The History of Puerto Rico - From the Spanish Discovery to the American Occupation
by R.A. Van Middeldyk
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The Expansion of the Republic Series.







The latest permanent possession of the United States is also the oldest in point of European occupation. The island of Puerto Rico was discovered by Columbus in 1493. It was occupied by the United States Army at Guanica July 25, 1898. Spain formally evacuated the island October 18, 1898, and military government was established until Congress made provision for its control. By act of Congress, approved April 12, 1900, the military control terminated and civil government was formally instituted May 1,1900.

Puerto Rico has an interesting history. Its four centuries under Spanish control is a record of unusual and remarkable events. This record is unknown to the American people. It has never been written satisfactorily in the Spanish language, and not at all in the English language. The author of this volume is the first to give to the reader of English a record of Spanish rule in this "pearl of the Antilles." Mr. Van Middeldyk is the librarian of the Free Public Library of San Juan, an institution created under American civil control. He has had access to all data obtainable in the island, and has faithfully and conscientiously woven this data into a connected narrative, thus giving the reader a view of the social and institutional life of the island for four hundred years.

The author has endeavored to portray salient characteristics of the life on the island, to describe the various acts of the reigning government, to point out the evils of colonial rule, and to figure the general historical and geographical conditions in a manner that enables the reader to form a fairly accurate judgment of the past and present state of Puerto Rico.

No attempt has been made to speculate upon the setting of this record in the larger record of Spanish life. That is a work for the future. But enough history of Spain and in general of continental Europe is given to render intelligible the various and varied governmental activities exercised by Spain in the island. There is, no doubt, much omitted that future research may reveal, and yet it is just to state that the record is fairly continuous, and that no salient factors in the island's history have been overlooked.

The people of Puerto Rico were loyal and submissive to their parent government. No record of revolts and excessive rioting is recorded. The island has been continuously profitable to Spain. With even ordinarily fair administration of government the people have been self-supporting, and in many cases have rendered substantial aid to other Spanish possessions. Her native life—the Boriquen Indians—rapidly became extinct, due to the "gold fever" and the intermarriage of races. The peon class has always been a faithful laboring class in the coffee, sugar, and tobacco estates, and the slave element was never large. A few landowners and the professional classes dominate the island's life. There is no middle class. There is an utter absence of the legitimate fruits of democratic institutions. The poor are in every way objects of pity and of sympathy. They are the hope of the island. By education, widely diffused, a great unrest will ensue, and from this unrest will come the social, moral, and civic uplift of the people.

These people do not suffer from the lack of civilization. They suffer from the kind of civilization they have endured. The life of the people is static. Her institutions and customs are so set upon them that one is most impressed with the absence of legitimate activities. The people are stoically content. Such, at least, was the condition in 1898. Under the military government of the United States much was done to prepare the way for future advance. Its weakness was due to its effectiveness. It did for the people what they should learn to do for themselves. The island needed a radically new governmental activity—an activity that would develop each citizen into a self-respecting and self-directing force in the island's uplift. This has been supplied by the institution of civil government. The outlook of the people is now infinitely better than ever before. The progress now being made is permanent. It is an advance made by the people for themselves. Civil government is the fundamental need of the island.

Under civil government the entire reorganization of the life of the people is being rapidly effected. The agricultural status of the island was never so hopeful. The commercial activity is greatly increased. The educational awakening is universal and healthy. Notwithstanding the disastrous cyclone of 1898, and the confusion incident to a radical governmental reorganization, the wealth per capita has increased, the home life is improved, and the illiteracy of the people is being rapidly lessened.

President McKinley declared to the writer that it was his desire "to put the conscience of the American people into the islands of the sea." This has been done. The result is apparent. Under wise and conservative guidance by the American executive officers, the people of Puerto Rico have turned to this Republic with a patriotism, a zeal, an enthusiasm that is, perhaps, without a parallel.

In 1898, under President McKinley as commander-in-chief, the army of the United States forcibly invaded this island. This occupation, by the treaty of Paris, became permanent. Congress promptly provided civil government for the island, and in 1901 this conquered people, almost one million in number, shared in the keen grief that attended universally the untimely death of their conqueror. The island on the occasion of the martyr's death was plunged in profound sorrow, and at a hundred memorial services President McKinley was mourned by thousands, and he was tenderly characterized as "the founder of human liberty in Puerto Rico."

The judgment of the American people relative to this island is based upon meager data. The legal processes attending its entrance into the Union have been the occasion of much comment. This comment has invariably lent itself to a discussion of the effect of judicial decision upon our home institutions. It has been largely a speculative concern. In some cases it has become a political concern in the narrowest partizan sense. The effect of all this upon the people of Puerto Rico has not been considered. Their rights and their needs have not come to us. We have not taken President McKinley's broad, humane, and exalted view of our obligation to these people. They have implicitly entrusted their life, liberty, and property to our guardianship. The great Republic has a debt of honor to the island which indifference and ignorance of its needs can never pay. It is hoped that this record of their struggles during four centuries will be a welcome source of insight and guidance to the people of the United States in their efforts to see their duty and do it.



Some years ago, Mr. Manuel Elzaburu, President of the San Juan Provincial Atheneum, in a public speech, gave it as his opinion that the modern historian of Puerto Rico had yet to appear. This was said, not in disparagement of the island's only existing history, but rather as a confirmation of the general opinion that the book which does duty as such is incorrect and incomplete.

This book is Friar Inigo Abbad's Historia de la Isla San Juan Bautista, which was written in 1782 by disposition of the Count of Floridablanca, the Minister of Colonies of Charles III, and published in Madrid in 1788. In 1830 it was reproduced in San Juan without any change in the text, and in 1866 Mr. Jose Julian Acosta published a new edition with copious notes, comments, and additions, which added much data relative to the Benedictine monks, corrected numerous errors, and supplemented the chapters, some of which, in the original, are exceedingly short, the whole history terminating abruptly with the nineteenth chapter, that is, with the beginning of the eighteenth century. The remaining 21 chapters are merely descriptive of the country and people.

Besides this work there are others by Puerto Rican authors, each one elucidating one or more phases of the island's history. With these separate and diverse materials, supplemented by others of my own, I have constructed the present history.

The transcendental change in the island's social and political conditions, inaugurated four years ago, made the writing of an English history of Puerto Rico necessary. The American officials who are called upon to guide the destinies and watch over the moral, material, and intellectual progress of the inhabitants of this new accession to the great Republic will be able to do so all the better when they have a knowledge of the people's historical antecedents.

I have endeavored to supply this need to the best of my ability, and herewith offer to the public the results of an arduous, though self-imposed task.


SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO, November 3, 1902.










VI.—THE REBELLION (continued.) 1511









































Columbus statue, San Juan

Ruins of Caparra

Columbus monument, near Aguadilla

Statue of Ponce de Leon, San Juan

Inner harbor, San Juan

Fort San Geronimo, at Santurce, near San Juan

Only remaining gate of the city-wall, San Juan

A tienda, or small shop

Planter's house, ceiba tree, and royal palms

San Francisco Church, San Juan; the oldest church in the city

Plaza Alphonso XII and Intendencia Building, San Juan

Casa Blanca and the sea wall, San Juan




Eight centuries of a gigantic struggle for supremacy between the Crescent and the Cross had devastated the fairest provinces of the Spanish Peninsula. Boabdil, the last of the Moorish kings, had delivered the keys of Granada into the hands of Queen Isabel, the proud banner of the united kingdoms of Castile and Aragon floated triumphant from the walls of the Alhambra, and Providence, as if to recompense Iberian knighthood for turning back the tide of Moslem conquest, which threatened to overrun the whole of meridional Europe, had laid a new world, with all its inestimable treasures and millions of benighted inhabitants, at the feet of the Catholic princes.

Columbus had just returned from his first voyage. He had been scorned as an adventurer by the courtiers of Lisbon, mocked as a visionary by the learned priests of the Council in Salamanca, who, with texts from the Scriptures and quotations from the saints, had tried to convince him that the world was flat; he had been pointed at by the rabble in the streets as a madman who maintained that there was a land where the people walked with their heads down; and, after months of trial, he had been able to equip his three small craft and collect a crew of ninety men only by the aid of a royal schedule offering exemption from punishment for offenses against the laws to all who should join the expedition.

At last he had sailed amid the murmurs of an incredulous crowd, who thought him and his companions doomed to certain destruction, and now he had returned[1] bringing with him the living proofs of what he had declared to exist beyond that mysterious ocean, and showed to the astounded people samples of the unknown plants and animals, and of the gold which he had said would be found there in fabulous quantities.

It was the proudest moment of the daring navigator's life when, clad in his purple robe of office, bedecked with the insignia of his rank, he entered the throne-room of the palace in Barcelona and received permission to be seated in the royal presence to relate his experiences. Around the hall stood the grandees of Spain and the magnates of the Church, as obsequious and attentive to him now as they had been proud and disdainful when, a hungry wanderer, he had knocked at the gates of La Rabida to beg bread for his son. It was the acme of the discoverer's destiny, the realization of his dream of glory, the well-earned recompense of years of persevering endeavor.

The news of the discovery created universal enthusiasm. When it was announced that a second expedition was being organized there was no need of a royal schedule of remission of punishment to criminals to obtain crews. The Admiral's residence was besieged all day long by the hidalgos[2] who were anxious to share with him the expected glories and riches. The cessation of hostilities in Granada had left thousands of knights, whose only patrimony was their sword, without occupation—men with iron muscles, inured to hardship and danger, eager for adventure and conquest.

Then there were the monks and priests, whose religious zeal was stimulated by the prospect of converting to Christianity the benighted inhabitants of unknown realms; there were ruined traders, who hoped to mend their fortunes with the gold to be had, as they thought, for picking it up; finally, there were the proteges of royalty and of influential persons at court, who aspired to lucrative places in the new territories; in short, the Admiral counted among the fifteen hundred companions of his second expedition individuals of the bluest blood in Spain.

As for the mariners, men-at-arms, mechanics, attendants, and servants, they were mostly greedy, vicious, ungovernable, and turbulent adventurers.[3]

The confiscated property of the Jews, supplemented by a loan and some extra duties on articles of consumption, provided the funds for the expedition; a sufficient quantity of provisions was embarked; twenty Granadian lancers with their spirited Andalusian horses were accommodated; cuirasses, swords, pikes, crossbows, muskets, powder and balls were ominously abundant; seed-corn, rice, sugar-cane, vegetables, etc., were not forgotten; cattle, sheep, goats, swine, and fowls for stocking the new provinces, provided for future needs; and a breed of mastiff dogs, originally intended, perhaps, as watch-dogs only, but which became in a short time the dreaded destroyers of natives. Finally, Pope Alexander VI, of infamous memory, drew a line across the map of the world, from pole to pole,[4] and assigned all the undiscovered lands west of it to Spain, and those east of it to Portugal, thus arbitrarily dividing the globe between the two powers.

At daybreak, September 25, 1493, seventeen ships, three caracas of one hundred tons each, two naos, and twelve caravels, sailed from Cadiz amid the ringing of bells and the enthusiastic Godspeeds of thousands of spectators. The son of a Genoese wool-carder stood there, the equal in rank of the noblest hidalgo in Spain, Admiral of the Indian Seas, Viceroy of all the islands and continents to be discovered, and one-tenth of all the gold and treasures they contained would be his!

Alas for the evanescence of worldly greatness! All this glory was soon to be eclipsed. Eight years after that day of triumph he again landed on the shore of Spain a pale and emaciated prisoner in chains.

It may easily be conceived that the voyage for these fifteen hundred men, most of whom were unaccustomed to the sea, was not a pleasure trip.

Fortunately they had fine weather and fair wind till October 26th, when they experienced their first tropical rain and thunder-storm, and the Admiral ordered litanies. On November 2d he signaled to the fleet to shorten sail, and on the morning of the 3d fifteen hundred pairs of wondering eyes beheld the mountains of an island mysteriously hidden till then in the bosom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Among the spectators were Bernal Diaz de Pisa, accountant of the fleet, the first conspirator in America; thirteen Benedictine friars, with Boil at their head, who, with Moren Pedro de Margarit, the strategist, respectively represented the religious and military powers; there was Roldan, another insubordinate, the first alcalde of the Espanola; there were Alonzo de Ojeda and Guevara, true knights-errant, who were soon to distinguish themselves: the first by the capture of the chief Caonabo, the second by his romantic love-affair with Higuemota, the daughter of the chiefess Anacaona. There was Adrian Mojica, destined shortly to be hanged on the ramparts of Fort Concepcion by order of the Viceroy. There was Juan de Esquivel, the future conqueror of Jamaica; Sebastian Olano, receiver of the royal share of the gold and other riches that no one doubted to find; Father Marchena, the Admiral's first protector, friend, and counselor; the two knight commanders of military orders Gallego and Arroyo; the fleet's physician, Chanca; the queen's three servants, Navarro, Pena-soto, and Girau; the pilot, Antonio de Torres, who was to return to Spain with the Admiral's ship and first despatches. There was Juan de la Cosa, cartographer, who traced the first map of the Antilles; there were the father and uncle of Bartolome de las Casas, the apostle of the Indies; Diego de Penalosa, the first notary public; Fermin Jedo, the metallurgist, and Villacorta, the mechanical engineer. Luis de Ariega, afterward famous as the defender of the fort at Magdalena; Diego Velasquez, the future conqueror of Cuba; Vega, Abarca, Gil Garcia, Marguez, Maldonado, Beltran and many other doughty warriors, whose names had been the terror of the Moors during the war in Granada. Finally, there were Diego Columbus, the Admiral's brother; and among the men-at-arms, one, destined to play the principal role in the conquest of Puerto Rico. His name was Juan Ponce, a native of Santervas or Sanservas de Campos in the kingdom of Leon. He had served fifteen years in the war with the Moors as page or shield-bearer to Pedro Nunez de Guzman, knight commander of the order of Calatrava, and he had joined Columbus like the rest—to seek his fortune in the western hemisphere.


[Footnote 1: March 15, 1493.]

[Footnote 2: Literally, "hijos d'algo," sons of something or somebody.]

[Footnote 3: La Fuente. Hista. general de Espana.]

[Footnote 4: Along the 30th parallel of longitude W. of Greenwich.]




THE first island discovered on this voyage lies between 14 deg. and 15 deg. north latitude, near the middle of a chain of islands of different sizes, intermingled with rocks and reefs, which stretches from Trinidad, near the coast of Venezuela, in a north-by-westerly direction to Puerto Rico. They are divided in two groups, the Windward Islands forming the southern, the Leeward Islands the northern portion of the chain.

The Admiral shaped his course in the direction in which the islands, one after the other, loomed up, merely touching at some for the purpose of obtaining what information he could, which was meager enough.

For an account of the expedition's experiences on that memorable voyage, we have the fleet physician Chanca's circumstantial description addressed to the Municipal Corporation of Seville, sent home by the same pilot who conveyed the Admiral's first despatches to the king and queen.

After describing the weather experienced up to the time the fleet arrived at the island "de Hierro," he tells their worships that for nineteen or twenty days they had the best weather ever experienced on such a long voyage, excepting on the eve of San Simon, when they had a storm which for four hours caused them great anxiety.

At daybreak on Sunday, November 3d, the pilot of the flagship announced land. "It was marvelous," says Chanca, "to see and hear the people's manifestations of joy; and with reason, for they were very weary of the hardships they had undergone, and longed to be on land again."

The first island they saw was high and mountainous. As the day advanced they saw another more level, and then others appeared, till they counted six, some of good size, and all covered with forest to the water's edge.

Sailing along the shore of the first discovered island for the distance of a league, and finding no suitable anchoring ground, they proceeded to the next island, which was four or five leagues distant, and here the Admiral landed, bearing the royal standard, and took formal possession of this and all adjacent lands in the name of their Highnesses. He named the first island Dominica, because it was discovered on a Sunday, and to the second island he gave the name of his ship, Marie-Galante.

"In this island," says Chanca, "it was wonderful to see the dense forest and the great variety of unknown trees, some in bloom, others with fruit, everything looking so green. We found a tree the leaves whereof resembled laurel leaves, but not so large, and they exhaled the finest odor of cloves.[5]

"There were fruits of many kinds, some of which the men imprudently tasted, with the result that their faces swelled, and that they suffered such violent pain in throat and mouth[6] that they behaved like madmen, the application of cold substances giving them some relief." No signs of inhabitants were discovered, so they remained ashore two hours only and left next morning early (November 4th) in the direction of another island seven or eight leagues northward. They anchored off the southernmost coast of it, now known as Basse Terre, and admired a mountain in the distance, which seemed to reach into the sky (the volcano "la Souffriere"), and the beautiful waterfall on its flank. The Admiral sent a small caravel close inshore to look for a port, which was soon found. Perceiving some huts, the captain landed, but the people who occupied them escaped into the forest as soon as they saw the strangers. On entering the huts they found two large parrots (guacamayos) entirely different from those seen until then by the Spaniards, much cotton, spun and ready for spinning, and other articles, bringing away a little of each, "especially," says the doctor, "four or five bones of human arms and legs."

From this the Admiral concluded that he had found the islands inhabited by the redoubtable Caribs, of whom he had heard on his first voyage, and who were said to eat human flesh. The general direction in which these islands were situated had been pointed out to him by the natives of Guanahani and the Espanola; hence, he had steered a southwesterly course on this his second voyage, "and," says the doctor, "by the goodness of God and the Admiral's knowledge, we came as straight as if we had come by a known and continuous route."

Having found a convenient port and seen some groups of huts, the inhabitants of which fled as soon as they perceived the ships, the Admiral gave orders that the next morning early parties of men should go on shore to reconnoiter. Accordingly some captains, each with a small band of men, dispersed. Most of them returned before noon with the tangible results of their expeditions; one party brought a boy of about fourteen years of age, who, from the signs he made, was understood to be a captive from some other island; another party brought a child that had been abandoned by the man who was leading it by the hand when he perceived the Spaniards; others had taken some women; and one party was accompanied by women who had voluntarily joined them and who, on that account, were believed to be captives also. Captain Diego Marquiz with six men, who had entered the thickest part of the forest, did not return that night, nor the three following days, notwithstanding the Admiral had sent Alonzo de Ojeda with forty men to explore the jungle, blow trumpets, and do all that could be done to find them. When, on the morning of the fourth day, they had not returned, there was ground for concluding that they had been killed and eaten by the natives; but they made their appearance in the course of the day, emaciated and wearied, having suffered great hardships, till by chance they had struck the coast and followed it till they reached the ships. They brought ten persons, with them—women and boys.

During the days thus lost the other captains collected more than twenty female captives, and three boys came running toward them, evidently escaping from their captors. Few men were seen. It was afterward ascertained that ten canoes full had gone on one of their marauding expeditions. In their different expeditions on shore the Spaniards found all the huts and villages abandoned, and in them "an infinite quantity" of human bones and skulls hanging on the walls as receptacles. From the natives taken on board the Spaniards learned that the name of the first island they had seen was Cayri or Keiree; the one they were on they named Sibuqueira, and they spoke of a third, not yet discovered, named Aye-Aye. The Admiral gave to Sibuqueira the name of Guadaloupe.

Anchors were weighed at daybreak on November 10th. About noon of the next day the fleet reached an island which Juan de la Cosa laid down on his map with the name Santa Maria de Monserrat. From the Indian women on board it was understood that this island had been depopulated by the Caribs and was then uninhabited. On the same day in the afternoon they made another island which, according to Navarrete, was named by the Admiral Santa Maria de la Redonda (the round one), and seeing that there were many shallows in the neighborhood, and that it would be dangerous to continue the voyage during the night, the fleet came to anchor.

On the following morning (the 13th) another island was discovered (la Antigua); thence the fleet proceeded in a northwesterly direction to San Martin, without landing at any place, because, as Chanca observes, "the Admiral was anxious to arrive at 'la Espanola.'"

After weighing anchor at San Martin on the morning of Thursday the 14th, the fleet experienced rough weather and was driven southward, anchoring the same day off the island Aye-Aye (Santa Cruz).

Fernandez, the Admiral's son, in his description of his father's second voyage, says that a small craft (a sloop) with twenty-five men was sent ashore to take some of the people, that Columbus might obtain information from them regarding his whereabouts. While they carried out this order a canoe with four men, two women, and a boy approached the ships, and, struck with astonishment at what they saw, they never moved from one spot till the sloop returned with four kidnaped women and three children.

When the natives in the canoe saw the sloop bearing down upon them, and that they had no chance of escape, they showed fight. Two Spaniards were wounded—an arrow shot by one of the amazons went clear through a buckler—then the canoe was overturned, and finding a footing in a shallow place, they continued the fight till they were all taken, one of them being mortally wounded by the thrust of a lance.

To regain the latitude in which he was sailing when the storm began to drive his ships southwestward to Aye-Aye, the Admiral, after a delay of only a few hours, steered north, until, toward nightfall, he reached a numerous group of small islands. Most of them appeared bare and devoid of vegetation. The next morning (November 15th) a small caravel was sent among the group to explore, the other ships standing out to sea for fear of shallows, but nothing of interest was found except a few Indian fishermen. All the islands were uninhabited, and they were baptized "the eleven thousand Virgins." The largest one, according to Navarrete, was named Santa Ursula—"la Virgin Gorda" (the fat Virgin) according to Angleria.

During the night the ships lay to at sea. On the 16th the voyage was continued till the afternoon of the 17th, when another island was sighted; the fleet sailed along its southern shore for a whole day. That night two women and a boy of those who had voluntarily joined the expedition in Sobuqueira, swam ashore, having recognized their home. On the 19th the fleet anchored in a bay on the western coast, where Columbus landed and took possession in the name of his royal patrons with the same formalities as observed in Marie-Galante, and named the island San Juan Bautista. Near the landing-place was found a deserted village consisting of a dozen huts of the usual size surrounding a larger one of superior construction; from the village a road or walk, hedged in by trees and plants, led to the sea, "which," says Munoz,[7] "gave it the aspect of some cacique's place of seaside recreation."

After remaining two days in port (November 20th and 21st), and without a single native having shown himself, the fleet lifted anchor on the morning of the 22d, and proceeding on its northwesterly course, reached the bay of Samana, in Espanola, before night, whence, sailing along the coast, the Admiral reached the longed-for port of Navidad on the 25th, only to find that the first act of the bloody drama that was to be enacted in this bright new world had already been performed.

Here we leave Columbus and his companions to play the important roles in the conquest of America assigned to each of them. The fortunes of the yeoman of humble birth, the former lance-bearer or stirrup-page of the knight commander of Calatrava, already referred to, were destined to become intimately connected with those of the island whose history we will now trace.


[Footnote 5: The "Caryophyllus pimienta," Coll y Toste.]

[Footnote 6: Navarrete supposes this to have been the fruit of the Manzanilla "hippomane Mancinella," which produces identical effects.]

[Footnote 7: Historia del Nuevo Mundo.]




Friar Inigo Abbad, in his History of the Island San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico, gives the story of the discovery in a very short chapter, and terminates it with the words: "Columbus sailed for Santo Domingo November 22, 1493, and thought no more of the island, which remained forgotten till Juan Ponce returned to explore it in 1508."

This is not correct. The island was not forgotten, for Don Jose Julian de Acosta, in his annotations to the Benedictine monk's history (pp. 21 and 23), quotes a royal decree of March 24, 1505, appointing Vicente Yanez Pinzon Captain and "corregidor" of the island San Juan Bautista and governor of the fort that he was to construct therein. Pinzon transferred his rights and titles in the appointment to Martin Garcia de Salazar, in company with whom he stocked the island with cattle; but it seems that Boriquen did not offer sufficient scope for the gallant pilot's ambition, for we find him between the years 1506 and 1508 engaged in seeking new conquests on the continent.

As far as Columbus himself is concerned, the island was certainly forgotten amid the troubles that beset him on all sides almost from the day of his second landing in "la Espanola." From 1493 to 1500 a series of insurrections broke out, headed successively by Diaz, Margarit, Aguado, Roldan, and others, supported by the convict rabble that, on the Admiral's own proposals to the authorities in Spain, had been liberated from galleys and prisons on condition that they should join him on his third expedition. These men, turbulent, insubordinate, and greedy, found hunger, hardships, and sickness where they had expected to find plenty, comfort, and wealth. The Admiral, who had indirectly promised them these things, to mitigate the universal and bitter disappointment, had recourse to the unwarrantable expedients of enslaving the natives, sending them to Spain to be sold, of levying tribute on those who remained, and, worst of all, dooming them to a sure and rapid extermination by forced labor.

The natives, driven to despair, resisted, and in the encounters between the naked islanders and the mailed invaders Juan Ponce distinguished himself so that Nicolos de Ovando, the governor, made him the lieutenant of Juan Esquivel, who was then engaged in "pacifying" the province of Higueey.[8] After Esquivel's departure on the conquest of Jamaica, Ponce was advanced to the rank of captain, and it was while he was in the Higueey province that he learned from the Boriquen natives, who occasionally visited the coast, that there was gold in the rivers of their as yet unexplored island. This was enough to awaken his ambition to explore it, and having asked permission of Ovando, it was granted.

Ponce equipped a caravel at once, and soon after left the port of Salvaleon with a few followers and some Indians to serve as guides and interpreters (1508).

They probably landed at or near the same place at which their captain had landed fifteen years before with the Admiral, that is to say, in the neighborhood of la Aguada, where, according to Las Casas, the ships going and coming to and from Spain had called regularly to take in fresh water ever since the year 1502.

The strangers were hospitably received. It appears that the mother of the local cacique, who was also the chief cacique of that part of the island, was a woman of acute judgment. She had, no doubt, heard from fugitives from la Espanola of the doings of the Spaniards there, and of their irresistible might in battle, and had prudently counseled her son to receive the intruders with kindness and hospitality.

Accordingly Ponce and his men were welcomed and feasted. They were supplied with provisions; areitos (dances) were held in their honor; batos (games of ball) were played to amuse them, and the practise, common among many of the aboriginal tribes in different parts of the world, of exchanging names with a visitor as a mark of brotherly affection, was also resorted to to cement the new bonds of friendship, so that Guaybana became Ponce for the time being, and Ponce Guaybana. The sagacious mother of the chief received the name of Dona Inez, other names were bestowed on other members of the family, and to crown all, Ponce received the chief's sister in marriage.

Under these favorable auspices Ponce made known his desire to see the places where the chiefs obtained the yellow metal for the disks which, as a distinctive of their rank, they wore as medals round their neck. Guaybana responded with alacrity to his Spanish brother's wish, and accompanied him on what modern gold-seekers would call "a prospecting tour" to the interior. The Indian took pride in showing him the rivers Manatuabon, Manati, Sibuco, and others, and in having their sands washed in the presence of his white friends, little dreaming that by so doing he was sealing the doom of himself and people.

Ponce was satisfied with the result of his exploration, and returned to la Espanola in the first months of 1509, taking with him the samples of gold collected, and leaving behind some of his companions, who probably then commenced to lay the foundations of Caparra. It is believed that Guaybana accompanied him to see and admire the wonders of the Spanish settlement. The gold was smelted and assayed, and found to be 450 maravedis per peso fine, which was not as fine as the gold obtained in la Espanola, but sufficiently so for the king of Spain's purposes, for he wrote to Ponce in November, 1509: "I have seen your letter of August 16th. Be very diligent in searching for gold mines in the island of San Juan; take out as much as possible, and after smelting it in la Espanola, send it immediately."

On August 14th of the same year Don Fernando had already written to the captain thanking him for his diligence in the settlement of the island and appointing him governor ad interim.

Ponce returned to San Juan in July or the beginning of August, after the arrival in la Espanola of Diego, the son of Christopher Columbus, with his family and a new group of followers, as Viceroy and Admiral. The Admiral, aware of the part which Ponce had taken in the insurrection of Roldan against his father's authority, bore him no good-will, notwithstanding the king's favorable disposition toward the captain, as manifested in the instructions which he received from Ferdinand before his departure from Spain (May 13, 1509), in which his Highness referred to Juan Ponce de Leon as being by his special grace and good-will authorized to settle the island of San Juan Bautista, requesting the Admiral to make no innovations in the arrangement, and charging him to assist and favor the captain in his undertaking.

After Don Diego's arrival in la Espanola he received a letter from the king, dated September 15, 1509, saying, "Ovando wrote that Juan Ponce had not gone to settle the island of San Juan for want of stores; now that they have been provided in abundance, let it be done."

But the Admiral purposely ignored these instructions. He deposed Ponce and appointed Juan Ceron as governor in his place, with a certain Miguel Diaz as High Constable, and Diego Morales for the office next in importance. His reason for thus proceeding in open defiance of the king's orders, independent of his resentment against Ponce, was the maintenance of the prerogatives of his rank as conceded to his father, of which the appointment of governors and mayors over any or all the islands discovered by him was one.

Ceron and his two companions, with more than two hundred Spaniards, sailed for San Juan in 1509, and were well received by Guaybana and his Indians, among whom they took up their residence and at once commenced the search for gold. In the meantime Ponce, in his capacity as governor ad interim, continued his correspondence with the king, who, March 2, 1510, signed his appointment as permanent governor.[9] This conferred upon him the power to sentence in civil and criminal affairs, to appoint and remove alcaldes, constables, etc., subject to appeal to the government of la Espanola. Armed with his new authority, and feeling himself strong in the protection of his king, Ponce now proceeded to arrest Ceron and his two fellow officials, and sent them to Spain in a vessel that happened to call at the island, confiscating all their property.

Diego Columbus, on hearing of Ponce's highhanded proceedings, retaliated by the confiscation of all the captain's property in la Espanola.

These events did not reach the king's ears till September, 1510. He comprehended at once that his protege had acted precipitately, and gave orders that the three prisoners should be set at liberty immediately after their arrival in Spain and proceed to the Court to appear before the Council of Indies. He next ordered Ponce (November 26, 1510) to place the confiscated properties and Indians of Ceron and his companions at the disposal of the persons they should designate for that purpose. Finally, after due investigation and recognition of the violence of Ponce's proceedings, the king wrote to him June 6, 1511: "Because it has been resolved in the Council of Indies that the government of this and the other islands discovered by his father belongs to the Admiral and his successors, it is necessary to return to Ceron, Diaz, and Morales their staffs of office. You will come to where I am, leaving your property in good security, and We will see wherein we can employ you in recompense of your good services."

Ceron and his companions received instructions not to molest Ponce nor any of his officers, nor demand an account of their acts, and they were recommended to endeavor to gain their good-will and assistance. The reinstated officers returned to San Juan in the latter part of 1511. Ponce, in obedience to the king's commands, quietly delivered the staff of office to Ceron, and withdrew to his residence in Caparra. He had already collected considerable wealth, which was soon to serve him in other adventurous enterprises.


[Footnote 8: The slaughter of rebellious Indians was called "pacification" by the Spaniards.]

[Footnote 9: The document is signed by Ferdinand and his daughter, Dona Juana, as heir to her mother, for the part corresponding to each in the sovereignty over the island San Juan Bautista.]




Soon after Ponce's return from la Espanola Guaybana sickened and died. Up to this time the harmony established by the prudent cacique between his tribesmen and the Spaniards on their first arrival had apparently not been disturbed. There is no record of any dissension between them during Ponce's absence.

The cacique was succeeded by his brother, who according to custom assumed the name of the deceased chief, together with his authority.

The site for his first settlement, chosen by Ponce, was a low hill in the center of a small plain surrounded by hills, at the distance of a league from the sea, the whole space between being a swamp, "which," says Oviedo, "made the transport of supplies very difficult." Here the captain commenced the construction of a fortified house and chapel, or hermitage, and called the place Caparra.[10]

Among the recently arrived Spaniards there was a young man of aristocratic birth named Christopher de Soto Mayor, who possessed powerful friends at Court. He had been secretary to King Philip I, and according to Abbad, was intended by Ferdinand as future governor of San Juan; but Senor Acosta, the friar's commentator, remarks with reason, that it is not likely that the king, who showed so much tact and foresight in all his acts, should place a young man without experience over an old soldier like Ponce, for whom he had a special regard.

The young hidalgo seemed to aspire to nothing higher than a life of adventure, for he agreed to go as Ponce's lieutenant and form a settlement on the south coast of the island near the bay of Guanica.

"In this settlement," says Oviedo, "there were so many mosquitoes that they alone were enough to depopulate it, and the people passed to Aguada, which is said to be to the west-nor'-west, on the borders of the river Culebrinas, in the district now known as Aguada and Aguadilla; to this new settlement they gave the name Sotomayor, and while they were there the Indians rose in rebellion one Friday in the beginning of the year 1511."

* * * * *

The second Guaybana[11] was far from sharing his predecessor's good-will toward the Spaniards or his prudence in dealing with them; nor was the conduct of the newcomers toward the natives calculated to cement the bonds of friendship.

Fancying themselves secure in the friendly disposition of the natives, prompted by that spirit of reckless daring and adventure that distinguished most of the followers of Columbus, anxious to be first to find a gold-bearing stream or get possession of some rich piece of land, they did not confine themselves to the two settlements formed, but spread through the interior, where they began to lay out farms and to work the auriferous river sands.

In the beginning the natives showed themselves willing enough to assist in these labors, but when the brutal treatment to which the people of la Espanola had been subjected was meted out to them also, and the greed of gold caused their self-constituted masters to exact from them labors beyond their strength, the Indians murmured, then protested, at last they resisted, and at each step the taskmasters became more exacting, more relentless.

At the time of the arrival of the Spaniards the natives of Boriquen seem to have led an Arcadian kind of existence; their bows and arrows were used only when some party of Caribs came to carry off their young men and maidens. Among themselves they lived at peace, and passed their days in lazily swinging in their hammocks and playing ball or dancing their "areytos." With little labor the cultivation of their patches of yucca[12] required was performed by the women, and beyond the construction of their canoes and the carving of some battle club, they knew no industry, except, perhaps, the chipping of some stone into the rude likeness of a man, or of one of the few animals they knew.

These creatures were suddenly called upon to labor from morning to night, to dig and delve, and to stand up to their hips in water washing the river sands. They were forced to change their habits and their food, and from free and, in their own way, happy masters of the soil they became the slaves of a handful of ruthless men from beyond the sea. When Ponce's order to distribute them among his men confirmed the hopelessness of their slavery, they looked upon the small number of their destroyers and began to ask themselves if there were no means of getting rid of them.

* * * * *

The system of "repartimientos" (distribution), sometimes called "encomiendas" (patronage), was first introduced in la Espanola by Columbus and sanctioned later by royal authority. Father Las Casas insinuates that Ponce acted arbitrarily in introducing it in Boriquen, but there were precedents for it.

The first tribute imposed by Columbus on the natives of la Espanola was in gold and in cotton[13](1495). Recognizing that the Indians could not comply with this demand, the Admiral modified it, but still they could not satisfy him, and many, to escape the odious imposition, fled to the woods and mountains or wandered about from place to place. The Admiral, in virtue of the powers granted to him, had divided the land among his followers according to rank, or merit, or caprice, and in the year 1496 substituted the forced labor of the Indians for the tribute, each cacique being obliged to furnish a stipulated number of men to cultivate the lands granted. Bobadilla, the Admiral's successor, made this obligation to work on the land extend to the mines, and in the royal instructions given to Ovando, who succeeded Bobadilla, these abuses were confirmed, and he was expressly charged to see to it "that the Indians were employed in collecting gold and other metals for the Castilians, in cultivating their lands, in constructing their houses, and in obeying their commands." The pretext for these abuses was, that by thus bringing the natives into immediate contact with their masters they would be easier converted to Christianity. It is true that the royal ordinances stipulated that the Indians should be well treated, and be paid for their work like free laborers, but the fact that they were forced to work and severely punished when they refused, constituted them slaves in reality. The royal recommendations to treat them well, to pay them for their work, and to teach them the Christian doctrines, were ignored by the masters, whose only object was to grow rich. The Indians were tasked far beyond their strength. They were ill-fed, often not fed at all, brutally ill-treated, horribly punished for trying to escape from the hellish yoke, ruthlessly slaughtered at the slightest show of resistance, so that thousands of them perished miserably. This had been the fate of the natives of la Espanola, and there can be no doubt that the Boriquenos had learned from fugitives of that island what was in store for them when Ponce ordered their distribution among the settlers.

The following list of Indians distributed in obedience to orders from the metropolis is taken from the work by Don Salvador Brau.[14] It was these first distributions, made in 1509-'10, which led to the rebellion of the Indians and the distributions that followed:

Indians To the general treasurer, Pasamonte, a man described by Acosta as malevolent, insolent, deceitful, and sordid...... 300

To Juan Ponce de Leon...................................... 200

To Christopher Soto Mayor[15]...............................100

To Vicente Yanez Pinzon, on condition that he should settle in the island.............................................. 100

To Lope de Conchillos, King Ferdinand's Chief Secretary, as bad a character as Pasamonte............................ 100

To Pedro Moreno and Jerome of Brussels, the delegate and clerk of Conchillos in Boriquen, 100 each...................200

To the bachelor-at-law Villalobos........................... 80

To Francisco Alvarado.......................................80

A total of 1,060 defenseless Indians delivered into the ruthless hands of men steeped in greed, ambition, and selfishness.


[Footnote 10: The scanty remains of the first settlement were to be seen till lately in the Pueblo Viejo Ward, municipal district of Bayamon, along the road which loads from Catano to Gurabo.]

[Footnote 11: He may have been the tenth or the twentieth if what the chroniclers tell us about the adoption of the defunct caciquess' names by their successors be true.]

[Footnote 12: The manioc of which the "casaba" bread is made.]

[Footnote 13: A "cascabel" (a measure the size of one of the round bells used in Spain to hang round the neck of the leader in a troop of mules) full of gold and twenty-five pounds (an arroba) of cotton every three months for every Indian above sixteen years of age.]

[Footnote 14: Puerto Rico y su historia, p. 173.]

[Footnote 15: Among the Indians given to Soto Mayor was the sister of the cacique Guaybana second. She became his concubine, and in return for the preference shown her she gave the young nobleman timely warning of the impending rebellion.]




The sullen but passive resistance of the Indians was little noticed by the Spaniards, who despised them too much to show any apprehension; but the number of fugitives to the mountains and across the sea increased day by day, and it soon became known that nocturnal "areytos" were held, in which the means of shaking off the odious yoke were discussed. Soto Mayor was warned by his paramour, and it is probable that some of the other settlers received advice through the same channels; still, they neglected even the ordinary precautions.

At last, a soldier named Juan Gonzalez, who had learned the native language in la Espanola, took upon himself to discover what truth there was in these persistent reports, and, naked and painted so as to appear like one of the Indians, he assisted at one of the nocturnal meetings, where he learned that a serious insurrection was indeed brewing; he informed Soto Mayor of what he had heard and seen, and the latter now became convinced of the seriousness of the danger.

Before Gonzalez learned what was going on, Guaybana had summoned the neighboring caciques to a midnight "areyto" and laid his plan before them, which consisted in each of them, on a preconcerted day, falling upon the Spaniards living in or near their respective villages; the attack, on the same day, on Soto Mayor's settlement, he reserved for himself and Guarionez, the cacique of Utuao.

But some of the caciques doubted the feasibility of the plan. Had not the fugitives from Quisqueia[16] told of the terrible effects of the shining blades they wore by their sides when wielded in battle by the brawny arms of the dreaded strangers? Did not their own arrows glance harmlessly from the glittering scales with which they covered their bodies? Was Guaybana quite sure that the white-faced invader could be killed at all? The majority thought that before undertaking their extermination they ought to be sure that they had to do with a mortal enemy.

Oviedo and Herrera both relate how they proceeded to discover this. Urayoan, the cacique of Yagueeca, was charged with the experiment. Chance soon favored him. A young man named Salcedo passed through his village to join some friends. He was hospitably received, well fed, and a number of men[17] were told to accompany him and carry his luggage. He arrived at the Guaoraba, a river on the west side of the island, which flows into the bay of San German. They offered to carry him across. The youth accepted, was taken up between two of the strongest Indians, who, arriving in the middle of the river, dumped him under water—then they fell on him and held him down till he struggled no more. Dragging him ashore, they now begged his pardon, saying that they had stumbled, and called upon him to rise and continue the voyage; but the young man did not move, he was dead, and they had the proof that the supposed demi-gods were mortals after all.

The news spread like wildfire, and from that day the Indians were in open rebellion and began to take the offensive, shooting their arrows and otherwise molesting every Spaniard they happened to meet alone or off his guard.

The following episode related by Oviedo illustrates the mental disposition of the natives of Boriquen at this period.

Aymamon, the cacique whose village was on the river Culebrinas, near the settlement of Soto Mayor, had surprised a lad of sixteen years wandering alone in the forest. The cacique carried him off, tied him to a post in his hut and proposed to his men a game of ball, the winner to have the privilege of convincing himself and the others of the mortality of their enemies by killing the lad in any way he pleased. Fortunately for the intended victim, one of the Indians knew the youth's father, one Pedro Juarez, in the neighboring settlement, and ran to tell him of the danger that menaced his son. Captain Diego Salazar, who in Soto Mayor's absence was in command of the settlement, on hearing of the case, took his sword and buckler and guided by the friendly Indian, reached the village while the game for the boy's life was going on. He first cut the lad's bonds, and with the words "Do as you see me do!" rushed upon the crowd of about 300 Indians and laid about him right and left with such effect that they had no chance even of defending themselves. Many were killed and wounded. Among the latter was Aymamon himself, and Salazar returned in triumph with the boy.

But now comes the curious part of the story, which shows the character of the Boriquen Indian in a more favorable light.

Aymamon, feeling himself mortally wounded, sent a messenger to Salazar, begging him to come to his caney or hut to make friends with him before he died. None but a man of Salazar's intrepid character would have thought of accepting such an invitation; but he did, and, saying to young Juarez, who begged his deliverer not to go: "They shall not think that I'm afraid of them," he went, shook hands with the dying chief, changed names with him, and returned unharmed amid the applauding shouts of "Salazar! Salazar!" from the multitude, among whom his Toledo blade had made such havoc. It was evident from this that they held courage, such as the captain had displayed, in high esteem. To the other Spaniards they used to say: "We are not afraid of you, for you are not Salazar."

* * * * *

It was in the beginning of June, 1511. The day fixed by Guaybana for the general rising had arrived. Soto Mayor was still in his grange in the territory under the cacique's authority, but having received the confirmation of the approaching danger from Gonzalez, he now resolved at once to place himself at the head of his men in the Aguada settlement. The distance was great, and he had to traverse a country thickly peopled by Indians whom he now knew to be in open rebellion; but he was a Spanish hidalgo and did not hesitate a moment. The morning after receiving the report of Gonzalez he left his grange with that individual and four other companions.

Guaybana, hearing of Soto Mayor's departure, started in pursuit. Gonzalez, who had lagged behind, was first overtaken, disarmed, wounded with his own sword, and left for dead. Near the river Yauco the Indians came upon Soto Mayor and his companions, and though there were no witnesses to chronicle what happened, we may safely assert that they sold their lives dear, till the last of them fell under the clubs of the infuriated savages.

That same night Guarionex with 3,000 Indians stealthily surrounded the settlement and set fire to it, slaughtering all who, in trying to escape, fell into their hands.[18]

In the interior nearly a hundred Spaniards were killed during the night. Gonzalez, though left for dead, had been able to make his way through the forest to the royal grange, situated where now Toa-Caja is. He was in a pitiful plight, and fell in a swoon when he crossed the threshold of the house. Being restored to consciousness, he related to the Spaniards present what was going on near the Culebrinas, and they sent a messenger to Caparra at once.

Immediately on receipt of the news from the grange, Ponce sent Captain Miguel del Toro with 40 men to the assistance of Soto Mayor, but he found the settlement in ashes and only the bodies of those who had perished.


[Footnote 16: La Espanola.]

[Footnote 17: The chroniclers say fifteen or twenty, which seems an exaggerated number.]

[Footnote 18: Salazar was able in the dark and the confusion of the attack on the settlement to rally a handful of followers, with whom he cut his way through the Indians and through the jungle to Caparra.]


THE REBELLION (continued)


Salazar's arrival at Caparra with a handful of wounded and exhausted men revealed to Ponce the danger of his situation. Ponce knew that it was necessary to strike a bold blow, and although, including the maimed and wounded, he had but 120 men at his disposal, he prepared at once to take the offensive.

Sending a messenger to la Espanola with the news of the insurrection and a demand for reenforcements, which, seeing his strained relations with the Admiral, there was small chance of his obtaining, he proceeded to divide his force in four companies of 30 men to each, and gave command to Miguel del Toro, the future founder of San German, to Louis de Anasco, who later gave his name to a province, to Louis Almanza and to Diego Salazar, whose company was made up exclusively of the maimed and wounded, and therefore called in good-humored jest the company of cripples.

Having learned from his scouts that Guaybana was camped with 5,000 to 6,000 men near the mouth of the river Coayuco in the territory between the Yauco and Jacagua rivers, somewhere in the neighborhood of the city which now bears the conqueror's name, he marched with great precaution through forest and jungle till he reached the river. He crossed it during the night and fell upon the Indians with such impetus that they believed their slain enemies to have come to life. They fled in confusion, leaving 200 dead upon the field.

The force under Ponce's command was too small to follow up his victory by the persecution of the terror-stricken natives; nor would the exhausted condition of the men have permitted it, so he wisely determined to return to Caparra, cure his wounded soldiers, and await the result of his message to la Espanola.

Oviedo and Navarro, whose narratives of these events are repeated by Abbad, state that the Boriquen Indians, despairing of being able to vanquish the Spaniards, called the Caribs of the neighboring islands to their aid; that the latter arrived in groups to make common cause with them, and that some time after the battle of Coayuco, between Caribs and Boriquenos, 11,000 men had congregated in the Aymaco district.

But Mr. Brau[19] calls attention to the improbability of such a gathering. "Guaybana," he says, "had been able, after long preparation, to bring together between 5,000 and 6,000 warriors—of these 200 had been slain, and an equal number, perhaps, wounded and made prisoners, so that, to make up the number of 11,000, at least as many Caribs as the entire warrior force of Boriquen must have come to the island in the short space of time elapsed since the first battle. The islands inhabited by the Caribs—Santa Cruz, San Eustaquio, San Cristobal, and Dominica—were too distant to furnish so large a contingent in so short a time, and the author we are quoting justly remarks that, admitting that such a feat was possible, they must have had at their disposition a fleet of at least 200 canoes, each capable of holding 20 men, a number which it is not likely they ever possessed."

There is another reason for discrediting the assertions of the old chroniclers in this respect. The idea of calling upon their enemies, the Caribs, to make common cause with them against a foe from whom the Caribs themselves had, as yet, suffered comparatively little, and the ready acceptance by these savages of the proposal, presupposes an amount of foresight and calculation, of diplomatic tact, so to speak, in both the Boriquenos and Caribs with which it is difficult to credit them.

The probable explanation of the alleged arrival of Caribs is that some of the fugitive Indians who had found a refuge in the small islands close to Boriquen may have been informed of the preparations for a revolt and of the result of the experiment with Salcedo, and they naturally came to take part in the struggle.

On hearing of the ominous gathering Ponce sent Louis Anasco and Miguel del Toro with 50 men to reconnoiter and watch the Indians closely, while he himself followed with the rest of his small force to be present where and when it might be necessary. Their approach was soon discovered, and, as if eager for battle, one cacique named Mabodomaca, who had a band of 600 picked men, sent the governor an insolent challenge to come on. Salazar with his company of cripples was chosen to silence him. After reconnoitering the cacique's position, he gave his men a much-needed rest till after midnight, and then dashed among them with his accustomed recklessness. The Indians, though taken by surprise, defended themselves bravely for three hours, "but," says Father Abbad, "God fought on the side of the Spaniards," and the result was that 150 dead natives were left on the field, with many wounded and prisoners. The Spaniards had not lost a man, though the majority had received fresh wounds.

Ponce, with his reserve force, arrived soon after the battle and found Salazar and his men resting. From them he learned that the main body of the Indians, to the number of several thousand, was in the territory of Yacueeca (now Anasco) and seemingly determined upon the extermination of the Spaniards.

The captain resolved to go and meet the enemy without regard to numbers. With Salazar's men and the 50 under Anasco and Toro he marched upon them at once. Choosing an advantageous position, he gave orders to form an entrenched camp with fascines as well, and as quickly as the men could, while he kept the Indians at bay with his arquebusiers and crossbowmen each time they made a rush, which they did repeatedly. In this manner they succeeded in entrenching themselves fairly well. The crossbowmen and arquebusiers went out from time to time, delivered a volley among the close masses of Indians and then withdrew. These tactics were continued during the night and all the next day, much to the disgust of the soldiers, who, wounded, weary, and hungry, without hope of rescue, heard the yells of the savages challenging them to come out of their camp. They preferred to rush among them, as they had so often done before. But Ponce would not permit it.

Among the arquebusiers the best shot was a certain Juan de Leon. This man had received instructions from Ponce to watch closely the movements of Guaybana, who was easily distinguishable from the rest by the "guanin," or disk of gold which he wore round the neck. On the second day, the cacique was seen to come and go actively from group to group, evidently animating his men for a general assault. While thus engaged he came within the range of Leon's arquebus, and a moment after he fell pierced by a well-directed ball. The effect was what Ponce had doubtless expected. The Indians yelled with dismay and ran far beyond the range of the deadly weapons; nor did they attempt to return or molest the Spaniards when Ponce led them that night from the camp and through the forest back to Caparra.

This was the beginning of the end. After the death of Guaybana no other cacique ever attempted an organized resistance, and the partial uprisings that took place for years afterward were easily suppressed. The report of the arquebus that laid Guaybana low was the death-knell of the whole Boriquen race.

The name of the island remained as a reminiscence only, and the island itself became definitely a dependency of the Spanish crown under the new name of San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico.


[Footnote 19: Puerto Rico y su Historia, p. 189.]




Friar Bartolome de Las Casas, in his Relation of the Indies, says with reference to this island, that when the Spaniards under the orders of Juan Ceron landed here in 1509, it was as full of people as a beehive is full of bees and as beautiful and fertile as an orchard. This simile and some probably incorrect data from the Geography of Bayaeete led Friar Inigo Abbad to estimate the number of aboriginal inhabitants at the time of the discovery at 600,000, a number for which there is no warrant in any of the writings of the Spanish chroniclers, and which Acosto, Brau, and Stahl, the best authorities on matters of Puerto Rican history, reject as extremely exaggerated.

Mr. Brau gives some good reasons for reducing the number to about 16,000, though it seems to us that since little or nothing was known of the island, except that part of it in which the events related in the preceding chapters took place, any reasoning regarding the population of the whole island, based upon a knowledge of a part of it, is liable to error. Ponce's conquest was limited to the northern and western littoral; the interior with the southern and eastern districts were not settled by the Spaniards till some years after the death of Guaybana; and it seems likely that there were caciques in those parts who, by reason of the distance or other impediments, took no part in the uprising against the Spaniards. For the rest, Mr. Brau's reasonings in support of his reduction to 16,000 of the number of aborigines, are undoubtedly correct. They are: First. The improbability of a small island like this, in an uncultivated state, producing sufficient food for such large numbers. Second. The fact that at the first battle (that of Jacaguas), in which he supposes the whole available warrior force of the island to have taken part, there were 5,000 to 6,000 men only, which force would have been much stronger had the population been anything near the number given by Abbad; and, finally, the number of Indians distributed after the cessation of organized resistance was only 5,500, as certified by Sancho Velasquez, the judge appointed in 1515 to rectify the distributions made by Ceron and Moscoso, and by Captain Melarejo in his memorial drawn up in 1582 by order of the captain-general, which number would necessarily have been much larger if the total aboriginal population had been but 60,000, instead of 600,000.

* * * * *

The immediate consequence to the natives of the panic and partial submission that followed the death of their leader was another and more extensive distribution. The first distributions of Indians had been but the extension to San Juan of the system as practised in la Espanola, which consisted in granting to the crown officers in recompense for services or as an inducement to settle in the island, a certain number of natives.[20] In this way 1,060 Boriquenos had been disposed of in 1509 to 9 persons. The ill usage to which they saw them subjected drove the others to rebellion, and now, vae victis, the king, on hearing of the rebellion, wrote to Ceron and Diaz (July, 1511): "To 'pacify' the Indians you must go well armed and terrorize them. Take their canoes from them, and if they refuse to be reduced with reason, make war upon them by fire and sword, taking care not to kill more than necessary, and send 40 or 50 of them to 'la Espanola' to serve us as slaves, etc." To Ponce he wrote on October 10th: "I give you credit for your labors in the 'pacification' and for having marked with an F on their foreheads all the Indians taken in war, making slaves of them and selling them to the highest bidders, separating the fifth part of the product for Us."

This time not only the 120 companions of Ponce came in for their share of the living spoils of war, but the followers of Ceron claimed and obtained theirs also.

The following is the list of Indians distributed after the battle of Yacueeca (if battle it may be called) as given by Mr. Brau, who obtained the details from the unpublished documents of Juan Bautista Munoz:


To the estates (haciendas) of their royal Highnesses 500 Baltasar de Castro, the factor 200 Miguel Diaz, the chief constable 200 Juan Ceron, the mayor 150 Diego Morales, bachelor-at-law 150 Amador de Lares 150 Louis Soto Mayor 100 Miguel Diaz, Daux-factor 100 the (municipal) council 100 the hospitals 100 Bishop Manso 100 Sebastian de la Gama 90 Gil de Malpartida 70 Juan Bono (a merchant) 70 Juan Velasquez 70 Antonio Rivadeneyra 60 Gracian Cansino 60 Louis Aqueyo 60 the apothecary 60 Francisco Cereceda 50 40 other individuals 40 each 1,600 4,040 Distributed in 1509 1,060 Total 5,100

These numbers included women and children old enough to perform some kind of labor. They were employed in the mines, or in the rivers rather (for it was alluvium gold only that the island offered to the greed of the so-called conquerors); they were employed on the plantations as beasts of burden, and in every conceivable capacity under taskmasters who, in spite of Ferdinand's revocation of the order to reduce them to slavery (September, 1514), had acted on his first dispositions and believed themselves to have the royal warrant to work them to death.

The king's more lenient dispositions came too late. They were powerless to check the abuses that were being committed under his own previous ordinances. The Indians disappeared with fearful rapidity. Licentiate Sancho Velasquez, who had made the second distribution, wrote to the king April 27, 1515: " ... Excepting your Highnesses' Indians and those of the crown officers, there are not 4,000 left." On August 8th of the same year the officers themselves wrote: " ... The last smeltings have produced little gold. Many Indians have died from disease caused by the hurricane as well as from want of food...."

To readjust the proportion of Indians according to the position or other claims of each individual, new distributions were resorted to. In these, some favored individuals obtained all they wanted at the expense of others, and as the number of distributable Indians grew less and less, reclamations, discontent, strife and rebellion broke out among the oppressors, who thus wreaked upon each other's heads the criminal treatment of the natives of which they were all alike guilty.

Such had been the course of events in la Espanola. The same causes had the same effects here. Herrera relates that when Miguel de Pasamente, the royal treasurer, arrived in the former island, in 1508, it contained 60,000 aboriginal inhabitants. Six years later, when a new distribution had become necessary, there were but 14,000 left—the others had been freed by the hand of death or were leading a wandering life in the mountains and forests of their island. In this island the process was not so rapid, but none the less effective.


[Footnote 20: The king's favorites in the metropolis, anxious to enrich themselves by these means, obtained grants of Indians and sent their stewards to administer them. Thus, in la Espanola, Conehillos, the secretary, had 1,100 Indians; Bishop Fonseca, 800; Hernando de la Vega, 200, and many others, "The Indians thus disposed of were, as a rule, the worst treated," says Las Casas.]




We have seen how Diego Columbus suspended Ponce in his functions as governor ad interim, and how the captain after obtaining from the king his appointment as permanent governor sent the Admiral's nominees prisoners to the metropolis. The king, though inclined to favor the captain, submitted the matter to his Indian council, which decided that the nomination of governors and mayors over the islands discovered by Christopher Columbus corresponded to his son. As a consequence, Ceron and Diaz were reinstated in their respective offices, and they were on their way back to San Juan a few months after Ponce's final success over the rebellious Indians.

Before their departure from Spain they received the following instructions, characteristic of the times and of the royal personage who imparted them:

"1. You will take over your offices very peaceably, endeavoring to gain the good-will of Ponce and his friends, that they may become your friends also, to the island's advantage.

"2. This done, you will attend to the 'pacification' of the Indians.

"3. Let many of them be employed in the mines and be well treated.

"4. Let many Indians be brought from the other islands and be well treated. Let the officers of justice be favored (in the distributions of Indians).

"5. Be very careful that no meat is eaten in Lent or other fast days, as has been done till now in la Espanola.

"6. Let those who have Indians occupy a third of their number in the mines.

"7. Let great care be exercised in the salt-pits, and one real be paid for each celemin[21] extracted, as is done in la Espanola.

"8. Send me a list of the number and class of Indians distributed, if Ponce has not done so already, and of those who have distinguished themselves in this rebellion.

"9. You are aware that ever since the sacraments have been administered in these islands, storms and earthquakes have ceased. Let a chapel be built at once with the advocation of Saint John the Baptist, and a monastery, though it be a small one, for Franciscan friars, whose doctrine is very salutary.

"10. Have great care in the mines and continually advise Pasamonte (the treasurer) or his agent of what happens or what may be necessary.

"11. Take the youngest Indians and teach them the Christian doctrine; they can afterward teach the others with better results.

"12. Let there be no swearing or blasphemy; impose heavy penalties thereon.

"13. Do not let the Indians be overloaded, but be well treated rather.

"14. Try to keep the Caribs from coming to the island, and report what measures it will be advisable to adopt against them. To make the natives do what is wanted, it will be convenient to take from them, with cunning (con mana), all the canoes they possess.

"15. You will obey the contents of these instructions until further orders.

Tordesillas, 25th of July, 1511.

F., King."

It is clear from the above instructions that, in the king's mind, there was no inconsistency in making the Indians work in the mines and their good treatment. There can be no doubt that both he and Dona Juana, his daughter, who, as heir to her mother, exercised the royal authority with him, sincerely desired the well-being of the natives as far as compatible with the exigencies of the treasury.

For the increase of the white population and the development of commerce and agriculture, liberal measures, according to the ideas of the age, were dictated as early as February, 1511, when the same commercial and political franchises were granted to San Juan as to la Espanola.

On July 25th the price of salt, the sale of which was a royal monopoly, was reduced by one-half, and in October of the same year the following rights and privileges were decreed by the king and published by the crown officers in Seville:

"1st. Any one may take provisions and merchandise to San Juan, which is now being settled, and reside there with the same freedom as in la Espanola.

"2d. Any Spaniard may freely go to the Indies—that is, to la Espanola and to San Juan—by simply presenting himself to the officials in Seville, without giving any further information (about himself).

"3d. Any Spaniard may take to the Indies what arms he wishes, notwithstanding the prohibition.

"4th. His Highness abolishes the contribution by the owners of one 'castellano' for every Indian, they possess.

"5th. Those to whom the Admiral grants permission to bring Indians (from other islands) and who used to pay the fifth of their value (to the royal treasurer) shall be allowed to bring them free.

"6th. Indians once given to any person shall never be taken from him, except for delinquencies, punishable by forfeiture of property.

"7th. This disposition reduces the king's share in the produce of the gold-mines from one-fifth and one-ninth to one-fifth and one-tenth, and extends the privilege of working them from one to two years.

"8th. Whosoever wishes to conquer any part of the continent or of the gulf of pearls, may apply to the officials in Seville, who will give him a license, etc."

The construction of a smelting oven for the gold, of hospitals and churches for each new settlement, the making of roads and bridges and other dispositions, wise and good in themselves, were also decreed; but they became new causes of affliction for the Indians, inasmuch as they paid for them with their labor. For example: to the man who undertook to construct and maintain a hospital, 100 Indians were assigned. He hired them out to work in the mines or on the plantations, and with the sums thus received often covered more than the expense of maintaining the hospital.

The curious medley of religious zeal, philanthropy, and gold-hunger, communicated the first governors under the title of "instructions" did not long keep them in doubt as to which of the three—the observance of religious practises, the kind treatment of the natives, or the remittance of gold—was most essential to secure the king's favor. It was not secret that the monarch, in his private instructions, went straight to the point and wasted no words on religious or humanitarian considerations, the proof of which is his letter to Ponce, dated November 11, 1509. "I have seen your letter of August 16th. Be very diligent in searching for gold. Take out as much as you can, and having smolten it in la Espanola, send it at once. Settle the island as best you can. Write often and let Us know what happens and what may be necessary."

It was but natural, therefore, that the royal recommendations of clemency remained a dead letter, and that, under the pressure of the incessant demand for gold, the Indians were reduced to the most abject state of misery.

Until the year 1512 the Indians remained restless and subordinate, and in July, 1513, the efforts of the rulers in Spain to ameliorate their condition were embodied in what are known as the Ordinances of Valladolid.

These ordinances, after enjoining a general kind treatment of the natives, recommend that small pieces of land be assigned to them on which to cultivate corn, yucca, cotton, etc., and raise fowls for their own maintenance. The "encomendero," or master, was to construct four rustic huts for every 50 Indians. They were to be instructed in the doctrines of the Christian religion, the new-born babes were to be baptized, polygamy to be prohibited. They were to attend mass with their masters, who were to teach one young man in every forty to read. The boys who served as pages and domestic servants were to be taught by the friars in the convents, and afterward returned to the estates to teach the others. The men were not to carry excessively heavy loads. Pregnant women were not to work in the mines, nor was it permitted to beat them with sticks or whips under penalty of five gold pesos. They were to be provided with food, clothing, and a hammock. Their "areytos" (dances) were not to be interrupted, and inspectors were to be elected among the Spaniards to see that all these and former dispositions were complied with, and all negligence on the part of the masters severely punished.

The credit for these well-intentioned ordinances undoubtedly belongs to the Dominican friars, who from the earliest days of the conquest had nobly espoused the cause of the Indians and denounced the cruelties committed on them in no measured terms.

Friar Antonia Montesinos, in a sermon preached in la Espanola in 1511, which was attended by Diego Columbus, the crown officers, and all the notabilities, denounced their proceedings with regard to the Indians so vehemently that they left the church deeply offended, and that same day intimated to the bishop the necessity of recantation, else the Order should leave the island. The bishop answered that Montesinos had but expressed the opinion of the whole community; but that, to allay the scandal among the lower class of Spaniards in the island, the father would modify his accusations in the next sermon. When the day arrived the church was crowded, but instead of recantation, the intrepid monk launched out upon fresh animadversion, and ended by saying that he did so in the service not of God only, but of the king.

The officials were furious. Pasamonte, the treasurer, the most heartless destroyer of natives among all the king's officers, wrote, denouncing the Dominicans as rebels, and sent a Franciscan friar to Spain to support his accusation. The king was much offended, and when Montesinos and the prior of his convent arrived in Madrid to contradict Pasamonte's statements, they found the doors of the palace closed against them. Nothing daunted and imbued with the true apostolic spirit, they made their way, without asking permission, to the royal presence, and there advocated the cause of the Indians so eloquently that Ferdinand promised to have the matter investigated immediately. A council of theologians and jurists was appointed to study the matter and hear the evidence on both sides; but they were so long in coming to a decision that Montesinos and his prior lost patience and insisted on a resolution, whereupon they decided that the distributions were legal in virtue of the powers granted by the Holy See to the kings of Castilla, and that, if it was a matter of conscience at all, it was one for the king and his councilors, and not for the officials, who simply obeyed orders. The two Dominicans were ordered to return to la Espanola, and by the example of their virtues and mansuetude stimulate those who might be inclined to act wickedly.

The royal conscience was not satisfied, however, with the sophistry of his councilors, and as a quietus to it, the well-meaning ordinances just cited were enacted. They, too, remained a dead letter, and not even the scathing and persevering denunciations of Las Casas, who continued the good work begun by Montesinos, could obtain any practical improvement in the lot of the Indians until it was too late, and thousands of them had been crushed under the heel of the conqueror.

* * * * *

King Ferdinand's efforts to make Puerto Rico a prosperous colony were rendered futile by the dissensions between the Admiral's and his own partizans and the passions awakened by the favoritism displayed in the distribution of Indians. That the king took a great interest in the colonization of the island is shown by the many ordinances and decrees issued all tending to that end. He gave special licenses to people in Spain and in Santo Domingo to establish themselves in Puerto Rico.[22] In his minute instructions to Ponce and his successors he regulated every branch of the administration, and wrote to Ceron and Diaz: " ...I wish this island well governed and peopled as a special affair of mine." On a single day (February 26, 1511) he made, among others of a purely private character, the following public dispositions: "That the tithes and 'primicias'" [23] should be paid in kind only; that the fifth part of the output of the mines should be paid only during the first ten years; that he ceded to the colony for the term of four years all fines imposed by the courts, to be employed in the construction of roads and bridges; that the traffic between San Juan and la Espanola should be free, and that this island should enjoy the same rights and privileges as the other; that no children or grandchildren of people executed or burned for crimes or heresy should be admitted into the colony, and that an exact account should be sent to him of all the colonists, caciques, and Indians and their distribution.

He occupied himself with the island's affairs with equal interest up to the time of his death, in 1516. He made it a bishopric in 1512. In 1513 he disposed that the colonists were to build houses of adobe, that is, of sun-dried bricks; that all married men should send for their wives, and that useful trees should be planted. In 1514 he prohibited labor contracts, or the purchase or transfer of slaves or Indians "encomendados" (distributed). Finally, in 1515, he provided for the defense of the island against the incursions of the Caribs.

If these measures did not produce the desired result, it was due to the discord among the colonists, created by the system of "repartimientos" introduced in an evil hour by Columbus, a system which was the poisoned source of most of the evils that have afflicted the Antilles.


[Footnote 21: The twelfth part of a "fanega," equal to about two gallons, dry measure.]

[Footnote 22: Cedulas de vecindad.]

[Footnote 23: First-fruits.]




Ceron and Diaz returned to San Juan in November, 1511.

Before their departure from Seville they received sundry marks of royal favor. Among these was permission to Diaz and his wife to wear silken garments, and to transfer to San Juan the 40 Indians they possessed in la Espanola.

We have seen that the first article of the king's instructions to them enjoins the maintenance of friendly relations with Ponce, and in the distribution of Indians to favor those who had distinguished themselves in the suppression of the revolt.

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