Juan Ponce de Leon • Former lieutenant under Columbus. • Was governor of the Hispaniolan province of Higüey. • Heard rumors regarding the wealth of gold on Buriquen. • On June 15, 1508, Nicolas de Ovando, the Viceroy of Hispaniola, granted Ponce de Leon the privilege to explore and subjugate the island of San Juan Bautista.
The Conquest • August 8, 1508, Ponce de Leon founded Caparra, the first European settlement in Puerto Rico (not far from modern city of San Juan). • The Taino Cacique (chief) openly greeted Ponce de Leon.
However, conflicts soon arose after the settlers began subjugating (to bring under complete control) the Taino. • Within a year, Ponce de Leon had subdued a majority of the native population and gained control over most of the island. • As a result of his success, Ponce de Leon was named Governor and Captain-General of Puerto Rico in 1509. • Caparrawas abandoned and the settlement relocated to a nearby coastal islet, named Puerto Rico (Rich Port).
Sometime during the 1520s, the island took the name Puerto Rico and the port (Puerto Rico) became San Juan.
After the Conquest • The Spaniards established the Encomienda system, in which the native population were forced to work under the settlers. • In Puerto Rico, the Taino primarily worked in the gold mines. • As early as 1511, Fray Antonio de Montesinos advocated for the abolishment of forced servitude and inhumane treatment of the Taino in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.
After the Conquest • Although he and Bartolome de Las Casas were eventually successful in influencing the Spanish crown, the high death rate among the Taino due to enslavement and European diseases (small pox, influenza, measles, and typhus) persisted. • By 1520, the Taino presence had almost vanished. • As part of the colonization process, African slaves were introduced to the island in 1513 and institutional slavery would not be abolished until 1873. • By 1540 the gold reserves on the island were nearly exhausted.
Some scholar believe that between 1494 and 1508, 3 million native Tainos may have died on Hispaniola alone. • As a result of so many people dying so quickly, many elements of what have been Taino cultural life very nearly disappeared. • Within less than 40 years the Tainos had ceased to exist as a separate and distinct group.