of Puerto Rico
Christopher Columbus bumped into Puerto Rico on his second voyage to the new world. He sailed along the Caribbean Sea on the islands southern coast and went ashore on November 19, 1493 somewhere on the western shore. He and his men rested for a few days to supply themselves with fresh drinking water, fruit and fish. The island was named San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist). After this brief stay, Columbus sailed the Mona Passage west in search of other lands. The island was left unvisited by the Europeans for 15 years.
On August 12, 1508 Juan Ponce
de Leon, a soldier who had traveled with Columbus
in 1493, invaded Puerto Rico with a small army of
soldiers and became Puerto Rico's first governor. The
first town established was Caparra, located near the south shore of
what is today the San Juan Bay.
The Taino aborigines (about 30,000) who lived on the island, lived in small tribes. They were not physically prepared to resist the Spaniards goal to conquer the island. Their primitive weapons were no match for the Spanish swords and powerful fire arms. The Tainos were turned into slaves and used to do mining work.
Soon, organized by the great and most important Taino leader, Agueybana, the Tainos rebelled and began to launch bloody raids against the isolated Spanish settlements. Unfortunately when the aborigines had their direct confrontation with Ponce de Leon's forces, Agueybana was shot dead. Some Tainos fled deep into the island's mountains and forest, others canoed to nearby islands. After this the Taino resistance was limited to very few attacks. Many of the enslaved Tainos killed their young ones and committed suicide. The lack of slave labor prompted Ponce de Leon to go after the Tainos on land and sea.
By 1514 there were less than 4,000 Tainos left. Agriculture was beginning to take a bigger role in the islands economy and African slaves were introduced. In 1519 the smallpox epidemic (said to be brought to the island from Africa) killed many Spaniards and Tainos.
Ponce de Leon set eyes on Florida (North America) on one of his exploratory voyages from Caparra. In 1521, while in Florida, Ponce de Leon was wounded by an Aborigine's arrow and died of gangrene at the age of 47. Ponce de Leon's remains rest beneath a marble slab in the San Juan Cathedral, in Old San Juan.
The Caparra settlement was then moved across the bay to a more breezy site overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, what is today known as Old San Juan. The coming years were also filled with attacks by the feared Caribe aborigines who were known to be cannibals. They not only attacked the far shore of San Juan but also the village of San German, in the southwest part of the island.
In time, as mining resources became more scarce, cultivating sugar cane became the most important economical activity. The climate was ideal and African slaves labor was cheap. By now the Spanish had built a rich empire in the new world. Convoys of ships loaded with silver, pearls, and all kinds of treasures from the new world sailed the Caribbean Sea and were often attacked by French, English and Dutch pirates. To avoid that enemies take the island of Puerto Rico and use it as a base from which to attack the treasure fleets, Spain authorized the fortification of San Juan. The construction of El Morro de San Felipe Castle began in 1539. Other small forts were also built. In 1595 El Morro was attacked by Sir Francis Drake and his fleet. Fortunately for the Spaniards El Morro proved itself worthy for battle and the enemy was repelled. George Clifford, the count of Cumberland along side his large fleet took the city but they couldn't take El Morro. After suffering of exhaustion in the sun they were forced to leave. The Dutch also attacked Puerto Rico twenty seven years later under General Boudewin Hendricksz. They sieged San Juan and burnt down a great part of the city. Not being able to take El Morro, they also left. Finally the city was completely encircled with a 50 foot wall and the San Cristobal castle was constructed to protect the eastern part of the city.
Part of the wall was demolished later on in the twentieth century.Today the cobble stones streets, interior patios, hanging balconies, plazas, and chapels make of this historic city a charming and picturesque place to visit.
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