The Spaniards Arrive

After first discovering the "Indies" in 1492, Christopher Columbus was named "Admiral of the Ocean Sea" by Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and outfitted with 17 ships for a second voyage. He set sail on September 25,1493 from Cádiz in southwestern Spain, with more than 1,200 sailors, soldiers and settlers eager for gold and riches in the unknown lands. After about two months spent crossing the Atlantic and island-hopping along the Lesser Antilles, the Spanish fleet moored in a bay off western Puerto Rico on November 19. It is unclear exactly where Columbus and his men (and they were all men) set foot the next morning. Several towns claim the honor, but it was probably a beach at either Boquerón or south of Aguadilla. They stayed just long enough to replenish their drinking water, take a quick peek around and name the island San Juan Bautista (John the Baptist, a favorite saint of Columbus'), before moving on to the neighboring island of Hispaniola, which would become the seat of Spanish colonial government for centuries to come.

Puerto Rico was practically ignored for 15 years after its discovery, until a lieutenant of Columbus named Juan Ponce de León, frustrated by poverty in Hispaniola, was granted permission to found the first European settlement in Puerto Rico. Why he chose an inhospitable swampy area in Guaynabo, which he called Caparra, is anyone's guess. Life for the first settlers was hellish. Beset by mosquitoes and food shortages, they tried unsuccessfully at first to convince Taino natives to grow food and mine gold for them. An edict from Queen Isabella ordered colonists to force Indians into labor, without enslaving them or resorting to cruelty. This was impossible, of course. As the number of colonists grew, however, so did the need for Indian labor and the level of brutality used against them. For several years, the Tainos grew increasingly unhappy with the god-like, clothed invaders, who beat or killed them if they resisted work and stole their women to serve as mistresses and wives. But by the time they realized that the Spaniards were mortal, it was too late. A few Taino chiefs banded together with a small group of Caribs and rose up against the Spanish in 1511, but were crushed by the better-armed adversaries during several battles. According to at least one historical account, Ponce de León, Puerto Rico's first governor, ordered his men to shoot 6,000 Indian survi-

vors of the confrontation. Most Indians who were not killed or captured fled to remote mountain areas or nearby islands. This produced a new labor shortage, and in 1513 the local government began to import African slaves to do the backbreaking labor necessary to establish the colony. For protection from future attacks, the settlement of Caparra was moved to a peninsula in the San Juan bay (now Old San Juan), which they called Puerto Rico (meaning "rich port").

DID YOU KNOW! The island of Puerto Rico was originally called San Juan, and the city of San Juan was called Puerto Rico. A confused Spanish mapmaker switched them by mistake in 1521, and the names stuck.

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