Hola amigos: Our saga of The History of Puerto Rico by R.A. Van Middeldyk brings us to Columbus son, Diego, who is back in power. The nomination of governors and mayors over the islands discovered by his father, Christopher Columbus, corresponded to him. Ceron and Diaz were reinstated in their respective offices, and are coming back from Spain, with the king’s instructions, new laws and ordinances…
Columbus Monument Image
LAWS AND ORDINANCES
We have seen how Diego Columbus suspended Ponce in his functions as
governor _ad interim_, and how the captain after obtaining from the
king his appointment as permanent governor sent the Admiral’s nominees
prisoners to the metropolis. The king, though inclined to favor the
captain, submitted the matter to his Indian council, which decided
that the nomination of governors and mayors over the islands
discovered by Christopher Columbus corresponded to his son. As a
consequence, Ceron and Diaz were reinstated in their respective
offices, and they were on their way back to San Juan a few months
after Ponce’s final success over the rebellious Indians.
Before their departure from Spain they received the following
instructions, characteristic of the times and of the royal personage
who imparted them:
“1. You will take over your offices very peaceably, endeavoring to
gain the good-will of Ponce and his friends, that they may become
_your_ friends also, to the island’s advantage.
“2. This done, you will attend to the ‘pacification’ of the Indians.
“3. Let many of them be employed in the mines and be well treated.
“4. Let many Indians be brought from the other islands and be well
treated. Let the officers of justice be favored (in the distributions
“5. Be very careful that no meat is eaten in Lent or other fast days,
as has been done till now in la Espanola.
“6. Let those who have Indians occupy a third of their number in the
“7. Let great care be exercised in the salt-pits, and one real be paid
for each celemin extracted, as is done in la Espanola.
“8. Send me a list of the number and class of Indians distributed, if
Ponce has not done so already, and of those who have distinguished
themselves in this rebellion.
“9. You are aware that ever since the sacraments have been
administered in these islands, storms and earthquakes have ceased. Let
a chapel be built at once with the advocation of Saint John the
Baptist, and a monastery, though it be a small one, for Franciscan
friars, whose doctrine is very salutary.
“10. Have great care in the mines and continually advise Pasamonte
(the treasurer) or his agent of what happens or what may be necessary.
“11. Take the youngest Indians and teach them the Christian doctrine;
they can afterward teach the others with better results.
“12. Let there be no swearing or blasphemy; impose heavy penalties
“13. Do not let the Indians be overloaded, but be well treated rather.
“14. Try to keep the Caribs from coming to the island, and report what
measures it will be advisable to adopt against them. To make the
natives do what is wanted, it will be convenient to take from them,
with cunning (con mana), all the canoes they possess.
“15. You will obey the contents of these instructions until further
Tordesillas, 25th of July, 1511.
It is clear from the above instructions that, in the king’s mind,
there was no inconsistency in making the Indians work in the mines and
their good treatment. There can be no doubt that both he and Dona
Juana, his daughter, who, as heir to her mother, exercised the royal
authority with him, sincerely desired the well-being of the natives as
far as compatible with the exigencies of the treasury.
For the increase of the white population and the development of
commerce and agriculture, liberal measures, according to the ideas of
the age, were dictated as early as February, 1511, when the same
commercial and political franchises were granted to San Juan as to la
On July 25th the price of salt, the sale of which was a royal
monopoly, was reduced by one-half, and in October of the same year the
following rights and privileges were decreed by the king and published
by the crown officers in Seville:
“1st. Any one may take provisions and merchandise to San Juan, which
is now being settled, and reside there with the same freedom as in la
“2d. Any Spaniard may freely go to the Indies–that is, to la
Espanola and to San Juan–by simply presenting himself to the
officials in Seville, _without giving any further information_ (about
“3d. Any Spaniard may take to the Indies what arms he wishes,
notwithstanding the prohibition.
“4th. His Highness abolishes the contribution by the owners of one
‘castellano’ for every Indian, they possess.
“5th. Those to whom the Admiral grants permission to bring Indians
(from other islands) and who used to pay the fifth of their value (to
the royal treasurer) shall be allowed to bring them free.
“6th. Indians once given to any person shall never be taken from him,
except for delinquencies, punishable by forfeiture of property.
“7th. This disposition reduces the king’s share in the produce of the
gold-mines from one-fifth and one-ninth to one-fifth and one-tenth,
and extends the privilege of working them from one to two years.
“8th. Whosoever wishes to conquer any part of the continent or of the
gulf of pearls, may apply to the officials in Seville, who will give
him a license, etc.”
The construction of a smelting oven for the gold, of hospitals and
churches for each new settlement, the making of roads and bridges and
other dispositions, wise and good in themselves, were also decreed;
but they became new causes of affliction for the Indians, inasmuch as
_they_ paid for them with their labor. For example: to the man who
undertook to construct and maintain a hospital, 100 Indians were
assigned. He hired them out to work in the mines or on the
plantations, and with the sums thus received often covered more than
the expense of maintaining the hospital.
The curious medley of religious zeal, philanthropy, and gold-hunger,
communicated the first governors under the title of “instructions” did
not long keep them in doubt as to which of the three–the observance
of religious practises, the kind treatment of the natives, or the
remittance of gold–was most essential to secure the king’s favor. It
was not secret that the monarch, in his _private_ instructions, went
straight to the point and wasted no words on religious or humanitarian
considerations, the proof of which is his letter to Ponce, dated
November 11, 1509. “I have seen your letter of August 16th. Be very
diligent in searching for gold. Take out as much as you can, and
having smolten it in la Espanola, send it at once. Settle the island
as best you can. Write often and let Us know what happens and what may
It was but natural, therefore, that the royal recommendations of
clemency remained a dead letter, and that, under the pressure of the
incessant demand for gold, the Indians were reduced to the most abject
state of misery.
[Illustration: Columbus monument, near Aguadilla.]
Until the year 1512 the Indians remained restless and subordinate, and
in July, 1513, the efforts of the rulers in Spain to ameliorate their
condition were embodied in what are known as the Ordinances of
These ordinances, after enjoining a general kind treatment of the
natives, recommend that small pieces of land be assigned to them on
which to cultivate corn, yucca, cotton, etc., and raise fowls for
their own maintenance. The “encomendero,” or master, was to construct
four rustic huts for every 50 Indians. They were to be instructed in
the doctrines of the Christian religion, the new-born babes were to be
baptized, polygamy to be prohibited. They were to attend mass with
their masters, who were to teach one young man in every forty to read.
The boys who served as pages and domestic servants were to be taught
by the friars in the convents, and afterward returned to the estates
to teach the others. The men were not to carry excessively heavy
loads. Pregnant women were not to work in the mines, nor was it
permitted to beat them with sticks or whips under penalty of five gold
pesos. They were to be provided with food, clothing, and a hammock.
Their “areytos” (dances) were not to be interrupted, and inspectors
were to be elected among the Spaniards to see that all these and
former dispositions were complied with, and all negligence on the part
of the masters severely punished.
The credit for these well-intentioned ordinances undoubtedly belongs
to the Dominican friars, who from the earliest days of the conquest
had nobly espoused the cause of the Indians and denounced the
cruelties committed on them in no measured terms.
Friar Antonia Montesinos, in a sermon preached in la Espanola in 1511,
which was attended by Diego Columbus, the crown officers, and all the
notabilities, denounced their proceedings with regard to the Indians
so vehemently that they left the church deeply offended, and that same
day intimated to the bishop the necessity of recantation, else the
Order should leave the island. The bishop answered that Montesinos had
but expressed the opinion of the whole community; but that, to allay
the scandal among the lower class of Spaniards in the island, the
father would modify his accusations in the next sermon. When the day
arrived the church was crowded, but instead of recantation, the
intrepid monk launched out upon fresh animadversion, and ended by
saying that he did so in the service not of God only, but of the king.
The officials were furious. Pasamonte, the treasurer, the most
heartless destroyer of natives among all the king’s officers, wrote,
denouncing the Dominicans as rebels, and sent a Franciscan friar to
Spain to support his accusation. The king was much offended, and when
Montesinos and the prior of his convent arrived in Madrid to
contradict Pasamonte’s statements, they found the doors of the palace
closed against them. Nothing daunted and imbued with the true
apostolic spirit, they made their way, without asking permission, to
the royal presence, and there advocated the cause of the Indians so
eloquently that Ferdinand promised to have the matter investigated
immediately. A council of theologians and jurists was appointed to
study the matter and hear the evidence on both sides; but they were so
long in coming to a decision that Montesinos and his prior lost
patience and insisted on a resolution, whereupon they decided that the
distributions were legal in virtue of the powers granted by the Holy
See to the kings of Castilla, and that, if it was a matter of
conscience at all, it was one for the king and his councilors, and not
for the officials, who simply obeyed orders. The two Dominicans were
ordered to return to la Espanola, and by the example of their virtues
and mansuetude stimulate those who might be inclined to act wickedly.
The royal conscience was not satisfied, however, with the sophistry of
his councilors, and as a quietus to it, the _well-meaning_ ordinances
just cited were enacted. They, too, remained a dead letter, and not
even the scathing and persevering denunciations of Las Casas, who
continued the good work begun by Montesinos, could obtain any
practical improvement in the lot of the Indians until it was too late,
and thousands of them had been crushed under the heel of the
* * * * *
King Ferdinand’s efforts to make Puerto Rico a prosperous colony were
rendered futile by the dissensions between the Admiral’s and his own
partizans and the passions awakened by the favoritism displayed in the
distribution of Indians. That the king took a great interest in the
colonization of the island is shown by the many ordinances and decrees
issued all tending to that end. He gave special licenses to people in
Spain and in Santo Domingo to establish themselves in Puerto Rico.
In his minute instructions to Ponce and his successors he regulated
every branch of the administration, and wrote to Ceron and Diaz: ” …I
wish this island well governed and peopled as a special affair of
mine.” On a single day (February 26, 1511) he made, among others of a
purely private character, the following public dispositions: “That the
tithes and ‘primicias’”  should be paid in kind only; that the
fifth part of the output of the mines should be paid only during the
first ten years; that he ceded to the colony for the term of four
years all fines imposed by the courts, to be employed in the
construction of roads and bridges; that the traffic between San Juan
and la Espanola should be free, and that this island should enjoy the
same rights and privileges as the other; that no children or
grandchildren of people executed or burned for crimes or heresy should
be admitted into the colony, and that an exact account should be sent
to him of all the colonists, caciques, and Indians and their
He occupied himself with the island’s affairs with equal interest up
to the time of his death, in 1516. He made it a bishopric in 1512. In
1513 he disposed that the colonists were to build houses of adobe,
that is, of sun-dried bricks; that all married men should send for
their wives, and that useful trees should be planted. In 1514 he
prohibited labor contracts, or the purchase or transfer of slaves or
Indians “encomendados” (distributed). Finally, in 1515, he provided
for the defense of the island against the incursions of the Caribs.
If these measures did not produce the desired result, it was due to
the discord among the colonists, created by the system of
“repartimientos” introduced in an evil hour by Columbus, a system
which was the poisoned source of most of the evils that have afflicted
[Footnote 21: The twelfth part of a "fanega," equal to about two
gallons, dry measure.]
[Footnote 22: Cedulas de vecindad.]
[Footnote 23: First-fruits.]