I love books that take me to new places, exotic locales or right in my back yard. As I read along, I usually do a little research on the side to get a better feel for the time and place of the book. One topic leads to another which is what happens when I am researching for a book I want to write. This gave me the idea of sharing short blog posts on the history of Puerto Rico and its people in the months leading to the publication of my historical novel, A Decent Woman, which is set in Ponce, Puerto Rico at the turn of the century.
Whether you know Puerto Rico well or have never visited the island, I hope you will enjoy the posts!
The city of Ponce is named for Juan Ponce de León y Loayza, the great-grandson of the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León.
When the first Spaniards landed on the island of Puerto Rico on November 9, 1493, the Taino Indians welcomed them as gods. In 1508, the Taíno chief Cacique Agüeybana, who ruled the region of which Ponce was a part, greeted Juan Ponce de León on his arrival to Puerto Rico, then called Boriken. When gold was discovered, the Taino were forced to work in the mines with African slaves and peace was threatened. After the Chief’s death, his nephew Cacique Agüeybana II ruled and led the 1511 Taíno rebellion against the Spanish invaders and later died of battle wounds. The Taino surrendered to the Spanish soldiers in 1513 and by 1519 the mines were empty. Many Taino died as an epidemic of small pox plagued the island.
During the first years of the colonization, Spanish families started settling south around the Rio Jacaguas, the Jacaguas River, and then these families moved to the banks of the Rio Portugues, then called Baramaya. In 1646, Ponce was referred to by the name ‘Ponce’ and in 1670, a small chapel was raised in the middle of the Spanish settlement dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In 1692, the King of Spain Carlos II issued a Royal Permit converting the chapel into a parish which officially recognized the small shore settlement as a hamlet, and in 1712, Ponce was chartered as El Poblado de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Ponce, the village of Our Lady of Guadalupe of Ponce.
Significant contraband took place on the southern shores of Ponce called Playa de Ponce, as well as attempted attacks and ransacks of the shore village. As a result, a lookout was set up on El Vigia to warn the village of threats in the Ponce harbor.
The Haitian Revolution during 1792-1804 significantly changed the size of the village of Ponce. Large numbers of French citizens fled Haiti to Puerto Rico, attracted to the area because of its flat lands, and brought with them enough capital, slaves and commercial connections to stimulate Ponce’s sugar cane production and sales.
The 1815 Spanish Royal Decree of Graces attracted and encouraged immigrants from European countries friendly to Spain to settle in Puerto Rico as long as they converted to Catholicism and agreed to work in agriculture. As with such mass migrations, the town and the character of its population changed. Landlords and merchants migrated to the island from various Latin American countries following economic decline and revolutions in these nations as they gained independence from Spain. Protestants began to migrate to Puerto Rico from many nations.
In 1882, following trends in Europe and elsewhere, the Ponce Fair was held in the city. It was meant to share the advancements of of Ponce agriculture, trade, industry and the arts, and on the first day, the electric grid of the city was inaugurated. Many Ponce homes, the Plaza Las Delicias, the Ponce Casino, and various buildings were illuminated by the incandescent light bulb for the first time.
I will share more snippets of the history of Ponce, specifically the Playa de Ponce, next week.
Thank you for joining me!
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