Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age

[Detail] General view of harbor at San Juan, Porto Rico looking South.

Introduction | World History | U.S. History

World History: Transformations in the Americas

Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age provides insight into the political, economic, and social transformations in the Americas in the nineteenth century. In addition, documents in the collection can help readers relate the Spanish-American War to U.S. participation in Western imperial expansion in the late nineteenth century.

The collection includes works by Salvador Brau, one of Puerto Rico’s leading historians. Brau’s "La colonización de Puerto Rico, desde el descubrimiento de la isla hasta la reversión á la corona española de los privilegios de Colón" is a classic study of the early period of Spanish rule in Puerto Rico, covering the years 1493-1550. He examined the impact of Spanish society on the native peoples and expressed considerable sympathy for their plight. Each chapter begins with a summary, and the appendices include copies of primary source documents important to the study of the island’s history.

In another work, "Puerto Rico y su historia: investigaciones críticas," Brau sought to correct factual errors in earlier works on Puerto Rico and relied on documents in the Archives of the Indies in Spain. He presented a copy of this study to General George W. Davis, Governor General of Puerto Rico, immediately after the close of the Spanish-American War.

In addition to being a historian, Brau was a journalist, novelist, and playwright. The collection includes an anthology of newspaper articles he wrote between 1880 and 1894. Titled "Ecos de la batalla. Artículos periodísticos," the anthology reflects the political ferment in Puerto Rico.

  • If you read Spanish, consider the titles of Brau’s three works from the collection. If you do not read Spanish, use a Spanish-English dictionary to make a rough translation of the titles. What do the titles reveal about the scope and focus of Brau’s work?
  • Find out more about Salvador Brau. What were his own political views? How might his life experience and views have given him a different perspective from that of a Spanish-born historian? Why is his work important in understanding Puerto Rico’s history?
Photo of a person in chains.

From "La cuestion social en las Antillas Espanolas."What do the information about Acosta and this illustration from the cover of a pamphlet published by the Secretaría de la Sociedad Abolicionista Española in 1872 suggest about slavery in Spanish colonies? How could you test your hypothesis?

In the 1780s, Inigo Abbad y Lasierra, a Spanish-born Catholic priest, wrote a history of Puerto Rico from the Spanish discovery through the late eighteenth century, "Historia geográfica, civil y natural de la isla de San Juan Bautista de Puerto-Rico." Pedro Tomás de Córdoba, secretary to the Captain General of Puerto Rico, 1816-1836, continued Abbad’s history from 1783 to 1831. Volumes 2 through 5 are included in the collection under Abbad’s title, "Memorias geográfica." De Córdoba presents a biased view of Spanish control and justifies Spain’s continued control over the island. In the mid 1860s, José Julian Acosta y Calbo revised Abbad’s study and published a "new edition," including annotations incorporating his own liberal philosophy favoring abolition of slavery and a reduction in Spanish control over trade and commerce.

On September 23, 1868, several hundred peasants revolted against Spanish rule near the town of Lares in western Puerto Rico. Liberals called for the abolition of slavery, freedom of the press, and independence from Spain and drew up a provisional constitution. The revolutionary "Army of Freedom" was quickly suppressed in their first clash with Spanish troops in the town of San Sebastián. Despite the prompt defeat, the liberal revolution, known as the Grito de Lares, is considered the beginning of Puerto Rico’s struggle for independence. The collection contains one account of the revolution, "Historia de la insurrección de Lares" by José Pérez Moris, an opponent of the movement.

The collection includes Rafael de Labra’s "La república y las libertades de ultramar" on the short-lived republican government established in Spain in 1873 and its impact on Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Rudolph Adams Middeldyk’s "History of Puerto Rico" was the first major history of Puerto Rico written in English. In Chapter XXV, Middeldyk dealt with "Political Events in Spain and Their Influence on Affairs in Puerto Rico." Read Chapter XXV and consider these questions:

  • What events was Middeldyk referring to when he said, "The events just summarized exercised a baneful influence on the social, political, and economic conditions of this and of its more important sister Antilla"? What reasons did he give for saying the effects on Puerto Rico and the other islands was negative?
  • How does Middeldyk describe the Spanish officials who governed Puerto Rico? Do you think his view was justified? Give examples to support your answer.
  • Make a timeline showing the events of 1868 as related by Middeldyk. According to Middeldyk, what were the insurrection’s consequences for politics in Puerto Rico?