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Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico Essay, Research Paper

The Caribbean before the landing of Columbus served almost as a bridge

between the north coast of South America and Florida for the Amazonian

tribes in the south and the north american inhabitants. When Christopher

Columbus on his second trip in 1493 landed in Puerto Rico and claimed it for

Spain, he found the island populated by as many as 60,000 Arawak or Taino

indians, which for the most part, were friendly compared to the Carib indians in

some of the more southerly islands which were warlike and to some degree

cannibalistic.

The conquest of the island didn’t take long, and the peaceful Tainos were put

to the task as slaves for the purpose of mining the gold that was found on the

island. The gold didn’t last long and in 1511 there was an uprising of the

Tainos, who up to this point had believed that the Spaniards were Gods, and

took a soldier by the name of Sotomayor and dunked him head first in a river

for several hours to see if he would die. Just in case, they had prepared a feast

for the Spaniard if he came out alive. However, it wasn’t the Spanish sword

that took most of the lives of the Arawaks, but the diseases that were brought

from Europe and for which the indians had no defenses.

In 1508 the first governor arrived, Juan Ponce de Le?n (who is more famous

as the searcher for the fountain of youth and discoveror of the state of Florida).

The island remained Spanish despite harassment and numerous conquest

attempts by buccaneers and pirates and English and Dutch expeditions. To

defend the island against these threats, two forts, El Morro and San

Crist?bal,were built to guard the approaches to San Juan harbor. Defense of

these forts foiled attempts by Sir Francis Drake in 1595, by another English

fleet in 1598, and by the Dutch in 1625 to capture Puerto Rico for their

respective empires. The defeat of the British in 1797 finally thwarted that

country’s designs on the island, and the Spanish colony was kept intact.

During the 16th to the 19th century Puerto Rico was characterized primarily by

underpopulation, poverty and neglect by Spain. It was mainly a garrison for the

ships that would pass on their way to or from the other and richer colonies.

During this time as much as 10 or 11 years would pass between the arrival of

ships from Spain and as trade with other countries was prohibited, the island

reverted to contraband trading with ships from England, Netherlands or

whomever would trade for the main produce of the island, which at that time

was ginger. This peasant agriculture continued until the early 19th century,

when Spanish law was changed to allow unrestricted trade with the neighbors.

The 19th century in Puerto Rico was characterized by a series of strict if not

brutal military governors which stifled the independence movements in Puerto

Rico that were shaking the foundations of its other American colonies. Slavery

and the importation of slaves reached its peak, with the need for workers on

the sugar and coffee plantations. Slavery, however, never reached the alarming

proportions of freemen to slaves as it did on the other colonies or even on

parts of the United States. While in Haiti in 1789 the slaves comprised 90% of

the population and in Jamaica 85%, in Puerto Rico in 1834 the census

established that 11% of the population were slaves, 35% were colored

freemen and 54% were white. It was only until 1873, however, that slavery

was finally abolished in Puerto Rico.

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