The History of Puerto Rico
R.A. Van Middeldyk
Part 4 out of 5
their features and manners, definite traces of the Indian race.
With respect to the census taken by the Spanish authorities at
different times, though they may have taken great pains to obtain
correct statistical accounts, there is little doubt that the real
numbers greatly exceeded those which appear in the official returns.
The reason for this discrepancy is supposed by the author mentioned to
have been the _direct contribution_ which was levied on agricultural
property, inducing the landed proprietors to conceal the real number
of their slaves in order to make their crops appear to have been
_smaller_ than they were.
Nor does it appear that the increase in the population of Puerto Rico
is so much indebted to immigration as is generally supposed; for,
notwithstanding the advantages offered to colonists by the Government
in 1815, and the influx of settlers from Santo Domingo and Venezuela
during the civil wars in these republics, there were only 2,833
naturalized foreigners in the island in 1830. It appears also that the
Spanish immigration from the revolted colonies did not exceed 7,000
Puerto Rico had the reputation of being very poor, consequently, no
immigrants were attracted by the prospect of money-making. The
increase in the population of this island is sufficiently accounted
for by the fact that three-fourths of the inhabitants are engaged in
agricultural pursuits, which, of all occupations, are most conducive
to health. To which must be added the people's frugal habits, the easy
morals, the effect of climate, and the fecundity of the women of all
mixed races. These, and the peace which the island enjoyed in the
beginning of the nineteenth century, together with the abolition of
some of the restrictions on commerce and industry, promoted an era of
prosperity the like of which the inhabitants had never before known,
and the natural consequence was increase in numbers.
"In those days," says Colonel Flinter, "if some perfect stranger had
dropped from the clouds as it were, on this island, naked, without any
other auxiliaries than health and strength, he might have married the
next day and maintained a family without suffering more hardships or
privations than fall to the lot of every laborer in the ordinary
process of clearing and cultivating a piece of land."
The earliest information on the subject was given by Alexander
O'Reilly, the royal commissioner to the Antilles in 1765, who
enumerates a list of 24 towns and settlements with a total population
_Free_ men, women, and children of all colors....39,846
Slaves of both sexes, including their children ........5,037
Abbad, in his "general statistics of the island," corresponding to
the end of the year 1776, gives the details of the population in 30
"partidas," or ecclesiastical districts, as follows:
Free colored people 33,808
Free blacks 2,803
Other free people ("agregados") 7,835
That is to say, an increase of 7-311 per cent per annum during the
eleven years elapsed since O'Reilly's computation, which was a period
of constant apprehension of attacks by pirates and privateers.
From 1782 to 1802 there were three censuses taken showing the
In 1782 81,180 souls.
" 1792 115,557 "
" 1802 163,192 "
From 1800 to 1815, there was universal poverty and depression in the
island in consequence of the prohibitive system introduced by the
Spanish authorities in all branches of commerce and industry, and the
sudden failure of the annual remittances from Mexico in consequence of
the insurrection. Still, the population had increased from 163,192 in
1802 to 220,892 in 1815.
From this year forward a great improvement in the island's general
condition set in, thanks to the efforts of Don Ramon Power, Puerto
Rico's delegate to Cortes, who obtained for the island, in November,
1811, the freedom of commerce with foreign nations, and by the
appointment of Intendant Ramirez procured the suppression of many
abuses and monopolies.
The royal schedule of August 13, 1815, called "the schedule of
graces," also contributed to the general improvement by the opening of
the ports to immigrants, though short-sighted restrictions destroyed
the beneficent effects of the measure to no small extent. However,
immigrants came, and among them 83 practical agriculturists from
Louisiana, with slaves and capital.
The census of 1834 gives the total population on an area of 330 square
leagues, in the proportion of 981-16 inhabitants per square league,
Troops and prisoners.............. 1,730
This year shows an increase in the proportion of the slave population
over the free population since 1815, due to the free introduction of
slaves and the slaves brought by the immigrants.
A statistical commission for the island of Puerto Rico was created in
1845. The census taken under its auspices in the following year may be
considered reliable. The total figures are:
In 1855 cholera morbus raged throughout the island, especially among
the colored population, and carried off 9,529 slaves alone.
The next census shows the progressive increase of inhabitants. It was
conducted by royal decree of September 30,1858, on the nights of
December 25 and 26, 1860. The official memorial gives the following
Free colored.......................... 341,015
or 1,802.2 inhabitants per square league; one of the densest
populations on the globe, and the densest in the Antilles at the time
The annual increase of population in Puerto Rico, according to the
calculations of Colonel Flinter, was:
From 1778-1802 ... 24 years ... 5-12 per cent per annum.
" 1802-1812 ... 10 " ... 1-15 " "
1812-1820 ... 8 " ... 3-14 " "
" 1820-1830 ... 10 " ... 4 " "
" 1830-1846 ... 16 " ... 3-15 " "
" 1846-1860 ... 14 " ... 3.72 " "
or an average annual increase of a little less than 4 per cent in a
period of eighty-two years.
From 1860 to 1864 the increase was small, but from that year to the
end of Spanish domination the percentage of increase was larger than
in any of the preceding periods.
The treaty of Paris brought 894,302 souls under the protection of the
American flag. They consisted of 570,187 whites, 239,808 of mixed
race, and 75,824 negroes.
[Footnote 68: Flinter.]
AGRICULTURE IN PUERTO RICO
After the cessation of the gold produce, when the colonists were
forced by necessity to dedicate themselves to agriculture, they met
with many adverse conditions:
The incursions of the Caribs, the hurricanes of 1530 and 1537, the
emigration to Peru and Mexico, the internal dissensions, and last, but
not least, the heavy taxes. The colonists had found the soil of Puerto
Rico admirably adapted to sugar-cane, which they brought from Santo
Domingo, where Columbus had introduced it on his second voyage, and
the nascent sugar industry was beginning to prosper and expand when a
royal decree imposing a heavy tax on sugar came to strangle it in its
birth. Bishop Bastidas called the Government's attention to the fact
in a letter dated March 20, 1544, in which he says: " ... The new tax
to be paid on sugar in this island, as ordained by your Majesty, will
still further reduce the number of mills, which have been diminishing
of late. Let this tax be suspended and the mills in course of
construction will be finished, while the erection of others will be
The prelate's efforts seem to have produced a favorable effect.
Treasurer Castellanos, in 1546, loaned 6,000 pesos for the
Government's account, to two colonists for the erection of two
sugar-cane mills. In 1548 Gregorio Santolaya built, in the
neighborhood of the capital, the first cane-mill turned by
water-power, and two mills moved by horse-power. Another water-power
mill was mounted in 1549 on the estate of Alonzo Perez Martel with the
assistance of 1,500 pesos lent by the king. Loans for the same purpose
continued to be made for years after.
But if the Government encouraged the sugar industry with one hand,
with the other it checked its development, together with that of other
agricultural industries appropriate to the island, by means of
prohibitive legislation, monopolies, and other oppressive measures.
The effects of this administrative stupidity were still patent a
century later. Bishop Fray Lopez de Haro wrote in 1644: " ... The only
crop in this island is ginger, and it is so depreciated that nobody
buys it or wants to take it to Spain.... There are many cattle farms
in the country, and 7 sugar mills, where the families live with their
slaves the whole year round."
Canon Torres Vargas, in his Memoirs, amplifies the bishop's statement,
stating that the principal articles of commerce of the island were
ginger, hides, and sugar, and he gives the location of the
above-mentioned 7 sugar-cane mills. The total annual produce of ginger
had been as much as 14,000 centals, but, with the war and excessive
supply, the price had gone down, and in the year he wrote (1646) only
4,000 centals had been harvested. He informs us, too, that cacao had
been planted in sufficient quantity to send ship-loads to Spain
within four years. The number of hides annually exported to Spain was
8,000 to 10,000. Tobacco had begun to be cultivated within the last
ten years, and its exportation had commenced. He pronounces it better
than the tobacco of Havana, Santo Domingo, and Margarita, but not as
good as that of Barinas.
The cultivation of tobacco in Puerto Rico was permitted by a special
law in 1614, but the sale of it to foreigners was prohibited _under
penalty of death and confiscation of property._ These and other
stringent measures dictated in 1777 and 1784 by their very severity
defeated their own purpose, and the laws, to a great extent, remained
a dead letter.
The cultivation of cacao in Puerto Rico did not prosper for the reason
that the plant takes a long time in coming to maturity, and during
that period is exceedingly sensible to the effects of strong winds,
which, in this island, prevail from July to October. The first
plantations being destroyed by hurricanes, few new plantations were
Of the other staple products of Puerto Rico, the most valuable,
coffee, was first planted in Martinique in 1720 by M. Declieux, who
brought the seeds from the Botanical Garden in Paris. The coco-palm
was introduced by Diego Lorenzo, a canon in the Cape de Verde Islands,
who also brought the first guinea-fowls; and, possibly, the plantain
species known in this island under the name of "guineo" came from the
same part of the world. According to Oviedo, it was first planted in
Santo Domingo in 1516 by a monk named Berlangas.
Abbad gives the detailed agricultural statistics of the island in
1776, from which it appears that the cultivation of the new articles
introduced was general at the time, and that, under the influence of
climate and abundant pastures, the animal industry had become one of
the principal sources of wealth for the inhabitants.
There were in that year 5,581 farms, and 234 cattle-ranches (hatos).
On the farms or estates there were under cultivation:
Sugar-cane 3,156 cuerdas
Plantains 8,315 "
On the cattle-ranches there were:
Head of horned cattle 77,384
Asses, swine, goats, and sheep 49,050
This was a comparatively large capital in stock and produce for a
population of 80,000 souls, but the reverend historian severely
criticizes the agricultural population of that day, and says of them:
" ... They scarcely know what implements are; ... they bring down a
tree, principally by means of fire; with a saber, which they call a
'machete,' they clear the jungle and clean the ground; with the point
of this machete, or a pointed stick, they dig the holes or furrows in
which they set their plants or sow their seeds. Thus they provide for
their subsistence, and when a hurricane or other mishap destroys their
crops, they supply their wants by fishing or collect edible roots.
"Indolence, rather than want of means, makes them confine their
cultivation to the level lands, which they abandon as soon as they
perceive that the fertility of the soil decreases, which happens very
soon, because they do not plow, nor do they turn over the soil, much
less manure it, so that the superficies soon becomes sterile; then
they make a clearing on some mountainside. Neither the knowledge of
the soil and climate acquired during many years of residence, nor the
increased facilities for obtaining the necessary agricultural
implements, nor the large number of cattle they possess that could be
used for agricultural purposes, nor the Government's dispositions to
improve the system of cultivation, have been sufficient to make these
islanders abandon the indolence with which they regard the most
important of all arts, and the first obligation imposed by God on
man--namely, the cultivation of the soil. They leave this to the
slaves, who are few and ill-fed, and know no more of agriculture than
their masters do; ... their great laziness, together with a silly,
baseless vanity, makes them look upon all manual labor as degrading,
proper only for slaves, and so they prefer poverty to doing honest
work. To this must be added their ambition to make rapid fortunes, as
some of them do, by contraband trading, which makes good sailors of
them but bad agriculturists.
"These are the reasons why they prefer the cultivation of produce that
requires little labor. Most proprietors have a small portion of their
land planted with cane, but few have made it their principal crop,
because of the expense of erecting a mill and the greater number of
slaves and implements required; yet this industry alone, if properly
fostered, would soon remove all obstacles to their progress.
"It is useless, therefore, to look for gardens and orchards in a
country where the plow is yet unknown, and which has not even made the
first step in agricultural development."
* * * * *
Under the royal decree of 1815 commerce, both foreign and inland,
From the official returns made to the Government in 1828 to 1830,
Colonel Flinter drew up the following statement of the agricultural
wealth of the island in the latter year (1830):
Wooden sugar-cane mills 1,277
Iron sugar-cane mills 800
Coffee estates with machinery 148
Stills for distilling rum 340
Brick ovens 80
Lime kilns 45
_Land under Cultivation_
Cane 14,803 acres.
Plantains 30,706 "
Rice 14,850 "
Maize 16,194 "
Tobacco 2,599 "
Manioc 1,150 "
Sweet potatoes 1,224 "
Yams 6,696 "
Pulse 1,100 "
Horticulture 31 "
Coffee-plants 16,750 acres 16,992,857
Cotton-trees 3,079 " 3,079,310
Coco-palms 2,402 " 60,050
Orange-trees 3,430 " 85,760
Aguacate-trees 2,230 " 55,760
Pepper or chilli or aji trees 500
The live stock of the island in the same year consisted of:
Cows 42,500 head.
Bulls 6,720 "
Oxen 20,910 "
Horses 25,760 "
Mares 27,210 "
Asses 315 "
Mules 1,112 "
Sheep 7,560 "
Goats 5,969 "
Swine 25,087 "
Turkeys 8,671 "
Other fowls 838,454 "
This agricultural wealth of the island, houses, lands, and slaves
_not_ included, was valued at $37,993,600, and its annual produce at
$6,883,371, half of which was exported. These statistics may be
considered as only _approximately correct,_ as the returns made by the
proprietors to the Government, in order to escape taxation, were less
than the real numbers existing.
The natural wealth of Puerto Rico may be divided into agricultural,
pastoral, and sylvan. According to the Spanish Government measurements
the island's area is 2,584,000 English acres. Of these, there were
Under cultivation in 1830, as above
detailed 117,244 acres.
In pastures 634,506 "
In forests 728,703 "
Total _tax-paying lands_ 1,480,453 "
The pasture lands on the north and east coasts are equal to the best
lands of the kind in the West Indies for the breeding and fattening of
cattle. On the south coast excessive droughts often parch the grass,
in which case the cattle are fed on cane-tops at harvest time. There
are excellent and nutritive native grasses of different species to be
found in every valley. The cattle bred in the island are generally
From 1865 to 1872 was the era of greatest prosperity ever experienced
in Puerto Rico under Spanish rule. The land was not yet exhausted,
harvests were abundant, labor cheap, the quality of the sugar produced
was excellent, prices were high, contributions and taxes were
moderate. There were no export duties, and although, during this
period, the growing manufacture of beet-root sugar was lowering the
price of "mascabado" all over the world, no effect was felt in Puerto
Rico, because it was the nearest market to the United States, where
the civil war had put an end to the annual product by the Southern
States of half a million bocoyes, or about 675,000,000 gallons;
and the abolition of all import duties on sugar in England also
favored the maintenance of high prices for a number of years.
However, the production of beet-root sugar and the increase of cane
cultivation in the East caused the fall in prices which, in
combination with the numberless oppressive restrictions imposed by the
Spanish Government, brought Puerto Rico to the verge of ruin.
"The misfortunes that afflict us," says Mr. James McCormick to the
Provincial Deputation in his official report on the condition of the
sugar industry in this island in 1880, "come under different forms
from different directions, and _every inhabitant knows what causes
have contributed to reduce this island, once prosperous and happy, to
its actual condition of prostration and anguish_."
That condition he paints in the following words: "Mechanical arts and
industries languish because there is no demand or profitable market
for its products; commerce is paralyzed by the obstacles placed in its
way; the country never has had sufficient capital and what there is
hides itself or is withdrawn from circulation; foreign capital has
been frightened away; Puerto Rican landowners are looked upon with
special disfavor and credit is denied them, unfortunately with good
reason, seeing the lamentable condition of our agriculture. The
production of sugar scarcely amounts to half of what it was in former
years. From the year 1873 a great proportion of the existing sugar
estates have fallen to ruin; in 8 districts their number has been
reduced from 104 to 38, and of these the majority are in an agonizing
condition. In other parts of the island many estates, in which large
capitals in machinery, drainage, etc., have been invested, have been
abandoned and the land is returning to its primitive condition of
jungle and swamp. Ten years ago the island exported 100,000 tons of
sugar annually, the product of 553 mills; during the last three years
(1878-1880) the average export has been 60,000 tons, the product of
325 mills that have been able to continue working. Everywhere in this
province the evidences of the ruin which has overtaken the planters
meet the eye, and nothing is heard but the lamentations of proprietors
reduced to misery and desperation."
This state of things continued notwithstanding the representations
made before the "high spheres of Government" by the leading men in
commerce and agriculture, by the press of all political colors, and by
Congress. The Minister of Ultramar in Madrid recognized the gravity of
the situation, and it is said that the lamentations of the people of
Puerto Rico found an echo even at the foot of the throne.
And there they died. Nothing was done to remedy the growing evil, and
the writer of the pamphlet, not daring openly to accuse the Government
as the only cause of the island's desperate situation, counsels
patience, and timidly expresses the hope that the exorbitant taxes
and contributions will be lowered; that economy in the Government
expenditures will be practised; that monopolies will be abolished, and
odious, oppressive practises of all kinds be discontinued.
Such was the condition of Puerto Rico in 1880. The Government's
oppressive practises, and they only, were the causes of the ruin of
this and all the other rich and beautiful colonies that destiny laid
at the feet of Ferdinand and Isabel four centuries ago.
The following statement of the proportion of sugar to each acre of
land under cane cultivation in the Antilles, compared with Puerto
Rico, may be of interest.
The computation of the average sugar produce per acre, according to
the best and most correct information from intelligent planters, who
had no motives for deception, was, in 1830:
For Jamaica 10 centals per acre.
Dominica 10 " "
Granada 15 " "
St. Vincent 25 " "
Tobago 20 " "
Antigua 7-12 " "
Saint Kitts 20 " "
Puerto Rico 30 " "
[Footnote 69: Leyes de Indias, Ley IV, Libro IV, Titulo XVIII.]
[Footnote 70: The actual cuerda is a square of 75 varas each side,
about one-tenth less than an acre. Abbad understood by a cuerda a
rectangle of 75 varas front by 1,500 varas depth, that is, 20 cuerdas
superficies of those actually in use.--_Acosta._]
[Footnote 71: The bocoy in Puerto Rico, equal from 12 to 20 centals of
sugar, according the quality.]
[Footnote 72: British India produced about that time over 1,500,000
tons of cane-sugar per annum.]
[Footnote 73: Colonel Flinter, An Account of the Island of Puerto
Rico. London, 1834]
COMMERCE AND FINANCES
Until the year 1813 the captains-general of Puerto Rico had the
superintendence of the revenues. The capital was the only authorized
port open to commerce. No regular books were kept by the authorities.
A day-book of duties paid and expended was all that was considered
necessary. Merchandise was smuggled in at every part of the coast,
the treasury chest was empty, and the Government officers and troops
were reduced to a very small portion of their pay.
The total revenues of the island, including the old-established taxes
and contributions, produced 70,000 pesos, and half of that sum was
never recovered on account of the abuses and dishonesty that had been
introduced in the system of collection.
An intendancy was deemed necessary, and the Home Government appointed
Alexander Ramirez to the post in February, 1813. He promptly
introduced important reforms in the administration, and caused regular
accounts to be kept. He made ample and liberal concessions to
commerce, opened five additional ports with custom-houses, freed
agriculture from the trammels that had impeded its development, and
placed labor, instruments, seeds, and modern machinery within its
reach. He printed and distributed short essays or manuals on the
cultivation of different products and the systems adopted by other
nations, promoted the immigration of Canary Islanders, founded the
Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Country, and edited the
Diario Economico de Puerto Rico, the first number of which appeared
February 28, 1814.
The first year after the establishment of these improvements,
notwithstanding the abolition of some of the most onerous taxes, the
revenues of the capital rose to $161,000, and the new custom-houses
Having placed this island's financial administration on a sound basis,
Ramirez was called upon by the Government to perform the same valuable
services for Cuba. Unfortunately, his successors here soon destroyed
the good effects of his measures by continual variations in the
system, and in the commercial tariffs. They attempted to prevent
smuggling by increasing the duties, the very means of encouraging
contraband trade, and the old mismanagement and malversations in the
custom-houses revived. One intendant, often from a mere spirit of
innovation, applied to the court for a decree canceling the
regulations of his predecessor, so that, from the concurring effects
of contraband and mismanagement, commerce suffered, and the country
became once more impoverished.
The revenues fell so low and the malversation of public money reached
such a height that the captain-general found it necessary in 1825 to
charge the military commanders of the respective districts with the
prevention of smuggling. He placed supervisors of known intelligence
and probity in each custom-house to watch and prevent fraud and
peculation. These measures almost doubled the amount of revenue in the
following year (1826).
As late as 1810 the imports in Puerto Rico exceeded three times the
sum of the produce exported. The difference was made up by the
"situados," or remittances in cash from Mexico, which began early in
the seventeenth century, when the repeated attacks on the island by
French and English privateers forced the Spanish Government to choose
between losing the island or fortifying it. The king chose the latter,
and made an assignment on the royal treasury of Mexico of nearly half
a million pesos per annum. With these subsidies all the fortifications
were constructed and the garrison and civil and military employees
were paid, till the insurrection in Mexico put a stop to the fall of
this pecuniary manna.
It was fortunate for Puerto Rico that it ceased. The people of the
island had become so accustomed to look to this supply of money for
the purchase of their necessities that they entirely neglected the
development of the rich resources in their fertile soil. When a
remittance arrived in due time, all was joy and animation; when it was
delayed, as was often the case, all was gloom and silence, and
recourse was had to "papeletas," a temporary paper currency or
promises to pay.
With the cessation of the "situados" the scanty resources of the
treasury soon gave out. The funds of the churches were first
requisitioned; then the judicial deposits, the property of people who
had died in the Peninsula, and other unclaimed funds were attached;
next, donations and private loans were solicited, and when all these
expedients were exhausted, the final resort of bankrupt communities,
paper money, was adopted (1812).
Then Puerto Rico's poverty became extreme. In 1814 there was at least
half a million paper money in circulation with a depreciation of 400
per cent. To avoid absolute ruin, the intendant had recourse to the
introduction of what were called "macuquinos," or pieces of rudely
cut, uncoined silver of inferior alloy, representing approximately the
value of the coin that each piece of metal stood for. With these he
redeemed in 1816 all the paper money that had been put in circulation;
but the emergency money gave rise to agioist speculation and remained
the currency long after it had served its purpose. It was not replaced
by Spanish national coin till 1857.
The royal decree of 1815, and the improvements in the financial
situation, as a result of the new administrative system established by
Ramirez, gave a strong impulse to foreign commerce. Though commerce
with the mother country remained in a languishing condition, because
the so-called "decree of graces" had fixed the import duty on Spanish
merchandise at 6 per cent _ad valorem_, while the valuations which
the custom-house officials made exceeded the market prices to such an
extent that many articles really paid 8 per cent and some 10, 12, and
even 15 per cent.
An estimate of the commerce of this island about the year 1830 divides
the total imports and exports which, in that year, amounted to
$5,620,786 among the following nations:
Per cent. Per cent.
West Indian Islands imports 53-12 Exports 26
United States imports 27-14 " 49
Spanish imports 12-18 " 7
English imports 2-34 " 6-12
French imports 2-58 " 6-58
Other nations' imports 1-34 " 8-34
The American trade at that time formed nearly one-third of the whole
of the value of the imports and nearly half of all the exports.
An American consul resided at the capital and all the principal ports
had deputy consuls. The articles of importation from the United States
were principally timber, staves for sugar-casks, flour and other
provisions, and furniture.
* * * * *
The financial history of Puerto Rico commences about the middle of the
eighteenth century. In 1758 the revenues amounted to 6,858 pesos. In
1765, to 10,814, and in 1778 to 47,500. Their increase up to 1,605,523
in 1864 was due to the natural development of the island's resources,
which accompanied the increase of population; yet financial distress
was chronic all the time, and not a year passed without the
application of the supposed panacea of royal decrees and ordinances,
without the expected improvement.
From 1850 to 1864, for the first time in the island's history, there
happened to be a surplus revenue. The authorities wasted it in an
attempt to reannex Santo Domingo and in contributions toward the
expenses of the war in Morocco. The balance was used by the Spanish
Minister of Ultramar, the Government being of opinion that surpluses
in colonial treasuries were a source of danger. To avoid a plethora of
money contributions were asked for in the name of patriotism, which
nobody dared refuse, and which were, therefore, always liberally
responded to. Of this class was a contribution of half a million pesos
toward the expenses of the war with the Carlists to secure the
succession of Isabel II, and Sunday collections for the benefit of the
Spanish soldiers in Cuba, for the sufferers by the inundations in
Murcia, the earthquakes in Andalusia, etc. From 1870 to 1876 a series
of laws and ordinances relating to finances were promulgated. February
22d, a royal decree admitted Mexican silver coin as currency. December
3, 1880, another royal decree reformed the financial administration of
the island. This was followed in 1881 by instructions for the
collection of personal contributions. In 1882 the Intendant Alcazar
published the regulations for the imposition, collection, and
administration of the land tax; from 1882 to 1892 another series of
laws, ordinances, and decrees appeared for the collection and
administration of different taxes and contributions, and October 28,
1895, another royal decree withdrew the Mexican coin from circulation.
In the same year (March 15th) the reform laws were promulgated, which
were followed in the next year by the municipal law.
In the meantime commerce languished. The excessively high export
duties on island produce imposed by Governor Sanz in 1868 to 1870
brought 600,000 pesos per annum into the treasury, but ruined
agriculture, and this lasted till the end of Spanish rule.
The directory of the Official Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and
Navigation of San Juan, at the general meeting of members in 1895,
reported that it had occupied itself during that year, through the
medium of the island's representative in Cortes, with the promised
tariff reform, but without result. Nor had its endeavors to obtain the
exchange of the Mexican coin still in circulation for Peninsular money
been successful on account of the opposition of those interested in
the maintenance of the system. The abolition of the so-called
"conciertos" of matches and petroleum had also occupied them, and in
this case successfully; but the directors complained of the apathy and
the indifference of the public in general for the objects which the
Chamber of Commerce was organized to advocate and promote, and they
state that within the last year the number of associates had
The Directors' report of January, 1897, was even more gloomy. They
complain of the want of interest in their proceedings on the part of
many of the leading commercial houses, of the lamentable condition of
commerce, of the inattention of their "mother," Spain, to the
plausible pretentions of this her daughter, animated though she was by
the most fervent patriotism.
[Footnote 74: Rafael Conty, subdelegate of the treasury of Aguadilla,
sailed round the island in a sloop in 1790 and confiscated eleven
vessels engaged in smuggling.]
[Footnote 75: For commercial statistics of Puerto Rico from 1813 to
1864, see Senor Acosta's interesting notes to Chapter XXVIII of
[Footnote 76: _Vide_ Resena del Estado Social, Economico e Industrial
de la Isla de Puerto Rico por el Dr. Cayetano Coll y Toste, 1899.]
EDUCATION IN PUERTO RICO
In Chapter XXIII of this history we gave an extract from his
Excellency Alexander O'Reilly's report to King Charles IV, wherein,
referring to the intellectual status of the inhabitants of Puerto Rico
in 1765, he informs his Majesty that there were only two schools in
the whole island and that, outside of the capital and San German, few
knew how to read.
In the mother country, at that period, even primary instruction was
very deficient. It remained so for a long time. As late as 1838
reading, writing, and arithmetic only were taught in the best public
schools of Spain. The other branches of knowledge, such as geography,
history, physics, chemistry, natural history, could be studied in a
few ecclesiastical educational establishments. The illiteracy of
the inhabitants of this, the least important of Spain's conquered
provinces, was therefore but natural, seeing that the conquerors who
had settled in it belonged to the most ignorant classes of an
illiterate country in an illiterate age. Something was done in Puerto
Rico by the Dominican and Franciscan friars in the way of preparatory
training for ecclesiastical callings. They taught Latin and philosophy
to a limited number of youths; the bishop himself gave regular
instruction in Latin.
A few youths, whose parents could afford it, were sent to the
universities of Caracas and Santo Domingo, where some of them
distinguished themselves by their aptitude for study. One of these,
afterward known as Father Bonilla, obtained the highest academic
honors in Santo Domingo.
From 1820 to 1823, under the auspices of a constitutional government,
intellectual life in Puerto Rico really began. A Mr. Louis Santiago
called public attention to the necessity of attending to primary
education. "The greatest evil," he said, "that which demands the
speediest remedy, is the general ignorance of the art of reading and
writing. It is painful to see the signatures of the alcaldes to public
documents." He wrote a pamphlet of instructions in the art of teaching
in primary schools, which was printed and distributed through the
interior of the island. The governor, Gonzalo Arostegui, addressed an
official note to the Provincial Deputation charging that body to
propose to him "without rest or interruption, and as soon as
possible," the means to establish primary schools in the capital and
in the towns of the interior; to the municipalities he sent a
circular, dated September 28, 1821, recommending them to facilitate
the coming to the capital of the teachers in their respective
districts who wished to attend, for a period of two months, a class in
the Lancasterian method of primary teaching, to be held in the Normal
School by Ramon Carpegna, the political secretary. A certain amount of
instruction, talent, and disposition for magisterial work was required
of the pupils, and those who already had positions as teachers could
assist at the two months' course without detriment to their salaries.
The fall of the constitutional government in Spain, brought about by
French intervention and the reaction that followed, extinguished the
light that had just begun to shine, and this unfortunate island was
again plunged into the intellectual darkness of the middle ages.
Persecution became fiercer than ever, and the citizens most
distinguished for their learning and liberal ideas had to seek safety
For the next twenty years the education of the youth of Puerto Rico
was entirely in the hands of the clergy. With the legacies left to
the Church by Bishop Arizmendi and other pious defuncts, Bishop Pedro
Gutierrez de Cos founded the Conciliar Seminary in 1831, and appointed
as Rector Friar Angel de la Concepcion Vazquez, a Puerto Rican by
birth, educated in the Franciscan Convent of Caracas.
In the same year there came to Puerto Rico, as prebendary of the
cathedral, an ex-professor of experimental physics in the University
of Galicia, whose name was Rufo Fernandez. He founded a cabinet of
physics and a chemical laboratory, and invited the youth of the
capital to attend the lectures on these two sciences which he gave
Fray Angel, as he was familiarly called, the rector of the seminary,
at Dr. Rufo's suggestion, asked permission of the superior
ecclesiastical authorities to transfer the latter's cabinet and
laboratory to the seminary for the purpose of adding the courses of
physics and chemistry to the curriculum, but failed to obtain it, the
reasons given for the adverse decision being, "that the science of
chemistry was unnecessary for the students, who, in accordance with
the dispositions of the Council of Trent, were to dedicate themselves
to ecclesiastical sciences only." The rector, while expressing his
regret at the decision, adds: "I can not help telling you what I have
always felt--namely, that there is some malediction resting on the
education of youth in this island, which evokes formidable obstacles
from every side, though there are not wanting generous spirits ready
to make sacrifices in its favor." 
Some of these generous spirits had organized, as early as 1813, under
the auspices of Intendant Ramirez, the Economic Society of Friends of
the Country. Puerto Rico owes almost all its intellectual progress to
this society. Its aim was the island's moral and material advancement,
and, in spite of obstacles, it has nobly labored with that object in
view to the end of Spanish domination. From its very inception it
established a primary school for 12 poor girls, and classes in
mathematics, geography, French, English, and drawing, to which a class
of practical or applied mechanics was added later. In 1844 the society
asked and obtained permission from the governor, the Count of
Mirasol, to solicit subscriptions for the establishment and endowment
of a central college. The people responded with enthusiasm, and in
less than a month 30,000 pesos were collected.
The college was opened. In 1846 four youths, under the guidance of Dr.
Rufo, were sent to Spain to complete their studies to enable them to
worthily fill professorships in the central school. Two of them died
shortly after their arrival in Madrid. When the other two returned to
Puerto Rico in 1849 they found the college closed and the
subscriptions for its maintenance returned to the donors by order of
Juan de la Pezuela, Count Mirasol's successor in the governorship.
If the unfavorable opinion of the character of the Puerto Ricans to
which this personage gave expression in one of his official
communications was the motive for his proceeding in this case, it
would seem that he changed it toward the end of his administration,
for he founded a Royal Academy of Belles-Lettres, and a library which
was provided with books by occasional gifts from the public. He
introduced some useful reforms in the system of primary instruction,
and inaugurated the first prize competitions for poetical compositions
by native authors.
From the returns of the census of 1860 it appears that at that time
only 17-12 per cent of the male population of the island knew how to
read, and only 12-12 per cent of the female population. Four years
later, at the end of 1864 there were, according to official data,
98,817 families in Puerto Rico whose intellectual wants were supplied
by 74 public schools for boys and 48 for girls, besides 16 and 9
private schools for boys and girls respectively.
In 1854 General Norzagery, then governor, assisted by Andres Vina, the
secretary of the Royal Board of Commerce and Industry, had founded a
school of Commerce, Agriculture, and Navigation. After sixteen years
of existence, this establishment was unfavorably reported upon by
Governor Sanz, who wished to suppress it on account of the liberal
ideas and autonomist tendencies of its two principal professors, Jose
Julian Acosta (Abbad's commentator) and Ramon B. Castro. In the
preamble to a secret report sent by this governor to Madrid he says:
"This supreme civil government has always secured professors who, in
addition to the required ability for their position, possess the moral
and political character and qualities to form citizens, lovers of
their country, i.e., lovers of Puerto Rico as a Spanish province, _not
of Puerto Rico as an independent state annexed to North America_."
Female education had all along received even less attention than the
education of boys. Alexander Infiesta, in an article on the subject
published in the Revista in February, 1888, states, that according to
the latest census there were 399,674 females in the island, of whom
293,247 could neither read nor write, 158,528 of them being white
women and girls. The number of schools for boys was 408, with an
attendance of 18,194, and that for girls 127, with 7,183 pupils.
From the memorial published by the Director of the Provincial
Institute for Secondary Education, regarding the courses of study in
that establishment during the year 1888-'89, we learn that the number
of primary schools in the island had increased to 600, but, according
to Mr. Coll y Toste's Resena, published in 1899, there were, among a
total population of 894,302 souls, only 497 primary schools in the
island at the time of the American occupation. The total attendance
was 22,265 pupils, 15,108 boys and 7,157 girls.
[Footnote 77: See Franco del Valle Atiles, Causas del atras
Intellectual del campesino Puertoriqueno. Revista Puertoriquena, Ano
II, tomo II, p. 7.]
[Footnote 78: Letter to Dr. Rufo Fernandez from Fray Angel de la
Concepcion Vazquez. See Acosta's notes to Abbad's history, pp. 412,
413, foot note.]
LIBRARIES AND THE PRESS
Books for the people were considered by the Spanish colonial
authorities to be of the nature of inflammable or explosive
substances, which it was not safe to introduce freely.
From their point of view, they were right. The Droits de l'homme of
Jean Jacques Rousseau, for example, translated into every European
language, had added more volunteers of all nationalities to the ranks
of the Spanish-American patriots than was generally supposed--and so,
books and printing material were subjected to the payment of high
import duties, and a series of annoying formalities, among which the
passing of the political and ecclesiastical censors was the most
The result among the poorer classes of natives was blank illiteracy. A
pall of profound ignorance hung over the island, and although, with
the revival of letters in the seventeenth century the light of
intellect dawned over western Europe, not a ray of it was permitted to
reach the Spanish colonies.
The ruling class, every individual of whom came from the Peninsula,
kept what books each individual possessed to themselves. To the people
all learning, except such as it was considered safe to impart, was
Under these conditions it is not strange that the idea of founding
public libraries did not germinate in the minds of the more
intelligent among the Puerto Ricans till the middle of the nineteenth
century; whereas, the other colonies that had shaken off their
allegiance to the mother country, had long since entered upon the road
of intellectual progress with resolute step.
Collegiate libraries, however, had existed in the capital of the
island as early as the sixteenth century. The first of which we have
any tradition was founded by the Dominican friars in their convent. It
contained works on art, literature, and theology.
The next library was formed in the episcopal palace, or "casa
parochial," by Bishop Don Bernardo de Valbuena, poet and author of a
pastoral novel entitled the Golden Age, and other works of literary
merit. This library, together with that of the Dominicans, and the
respective episcopal and conventual archives were burned by the
Hollanders during the siege of San Juan in 1625.
The Franciscan friars also had a library in their convent (1660). The
books disappeared at the time of the community's dissolution in 1835.
Bishop Pedro Gutierres de Cos, who founded the San Juan Conciliar
Seminary in 1832, established a library in connection with it, the
remains of which are still extant in the old seminary building, but
much neglected and worm-eaten.
A library of a semipublic character was founded by royal order dated
June 19, 1831, shortly after the installation of the Audiencia in San
Juan. It was a large and valuable collection of books on juridical
subjects, which remained under the care of a salaried librarian till
1899, when it was amalgamated with the library of the College of
This last is a rich collection of works on jurisprudence, and the
exclusive property of the college, but accessible to professional men.
The library is in the former Audiencia building, now occupied by the
The period from 1830 to 1850 appears to have been one of greatest
intellectual activity in Puerto Rico. Toward its close Juan de la
Pezuela, the governor, founded the Royal Academy of Belles-Lettres, an
institution of literary and pedagogical character, with the functions
of a normal school. It was endowed with a modest library, but it only
lived till the year 1860, when, in consequence of disagreement between
the founder and the professors, the school was closed and the library
passed into the possession of the Economic Society of Friends of the
This, and the library of the Royal Academy, which the society had also
acquired, formed a small but excellent nucleus, and with, the produce
of the public subscription of 1884 it was enabled to stock its library
with many of the best standard works of the time in Spanish and
French, and open to the Puerto Ricans of all classes the doors of the
first long-wished-for public library.
Since then it has contributed in no small degree to the enlightenment
of the better part of the laboring classes in the capital, till it was
closed at the commencement of the war.
During the transition period the books were transferred from one
locality to another, and in the process the best works disappeared,
until the island's first civil governor, Charles H. Allen, at the
suggestion of Commissioner of Education Martin G. Brumbaugh, rescued
the remainder and made it the nucleus of the first _American_ free
The second Puerto Rican public library was opened by Don Ramon
Santaella, October 15, 1880, in the basement of the Town Hall. It
began with 400 volumes, and possesses to-day 6,361 literary and
didactic books in different languages.
The Puerto Rican Atheneum Library was established in 1876. Its
collection of books, consisting principally of Spanish and French
literature, is an important one, both in numbers and quality. It has
been enriched by accessions of books from the library of the extinct
Society of Friends of the Country. It is open to members of the
Atheneum only, or to visitors introduced by them.
The Casino Espanol possesses a small but select library with a
comfortable reading-room. Its collection of books and periodicals is
said to be the richest and most varied in the island. It was founded
The religious association known under the name of Conferences of St.
Vincent de Paul had a small circulating library of religious works
duly approved by the censors. The congregation was broken up in 1887
and the library disappeared.
The Provincial Institute of Secondary Education, which was located in
the building now occupied by the free library and legislature,
possessed a small pedagogical library which shared the same fate as
that of the Society of Friends of the Country.
The Spanish Public Works Department possessed another valuable
collection of books, mostly on technical and scientific subjects. A
number of books on other than technical subjects, probably from the
extinct libraries just referred to, have been added to the original
collection, and the whole, to the number of 1,544 volumes in excellent
condition, exist under the care of the chief of the Public Works
Besides the above specified libraries of a public and collegiate
character, there are some private collections of books in the
principal towns of the island. Chief among these is the collection of
Don Fernando Juncos, of San Juan, which contains 15,000 volumes of
classic and preceptive literature and social and economic science,
1,200 volumes of which bear the author's autographs.
The desire for intellectual improvement began to manifest itself in
the interior of the island a few years after the establishment of the
first public library in the capital. The municipality of Ponce founded
a library in 1894. It contains 809 bound volumes and 669 pamphlets in
English, German, French, and Spanish, many of them duplicates. The
general condition of the books is bad, and the location of the library
altogether unsuitable. There was a municipal appropriation of 350
pesos per annum for library purposes, but since 1898 it has not been
Mayaguez founded its public library in 1872. It possesses over 5,000
volumes, with a small archeological and natural history museum
attached to it.
Some of the smaller towns also felt the need of intellectual
expansion, and tried to supply it by the establishment of
reading-rooms. Arecibo, Vega-Baja, Toa-Alta, Yauco, Cabo-Rojo,
Aguadilla, Humacao, and others made efforts in this direction either
through their municipalities or private initiative. A few only
succeeded, but they did not outlive the critical times that commenced
with the war, aggravated by the hurricane of August, 1898.
* * * * *
Since the American occupation of the island, four public libraries
have been established. Two of them are exclusively Spanish, the
Circulating Scholastic Library, inaugurated in San Juan on February
22, 1901, by Don Pedro Carlos Timothe, and the Circulating Scholastic
Library of Yauco, established a month later under the auspices of S.
Egozene of that town. The two others are, one, largely English, the
Pedagogical Library, established under the auspices of the
Commissioner of Education, and the San Juan Free Library, to which Mr.
Andrew Carnegie has given $100,000, and which is polyglot, and was
formally opened to the public April 20, 1901. There is also a growing
number of libraries in the public schools. From the above data it
appears that, owing to the peculiar conditions that obtained in this
island, the people of Puerto Rico were very slow in joining the
movement of intellectual expansion which began in Spanish America in
the eighteenth century. They did so at last, unaided and with their
own limited resources, even before the obstacles placed in their way
by the Government were removed. If they have not achieved more, it is
because within the last few decades the island has been unfortunate in
more than one respect. Now that a new era has dawned, it may
reasonably be expected that the increased opportunities for
intellectual development afforded them will be duly appreciated and
taken advantage of by the people, and if we may judge from the
eagerness with which the youth of the capital reads the books of the
San Juan Free Library, it seems clear that the seed so recently sown
has fallen in fruitful soil.
* * * * *
The history of the Press in Puerto Rico is short. The first printing
machine was introduced by the Government in 1807 for the purpose of
publishing the Official Gazette. No serious attempt at publication of
any periodical for the people was made till the commencement of the
second constitutional period (1820-'23), when, for the first time in
the island's history, public affairs could be discussed without the
risk of imprisonment or banishment. The right of association was also
recognized. The Society of Liberal Lovers of the Country and the
Society of Lovers of Science were formed about this time. The
Investigator and the Constitutional Gazette were published and gave
food for nightly discussions on political and social questions in the
coffee-house on the Marina.
The period of freedom of spoken and written thought was short, but an
impulse had been given which could not be arrested. In 1865 there were
eight periodicals published in the island. On September 29th of that
year a law regulating the publication of newspapers indirectly
suppressed half of them. It contained twenty articles, each more
stringent than the other. To obtain a license to publish or to
continue publishing a paper, a deposit of 2,000 crowns had to be made
to cover the fines that were almost sure to be imposed. The
publications were subject to the strictest censorship. They could not
appear till the proofs of each article had been signed by the censor,
and the whole process of printing and publishing was fenced in by such
minute and annoying regulations, the smallest infraction of which was
punished by such heavy fines that it was a marvel how any paper could
be published under such conditions. These conditions were relaxed a
decade or two later, and a number of publications sprang into
existence at once. When the United States Government took possession
of the island, there were 9 periodicals published in San Juan, 5 in
Ponce, 3 in Mayaguez, 1 in Humacao, and a few others in different
towns of the interior.
THE REGULAR AND SECULAR CLERGY
In Catholic countries the monastic orders constitute the regular
clergy. The secular clergy is not bound by monastic rules. Both
classes exercise their functions independently, the former under the
authority of their respective superiors or generals, the latter under
When, after the return of Columbus from his first voyage, the
existence of a new world was demonstrated and preparations for
occupying it were made, the Pope, to assure the Christianization of
the inhabitants, gave to the monks of all orders who wished to go the
privilege, pertaining till then to the secular clergy exclusively, of
administering parishes and collecting tithes without subjection to the
authority of the bishops.
The Dominicans and the Franciscans availed themselves of this
privilege at once. There was rivalry for power and influence between
these two orders from the time of their first installation, and they
carried their quarrels with them to America, where their differences
of opinion regarding the enslaving and treatment of the Indians
embittered them still more. The Dominicans secured a footing in Santo
Domingo and in Puerto Rico almost to the exclusion of their rivals,
notwithstanding the king's recommendation to Ceron in 1511 to build a
monastery for Franciscans, whose doctrines he considered "salutary."
[Illustration: San Francisco Church, San Juan; the oldest church in
Puerto Rico was scantily provided with priests till the year 1518,
when the treasurer, Haro, wrote to Cardinal Cisneros: "There are no
priests in the granges as has been commanded; only one in Caparra, and
one in San German. The island is badly served. Send us a goodly number
of priests or permission to pay them out of the produce of the
The "goodly number of priests" was duly provided. Immediately after
the transfer of the capital to its present site in 1521, the
Dominicans began the construction of a convent, which was nearly
completed in 1529, when there were 25 friars in it. They had acquired
great influence over Bishop Manso, and obtained many privileges and
immunities from him. Bishop Bastidas, Manso's successor, was less
favorably disposed toward them, and demanded payment of tithes of the
produce of their agricultural establishments. He reported to the king
in 1548: "There is a Dominican monastery here large enough for a city
of 2,000 inhabitants, and there are many friars in it. They
possess farms, cattle, negroes, Indians, and are building horse-power
sugar-mills; meanwhile, I know that they are asking your Majesty for
alms to finish their church ... It were better to oblige them to sell
their estates and live in poverty as prescribed by the rules of their
The Franciscans came to Puerto Rico in 1534, but founded no convent
till 1585, when one of their order, Nicolas Ramos, was appointed to
the see of San Juan. Then they established themselves in "la Aguada,"
and named the settlement San Francisco de Asis. Two years later it was
destroyed by the Caribs, and five of the brothers martyrized. No
attempt at reconstruction of the convent was made. The order abandoned
the island and did not return till 1642, when they obtained the Pope's
license to establish themselves in the capital. Like the Dominicans,
they soon acquired considerable wealth.
The privilege of administering parishes and collecting tithes, which
was the principal source of monastic revenues, was canceled by royal
schedule June 13, 1757. The monks continued in the full enjoyment of
their property till 1835, when all the property of the regular clergy
throughout the Peninsula and the colonies was expropriated by the
Government. In this island the convents were appropriated only after
long and tedious judicial proceedings, in which the Government
demonstrated that the transfer was necessary for the public good. Then
the convents were used--that of the Dominicans as Audiencia hall, that
of the Franciscans as artillery barracks. The intendancy took charge
of the administration of the estate of the two communities, the
mortmain was canceled, and the transfer duly legalized. A promised
indemnity to the two brotherhoods was never paid, but in 1897 a sum of
5,000 pesos annually was added to the insular budget, to be paid to
the clergy as compensation for the expropriated estate of the
Dominicans in San German. Succeeding political events prevented the
payment of this also. The last representatives in this island of the
two dispossessed orders died in San Juan about the year 1865.
Bishop Monserrate made an effort to reestablish the order of
Franciscans in 1875-'76. Only three brothers came to the island and
they, not liking the aspect of affairs, went to South America.
* * * * *
The first head of the secular clergy in Puerto Rico was nominated in
1511. The Catholic princes besought Pope Julius II to make it a
bishopric, and recommended as its first prelate Alonzo Manso, canon of
Salamanca, doctor in theology, a man held in high esteem at court. His
Holiness granted the request, and designated the whole of the island
as the diocese, with the principal settlement in it as the see.
The subsequent conquests on the mainland kept adding vast territories
to this diocese till, toward the end of the eighteenth century, it
included the whole region extending from the upper Orinoco to the
Amazon, and from Guiana to the plains of Bogota. Manso's successors
repeatedly represented to the king the absolute impossibility of
attending to the spiritual wants of "the lambs that were continually
added to the flock." They requested that the see might be transferred
to the mainland or that the diocese might be divided in two or more.
This was done in 1791, when the diocese of Guiana was created, and
Puerto Rico with the island of Vieyques remained as the original one.
The bishop came to San Juan in 1513, and at once began to dispose all
that was necessary to give splendor and good government to the first
episcopal seat in America. Unfortunately, he arrived at a time when
dissension, strife, and immorality were rampant; and when it became
known that he was authorized to collect his tithes _in specie_, the
opposition of the quarrelsome and insubordinate inhabitants became so
violent that the prelate could not exercise his functions, and was
forced to return to the Peninsula in 1515. He came back in 1519,
invested with the powers of a Provincial Inquisitor, which he
exercised till 1539, when he died and was buried in the cathedral,
where a monument with an alabaster effigy marked his tomb till 1625,
when it was destroyed by the Hollanders.
Rodrigo Bastidas, a native of Santo Domingo, was Manso's successor. He
was appointed Bishop of Coro in Venezuela in 1532, but solicited and
obtained the see of Puerto Rico in 1542. He was a man of great
capacity, virtuous and benevolent. He advised the suppression of the
Inquisition, asked the Government for facilities to educate the youth
and advance the agricultural interests of his diocese, and commenced
the construction of the cathedral. He died in Santo Domingo in 1561,
very old and very rich.
Friar Diego de Salamanca, of the order of Augustines, succeeded
Bastidas. He continued the construction of the cathedral, but soon
returned to the metropolis, leaving the diocese to the care of the
Vicar-General, Santa Olaya, till 1585, when the Franciscan friar
Nicolas Bamos was appointed to the see. He was the last Bishop of
Puerto Rico who united the functions of inquisitor with those of the
episcopate, and a zealous burner of heretics. After him the see
remained vacant for fourteen years; since then, to the end of the
eighteenth century there were 39 consecrated prelates, 9 of whom
renounced, or for some other reason did not take possession. The most
distinguished among the remaining 30 were: Bernardo Balbuena, poet and
author, 1623-'27; Friar Manuel Gimenez Perez, pious, active, and
philanthropist, 1770-'84; and Juan Alejo Arismendi, who, according to
the Latin inscription on his tomb, was an amiable, religious, upright,
zealous, compassionate, learned, decorous, active, leading,
benevolent, paternal man. Of the rest little more is known than their
names and the dates of their assumption of office and demise.
* * * * *
The year 1842 was, for the secular clergy, one of anxiety for the
safety of their long and assiduously accumulated wealth. The members
to the number of 17 individuals, including the bishop, drew annual
stipends from the insular treasury to the amount of 36,888 pesos,
besides which they possessed and still possess a capital of over one
and a half millions of pesos, represented by: 1. Vacant chaplaincies.
2. Investments under the head Ecclesiastical Chapter. 3. Idem for
account of the Carmelite Sisterhood. 4. Legacies to saints for the
purpose of celebrating masses and processions in all the parishes of
the island. 5. Pious donations. 6. Fraternities and religious
associations for the worship of some special saint. 7. Revenues from
an institution known by the name of Third Orders. 8. Capital invested
by the founders of the Hospital of the Conception, the income of which
is mostly consumed by the nuns of that order. And 9. The
ecclesiastical revenues of different kinds in San German.
All this was put in jeopardy by the following decree:
"Dona Isabel II, by the grace of God and the Constitution of the
Spanish Monarchy, Queen of Spain, and during her minority Baldomero
Espartero, Duke of 'la Victoria' and Morella, Regent of the kingdom,
to all who these presents may see and understand, makes known that the
Cortes have decreed, and we have sanctioned, as follows:
"ARTICLE I. All properties of the secular clergy of whatever class;
rights or shares of whatever origin or denomination they may be, or
for whatever application or purpose they may have been given, bought,
or acquired, are national properties.
"ART. II. The properties, rights, and shares corresponding in any
manner to ecclesiastical unions or fraternities, are also national
"ART. III. All estates, rights, and shares of the cathedral,
collegiate and parochial clergy and ecclesiastical unions and
fraternities referred to in the preceding articles, are hereby
declared _for sale_."
* * * * *
The 15 articles that follow specify the properties
in detail, the manner of sale, the disposition of the
products, administration of rents, etc.
The law was not carried into effect. Espartero, very popular at first,
by adopting the principles of the progressist party, forfeited the
support of the conservatives--that is, of the clerical party, and the
man is not born yet who can successfully introduce into Spain a
radical reform of the nature of the one he sanctioned with his
signature September 2, 1841. From that moment his overthrow was
certain. Narvaez headed the revolution against him, his own officers
and men abandoned him, and on July 30, 1843, he wrote his farewell
manifesto to the nation on board a British ship of war.
[Footnote 79: San Juan had only about 100 "vecinos"--that is, white
Bishop Manso, on his arrival in 1513, found Puerto Rico in a state
bordering on anarchy, and after vain attempts to check the prevalent
immorality and establish the authority of the Church, he returned to
Spain in 1519. The account he gave Cardinal Cisneros of the island's
condition suggested to the Grand Inquisitor the obvious remedy of
clothing the bishop with the powers of Provincial Inquisitor, which he
Diego Torres Vargas, the canon of the San Juan Cathedral, says in his
memoirs: "Manso was made inquisitor, and he, being the first, may be
said to have been the Inquisitor-General of the Indies; ... the
delinquents were brought from all parts to be burned and punished
here ... The Inquisition building exists till this day (1647), and until
the coming of the Hollanders in 1625 many sambenitos could be seen in
the cathedral hung up behind the choir."
These "sambenitos" were sacks of coarse yellow cloth with a large red
cross on them, and figures of devils and instruments of torture among
the flames of hell. The delinquents, dressed in one of these sacks,
bareheaded and barefooted, were made to do penance, or, if condemned
to be burned, marched to the place of execution. It is said that in
San Juan they were not tied to a stake but enclosed in a hollow
plaster cast, against which the faggots were piled, so that they
were roasted rather than burned to death. The place for burning the
sinners was outside the gate of the fort San Cristobal. Mr. M.F.
Juncos believes that the prisons were in the lower part of the
Dominican Convent, later the territorial audience and now the supreme
court, but Mr. Salvador Brau thinks that they occupied a plot of
ground in the angle formed by Cristo Street and the "Caleta" of San
Of Nicolas Ramos, the last Bishop of Puerto Rico, who united the
functions of inquisitor with the duties of the episcopate, Canon
Vargas says: " ... He was very severe, burning and punishing, _as was
his duty_, some of the people whose cases came before him ..."
It seems that the records of the Inquisition in this island were
destroyed and the traditions of its doings suppressed, because nothing
is said regarding them by the native commentators on the island's
history. Only the names of a few of the leading men who came in
contact with the Tribunal have come down to us. Licentiate Sancho
Velasquez, who was accused of speaking against the faith and eating
meat in Lent, appears to have been Manso's first victim, since he died
in a dungeon. A clergyman named Juan Carecras was sent to Spain at the
disposition of the general, for the crime of practising surgery. In
the same year (1536) we find the treasurer, Blas de Villasante, in an
Inquisition dungeon, because, though married in Spain, he cohabited
with a native woman--an offense too common at that time not to leave
room for suspicion that the treasurer must have made himself obnoxious
to the Holy Office in some other way. In 1537, a judge auditor was
sent from the Espanola, but the parties whose accounts were to be
audited contrived to have him arrested by the officers of the
Inquisition on the day of his arrival. Doctor Juan Blazquez, having
attempted to correct some abuses committed by the Admiral's employees
in connivance with the Inquisition agents, suffered forty days'
imprisonment, and was condemned to hear a mass standing erect all the
time, besides paying a fine of 50 pesos.
These are the only cases on record. Only the walls of the Inquisition
building, could they speak, could reveal what passed within them from
the time of Manso's arrival in 1520 to the end of the sixteenth
century, when the West Indian Superior Tribunal was transferred to
Cartagena, and a special subordinate judge only was left in San Juan.
Bishop Rodrigo de Bastidas, who visited San Juan on a Government
commission in 1533, perceiving the abuses that were committed in the
inquisitor's name, proposed the abolition of the Holy Office; but the
odious institution continued to exist till 1813, when the
extraordinary Cortes of Cadiz removed, for a time, this blot on
Spanish history. The decree is dated February 22d, and accompanied by
a manifesto which is an instructive historical document in itself. It
shows that the Cortes dared not attempt the suppression of the dreaded
Tribunal without first convincing the people of the disconnection of
the measure with the religious question, and justifying it as one
necessary for the public weal.
"You can not doubt," they say, "that we endeavor to maintain in this
kingdom the Catholic, Apostolic, Roman religion, which you have the
happiness to profess; ... the deputies elected by you know, as do the
legislators of all times and all nations, that a social edifice not
founded on religion, is constructed in vain; ... the true religion
which we profess is the greatest blessing which God has bestowed on
the Spanish people; we do not recognize as Spaniards those who do not
profess it ... It is the surest support of all private and social
virtues, of fidelity to the laws and to the monarch, of the love of
country and of just liberty, which are graven in every Spanish heart,
which have impelled you to battle with the hosts of the usurper,
vanquishing and annihilating them, while braving hunger and nakedness,
torture, and death."
The Inquisition is next referred to. It is stated that in their
constant endeavor to hasten the termination of the evils that afflict
the Spanish nation, the people's representatives have first given
their attention to the Inquisition; that, with the object of
discovering the exact civil and ecclesiastical status of the Holy
Office, they have examined all the papal bulls and other documents
that could throw light on the subject, and have discovered that only
the Inquisitor-General had ecclesiastical powers; that the Provincial
Inquisitors were merely his delegates acting under his instructions;
that no supreme inquisitorial council had ever been instituted by
papal brief, and that the general, being with the enemy (the French
troops), no Inquisition really existed. From these investigations the
Cortes had acquired a knowledge of the mode of procedure of the
tribunals, of their history, and of the opinion of them entertained by
the Cortes of the kingdom in early days. " ... We will now speak
frankly to you," continues the document, "for it is time that you
should know the naked truth, and that the veil be lifted with which
false politicians have covered their designs.
"Examining the instructions by which the provincial tribunals were
governed, it becomes clear at first sight that the soul of the
institution was inviolable secrecy. This covered all the proceedings
of the inquisitors, and made them the arbiters of the life and honor
of all Spaniards, without responsibility to anybody on earth. They
were men, and as such subject to the same errors and passions as the
rest of mankind, and it is inconceivable that the nation did not exact
responsibility since, in virtue of the temporal power that had been
delegated to them, they condemned to seclusion, imprisonment, torture,
and death. Thus the inquisitors exercised a power which the
Constitution denies to every authority in the land save the sacred
person of the king.
"Another notable circumstance made the power of the
Inquisitors-General still more unusual; this was that, without
consulting the king or the Supreme Pontiff, they dictated laws,
changed them, abolished them, or substituted them by others, so that
there was within the nation a judge, the Inquisitor-General, whose
powers transcended those of the sovereign.
"Here now how the Tribunal proceeded with the offenders. When an
accusation was made, the accused were taken to a secret prison without
being permitted to communicate with parents, children, relations, or
friends, till they were condemned or absolved. Their families were
denied the consolation of weeping with them over their misfortunes or
of assisting them in their defense. The accused was not only deprived
of the assistance of his relations and friends, but in no case was he
informed of the name of his accuser nor of the witnesses who declared
against him; and in order that he might not discover who they were,
they used to truncate the declarations and make them appear as coming
from a third party.
"Some one will be bold enough to say that the rectitude and the
religious character of the inquisitors prevented the confusion of the
innocent with the criminal; but the experiences of many years and the
history of the Inquisition give the lie to such assurances. They show
us sage and saintly men in the Tribunal's dungeons. Sixtus IV himself,
who, at the request of the Catholic kings, had sanctioned the creation
of the Tribunal, complained strongly of the innumerable protests that
reached him from persecuted people who had been falsely accused of
heresy. Neither the virtue nor the position of distinguished men could
protect them. The venerable Archbishop of Grenada, formerly the
confessor of Queen Isabel, suffered most rigorous persecutions from
the inquisitors of Cordova, and the same befell the Archbishop of
Toledo, Friar Louis de Leon, the venerable Avila, Father Siguenza, and
many other eminent men.
"In view of these facts, it is no paradox to say that _the ignorance,
the decadence of science, of the arts, commerce and agriculture, the
depopulation and poverty of Spain, are mainly due to the Inquisition._
"How the Inquisition could be established among such a noble and
generous people as the Spanish, will be a difficult problem for
posterity to solve. It will be more difficult still to explain how
such a Tribunal could exist for more than three hundred years.
Circumstances favored its establishment. It was introduced under the
pretext of restraining the Moors and the Jews, who were obnoxious to
the Spanish people, and who found protection in their financial
relations with the most illustrious families of the kingdom. With such
plausible motives the politicians of the time covered a measure which
was contrary to the laws of the monarchy. Religion demanded it as a
protection, and the people permitted it, though not without strong
protest. As soon as the causes that called the Inquisition into
existence had ceased, the people's attorneys in Cortes demanded the
establishment of the legal mode of procedure. The Cortes of Valladolid
of 1518 and 1523 asked from the king that in matters of religion the
ordinary judges might be declared competent, and that in the
proceedings the canons and common codes might be followed; the Cortes
of Saragossa asked the same in 1519, and the kings would have acceded
to the will of the people, expressed through their representatives,
especially in view of the indirect encouragement to do so which they
received from the Holy See, but for the influence of those with whom
they were surrounded who had an interest in the maintenance of the
The manifesto terminates with an assurance to the Spanish people that,
under the new law, heresy would not go unpunished; that, under the new
system of judicial proceedings, the innocent would no longer be
confounded with the criminal. " ... There will be no more voluntary
errors, no more suborned witnesses, offenders will henceforth be
judged by upright magistrates in accordance with the sacred canons and
the civil code ... Then, genius and talent will display all their
energies without fear of being checked in their career by intrigue and
calumny; ... science, the arts, agriculture, and commerce will
flourish under the guidance of the distinguished men who abound in
Spain ... The king, the bishops, all the venerable ecclesiastics will
instruct the faithful in the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion without
fear of seeing its beauty tarnished by ignorance and superstition,
and, who knows, this decree may contribute to the realization, some
day, of religious fraternity among all nations!"
From this beautiful dream the Cortes were rudely awakened the very
next year when King Ferdinand VII, replaced on his throne by the
powers who formed the holy alliance, entered Madrid surrounded by a
host of retrograde, revengeful priests. Then the Regency, the Cortes,
the Constitution were ignored. The deputies were the first to suffer
exile, imprisonment, and death in return for their loyalty and
liberalism; the public press was silenced; the convents reopened,
municipalities and provincial deputations abolished, the Jesuits
restored, the Inquisition reestablished, and priestcraft once more
spread its influence over the mental and social life of a naturally
generous, brave, and intelligent people.
[Footnote 80: Neumann, p. 205.]
GROWTH OF CITIES
The proceedings in the formation of a Spanish settlement in the
sixteenth century were the same everywhere. For the choice of a site
the presence of gold was a condition _sine qua non_, without gold, no
matter how beautiful or fertile the region, no settlement was made.
When a favorable locality was found the first thing done was to
construct a fort, because the natives, friendly disposed at first,
were not long in becoming the deadly enemies of the handful of
strangers who constituted themselves their masters. The next requisite
was a church or chapel in which to invoke the divine blessing on the
enterprise, or maybe to appease the divine wrath at the iniquities
committed. Last, but certainly not least in importance, came the
smelting-house, where the King of Spain's share of the gold was
Around these the settlers grouped their houses or huts as they
The first settlement on this island was made in 1508, on the north
coast, at the distance of more than a league from the present port of
San Juan, the space between being swampy. Ponce called it Caparra.
When the promising result of Ponce's first visit to the island was
communicated to King Ferdinand by Ovando, the Governor of la Espanola,
his Highness replied in a letter dated Valladolid, September 15, 1509:
"I note the good services rendered by Ponce and that he has not gone
to settle the island for want of means. Now that they are being sent
from here in abundance, let him go at once with as many men as he
can." To Ponce himself the king wrote: "I have seen your letter of
August 16th. Be very diligent in the search for gold-mines. Take out
as much as possible, smelt it in la Espanola and remit it instantly.
Settle the island as best you can. Write often and let me know what is
needed and what passes."
Armed with these instructions, and with his appointment as governor
_ad interim_, Ponce returned to San Juan in February, 1510, with his
wife and two daughters, settled in Caparra, where, before his
departure in 1509, he had built a house of stamped earth (tapia), and
where some of the companions of his first expedition had resided ever
since. Ponce's house, afterward built of stone, served as a fort. A
church or chapel existed already, and we know that there was a
smelting-house, because we read that the first gold-smelting took
place in Caparra in October, 1510, and that the king's one-fifth came
to 2,645 pesos.
[Illustration: Plaza Alphonso XII and Intendencia Building, San Juan.]
With the reinstatement of Ceron and Diaz, complaints about the
distance of the settlement from the port, and its unhealthy location,
soon reached the king's ears, accompanied by requests for permission
to transfer it to an islet near the shore. No action was taken. In
November, 1511, the monarch wrote to Ceron: "Ponce says that he
founded the town of Caparra in the most favorable locality of the
island. I fear that you want to change it. You shall not do so without
our special approval. If there is just reason for moving you must
first inform me."
Caparra remained for the time the only settlement, and was honored
with the name of "City of Puerto Rico." A municipal council was
installed, and the king granted the island a coat of arms which
differed slightly from that used by the authorities till lately.
The next settlement was made on the south shore, at a place named
Guanica, "where there is a bay," says Oviedo, "which is one of the
best in the world, but the mosquitoes were so numerous that they alone
were sufficient to depopulate it."  The Spaniards then moved to
Aguada, on the northwestern shore, and founded a settlement to which
they gave the name of their leader Soto Mayor.
This was a young man of aristocratic birth, ex-secretary of King
Philip, surnamed "the Handsome." He had come to the Indies with a
license authorizing him to traffic in captive Indians, and Ponce,
wishing, no doubt, to enlist the young hidalgo's family influence at
the court in his favor, made him high constable (_alguacil mayor_) of
the southern division (June, 1510).
The new settlement's existence was short. It was destroyed by the
Indians in the insurrection of February of the following year, when
Christopher Soto Mayor and 80 more of his countrymen, who had
imprudently settled in isolated localities in the interior, fell
victims of the rage of the natives.
Diego Columbus proposed the reconstruction of the destroyed
settlement, with the appellation of San German. The king approved, and
near the end of the year 1512, Miguel del Torro, one of Ponce's
companions, was delegated to choose a site. He fixed upon the bay of
Guayanilla, eastward of Guanica, and San German became the port of
call for the Spanish ships bound to Paria. Its proximity to the "pearl
coast," as the north shore of Venezuela was named, made it the point
of departure for all who wished to reach that coast or escape from the
shores of poverty-stricken Puerto Rico--namely, the dreamers of the
riches of Peru, those who, like Sedeno, aspired to new conquests on
the mainland, or crown officers who had good reasons for wishing to
avoid giving an account of their administration of the royal revenues.
The comparative prosperity which it enjoyed made San German the object
of repeated attacks by the French privateers. It was burned and
plundered several times during the forty-three years of its existence,
till one day in September, 1554, three French ships of the line
entered the port and landed a detachment of troops who plundered and
destroyed everything to a distance of a league and a half into the
interior. From that day San German, founded by Miguel del Torro,
ceased to exist.
The town with the same name, existing at present on the southwest
coast, was founded in 1570 by Governor Francisco Solis with the
remains of the ill-fated settlement on the bay of Guayanilla. The
Dominican friars had a large estate in this neighborhood, and the new
settlement enhanced its value. Both the governor and the bishop were
natives of Salamanca, and named the place New Salamanca, but the name
of New San German has prevailed. In 1626 the new town had 50 citizens
_San Juan_.--Licentiate Velasquez, one of the king's officers at
Caparra, wrote to his Highness in April, 1515: " ... The people of
this town wish to move to an islet in the port. I went to see it with
the town council and it looks well"; and some time later: " ... We
will send a description of the islet to which it is convenient to
remove the town of Puerto Rico."
Ponce opposed the change. His reasons were that the locality of
Caparra was dry and level, with abundance of wood, water, and pasture,
and that most of the inhabitants, occupied as they were with
gold-washing, had to provide themselves with provisions from the
neighboring granges. He recognized that the islet was healthier, but
maintained that the change would benefit only the traders.
The dispute continued for some time. Medical certificates were
presented declaring Caparra unhealthy. The leading inhabitants
declared their opinion in favor of the transfer. A petition was signed
and addressed to the Jerome friars, who governed in la Espanola, and
they ordered the transfer in June, 1519. Ponce was permitted to
remain in his stone house in the abandoned town as long as he liked.
In November, 1520, Castro wrote to the emperor expressing his
satisfaction with the change, and asked that a fort and a stone
smelting-house might be constructed, because the one in use was of
straw and had been burned on several occasions. Finally, in 1521, the
translation of the capital of Puerto Rico to its present site was
officially recognized and approved.
There were now two settlements in the island. There were 35 citizens
in each in 1515, but the gold produced attracted others, and in 1529
the Bishop of la Espanola reported that there were 120 houses in San
Juan, "some of stone, the majority of straw. The church was roofed
while I was there." He says, "a Dominican monastery was in course of
construction, nearly finished, with more than 125 friars in it."
During the next five years the gold produce rapidly diminished; the
Indians, who extracted it, escaped or died. Tempests and epidemics
devastated the land. The Caribs and the French freebooters destroyed
what the former spared. All those who could, emigrated to Mexico or
Peru, and such was the depopulated condition of the capital, that
Governor Lando wrote in 1534: "If a ship with 50 men were to come
during the night, they could land and kill all who live here."
With the inhabitants engaged in the cultivation of sugar-cane, some
improvement in their condition took place. Still, there were only 130
citizens in San Juan in 1556, and only 30 in New San German. In 1595,
when Drake appeared before San Juan with a fleet of 26 ships, the
governor could only muster a few peons and 50 horsemen, and but for
the accidental presence of the Spanish frigates, Puerto Rico would
probably be an English possession to-day. It _was_ taken by the Duke
of Cumberland four years later, but abandoned again on account of the
epidemic that broke out among the English troops. When the Hollanders
laid siege to the capital in 1625 there were only 330 men between
citizens and jibaros that could be collected for the defense. In 1646
there were 500 citizens and 400 houses in San Juan, and 200 citizens
in New San German. Arecibo and Coamo had recently been founded.
Scarcely any progress in the settlement of the country was made during
the remaining years of the seventeenth century. Toward the middle of
the eighteenth century great steps in this direction had been made.
From Governor Bravo de Rivera's list of men fit for militia service,
we discover that in 1759 there were 18 new settlements or towns in the
island with a total of 4,559 men able to carry arms; exclusive of San
Juan and San German, they were:
Ponce with 356 men.
Aguada with 564 "
Manati " 357 "
Anasco " 460 "
Yauco " 164 "
Coamo " 342 "
La Tuna " 104 "
Arecibo " 647 "
Utuado " 126 "
Loiza " 179 "
Toa-Alta " 188 "
Toa-Baja " 294 "
Piedras " 104 "
Bayamon " 256 "
Caguas " 100 "
Guayama " 211 "
Rio Piedras with 46 "
Cangrejos with 120 "
The oldest of these settlements is
_La Aguada_.--The name signifies "place at which water is taken," and
_Aguadilla_, which is to the north of the former and the head of the
province, is merely the diminutive of Aguada. The first possesses
abundant springs of excellent water, one of them distant only five
minutes from the landing-place. In Aguadilla a famous spring rises in
the middle of the town and runs through it in a permanent stream.
In 1511 the king directed his officers in Seville to make all ships,
leaving that port for the Indies, call at the island of San Juan in
order to make the Caribs believe that the Spanish population was much
larger than it really was, and thus prevent or diminish their attacks.
The excellence of the water which the ships found at Aguada made it
convenient for them to call, and the Spanish ships continued to do so
long after the need of frightening away the Caribs had passed.
The first regular settlement was founded in 1585 by the Franciscan
monks, who named it San Francisco de Asis. The Caribs surprised the
place about the year 1590, destroyed the convent, and martyrized five
of the monks, which caused the temporary abandonment of the
settlement. It was soon repeopled, notwithstanding the repeated
attacks of Caribs and French and English privateers. Drake stopped
there to provide his fleet with water in 1595. Cumberland did the same
four years later. The Columbian insurgents attempted a landing in 1819
and another in 1825, but were beaten off. Their valiant conduct on
these occasions, and their loyalty in contributing a large sum of
money toward the expenses of the war in Africa, earned for their
town, from the Home Government, the title of "unconquerable" (villa
invicta) in 1860.
Aguada, or rather the mouth of the river Culebrinas, which flows into
the sea near it, is the place where Columbus landed in 1493. The
fourth centenary of the event was commemorated in 1893 by the
erection, on a granite pedestal, of a marble column, 11 meters high,
crowned with a Latin cross. On the pedestal is the inscription:
19th of November
_Loiza._--Along the borders of the river which bears this name there
settled, about the year 1514, Pedro Mexia, Sancho Arango, Francisco
Quinaos, Pedro Lopez, and some other Spaniards, with their respective
Indian laborers. In one of the raids of the Indians from Vieyques or
Aye-Aye, which were so frequent at the time, a cacique named Cacimar
met his death at the hands of Arango. The fallen chief's brother
Yaureibo, in revenge, prepared a large expedition, and penetrating at
night with several pirogues full of men by way of the river to within
a short distance of the settlement, fell upon it and utterly destroyed
it, killing many and carrying off others. Among the killed were Mexia
and his Indian concubine named Louisa or Heloise. Tradition says that
this woman, having been advised by some Indian friend of the intended
attack, tried to persuade her paramour to flee. When he refused, she
scorned his recommendation to save herself and remained with him to
share his fate.
In the relation of this episode by the chroniclers, figures also the
name of the dog Becerrillo (small calf), a mastiff belonging to
Arango, who had brought the animal from the Espanola, where Columbus
had introduced the breed on his second voyage. In the fight with the
Indians Arango was overpowered and was being carried off alive, when
his dog, at the call of his master, came bounding to the rescue and
made the Indians release him. They sprang into the river for safety,
and the gallant brute following them was shot with a poisoned
_Arecibo_ is situated on the river of that name. It was founded by
Felipe de Beaumont in 1616, with the appellation San Felipe de
_Fajardo._--Governor Bravo de Rivero, with a view to found a
settlement on the east coast, detached a number of soldiers from their
regiment and gave to them and some other people a caballeria of
land each, in the district watered by the river Fajardo. Alexander
O'Reilly, the king's commissioner, who visited the settlement in 1765,
found 474 people, and wrote: " ...They have cleared little ground and
cultivated so little that they are still in the very commencements.
The only industry practised by the inhabitants is illicit trade with
the Danish islands of Saint Thomas and Saint Cross. The people of
Fajardo are the commission agents for the people there. What else
could be expected from indolent soldiers and vagabonds without any
means of clearing forests or building houses? If no other measures are
adopted this settlement will remain many years in the same unhappy
condition and be useful only to foreigners." In 1780 there were 243
heads of families in the district; the town proper had 9 houses and a
With regard to the remaining settlements mentioned in Governor Bravo
de Rivero's list, there are no reliable data.
From 1759, the year in which a general distribution of Government
lands was practised and titles were granted, to the year 1774, in
which Governor Miguel Muesas reformed or redistributed some of the
urban districts, many, if not most of the settlements referred to were
formed or received the names they bear at present.
[Footnote 81: The first landing of the American troops was effected
here on July 25, 1898.]
[Footnote 82: These two episodes have given rise to several fantastic
versions by native writers.]
[Footnote 83: Ten by twenty "cuerdas." The cuerda is one-tenth less
than an English acre.]
AURIFEROUS STREAMS AND GOLD PRODUCED FROM
1509 TO 1536
If a systematic exploration were practised to-day, by competent
mineralogists, of the entire chain of mountains which intersects the
island from east to west, it is probable that lodes of gold-bearing
quartz or conglomerate, worth working, would be discovered. Even the
alluvium deposits along the banks of the rivers and their tributaries,
as well as the river beds, might, in many instances, be found to
The early settlers compelled the Indians to work for them. These poor
creatures, armed with the simplest tools, dug the earth from the river
banks. Their wives and daughters, standing up to their knees in the
river, washed it in wooden troughs. When the output diminished another
site was chosen, often before the first one was half worked out. The
Indians' practical knowledge of the places where gold was likely to be
found was the Spanish gold-seeker's only guide, the Indians' labor the
only labor employed in the collection of it.
As for the mountains, they have never been properly explored. The
Indians who occupied them remained in a state of insurrection for
years, and when the mountain districts could be safely visited at
last, the _auri sacra fames_ had subsided. The governors did not
interest themselves in the mineral resources of the island, and the
people found it too difficult to provide for their daily wants to go
prospecting. So the surface gold in the alluvium deposits was all that
was collected by the Spaniards, and what there still may be on the
bed-rocks of the rivers or in the lodes in the mountains from which it
has been washed, awaits the advent of modern gold-seekers.
The first samples of gold from Puerto Rico were taken to the Espanola
by Ponce, who had obtained them from the river Manatuabon, to which
the friendly cacique Guaybana conducted him on his first visit (1508).
This river disembogues into the sea on the south coast near Cape
Malapascua; but it appears that the doughty captain also visited the
north coast and found gold enough in the rivers Coa and Sibuco to
justify him in making his headquarters at Caparra, which is in the
neighborhood. That gold was found there in considerable quantities is
shown by the fact that in August of the same year of Ponce's return to
the island (he returned in February, 1509), 8,975 pesos corresponded
to the king's fifth of the first _washings_. The first _smelting_ was
practised October 26, 1510. The next occurred May 22, 1511, producing
respectively 2,645 and 3,043 gold pesos as the king's share. Thus, in
the three first years the crown revenues from this source amounted to
14,663 gold pesos, and the total output to 73,315 gold pesos, which,
at three dollars of our money per peso, approximately represented a
total of $219,945 obtained from the rivers in the neighborhood of
In 1515 a fresh discovery of gold-bearing earth in this locality was
reported to the king by Sancho Velasquez, the treasurer, who wrote on
April 27th: " ... At 4 leagues' distance from here rich gold deposits
have been found in certain rivers and streams. From Reyes (December
4th) to March 15th, with very few Indians, 25,000 pesos have been
taken out. It is expected that the output this season will be 100,000
The streams in the neighborhood of San German, on the south coast, the
only other settlement in the island at the time, seem to have been
equally rich. The year after its foundation by Miguel del Toro the
settlers were able to smelt and deliver 6,147 pesos to the royal
treasurer. The next year the king's share amounted to 7,508 pesos, and
Treasurer Haro reported that the same operation for the years 1517 and
1518 had produced $186,000 in all--that is, 3,740 for the treasury.
A good idea of the island's mineral and other resources at this period
may be formed from Treasurer Haro's extensive report to the
authorities in Madrid, dated January 21, 1518.
" ... Your Highness's revenues," he says, "are: one-fifth of the gold
extracted and of the pearls brought by those who go (to the coast of
Venezuela) to purchase them, the salt produce and the duties on
imports and exports. Every one of the three smeltings that are
practised here every two years produces about 250,000 pesos, in San
German about 186,000 pesos. But the amounts fluctuate.
"The product of pearls is uncertain. Since the advent of the Jerome
fathers the business has been suspended until the arrival of your
Highness. Two caravels have gone now, but few will go, because the
fathers say that the traffic in Indians is to cease and the greatest
profit is in that ... On your Highness's estates there are 400 Indians
who wash gold, work in the fields, build houses, etc.; ... they
produce from 1,500 to 2,000 pesos profit every gang (demora).... I
send in this ship, with Juan Viscaino, 8,000 pesos and 40 marks of
pearls. There remain in my possession 17,000 pesos and 70 marks of
pearls, which shall be sent by the next ship in obedience to your
Highness's orders, not to send more than 10,000 pesos at a time. The
pearls that go now are worth that amount. Until the present we sent
only 5,000 pesos' worth of pearls at one time."
The yearly output of gold fluctuated, but it continued steadily, as
Velasquez wrote to the emperor in 1521, when he made a remittance of
5,000 pesos. Six or seven years later, the placers, for such they
were, were becoming exhausted. Castellanos, the treasurer, wrote in
1518 that only 429 pesos had been received as the king's share of the
last two years' smelting. Some new deposit was discovered in the river
Daguao, but it does not seem to have been of much importance. From the
year 1530 the reports of the crown officers are full of complaints of
the growing scarcity of gold; finally, in 1536, the last remittance
was made; not, it may be safely assumed, because there was no more
gold in the island, but because those who had labored and suffered in
its production, had succumbed to the unaccustomed hardships imposed on
them and to the cruel treatment received from their sordid masters.
Besides the river mentioned, the majority of those which have their
sources in the mountains of Luquillo are more or less auriferous.
These are: the Rio Prieto, the Fajardo, the Espiritu Santo, the Rio
Grande, and, especially, the Mameyes. The river Loiza also contains
gold, but, judging from the traces of diggings still here and there
visible along the beds of the Mavilla, the Sibuco, the Congo, the Rio
Negro, and Carozal, in the north, it would seem that these rivers and
their affluents produced the coveted metal in largest quantities. The
Duey, the Yauco, and the Oromico, or Hormigueros, on the south coast
are supposed to be auriferous also, but do not seem to have been
The metal was and is still found in seed-shaped grains, sometimes of
the weight of 2 or 3 pesos. Tradition speaks of a nugget found in the
Fajardo river weighing 4 ounces, and of another found in an affluent
of the Congo of 1 pound in weight.
_Silver_.--In 1538 the crown officers in San Juan wrote to the Home
Government: " ... The gold is diminishing. Several veins of lead ore
have been discovered, from which some silver has been extracted. The
search would continue if the concession to work these veins were given
for ten years, with 1.20 or 1.15 royalty." On March 29th of the
following year the same officers reported: " ... Respecting the silver
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