South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth




Porto Rico

"Porto Rico," says an old writer, "is one of the coolest and healthiest parts of the West Indies." It is also one of the most populous islands of the Spanish Main. The larger part of the inhabitants are creoles. This new possession of the United States is likely to become one of the sea-gardens for the people of North America.

It is an island of beauty. One of the most interesting and suggestive of American legends is associated with the ruined palace of Ponce de Leon, which is still to be seen at San Juan. This poet-mariner and companion of Columbus had heard of Bimini, a fabled island in the new Spanish Main, which contained a fountain of magical influence, the waters of which would cause one to live in perpetual youth. He was growing old, and went in search of this fountain in the sunny waters. He found Florida. He was made governor of Porto Rico, and built a palace there.

The island is rectangular in shape. It is about a hundred miles long and fifty wide, traversed by a range of mountains, one peak of which rises 3670 feet above the sea. It is nature's own land of sugar, coffee, tobacco and tropical fruits. The cattle and sheep raised there are said to be superior. The island is comparatively free from noxious vermin.

The people of Porto Rico caught the spirit of Simon Bolivar, and, in 1820, made all attempt to throw off the Spanish yoke, and to follow the example of the South American patriots. The republican movement was crushed in 1823. Spanish supremacy was reestablished more rigidly than before. Slavery was abolished in 1873, and also the mita.

In 1870 Porto Rico was made a province of Spain, and was allowed a representative government.

The climate has two seasons, the wet and the dry. The dry months are healthful, and are the time when the foreign visitor may live there without danger from malarious fevers. They begin with November and end in April. The mean heat in summer is about 80; in winter about 70.

The hills of palms abound with coffee-plantations, the valleys with sugar-farms and fruit-orchards, and the pastures are famous for succulent grasses.

The island has 470 miles of telegraph lines and 137 miles of railway. San Juan is the capital. Its harbor has an entrance 2000 feet wide, and is overlooked by a Morro or Moorish castle. The city is built on a coral reef. It is connected with the mainland by a picturesque bridge.

The population of the island in 1887 was 798,565. Of these 474,923 were white. The population of San Juan is 26,000; that of Ponce is about 15,000.

The Porto Ricans hailed with rejoicing the coming of the American flag of liberation. 'the island became a part of the republic of the United States on August 12, 1898, at the time of signing the famous protocol. By so doing the hopes of the patriots of 1820, with which they had been inspired by the victorious march of Bolivar, have been happily realized.