Page images
[blocks in formation]

Of the population of Porto Rico, which according to the census taken in 1899 under the auspices of the War Department was 953,243, the inhabitants of the cities and towns aggregated 203,792, or 21.4 per cent, leaving 749,451, or 78.6 per cent, as the hamlet and rural population.

The area of the island and its adjacent islands, as ascertained by a recent United States survey, approximates 3,606 square miles. There are, therefore, 264 persons to the square mile, a density of population about equal to that of New Jersey, and considerably less than that of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The female population is in excess only 8,721, or 0.9 per cent of the total population, and a comparison with the Spanish census statistics of 1861 and 1887 indicates that the proportion of females is slowly, though steadily, increasing.

Of the total population, 31 per cent are under 10 years of age, a higher proportion than is found in any State of the Union, or in any other of the West Indian islands. Deducting this 31 per cent, or 295,505, from the total number of inhabitants, the remaining 657,738 constitute the total from which the wage workers of the island must be drawn, although a considerable number of children under the age of 10 (a), chiefly boys, earn the whole or part of a living for themselves, and sometimes even for others, as street peddlers or in the other vocations of outdoor life in which child labor in the Tropics can be employed.

Only 11.8 per cent of the population, or 112,934, of whom 55,608 are males and 57,326 are females, exceed 15 years of age. Deducting liberally from this number for the very few of advanced age and for

a The War Department census of 1899 says “one-fifth.”

old, male and female, black, white, and mixed, in the list of those who, except as they craftily or indolently evade their responsibilities, “ eat their bread in the sweat of their brows."

Those possessed of means disdain both labor and the laborer; the wealthy class, notably the women, are emphatically the idle class, though the vicious, the willfully indolent, the beggar, and the large number of the physically afflicted each contribute a large quota thereto. Poverty in various degrees and the lower grades of toil, the latter usually procuring bare subsistence only, are the lot of the great mass of the people.

These sharp lines of demarcation, this clear separation and strong contrast between the capitalist, the merchant, the planter, the “factor” and their families, and the wage worker are due to the fact that the intelligent, well-informed, and thrifty producer, the master craftsman, and the skilled mechanic, such as are found in the United States, have here so small and so poor representation.

More potent, however, than any other factor in fixing and holding the great body of the wage workers of the island in the class of lowestconditioned servants of toil is the want of incentive, of stimulus, and of opportunity. It was long since discerned and expressed by missionaries to the tropical islands that “until the natives could be made to want something there were no available means for reaching them and improving their condition.” So long as "a banana diet and a palm shack” in the country and the cheapest of food and a single room in the towns cover alike the needs and ambitions of life; so long as the bare necessaries of existence can be obtained by the minimum of labor, while the climate encourages indolence, and no incentive exists to

authority over the custom-houses of the island. He received the following reply, which will be accepted as conclusive by all who know Collector Whitehead:


Port of San Juan, P. R., December 1, 1900. Maj. AZEL AMES,

San Juan, P. R. MY DEAR SIR: Responding to your letter of the 26th ultimo, in relation to the alleged "unlimited number of criminals and undesirable people” coming into Porto Rico, I have to state that the total number of persons arrived in Porto Rico from South American ports from May 1, 1900, to this date, is 136.

This statement of transactions carries with it perhaps all the comment it is desirable for me to make, referring to the published article mentioned in your letter. But I may add that if there is “official evidence" to the effect that numbers of fugitives and “refugees” are constantly coming into Porto Rico from South American countries, I am not aware of it. Collectors of customs are charged, within their respective districts, with the execution of the laws relating to immigration at points where there are no immigration officers. The laws in force at ports in the United States in this regard are also applicable to Porto Rico, and if there has been dereliction of duty on the part of customs officers in this district, the proofs are invited. Yours, respectfully,

G. W. WHITEHEAD, Collector.

« PreviousContinue »