The Taino Indi­ans who were orig­i­nal­ly from South Amer­i­ca were the first to inhab­it Puer­to Rico some­time in the 1400’s. In 1493 Colum­bus arrived in his sec­ond voy­age to the new world. Span­ish explor­er Juan Ponce de Leon found­ed the vil­lage of Caparra (that is now San Juan) in 1508 and he was named the gov­er­nor of the island in 1509 by Spain. The Spaniards intro­duced slav­ery in 1521 and built the first Catholic Church in 1523 which is the old­est church still in use in Amer­i­ca. Sug­ar cane was pro­duced in 1523 and a hos­pi­tal in 1524.

The city of San Juan was named for St. John the Bap­tist and the island was named Puer­to Rico or rich port. It very soon became Spain’s most impor­tant mil­i­tary post in the Caribbean. Due to the inte­gra­tion of Spaniards, Taino Indi­ans and African slaves, today’s pop­u­la­tion is a cul­tur­al mix of their ances­try. In 1570 many of the orig­i­nal Tain­os retreat­ed to the cen­tral moun­tain­ous region of Puer­to Rico to pro­tect them­selves from the Spaniards.

The Indi­ans tried unsuc­cess­ful­ly to oust the Span­ish Con­quis­ta­dores from the island but they were bad­ly out­num­bered and unable to accom­plish more than get­ting killed, enslaved or dying from dis­ease or mis­treat­ment. At first there was some gold that the Span­ish quick­ly deplet­ed and then agri­cul­ture became their pri­ma­ry prod­uct although breed­ing and export­ing of hors­es became a major source of income when the gold was gone and hors­es con­tin­ue to be an inte­gral part of life here for many.

In the 1800’s Spain award­ed land grants to South Amer­i­can and Euro­pean or Span­ish immi­grants. This influx of immi­grants changed the econ­o­my to cof­fee and sug­ar pro­duc­ers with large plan­ta­tions replac­ing the small­er farms. After a long move­ment, Puer­to Rico final­ly abol­ished slav­ery in 1873. At the end of the Span­ish Amer­i­can War in 1917, Puer­to Rico was grant­ed to the Unit­ed States from Spain and all Puer­to Ricans were award­ed U.S. cit­i­zen­ry.

Since 1948 Puer­to Rico has had a gov­er­nor and has been under Com­mon­wealth sta­tus although it was offered inde­pen­dence; how­ev­er it chose to remain a Com­mon­wealth. Today Puer­to Rico has many fac­to­ries that enjoy tax incen­tives and while tourism is a small part of the econ­o­my, it still has to import approx­i­mate­ly 90% of its food. It does not pay fed­er­al income tax or vote in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, but it does serve in the US armed forces, receive fed­er­al wel­fare and pays social secu­ri­ty tax­es.

Source by David R Her­nan­dez