A LITTLE JOURNEY TO PUERTO RICO
Do you know what people mean when they speak of "Our New Possessions"?
What are they? Where are they? Why are men, in the streets, in the
shops, everywhere, talking about them? Why are the newspapers full of
articles in regard to them? Why are our lawmakers at the capital
devoting so much time and attention to them? Can you tell?
Some of these things you can easily ascertain for yourselves. Others we
will speak of here.
The new territory which has lately come into the possession of the
United States, consists of the islands of Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the
Philippines. Cuba is not included in this list; it is soon to be an
Since Puerto Rico and these other islands have come to be parts of the
United States, everyone is anxious to learn something more of them.
The best way to learn the geography of a country and the customs of the
people is to visit the country and see with your own eyes.
That would be a difficult thing for most of us. The next best way is to
make the journey in imagination, and that all of us can do.
The island nearest us is Puerto Rico, the most eastern island of the
Greater Antilles. Let us visit that first and the other islands later
We must find out something of the climate, however, before we start on
this journey. This may not be the right season of the year to go. We
must know, too, what kind of clothing to take with us.
In order to plan our route wisely, we must know something of the
geography of the island. We should also know the past history of Puerto
Rico, in order to understand the customs of the people and the
conditions that exist there.
* * * * *
LOCATION, SIZE, SURFACE.
If you will find a map of the West Indies in your atlas or geography,
you will also find Puerto Rico. It is one of the four Greater Antilles
Islands, and lies east of Haiti and farthest out in the Atlantic Ocean.
It is over four hundred miles from the east coast of Cuba, one thousand
miles from Havana, and about one thousand four hundred and fifty miles
from New York.
In size it is the smallest of the group. Its area is about three
thousand five hundred and fifty square miles. Its average length is
about ninety-five miles; its average breadth about thirty-five miles.
In shape it resembles the State of Connecticut, though it is only
three-fourths the size of that State.
[Illustration: THE ISLAND OF PUERTO RICO.]
Puerto Rico, in English, means Rich Harbor. But Puerto Rico is not rich
in harbors. There are not more than six good harbors, but it has less
than three hundred and fifty miles of coast line.
The surface of Puerto Rico is mountainous. A range of hills traverses
the island from east to west. The hills are low and their sides are
covered with vegetation. The hills are not rocky and barren, but are
cultivated to their very tops.
[Illustration: AN AFTERNOON SIESTA.]
The lower valleys are rich pasture lands or cultivated plantations. The
knolls have orchards of cocoanuts and other trees. Coffee, protected by
the shade of other trees, grows to the summits of the green hills. The
ground is covered everywhere with a thick carpeting of grass.
The soil is remarkably fertile. This is due partly to the fine climate,
partly to abundant moisture. The island has many fast flowing rivers.
There are over twelve hundred of these. In the mountains are numerous
springs and water falls, but these are hidden by the overhanging giant
ferns and plants.
* * * * *
BRIEF HISTORY OF PUERTO RICO.
Puerto Rico was discovered by Christopher Columbus November 17, 1493. He
made a landing at a bay, where he found springs of pure water, which was
much needed on his ships. This place he named Aguadilla, which means
"the watering place."
[Illustration: PONCE DE LEON.]
In 1508 Ponce de Leon, a Spanish navigator, visited the island, and was
much pleased with its beautiful scenery and with the hospitality of the
natives. A year or two later he returned, and founded the town of
Caparra. In 1509 he founded the city of San Juan on the island that
guards the entrance on the east.
When Ponce de Leon came to the island, he found it inhabited by a happy,
harmless people who received him with delight. They brought gifts to
him, and showed him and his soldiers gold, which was found in the river
The kindness of the natives was rewarded by cruelty on the part of the
Spaniards. They were ruthlessly murdered or reduced to slavery, and
compelled to work in the mines. A revolution followed in which the
greater number of the natives were killed.
The severe work required of those remaining so shortened their lives
that very soon all had disappeared. Not a descendant of this race is now
living, but many curious and interesting relics, left by them, may be
One of these is a stone collar, shaped like a horse collar, and
skillfully carved. This was placed upon the breast of the native after
his death, and was supposed to keep him from harm.
Ponce de Leon built for himself a castle on the point of land above the
mouth of the harbor of San Juan, and here he lived until he sailed on
the voyage which resulted in the discovery of Florida.
After his departure, Puerto Rico was left alone for a long time. After
some years, Spain sent peasants to colonize the island, and slaves were
introduced to cultivate the plantations.
In 1870 the island was made a province of Spain, instead of a colony. In
1873 slavery was abolished.
Puerto Rico came into the possession of the United States as the result
of the recent war with Spain.