Listen to this story
This Day In History: March 22nd
The Caribbean island of Puerto Rico is home to more than three million residents. Puerto Rico was originally inhabited by Taíno hunter-gatherers that settled on the land more than 1,000 years before the Spanish arrived.
Taíno natives called the land Borinquén and referred to themselves as Boricua. In 1493, Christopher Columbus returned several Taíno captives to Borinquén during his second expedition. Columbus claimed the island for Spain, and by 1508, the first European settlement was established.
Explorer Juan Ponce de León founded Caparra, which is located near modern-day San Juan. As the settlement flourished, the Spanish began enslaving the Taíno natives and forced them into harsh working conditions. The Taíno population was also on the decline due to smallpox outbreaks.
By the 16th century, the Spanish increased the number of Africans being imported to aid in the production of cash crops such as tobacco and sugar cane. The Spanish decree of 1789 allowed enslaved individuals to earn or buy their freedom. With waves of liberation spreading throughout Spanish territories, revolts such as “El Grito de Lares” began to signal a need for independence.
With the influence of early activists such as José Julián Acosta, Ramón Emeterio Betances and Francisco Mariano Quiñones, slavery was abolished on the island on March 22, 1873. Although the Spanish National Assembly put an end to slavery in Puerto Rico, owners were compensated and those enslaved were required to continue working for three more years.
Following the abolition of slavery, sovereignty over Puerto Rico changed with the 1898 Treaty of Paris. The Treaty of Paris formally ended the Spanish-American War and Spain ceded Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines and Cuba to the United States. More than three decades after slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico, residents were granted U.S. citizenship due to the Jones Act of 1917.
In 1947 the island was granted partial self-government, which allowed residents to elect their own governor. Four years later, the people of Puerto Rico voted in favor of U.S. commonwealth status, a status which is still maintained to this day.