History, European Conquest and Settlement
Mona Passage, Italian explorer, Spanish settlement, Spanish settlers, European diseases
Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer in the employment of Spain, landed on Puerto Rico in 1493 and claimed it for Spain. He named the island San Juan Bautista. However, Columbus quickly left the island and went to the adjacent island of Hispaniola. San Juan Bautista remained unsettled by Europeans until 1508, when Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon colonized it. He became the islandís first Spanish governor in 1510. His primary responsibility was to defend the Spanish settlement on Hispaniola by protecting the Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico (as San Juan Bautista became known). The Mona Passage was the principal gateway to the Caribbean, and the main sea routes to the Spanish possessions in the Caribbean and Central and South America passed through its waters.
When Spanish settlers arrived in 1508, about 30,000 Tainos lived on the island. However, the number of Tainos quickly decreased. They died because of lack of resistance to European diseases and mistreatment by the Spanish; they also fled to escape the colonists. In 1511 the Tainos, who had been forcibly put to work as laborers, revolted, but the Spanish quickly subdued them. Some Tainos were assimilated through intermarriage with Spaniards. By 1550 fewer than 100 Tainos of pure blood remained, but these, too, soon perished. In 1513 Spain authorized the importation of African slaves to Puerto Rico.
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