Abbad, and repeated by Mr. Neuman, are evidently
largely drawn from imagination.
In September of the following year (1703) there were landings of
Englishmen near Loiza and in the neighborhood of San German, of which
we know only that they were stoutly opposed; and we learn from an
official document that there was another landing at Boca Chica on the
south coast in 1743, when the English were once more obliged to
reembark with the loss of a pilot-boat.
These incessant attacks, not on Puerto Rico only, but on all the other
Spanish possessions, and the reprisals they provoked, created such
animosity between the people of both countries that hostilities had
practically commenced before the declaration of war (October 23,
1739). In November Admiral Vernon was already in the Antilles with a
large fleet. He took Porto Bello, laid siege to Cartagena, but was
forced to withdraw; then he made an ineffectual attack on Cuba, after
which he passed round Cape Horn into the Pacific, caused great
consternation in Chile, sacked and burned Payta, captured the galleon
Covadonga with a cargo worth $1,500,000, and finally returned to
England with a few ships only and less than half his men.
The next war between the two nations was the result of the famous
Bourbon family compact, and lasted from 1761 to 1763.
Two powerful fleets sailed from England for the Antilles; the one
under the orders of Admiral Rodney attacked the French colonies and
took Martinique, Granada, Santa Lucia, San Vicente, and Tabago; the
other under Admiral Pocock appeared before Havana, June 2, 1762, with
a fleet of 30 line-of-battle ships, 100 transports, and 14,000 landing
troops under the command of the Earl of Albemarle. In four days the
English took "la Cabana," which Prado, the governor, considered the
key to the city. For some unexplained reason the Spanish fleet became
useless; but Captain Louis Velasco defended the Morro, and for two
months and ten days he kept the English at bay, till they undermined
the walls of the fort and blew them up. Then Prado capitulated (August
13), and Havana with its forts and defenses, with 60 leagues of
territory to the west of the city, with $15,000,000, an immense
quantity of naval and military stores, 9 line-of-battle ships and 3
frigates, was delivered into Albemarle's hands. It was Puerto Rico's
turn next, and preparations were made for an attack, when the
signing of the treaty of peace in Paris (February, 1763) averted the
By the stipulations of that treaty England returned Havana and
Manila to Spain in exchange for Florida and some territories on
the Mississippi; she also returned to France part of her conquered
In 1778 Charles III joined France in a war against England, the
motives for which, as explained by the king's minister, were frivolous
in the extreme. The real reason was England's refusal to admit Spain
as mediator in the differences with her North American colonies. This
war lasted till 1783, and though the Antilles, as usual, became the
principal scene of war, Puerto Rico happily escaped attack.
Not so during the hostilities that broke out anew in consequence of
Charles IV's offensive and defensive alliance with the French
Republic, signed in San Ildefonso on the 18th of August, 1796.
In February, 1797, Admiral Henry Harvey, with 60 ships, including
transports and small craft, and from 6,000 to 7,000 troops under the
orders of Sir Ralph Abercrombie, appeared before the island of
Trinidad and took possession of it with but little resistance from the
Spanish garrison. On the 17th of April the whole fleet appeared before
The capital was well prepared for defense. The forts, as now existing,
were completed, and the city surrounded by a wall the strength of
which may be estimated by the appearance of the parts still intact. On
these defenses 376 pieces of cannon of different caliber were planted,
besides 35 mortars, 4 howitzers, and 3 swivel guns. The garrison was
reduced to about 200 men, part of the troops having been sent to la
Espanola to quell the insurrection of the negro population led by
Toussaint L'Ouverture. There were, besides these 200 veteran troops,
4,000 militiamen, about 2,000 men from the towns in the interior
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