The History of San Juan, Puerto Rico
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Municipio de la Ciudad Capital San Juan Bautista
San Juan (Saint John) is the capital city of Puerto Rico, a United States territory. The official name of San Juan is Municipio de la Ciudad Capital San Juan Bautista—Municipality of the Capital City, Saint John the Baptist. There has been confusion regarding the name of the city over the centuries, something which will be discussed in this article about the city’s history.
Where is San Juan located?
Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States, is located in the northeastern Caribbean. It is east of the Domincan Republic and west of the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. An island commonwealth, Puerto Rico consists of a main island and three smaller islands—Culebra, Vieques, and Mona.
San Juan is located on the northeastern coast of the main island of Puerto Rico, south of the Atlantic Ocean.
Timeline: History of San Juan, 16th to 18th Centuries
Juan Ponce de León, a Spanish explorer, founded Caparra, a settlement slightly west of present-day San Juan.
The settlment of Caparra was moved to a site called Puerto Rico. The settlement of Puerto Rico (Rich Port) was given that name because it resembled a port of that name on the island of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands. The settlement of Puerto Rico was located where the port area of San Juan is located in the present-day.
The name of the settlement of Puerto Rico was changed to San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico, the same name that Christopher Columbus gave to the island.
San Juan became the first stop for Spanish ships traveling from Spain to the New World. Because gold and silver was carried as cargo on the return trips to Spain, a network of forts was built to protect both the military and commercial vessels traveling from the New World back to Spain.
Since the rich cargo was often assembled in San Juan, the settlement became a target for foreign powers.
Led by Francis Drake, the English attacked San Juan in what became know as the Battle of Puerto Rico. They were repelled by the artillery at Fort San Felipe del Morro (El Morro Castle).
The English, led by George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, attacked San Juan. Clifford landed troops on the island and laid siege to the the settlement of San Juan. With his men suffering from illness and exhaustion a few months later, Clifford and his men left the island.
The Battle of San Juan
1625: September 24
17 Dutch ships arrived in San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico.
1625: September 29
Led by Captain Balduino Enrico—Boudewijn Hendricksz / Bowdoin Henrick—the Dutch attacked San Juan. Fort San Felipe del Morro withstood the assault. Captain Juan de Amézquita y Quijano and a civilian militia and Spanish troops counterattacked. The land battle was so fierce, 60 Dutch soldiers were killed. Captain Balduino Enrico received a sword wound to his neck, from the hands of Captain Juan de Amezquita.The Puerto Ricans boarded the Dutch ships and defeated those troops onboard.
1625: October 21
Captain Balduino Enrico set La Fortaleza—the executive mansion—and the settlement (city) of San Juan on fire. Captains Juan de Amézquita y Quijano and Andrés Vázquez Botello de Carrera led 200 men in an attack against the Dutch front and rear guard. They drove Captain Balduino Enrico and his men from their trenches into the ocean in their haste to return to their ships.
The name of the island—San Juan Bautista—became the name of the city, and the name of the city—Puerto Rico—became the name of the island.
Sir Ralph Abercromby, who had just conquered Trinidad, led an English attack on San Juan. Sir Ralph and his troops laid seige to the city, but were forced to withdraw. The Puerto Rican defenses were much stronger than those on Trinidad.
Old San Juan
Old San Juan is the historic colonial section of the city of San Juan, with buildings dating to the 15th and 16th centuries. The city anthem is In My Old San Juan.
Views of Old San JuanClick thumbnail to view full-size
Timeline: History of San Juan, 19th to 21st Centuries
Spanish-American War and Treaty of Paris of 1898
1898: May 8
Under the command of Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, US Navy ships arrived in San Juan Bay. Among the ships were the USS Amphitrite, USS Detroit, USS Indiana, USS Montgomery, USS New York, USS Terror, and USS Yale. The first hostile encounter between Spain and the United States occurred when the USS Yale captured a Spanish freighter.
1898: May 9
The USS Yale fought a battle with a Spanish cruiser.
1898: May 10
Captain Ángel Rivero-Méndez ordered his men to open fire upon the USS Yale. This action was the first attack against the United States in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War.
After the treaty of Paris was signed, Captain Ángel Rivero-Méndez was ordered to turn over the keys of all military installations in San Juan to Captain Henry A. Reed of the US Army.
1915: March 25
Lieutenant Teofilo Marxuach fired the first shot in World War I by the regular armed forces of the United States against any ship flying the colors of the Central Powers. Lieutenant Marxuach opened fire on an armed German supply vessel, the Odenwald, when it tried to force its way out of San Juan Bay.
The residents of Puerto Rico were granted US citizenship.
1947: January 2
Felisa Rincón de Gautier (1897–1994) was elected mayor of San Juan. She was the first woman to be elected mayor of a capital city in the Americas.
The residents of Puerto Rico elected their first governor.
1950: October 30
The Puerto Rican Nationalist Party led the San Juan Uprising against the governments of Puerto Rico and the United States. Simultaneous attacks were planned in San Juan against the United States Federal Court House and La Fortaleza, the governor's mansion. The battle between the nationalists and the police lasted 15 minutes. Four of the five nationalists were killed.
The constitution of Puerto Rico was adopted and ratified.
2012: November 6*
The residents of Puerto Rico voted to pursue the issue of US statehood.
* The 1917. 1948, 1952, and 2012 dates are concerned with the history of Puerto Rico rather than just the history of San Juan.