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Tue, 12.06.1492

Hispaniola is Founded

*Hispaniola was founded on this date in 1492.  It is an island of Black, indigenous Taino people in the Caribbean archipelago known as the Greater Antilles.

It is the most populous island in the West Indies and the region's second-largest after Cuba.  The island is divided into two sovereign nations: the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic to the east and French / Haitian Creole-speaking Haiti to the west. The only other island in the Caribbean is Saint Martin, which is shared between France (Saint Martin) and the Netherlands (Sint Maarten). 

Part of the Middle Passage, Hispaniola is the site of one of the first Spanish slave settlements in the Americas, La Navidad, the first proper town, La Isabela, and the first permanent settlement and current capital of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo (est. 1498). These settlements were founded successively in each of Columbus' first three voyages. 

He first landed at Hispaniola, a small bay he named San Nicolas on the north coast of present-day Haiti. He was welcomed by the indigenous people known as the Taino. Trading with the natives yielded more gold than they had come across previously on the other Caribbean islands, and Columbus was led to believe that much more gold would be found inland. Before he could explore further, his flagship, the Santa Maria, ran aground and sank in the bay on December 24. With only two smaller ships remaining for the voyage home, Columbus built a fortified encampment, La Navidad, on the shore. He left behind 21 crewmen to await his return the following year.  

Colonization began in earnest the following year when Columbus brought 1,300 men and African slaves to Hispaniola in November 1493 to establish a permanent settlement. They found the encampment at Navidad had been destroyed, and all the crewmen left behind were killed. Columbus decided to sail east in search of a better site to find a new settlement. In January 1494, they established La Isabela in the present-day Dominican Republic; Nueva Isabela was founded two years later. After being destroyed by a hurricane, it was rebuilt on the opposite side of the Ozama River and called Santo Domingo. It is one of the oldest permanent European settlements in the Americas. Harsh enslavement by Spanish colonists against Blacks and Taínos was practiced.  Plus, the redirection of indigenous food supplies and labor for feeding Spanish settlers had a devastating impact on the mortality and fertility of the Taíno population over the first quarter-century.  

Colonial slave masters and Dominican and Hieronymus priests observed that the search for gold and agrarian enslavement through the encomienda system were depressing populations.  Demographic data from two provinces in 1514 shows a low birth rate, consistent with a 3.5% annual population decline. In 1503 the colony began to import African slaves after a charter was passed in 1501, allowing the import of slaves by Ferdinand and Isabel. The Spanish believed Africans would be more capable of performing physical labor. From 1519 to 1533, the indigenous uprising was known as Enriquillo Revolt, after the Taíno cacique who led them, ensued, resulting from escaped African slaves on the island (maroons) working with the Taíno people.  

Precious metals played a large role in the island's history after Columbus's arrival.  By 1503, the Spanish Crown legalized the distribution of Indians to work the mines through the encomienda system. Once the Indians entered the mines, they were often wiped out by hunger and difficult conditions. By 1508, the Taíno population of about 400,000 was reduced to 60,000; by 1514, only 26,334 remained.  The first documented outbreak of smallpox, previously an Eastern hemisphere disease, occurred on Hispaniola in December 1518 among enslaved African miners.  Columbus brought sugar cane to the island in 1493 on his second voyage.  In 1574, a census taken of the Greater Antilles reported 1,000 Spaniards and 12,000 African slaves on Hispaniola.  As Spain conquered new regions on the mainland of the Americas, its interest in Hispaniola faded, and the colony's population grew slowly.

In 1665, French colonization of the island was officially recognized by King Louis XIV. The French colony was given the name Saint-Domingue. In the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, Spain formally ceded the western third of the island to France.  Saint-Domingue quickly came to overshadow the east in both wealth and population. Nicknamed the "Pearl of the Antilles," it became the most prosperous colony in the West Indies, with a system of African slavery used to grow and harvest sugar cane during a time when European demand for sugar was high. Slavery kept prices low, and profit was maximized. It was an important port in the Americas for goods and products flowing to and from France and Europe.  European colonists often died young due to tropical fevers and violent slave resistance in the late eighteenth century.

In 1791, during the French Revolution, a major slave revolt broke out in Saint-Domingue. When the French Republic abolished slavery in the colonies on February 4, 1794, it was a European first.  The ex-slave army joined forces with France in the war against its European neighbors. In the second 1795 Treaty of Basel (July 22), Spain ceded the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, later to become the Dominican Republic. French settlers had begun to colonize some areas on the Spanish side of the territory.  Under Napoleon, France advocated slavery in most Caribbean islands in 1802 and sent an army to bring Saint-Domingue under tighter control. However, thousands of French troops succumbed to yellow fever during the summer months, and more than half of the French army died from the disease.  

After the French removed the surviving 7,000 troops in late 1803, the revolutionary leaders declared western Hispaniola the new nation of independent Haiti in early 1804. France continued to rule Spanish Santo Domingo. In 1805, the Haitian troops of General Henri Christophe tried to conquer all of Hispaniola. They invaded Santo Domingo and sacked the towns of Santiago de los Caballeros and Moca, killing most of their residents. Still, news of a French fleet sailing towards Haiti forced General Christophe to withdraw from the east, leaving it in French hands.   In 1808, following Napoleon's invasion of Spain, the criollos of Santo Domingo revolted against French rule and, with the aid of the United Kingdom, returned Santo Domingo to Spanish control.

Fearing the influence of a society of slaves that had successfully revolted against their owners, the United States and European powers refused to recognize Haiti, the second republic in the Western Hemisphere. France demanded a high payment for compensation to slaveholders who lost their property, and Haiti was saddled with unmanageable debt for decades.  It became one of the poorest countries in the Americas, while the Dominican Republic gradually developed into one of the largest economies of Central America and the Caribbean. 


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