For More...

Dominican Republic History


Pre-European history


European colonization

Christopher Columbus arrived on the island in December 5, 1492, during the first of his four voyages to the Americas. He claimed the land for Spain and named it La Española due to its diverse climate and terrain which reminded him of the Spanish landscape. Traveling further east Columbus came across the Yaque del Norte River in the Cibao region, which he named Rio de Oro after discovering gold deposits nearby. On Columbus’s return during his second voyage he established the settlement of La Isabela in what is now Puerto Plata on Jan. 1494, while he sent Alonso de Ojeda to search for gold in the region. In 1496 Bartholomew Columbus, Christopher’s brother, built the city of Santo Domingo, Western Europe’s first permanent settlement in the “New World.” The colony thus became the springboard for the further Spanish conquest of the Americas and for decades the headquarters of Spanish colonial power in the hemisphere. Soon after the largest discovery of gold in the island was made in the cordillera central region, which led to a mining boom. By 1501, Columbus’s cousin Giovanni Columbus, had also discovered gold near Buenaventura, the deposits were later known as Minas Nuevas. Two major mining areas resulted, one along San Cristóbal-Buenaventura, and another in Cibao within the La Vega-Cotuy-Bonaotriangle, while Santiago de los Caballeros, Concepcion, and Bonao became mining towns. The gold rush of 1500–1508 ensued. Ferdinand II of Aragon “ordered gold from the richest mines reserved for the Crown.” Thus, Ovando expropriated the gold mines of Miguel Diaz and Francisco de Garay in 1504, as pit mines became royal mines, though placerswere open to private prospectors. Furthermore, Ferdinand wanted the “best Indians” working his royal mines, and kept 967 in the San Cristóbal mining area supervised by salaried miners.:68,71,78,125–127 Under Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres’ governorship, the Indians were made to work in the gold mines, “where they were grossly overworked, mistreated, and underfed,” according to Pons. By 1503, the Spanish Crown legalized the distribution of Indians to work the mines as part of the encomienda system. According to Pons, “Once the Indians entered the mines, hunger and disease literally wiped them out.” By 1508 the Indian population of about 400,000 was reduced to 60,000, and by 1514, only 26,334 remained. About half were located in the mining towns of Concepción, Santiago, Santo Domingo, and Buenaventura. The repartimiento of 1514 accelerated emigration of the Spanish colonists, coupled with the exhaustion of the mines. In 1516, a smallpox epidemic killed an additional 8,000, of the remaining 11,000 Indians, in one month. By 1519, according to Pons, “Both the gold economy and the Indian population became extinct at the same time.:191–192. The southern city of Santo Domingo served as a springboard for military expeditions pushing across to the mainland of the Americas. In 1501, the colony began to import African slaves. After its conquest of the Aztecs and Incas, Spain neglected its Caribbean holdings. The slaves remained and became the basis for the Dominican population. Following royal orders, in 1605 Governor Antonio Osorio ignored cabildo protests and had the settlements at Puerto Plata, Montecristi, La Yaguana, and Bayaja burned to stop smuggling. Some rebelled and were defeated while others fled to Cuba. Only 2,000 livestock out of 110,000 survived in the new pasture. One third of the people from La Yaguana and Bayaja who were settled at Bayaguana died of hunger and disease by 1609. The French were envious of Spain’s possessions in the Americas, and thus sent colonists to settle the northwestern coast of Hispaniola. In order to domesticate the buccaneers, the French supplied them with women who had been taken from prisons, accused of prostitution and thieving. After decades of armed struggles with the French, Spain ceded the western coast of the island to France with the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, whilst the Central Plateau remained under Spanish domain. France created a wealthy colony there, while the Spanish colony suffered an economic decline. On April 17, 1655, the English landed on nearby Hispaniola and marched 30 miles overland to Santo Domingo, the main Spanish stronghold on the island. The sweltering heat soon felled many of the northern European invaders. The Spanish defenders, having had time to prepare an ambush for the aimlessly thrashing, mosquito-swatting newcomers, sprang on them with mounted lancers, sending them careening back toward the beach in utter confusion. Their commander, Venables, hid behind a tree where, in the words of one disgusted observer, he was “so much possessed with terror that he could hardly speak.” The elite defenders of Santo Domingo were amply rewarded with titles from the Spanish Crown. The French attacked Santiago in 1667, and this was followed by a devastating hurricane the next year and a smallpox epidemic that killed about 1,500 in 1669. In 1687 the Spaniards captured the fort at Petit-Goave, but the French fought back and hanged their leaders. Two years later Louis XIV was at war and ordered the French to invade the Spaniards, and Tarin de Cussy sacked Santiago. In 1691 the Spaniards attacked the north and sacked Cap-François. Island tensions subsided once peace was restored and Spain’s last Habsburg monarch—the deformed invalid Charles II—died on 30 November 1700, being succeeded by the sixteen-year-old French Bourbon princeling Philip of Anjou.


18th century

The House of Bourbon replaced the House of Habsburg in Spain in 1700 and introduced economic reforms that gradually began to revive trade in Santo Domingo. The crown progressively relaxed the rigid controls and restrictions on commerce between Spain and the colonies and among the colonies. The last flotas sailed in 1737; the monopoly port system was abolished shortly thereafter. By the middle of the century, the population was bolstered by emigration from the Canary Islands, resettling the northern part of the colony and planting tobacco in the Cibao Valley, and importation of slaves was renewed. The colony of Santo Domingo saw a population increase during the 17th century, as it rose to about 91,272 in 1750. Of this number approximately 38,272 were white landowners, 38,000 were free mixed people of color, and some 15,000 were slaves. This contrasted sharply with the population of the French colony of Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti) – which had a population that was 90% enslaved and overall seven times as numerous as the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo. Its western, French neighbor Saint-Domingue, became the wealthiest colony in the New World and had half a million inhabitants. The ‘Spanish’ settlers, whose blood by now was mixed with that of Tainos, Africans and Canary Guanches, proclaimed: ‘It does not matter if the French are richer than us, we are still the true inheritors of this island. In our veins runs the blood of the heroic conquistadors who won this island of ours with sword and blood.’ Fortaleza San Felipe was the site of the battle of Puerto Plata Harbor in May 1800, one of the few land battles of the Quasi-War with France, when U.S. forces from the frigate Constitution captured it. When the War of Jenkins’ Ear between Spain and Britain broke out in 1739, Spanish privateers, particularly from Santo Domingo, began to troll the Caribbean Sea, a development that lasted until the end of the eighteenth century. During this period, Spanish privateers from Santo Domingo sailed into enemy ports looking for ships to plunder, thus harming commerce with Britain and New York. As a result, the Spanish obtained stolen merchandise—foodstuffs, ships, enslaved persons—that were sold in Hispaniola’s ports, with profits accruing to individual sea raiders. These practices of human traffic and terror facilitated capital accumulation. The revenue acquired in these acts of piracy was invested in the economic expansion of the colony and led to re-population from Europe. As restrictions on colonial trade were relaxed, the colonial elites of St. Domingue offered the principal market for Santo Domingo’s exports of beef, hides, mahogany, and tobacco. With the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution in 1791, the rich urban families linked to the colonial bureaucracy fled the island, while most of the rural hateros (cattle ranchers) remained, even though they lost their principal market. Although the population of Spanish Santo Domingo was perhaps one-fourth that of French Saint-Domingue, this did not prevent the Spanish king from launching an invasion of the French side of the island in 1793, attempting to take advantage of the chaos sparked by the French RevolutionFrench forces checked Spanish progress toward Port-au-Prince in the south, but the Spanish pushed rapidly through the north, most of which they occupied by 1794. Although the Spanish military effort went well on Hispaniola, it did not so in Europe (see War of the Pyrenees). As a consequence, Spain was forced to cede Santo Domingo to the French under the terms of the Treaty of Basel (July 22, 1795) in order to get the French to withdraw from Spain.


French rule

French and British ships fighting at the battle of Santo Domingo (1806). In 1801, Toussaint Louverture, who at least in theory represented imperial France, marched into Santo Domingo from Saint-Domingue to enforce the terms of the treaty. Toussaint’s army committed numerous atrocities; as a consequence, the Spanish population fled from Santo Domingo in exodus proportions. French control of the former Spanish colony passed from Toussaint Louverture to Gen. Charles Leclerc when he seized the city of Santo Domingo in early 1802. Following the defeat of the French under Gen. Donatien de Rochembeau at Le Cap in November 1803 by the Haitians, their new leader, Dessalines, attempted to drive the French out of Santo Domingo. He invaded the Spanish side of the island, defeated the French-led Spanish colonials at River Yaque del Sur, and besieged the capital on March 5, 1805. At the same time the Haitian General Christophe marched north through Cibao, capturing Santiago where he massacred prominent individuals who had sought refuge in a church. The arrival of small French squadrons off the Haitian coast at Goncaives and at Santo Domingo forced the Haitians to withdraw. As Christophe retreated across the island, he slaughtered and burned. The British ejected the French and returned Santo Domingo to the Spaniards in 1809. The Spaniards not only tried to re-establish slavery in Santo Domingo, but many of them also mounted raiding expeditions into Haiti to capture blacks and enslave them as well.


Independence from Spain (1821)

After a dozen years of discontent and failed independence plots by various opposing groups, Santo Domingo’s former Lieutenant-Governor (top administrator), José Núñez de Cáceres, declared the colony’s independence from the Spanish crown as Spanish Haiti, on November 30, 1821. This period is also known as the Ephemeral independence.


Unification of Hispaniola (1822–44)

Jean-Pierre Boyer, the ruler of Haiti. The newly independent republic ended two months later under the Haitian government led by Jean-Pierre Boyer. As Toussaint Louverture had done two decades earlier, the Haitians abolished slavery. In order to raise funds for the huge indemnity of 150 million francs that Haiti agreed to pay the former French colonists, and which was subsequently lowered to 60 million francs, the Haitian government imposed heavy taxes on the Dominicans. Since Haiti was unable to adequately provision its army, the occupying forces largely survived by commandeering or confiscating food and supplies at gunpoint. Attempts to redistribute land conflicted with the system of communal land tenure (terrenos comuneros), which had arisen with the ranching economy, and some people resented being forced to grow cash crops under Boyer and Joseph Balthazar Inginac’s Code RuralIn the rural and rugged mountainous areas, the Haitian administration was usually too inefficient to enforce its own laws. It was in the city of Santo Domingo that the effects of the occupation were most acutely felt, and it was there that the movement for independence originated. Haiti’s constitution forbade white elites from owning land, and Dominican major landowning families were forcibly deprived of their properties. Many emigrated to Cuba, Puerto Rico (these two being Spanish possessions at the time), or Gran Colombia, usually with the encouragement of Haitian officials who acquired their lands. The Haitians associated the Roman Catholic Church with the French slave-masters who had exploited them before independence and confiscated all church property, deported all foreign clergy, and severed the ties of the remaining clergy to the Vatican. All levels of education collapsed; the university was shut down, as it was starved both of resources and students, with young Dominican men from 16 to 25 years old being drafted into the Haitian army. Boyer’s occupation troops, who were largely Dominicans, were unpaid and had to “forage and sack” from Dominican civilians. Haiti imposed a “heavy tribute” on the Dominican people. Many whites fled Santo Domingo for Puerto Rico and Cuba (both still under Spanish rule), Venezuela, and elsewhere. In the end the economy faltered and taxation became more onerous. Rebellions occurred even by Dominican freedmen, while Dominicans and Haitians worked together to oust Boyer from power. Anti-Haitian movements of several kinds – pro-independence, pro-Spanish, pro-French, pro-British, pro-United States – gathered force following the overthrow of Boyer in 1843.


Independence from Haiti (1844)

Statues honoring Trinitarian leaders Juan Pablo Duarte, Francisco del Rosario Sánchez, and Matías Ramón Mella. In 1838 Juan Pablo Duarte founded a secret society called La Trinitaria, which sought the complete independence of Santo Domingo without any foreign intervention and Francisco del Rosario Sánchez and Ramon Matias Mella, despite not being among the founding members of La Trinitaria, were decisive in the fight for independence. Duarte, Mella, and Sánchez are considered the three Founding Fathers of the Dominican Republic. The Trinitarios took advantage of a Haitian rebellion against the dictator Jean-Pierre Boyer. They rose up on January 27, 1843, ostensibly in support of the Haitian Charles Hérard who was challenging Boyer for the control of Haiti. However, the movement soon discarded its pretext of support for Hérard and now championed Dominican independence. After overthrowing Boyer, Hérard executed some Dominicans, and threw many others into prison; Duarte escaped. After subduing the Dominicans, Hérard, a mulatto, faced a rebellion by blacks in Port-au-Prince. Haiti had formed two regiments composed of Dominicans from the city of Santo Domingo; these were used by Hérard to suppress the uprising.

Comments are closed.