Dominican Republic History: 1492-1821 In April 1492, Cristobal Colon’s (the Spanish name for the explorer known as Christopher Columbus in English) conditions for the exploration of trade routes to India were accepted by the Spanish monarchs, King Fernando and Queen Isabel (Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile). Columbus was given the titles of Viceroy, Admiral and Governor of the lands to be discovered, as well as 10% of the wealth obtained. Shortly after, in August 1492, Columbus left the port of Palos, Spain in search of a new trade route to India.

After four months of aimless sailing across the Atlantic, Columbus finally had hope of making his voyage a success. Their first sighting of land was on 12th October, one of the islands of what is now the Bahamas. Columbus named it San Salvador, and then went on to explore Cuba. In December 1492, Columbus and his three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria landed on an island called Haiti/Quisqueya (the original Taino names for Hispaniola). This event, and the ensuing encounter with the island’s indigenous population, was to set off a chain of events that would affect world history for the next 500 years.

Though the “conversion of the savage peoples” was the justification for Columbus’s voyages and his eventual treatment of the Taino, his ultimate goal was to find gold and spices that he could claim for the Spanish crown.

Following his initial meeting with the indigenous tribe that lived on Hispaniola, the Taino Indians, Columbus proceeded to claim the island for the Spanish crown. December 12 marked the founding of a temporary settlement called La Concepcion, and it was during these first moments on the island that Columbus met the Taino Chieftain Guacanagari, who was to help Columbus in his endeavors.

After exploring the island and meeting the Taino chieftains of Hispaniola, Columbus decided to head back to Spain, taking back samples that reflected life in the New World. Along with items like tobacco, pineapples, hammocks and peppers, which the Taino called aji; Columbus also took a group of Taino Indians and put them on display for the royal Spanish court, as a symbol of his voyage.

As Columbus departed for Spain in January of 1493, he left behind a group of 39 men who would eventually found the first settlement on Hispaniola, called La Navidad. La Navidad was built using the shipwrecked Santa Maria, which had sunk off the north coast, as Columbus returned to Spain.

Columbus would make three more trips to Hispaniola before his death. Each trip was spent on preparing the island for a full Spanish conquest. On November 2, 1493 Columbus arrived back on his second trip leading 1,500 people in 17 ships to begin the conquest of the Indies and the mainland.

When Columbus returned in November 1493 he was surprised to learn that the settlement he had left behind was no longer. Some of the 39 men had clashed with the Taino Indians, and were killed. Other crewmembers had become sick, unable to cope with the harsh environment of the Caribbean.

As the underlying justification for the conquest of the New World, religion became an important practice in the Spanish colonies, and on January 6, 1494 the first mass in the New World was officiated in an improvised chapel.

As time progressed, small settlements were founded across the island, and the heart of the Spanish conquest in the New World, Hispaniola, began to develop accordingly. In April 1493 a settlement on the northern coast called La Isabela was founded in what is now the province of Puerto Plata, and in 1494 Concepcion de la Vega was founded.
On March 13, 1494 Columbus opened the first road in the New World called Paseo de los Hidalgos, and construction of the Fort of Santo Tomas began around the Janico River, in what is now Santiago province.

In 1496 Bartolome Colon (Bartholomew, Columbus’s brother) settled Nueva Isabela on the eastern side of the Ozama River on the south coast of the island, but in 1498 a hurricane and subsequent earthquakes destroyed the settlement. This event, though minor, would come to represent the bad luck that was to plague the Spanish settlement on Hispaniola. On the heels of the destruction of Nueva Isabela, Bartolome Colon founded the city of Santo Domingo on the western side of the Ozama River, on August 5, 1498.

As development of all new settlements continued at a rapid pace, it was the labor of the indigenous population that built Hispaniola, but at a cost. By 1501 the Spanish crown declared that the natives should not be mistreated, and in 1502 Nicolas de Ovando, the new governor of Hispaniola, and Bartolome de las Casas, defender of the natives and 'Cronista de Indias' (chronicler of the Indies) arrived on Hispaniola.

The paradise that Columbus had come across on his first voyage of 1492 was not to last. The Taino population on the island was quickly decimated by the new presence of European diseases, like smallpox, which they had no protection from. On subsequent voyages, in order to gain more funding for his travels, and under pressure to pay off the creditors who had funded his previous voyages, Columbus introduced a slave system, which can only be described as brutal. A tribute system was implemented in which the Taino Indians had to fill a gold quota, and if the quota wasn’t filled they were punished by having their hands chopped off. More extreme measures included killing the Indians if they didn’t fill the quota.

The Taino population quickly dwindled, leading to one of the most significant events in New World history. In 1502, at the insistence of Bartolome de las Casas, who would later recant his statements, the first set of African slaves was brought from the West Coast of Africa, marking the start of the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Though African slaves were going to supplement the need for labor, it didn’t change the fate of the indigenous Indians. In December 1511, Fray Anton de Montesinos cried out his famous sermon in defense of the natives, but this was all in vain, as history began to take its course.

By 1512, 20 years after the Spanish had landed on Hispaniola, the Taino population had shrunk to an estimated 60,000 natives. By 1517 the native population was down to 11,000 and by 1518, after a measles outbreak, the native population was down to 8,000. The final straw would come in 1542, 30 years after the first contact; the population was reduced to under 5,000 native inhabitants, a decline of almost 98% of the indigenous population.

As fewer and fewer indigenous communities remained, war was the only survival option for the remaining natives. Beginning in 1519, Enriquillo, a Taino convert to Christianity who had been mentored by Bartolome de las Casas, led what became a 15-year war against the Spaniards, in the hope of freeing his people and expelling the Spaniards. By 1534 the Spaniards gave in to Enriquillo’s demands, but this would be the last Indian revolt on Hispaniola.

1503 marked the building of San Nicolas de Bari, the first hospital in the New World. In 1505, in order to curb the threat of buccaneers and pirates, Fortaleza Ozama (the first military fort in the New World) was begun, and completed by 1507. The development of the settlements in the New World was marked by some great achievements. In the year 1510 construction of the Alcazar (palace) was begun, and finished in 1512. In 1523 the construction of the Metropolitan Cathedral was begun in Santo Domingo, and 1538 marked the founding of the first university of the New World, by decree of a papal bull. Santo Tomas de Aquino was founded accordingly, later to become La Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo, or La UASD.

Though there were magnificent successes on Hispaniola, the continued presence of the Spanish on the island was marked by devastating events and tremendous bad luck. In 1537 French corsairs attacked and burned the village of Azua, leading to the decision to construct the Santo Domingo city walls in 1541, to protect it from pirates and corsairs. By 1562 slavery became a large part of the colony’s economic needs. Corsair John Hawkins was one of the larger human traders, selling many shiploads of slaves in Puerto Plata.

In 1586 Francis Drake invaded and burned Santo Domingo, and a 1591earthquake damaged Santo Domingo, leaving the city in ruins. By 1605 the north and western parts of the island had become totally unpopulated, and this continued through most of the island. By 1606 San Juan de la Maguana and Neiba (in the south) had also become unpopulated.

By the late 17th century the Spanish settlement on Hispaniola had become increasingly unprofitable, unstable, and was consequently neglected by the Spanish. Slave labor had become a central part of life, as slaves easily outnumbered the Spanish, and sugar production was the main export from Hispaniola, but it wasn’t enough for the Spanish Crown to recoup on their investment. Coupled with the fact that gold had be found in what is now Central America and Mexico, and that the Spanish crown was bankrupt, the importance of Hispaniola as the Spanish jewel in the New World quickly diminished.

By 1668, without much opposition from the Spanish, the French began their occupation of the western side of Hispaniola, or what is now Haiti, and in 1697 the Ryswick peace agreement legalized the French occupation of western Hispaniola.

The late 18th century was marked by uncertainty and uprisings. Hispaniola changed hands between different colonial powers several times, and instability would come to define this period in the country’s history.

Though Hispaniola had been neglected by Spain, and become a shadow of its successful past, Haiti blossomed in the 18th century, and this affected the eastern side of Hispaniola directly. Slavery was eventually abolished in 1793, and a growing collective of white, black and mulatto soldiers led by a former slave, Toussaint Louverture, was to define the course of history for all of Hispaniola.

The Treaty of Basil was signed in July 1795, and the British began to occupy Spanish territories, forcing a massive exodus of well-to-do citizens from Santo Domingo, but the British were eventually expelled from Hispaniola in April 1798, with the help of Toussaint Louverture.

In 1800 the Haitian revolutionary Louverture used his forces against the Spanish, and in January 1801 he unified all of Hispaniola as one island. In January 1802 the French invaded Hispaniola, looking to quell the violence and return the colony to its status as an economic goldmine. Louverture, however, was taken prisoner by the French in 1802. Regardless of this, on January 1, 1804 Haiti, under the leadership of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declared its independence, and in the following year invaded the Spanish side of Hispaniola.

In 1821 the once vibrant and economic powerhouse known as the Colony of Santo Domingo began its fight for what is known as the Ephemeral Independence, but this was not to last. In 1822 the newly independent Haitians were fearful that the French would use the eastern portion of the island to mount an attack on Haiti and re-establish slavery. Under the leadership of Jean Pierre Boyer, the Haitians invaded the eastern side of Hispaniola, outlawed slavery, and once again unified the island until the fight for independence in 1844.
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