A Brief History of Puerto Rico


On November 19, 1493 Christopher Columbus discovered the island in his second voyage to the New World. He named the island San Juan Bautista. He found the island populated by Taíno or Arawak Indians. The Taínos were peaceful and they welcomed the conquistadores and shared their homes and food and gave the Spaniards many gifts. Columbus thought this island to be very beautiful.

Juan Ponce de León colonized Borinquen in 1508 and became its first governor. The Spaniard conquistadores were looking for gold. They made slaves of the Indians gradually killing them from overwork. Soon, African families were brought to the island as slaves. The island remained economically undeveloped until 1830, when sugarcane and other plantation were developed. Many families from Spain and European nations moved to the island, slowly marrying Taíno Indians, forming a new ethnic group called Criollos.

When Puerto Ricans started to push for independence, Spain granted the island powers of self-government in 1897. But during the Spanish-American War of 1898 American troops invaded the island and Spain surrendered to the U.S. Since then, Puerto Rico has remained a U.S. territory. Its people were granted American citizenship under the Jones Act in 1917; were allowed to vote for their own governor, beginning in 1948; and now fully manage their internal affairs under a constitution. In 1952 Puerto Rico’s Constitution established self government. In 1954 Puerto Rican nationalists carried out an armed attack in the US Congress but over the years the people of Puerto Rico have voted to retain Commonwealth status.