Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Porto Rico

PORTO RICO (Span., Puerto Rico), one of the Spanish West India Islands, lies 70 miles east of Hayti between 17° 50' and 18° 30' N. lat. and 65° 35' and 67° 10' W. long. It forms an irregular parallelogram, 108 miles long and 37 broad, and has an area of 3530 square miles, or rather less than that of Jamaica. From east to west it is traversed by a range of hills so situated that the streams flowing northward are much longer than those flowing south. The highest district, however, and the highest peak—El Yunque (3600 feet)—are situated in the Sierra de Loquillo near the north-east corner. As the hills intercept the north-east trade-winds with their rain-clouds there is sometimes almost a superabundance of moisture in the northern lowlands, while in the south severe droughts occur and the land demands artificial irrigation, as yet carried out with too little co-operation and system. The island is, however, exceptionally well watered, 1300 streams being enumerated, of which forty-seven are considerable rivers; and its general appearance is very beautiful. Forests still cover all the higher parts of the hills, and differ from those of the other West Indian Islands mainly in the comparative absence of epiphytes. Among the noteworthy trees Baron Eggers (see Nature, 6th December 1883) mentions the Coccoloba macrophylla, or “ortegon” of the natives, which forms extensive woods in some places, chiefly near the coast, and is conspicuous by its immense yard-long purple spikes; a beautiful Talauma, with white odorous flowers, and yielding a timber called “sabino”; an unknown tree with purple flowers like those of Scævola Plumieri; a large Heliconia, and several tree-ferns (Cyathea Serra and an Alsophila). Besides the two staples—sugar and coffee—tobacco, cotton, rice, maize, Caladium esculentum, yams, and plantains, as well as oranges, cocoa-nuts, and other tropical fruits, are commonly cultivated. The rice, which is the principal food of the labourers, is a mountain variety grown without flooding. On the lowland pastures, covered mainly with Hymenachne striatum, large herds of excellent cattle are reared to supply butcher-meat for St Thomas, the French islands, &c. In general Porto Rico may be described as extremely fertile, and its exports more than double in value those of Jamaica. In 1883 the principal items were—sugar and molasses, 78,482 tons, valued at £1,036,595; coffee, 16,801 tons, at £955,948; honey, 30,378 tons, at £148,148; and tobacco, 1730 tons, at £114,614. Of the tobacco a large proportion is sent to Havana to be manufactured into cigars. The total value of exports and imports has increased from £2,219,870 in 1850 to £5,118,712 in 1883. The great want of the island is still roads and bridges, though the Government has done good work in this department in recent years; the journey across the hills can only be performed on horseback, and even along the coast-route wheeled traffic is at times interrupted. Gold, iron, copper, coal, and salt are all found in Porto Rico, but the last alone is worked.

Map of Puerto Rico, from 1885.jpg

Porto Rico.

The island, which was declared a province of Spain in 1870, is divided into the following seven departments:—Bayamon, near the north-east end of the island (containing the capital, San Juan Bautista, and Toa-Alta, Toa-Baja, Naranjito, Yega-Alta, &c.), Arecibo (Arecibo, Hatillo, Camuy, Quebradillas, &c.), Aguadilla (Aguadilla, Moca, Aguada Lares or San Sebastian), Mayaguez (Mayaguez, Añaico, San German), Ponce (Ponce, Gnayanilla, Peñuelas, Coamo), Humacao (Humacao, Naguabo, Luquillo), Guayama (Hato-Grande, Gurabo, &c.). And the island of Viequez (with the town of Isabel Segunda) is attached as an eighth department, and used as a military penal station. The total population of Porto Rico was not more than 319,000 in 1830; by 1860 it reached 583,308; and by 1880 754,313. At this last date 429,473 (219,418 males and 210,055 females) were white and 324,840 (162,352 males and 162,488 females) coloured. There is still plenty of room for further expansion. Among the people of European origin are Spaniards, Germans, Swedes, Danes, Russians, Frenchmen, Chuetas or descendants of Moorish Jews from Majorca, and natives of the Canary Islands. There are also a number of Chinese. The Gibaros or small landholders and day-labourers of the country districts are a curious old Spanish stock largely modified by Indian blood. Till 1856 it was believed that no trace of the original inhabitants of the island remained; archeological collections, however, have since been made and are now preserved in the Smithsonian Institution, the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, and elsewhere. They comprise stone axes, spear-heads, and knives, stone and clay images, and fragments of earthenware. At Gurabo, on the banks of the Rio Grande de Loiza, there is a curious rude stone monument, on the upper surface of which appear several strange designs (see L. Krug, “Ind. Alterth. in Porto Rico,” in Z. für Ethn., Berlin, 1876).

Principal Towns.—San Juan Bautista or St John's (24,000 inhabitants in town and district), the capital, lies in 18° 29' N. and 66° 7' W. on the north coast, on a small island (Morro) connected with the mainland by bridges. It is a place of some strength and contains a governor's palace in the old fort of Santa Catalina, a palace erected by Ponce de Leon, a cathedral, a town-house, a theatre, &c. The harbour is one of the best in the West Indies, having a comparatively unobstructed entrance, and along the wharves a depth

at low water of 10 to 13 feet, and at high water 11½ to 14½. Ponce (38,000 inhabitants in town and district) lies about 3 miles inland from the south coast. Its public buildings are frequently of brick or stone, but the private houses are of wood. It contains a town-hall (situated, like the principal church, in the main square), a public hospital (1875), and an English Episcopal church, and it is lighted with gas by an English company. Mayaguez (27,000 inhabitants in town and district), on the west coast, is also situated several miles inland, and is separated from its port by a river. An iron bridge, however, was constructed about 1875-76. The town has military barracks, clubs, and gasworks. The harbour, accessible only to vessels drawing less than 16 feet, is silting up, as indeed is the case with almost all the harbours of Porto Rico. Other towns are Guayama on the south coast, with its harbour at Arroya, and San Carlos de Aguadilla on the west coast. The seaports are St John's, Ponce, Mayaguez, Naguabo, Fajardo, Aguadilla, and Viequez.

History.—Porto Rico, the Borinquen of the aborigines, was discovered by Columbus in November 1493. In 1510 Ponce de Leon founded the town of Caparra, soon after abandoned, and now known as Puerto Viejo, and in 1511, with more success, the city of San Juan Bautista. The native inhabitants—probably not very numerous, though, with their usual exaggeration, old chroniclers rate them at 600,000 were soon subdued and swept away.[1] In 1595 the capital was sacked by Drake, and in 1598 by the duke of Cumberland. In 1615 Baldwin Heinrich, a Dutchman, lost his life in an attack on the Castello del Mono. The attempt of the English in 1678 was equally unsuccessful, and Abercromby in 1797 had to retire after a three days siege. In 1820 a movement was made towards a declaration of independence on the part of the Porto Ricans, but Spanish supremacy was completely re-established by 1823. The last traces of slavery were abolished in 1873 by the abrogation of the system of forced labour.

See Antonio de Herrera, “Descripcion de la isla de Puerto Rico, 1582,” in Boletin de la Soc. Geogr. de Madrid, 1876; Bello y Espinosa, “Geschichtl., geogr., und stat. Bemerk. über Puerto Rico,” in Zeitschr. für Ethnologie, 1872; Inigo Abbad, Historia . . . de la Isla de S. J. B. de Puerto Rico, Madrid, 1788, republished by José Julian Acosta of Porto Rico.

  1. A detailed account of their manners, translated from Abbad by Mr Bidwell, will be found in the Consular Reports, 1880.