History of Puerto Rico

The ancient history of Puerto Rico begins with the ancient Amerindians that first made the island their home. The migration of the nomadic Arawak peoples in 300 AD from present day Venezuela began the next chapter in Puerto Rico history, before they were either replaced or adapted to include the first longstanding group of people to live on Puerto Rico: the Taino Indians. While the Taino called many different islands of the Caribbean their home, they flourished on the islands of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola (the current home of the Dominican Republic and Haiti), numbering around 250,000 on Puerto Rico alone. They had been native to the region for hundreds of years when, in 1493, Puerto Rican history took its most drastic turn. It was the year the Tainos would see their first white man.

History of Puerto Rico
History of Puerto Rico

Colonized and enslaved by Spanish settlers, by 1508 the island was entirely under Spanish occupation, and Ponce De Leon was named the first governor of Puerto Rico. At this time in Puerto Rico history, the island was known as San Juan Bautista (the name was retained for the capital city), named by none other than Christopher Columbus. The Tainos were unable to endure the harsh conditions of slavery, and the European diseases brought across the Atlantic wreaked havoc with their immune systems - before long they were quickly replaced by slaves shipped over from Africa.

Before long, Puerto Rico was the stronghold of the Spanish Empire in the Caribbean Sea. It was then that the many fortresses on the island sprung to life, most notably El Morro along the shores of Old San Juan. Puerto Rican history saw its share of warfare, as the fort repelled numerous invasion attempts by the Dutch, French, British - even marauding pirates.

The Spanish would rule the island for hundreds of years - as the Tainos gradually disappeared and revolutions were snuffed out, Spain never wavered in its authority. That is, until 1897, when political pressure forced the European nation to grant Puerto Rico (and Cuba) autonomy. But this freedom would only last a tiny fraction of Puerto Rican history.

The Spanish-American War began in 1898 and ended with the Puerto Ricans finding themselves under U.S. martial law. The history of Puerto Rico would now take another significant turn, as the island gradually garnered more and more autonomous power. First, they were allowed to elect their own House of Representatives (though they wouldn't be allowed to elect their own governor until 1948), and then given full U.S. citizenship. Harry S. Truman finally made the island an official commonwealth of the United States, and Puerto Rico history began to shape into what we see now. Though the political status of Puerto Rico remains a debate topic across the island, it seems like the title of commonwealth is a slightly more popular option. Politicians hoping to make Puerto Rico the 51st state continue to make their voice heard, as well as those seeking complete independence.

Top image: dameetch (flickr)
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