Christopher Columbus went ashore on an island in the Caribbean today in 1493 during his second voyage. He named the island San Juan Bautista in honor of John the Baptist, and is now known as Puerto Rico. Now WE know em


When Christopher Columbus arrived in Puerto Rico during his second voyage on November 19, 1493, the island was inhabited by the Taíno.

The Taíno called it Borikén (Borinquen in Spanish transliteration).

Columbus named the island San Juan Bautista, in honor of the Catholic saint, John the Baptist.

Juan Ponce de León, a lieutenant under Columbus, founded the first Spanish settlement, Caparra, on August 8, 1508. He later served as the first governor of the island.

Eventually, traders and other maritime visitors came to refer to the entire island as Puerto Rico (Spanish for “rich port”), and San Juan became the name of the main trading/shipping port.

Then in the beginning of the 16th century, the Spaniards began to colonize Puerto Rico and forced the native Taíno into forced labor.

The Taíno soon suffered from epidemics of infectious disease, to which they had no natural immunity. For example, a smallpox outbreak in 1518–1519 killed most of the Island’s indigenous population.

In 1520, King Charles I of Spain issued a royal decree collectively emancipating the remaining Taíno population.

However, by that time, the Taíno people were few in number.

As a result, the Spanish began to import slaves from sub-Saharan Africa to have sufficient slave labor to develop agriculture and settlements.

African slaves were used primarily in the coastal ports and cities where the island’s population was concentrated. The interior of the island continued to be essentially unexplored and undeveloped.


During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Spain concentrated its colonial efforts on the more prosperous mainland North, Central, and South American colonies.

The island of Puerto Rico was left virtually unexplored, undeveloped, and (excepting coastal outposts) largely unsettled before the 19th century.

As independence movements in the larger Spanish colonies gained success, Spain began to pay attention to Puerto Rico as one of its last remaining maritime colonies for some 400 years.

Then in 1898, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, as well as the Philippines, to the United States as a result of its defeat in the Spanish–American War under the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1898.

In 1917, the United States granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans.

In 1952 the Constitution of Puerto Rico was adopted and ratified by the electorate.

The island’s current political status, including the possibility of statehood or independence, is widely debated in Puerto Rico.

51st State?

In November 2012, a non-binding referendum resulted in 54 percent of respondents voting to reject the current status under the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Among respondents to a second question about alternatives, 61 percent voted for statehood as the preferred alternative to the current territorial status.

Now WE know em



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