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Puerto Rico's History:

Puerto Rico's Transition Years: 1851 - 1899


Governor Juan de la Pezuela Cevallos, founded the Royal Academy of Belles Letters. This institution contributed greatly to the intellectual and literary progress of the Island. The school licensed primary school teachers, formulated school methods, and held literary contests.


On September 5, a hurricane strikes the island.


Vieques is annexed to Puerto Rico.

On October 18, proslavery U.S. diplomats stationed in Europe James Buchanan, John Mason and Pierre Soulé met in Ostend, Belgium at the request of Secretary of State William L. Mercy to draft a secret document, the Ostend Manifesto. The document outlined the rationale for the United States to purchase Cuba from Spain. It said that Cuba was vital to U.S. domestic interests. The document also implied that the U.S. would declare war if Spain refused to sell Cuba for $120 million.


Mutiny by the San Cristóbal artillery brigade against the Spanish crown. The castle is held by rebels for 24 hours causing panic in the city when the cannon are turned around and aimed at the city streets.


The telegraph is introduced into the island with the assistance of Samuel F. B. Morse in Hacienda La Enriqueta in Arroyo. His daughter and son-in-law Edward Lind had a plantation outside Arroyo.


On March 1, the first telegraph lines were formally registered and authorized by the Spanish colonial government.


Democrat Congressman from Georgia Robert A. Toombs admited that the goal of the United States was to annex the West Indies "as soon as they could." United States tried to buy five more islands in the West Indies to control access to the Panama channel.


The Pilgrimage of Bayoán by Eugenio Maria de Hostos is published, reveals on a fiction tone restrictions of the Spanish Colonial regime. The book is suppressed by the Spanish Government.


On February 1, all municipalities were required by order of the Governor, José Lemery, to make appropriations for rural schools.


The United States tried unsuccessfully to buy the Virgin Islands from Denmark and the island of Culebra and adjacent islets, from Spain.

Puerto Rico reach a population of 656,328; its population recorded as 346,437 whites and 309,891 "of color" (this category included blacks, mulattos and mestizos). The majority of Puerto Ricans lived in extreme poverty. Agriculture, the main source of income, was limited by lack of roads, rudimentary tools and equipment, and natural disasters, such as hurricanes and periods of drought. While illiteracy was 83.7 percent, the intellectual minority remained relatively active within the limitations imposed by local Spanish authorities.

On October 29, Hurricane Saint Narciso strikes the island.

On November 18, an earthquake occurred with an approximate magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter scale [Glos.]. The epicenter was located in the Anegada Passage, between Puerto Rico and St. Croix, Virgin Islands. The earthquake produced a tsunami [Glos.] that ran inland almost 150 meters (490 feet) in the low parts of the coast of Yabucoa.


On January 6, Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances (from their exile in the Dominican Republic) and Segundo Ruiz Belvis founded the Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico ("Comité Revolucionario de Puerto Rico").

On September 23, several hundred women and men revolted against Spain for Puerto Rican independence, the event took place in Lares and is better known as El Grito de Lares (the cry of Lares, also referred as the Lares uprising, the Lares revolt, Lares shout, or the Lares rebellion). The rebellion is planned by a group, led by Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances (who was not given permission to enter the island) and Segundo Ruiz Belvis. The most important figures in the uprising were Manuel Rojas, Mathias Bruckman, Joaquín Parilla, and Francisco Ramírez. Manuel Rojas plantation located in Lares became the headquarters for like-minded revolutionaries who would push for a split from Spain.


The United States offered to buy from Spain, the islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba for 150 million dollars, to which Spain refused.

The first political parties are organized in the island.


On June 4, as a result of Roman Baldorioty de Castro, Luis Padial and Julio Vizcarrondo efforts, the Moret Law is approved, with this law liberty was given to slaves born after September 17, 1868 and to slaves over 60 years old.

On November, the Liberal Reformist Party is founded. Two factions were formed: (1) Traditionalist assimilation into the political party system of Spain. Known as the Partido Liberal Conservador (Liberal Conservative Party), led by José R. Fernández, Pablo Ubarri and Francisco Paula Acuña.
(2) autonomist decentralization away from the Spanish control. Known as the Partido Liberal Reformista (Liberal Reformist Party), led by Román Baldorioty de Castro, José Julián Acosta, Nicolás Aguayo and Pedro Gerónimo Goico.
The two factions became the first true political organizations in the island.


The Spanish Constitutional Monarchy is replaced by a republican government.

The Spanish Crown abolished slavery in Puerto Rico. Leaders of the Puerto Rican abolitionist movement, including José Julián Acosta, Francisco Mariano Quiñones, Julio L. de Vizcarrondo, Ramón Emeterio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis, waged a long struggle to end slavery on the island.

On March 22, the Spanish National Assembly finally abolished slavery in Puerto Rico. The owners were compensated with 35 million pesetas per slave, and slaves were required to continue working for three more years.

The Liberal Reformist Party changed its name to Partido Federal Reformista (Reformist Federal Party).

The Liberal Conservative Party changed its name to "Partido Español Incondicional" (Unconditional Spanish Party).


Spain proclaims "El Yunque" a Forest Reserve, making it one of the oldest reserves in the Western Hemisphere.

On September 13-17, Hurricane San Felipe I strikes the island.


The coffee from Adjuntas is considered to be one of the best coffees in the world.


In San Juan a horse race track is built.

On March, the Partido Federal Reformista is reformed and named the Partido Autonomista Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican Autonomous Party) that tried to create a political and legal identity for Puerto Rico while emulating Spain in all political matters. Led by Ramón Baldorioty de Castro, José Celso Barbosa, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, and Luis Muñoz Rivera.


On September 1-5, a hurricane strikes the island.


Luis Muñoz Rivera founded the newspaper "La Democracía".


The railroad is inaugurated.

On August 18-22, a hurricane strikes the island. The winds reached speeds of 90 miles per hour. It is estimated that more than 3,000 people died. The hurricane is named San Ciriaco for the name of the saint on whose day the hurricane struck Puerto Rico.


On August 16, Hurricane Saint Roque strikes the island.

Electrical lighting is established in San Juan.

On October 5, the Banco Popular de Puerto Rico is founded. It is the largest bank on the island.


The Puerto Rican flag is first used on December 22nd, when a group of Puerto Ricans gathered in New York City to show their support for independence for Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spain. It was soon adopted as a national symbol.


On November 25, the "Carta Autonómica" (Autonomic Charter) is approved in which Spain concedes political and administrative autonomy to the island. It allowed the island to retain its representation in the Spanish Cortes, and provided for a bicameral legislature. This legislature consisted of a Council of Administration with eight (8) elected and seven (7) appointed members, and a Chamber of Representatives with one (1) member for every 25,000 inhabitants.

The telephone service is inaugurated in San Juan.

The Partido Autonomista Ortodoxo (Orthodox Autonomist Party) is founded, led by José Celso Barbosa and Manuel Fernández Juncos.


On January 1, Spain granted limited autonomy to Cuba.

On February 9, the new government officially opened for business in the spring of 1898. Governor General Manuel Macías inaugurated the new government of Puerto Rico under the Autonomous Charter which gave town councils complete autonomy in local matters. Subsequently, the governor had no authority to intervene in civil and political matters unless authorized to do so by the Cabinet.

On March 2, the Army Appropriation Bill created by an act of Congress, authorized the creation of the first body of native troops in Puerto Rico.

On March 10, Dr. Julio J. Henna and Robert H. Todd, prominent leaders of the Puerto Rican section of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, began to correspond with United States President McKinley and Senate in hopes that they would consider including Puerto Rico in whatever intervention is planned for Cuba. Henna and Todd also provided the U.S. government with information about the Spanish military presence on the island.

On April 11, U.S. President William McKinley requested authorization from the U.S. Congress to intervene in Cuba, to stop the war between Cuban revolutionaries and Spain.

On April 13, The U.S. Congress agreed to President McKinley's request for intervention in Cuba, but without recognizing the Cuban Government.

The Spanish government declared that U.S. policy jeopardized the sovereignty of Spain and prepared a special budget for war.

On April 19, The U.S. Congress by a vote of 311 to 6 in the House and 42 to 35 in the Senate adopted the Joint Resolution for war with Spain which included the Teller Amendment, named after Senator Henry Moore Teller (Colorado) which disclaimed any intention of the U.S. to exercise jurisdiction or control over Cuba except in a pacification role and promised to leave the island as soon as the war was over. President McKinley signed the resolution on April 20, 1898 and the ultimatum was forwarded to Spain.

On April 21, The Spanish Government considered the Joint Resolution of the United States of April 20 a declaration of war. U.S. minister in Madrid General Steward L. Woodford received his passport before presenting the ultimatum of the United States.

A state of war existed between Spain and the United States and all diplomatic relations were suspended. U.S. President McKinley ordered blockade of Cuba.

On April 24, Spanish Minister of Defense Segismundo Bermejo sent instructions to Spanish Admiral Cervera to proceed with his fleet from Cape Verde to the Caribbean, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

On April 25, A formal declaration of war recognized between Spain and the United States.

On May, Lt. Henry H. Whitney of the Fourth Artillery is sent to Puerto Rico on a reconnaissance mission, sponsored by the Army's Bureau of Military Intelligence. He provided maps and information on the Spanish military forces to the U.S. government prior to the invasion.

On May 10, Spanish forces in the fortress of San Cristóbal in San Juan exchanged fire with the U.S.S. Yale under the command of Capt. William Clinton Wise.

On May 12, A squadron of 12 U.S. ships commanded by Rear Adm. William T. Sampson bombarded San Juan.

On June 25, the U.S.S. Yosemite arrived off San Juan harbor, Puerto Rico, to blockade the port.

On July 18, General Nelson A. Miles, commander of the invading forces, received orders to sail for Puerto Rico.

On July 21, convoy of 3,300 soldiers and nine transports escorted by the U.S.S. Massachusetts sailed for Puerto Rico from Guantánamo, Cuba.

On July 25, General Nelson Miles came ashore with the first contingent of 16,000 American troops, landed unopposed at the town of Guánica in the South of Puerto Rico. Upon arrival, the ship met with Spanish resistance the morning of July 26. By August, the whole island was practically invaded.

On August 8, the Spanish-American War, conflict between the United States and Spain that ended Spanish colonial rule in the Americas and resulted in U.S. acquisition of territories in the western Pacific and Latin American.

On August 12, U.S. President William McKinley and French Ambassador Jules Cambon, acting on behalf of the Spanish government, signed an armistice in Washington, D.C. Spain relinquished its sovereignty over the territories of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Phillippines.

On September 9, U.S. and Spanish Commissions met in San Juan, Puerto Rico to discuss the details of the withdrawal of Spanish troops and the cession of the island to the United States.

On September 29, Governor Macías officially announced that Puerto Rico had been ceded to the United States.

On October 1, the Spanish and United States commissioners held their initial meeting in Paris to draft the Peace Treaty.

On October 18, the Spanish withdrawal from Puerto Rico is completed as the final troops left San Juan for Spain. American troops raised the United States flag in Puerto Rico, and the U.S. officially took control of the former Spanish colony. General John R. Brooke became the first American military governor.

On December 10, Treaty of Paris is signed (ratified by the U.S. Senate Feb. 6, 1899), treaty concluding the Spanish-American War. The American peace commission consisted of William R. Day, Sen. Cushman K. Davis, Sen. William P. Frye, Sen. George Gray, and the Honorable Whitelaw Reid. The Spanish commission is headed by Don Eugenio Montero Rios, the President of the Senate. Jules Cambon, a French diplomat, also negotiated on Spain's behalf. Spain renounced all claim to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico and its dependent islets to United States, and transferred sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States for $20,000,000 ($590 million in 2017 dollars).

The war had cost the United States $250 million and 3,000 lives, of whom 90% had perished from infectious diseases.


On January 15, the first boxing match is held in Puerto Rico.

The federal military forces changed the name of the island to Porto Rico.

Currency is exchanged, Puerto Rican peso to the dollar.

On May, General George W. Davis succeeded to Island command. Freedom of assembly, speech, press, and religion were decreed and an eight-hour day for government employees was established. A public school system is started and the U.S. Postal service is extended to the Island. The highway system was enlarged, and bridges over the more important rivers were constructed. The government lottery was abolished, cockfighting was forbidden, and a beginning was made toward the establishment of a centralized public health service.

On July 4, José Celso Barbosa founded the Partido Republicano (Puerto Rican Republican Party) in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. The party embraced the idea of annexation to the US as a solution to the colonial situation.

On August 8, Hurricane San Ciriaco strikes the island. It rained for 28 days straight and the winds reached speeds of 100 miles per hour. The loss of life and property damage were immense. Approximately 3,400 people died in the floods and thousands were left without shelter, food, or work. The sugar and coffee industry was devastated.

On August 22, a hurricane strikes the island.

Luis Muñoz Rivera founded the newspaper "El Territorio".

On October, the "Partido Federal Americano" (American Federal Party) is founded, led by Luis Muñoz Rivera.

The first company of native born Puerto Ricans is organized as part of the American Colonial Army, one year after Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States following the Spanish-American War.

On November 10, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the island's total population was counted as 953,243, an increase of 16% (or 154,678 people) from the previous census held by the Spanish goverment in 1887. This was the first national population census held in Porto Rico under U.S. control by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. War Department.

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Did You Know?

Jones Act is a federal law requiring that goods shipped between U.S. ports are transported on ships built, owned, and operated by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.