Page images
PDF
EPUB

greater efforts or the overturning of long-rooted tendencies, so long will the condition of the great body of the laboring classes continue very much as it is and the great percentage of the toilers remain, as to-day, in the lower grades of wage workers.

In the United States the wage worker is associated principally with the large communities and the commercial, constructive, mechanical, and manufacturing interests, rarely with agricultural labor. Except as the great granger movement in the United States a few years ago is to be counted as such, there has been no considerable class expression of the agriculturalist in labor relations. Special combinations, usually local, short-lived, and of little importance, have now and then sprung up among certain classes of land wage workers, such as the hop pickers, the wheat harvesters, etc., of the great West, but the agricultural laborer is seldom thought of when “labor problems” in the United States are mentioned.

In Porto Rico, where agriculture is basic; where 78.6 per cent of the entire population is practically rural and essentially agricultural; where a very small fraction of the per cent named will represent those in the rural districts exempt from labor, it is plain that “labor problems" relate almost wholly to the agricultural toiler, his interests, condition, and needs.

While it is true that the seaport cities and the larger towns present conditions and questions more or less analogous to those familiarly known in industry in the United States, the student of labor relations and interests in Porto Rico must first consider the great peon class, which constitutes an overwhelming proportion of the island's population-a population, indeed, of unskilled labor.

Any enumeration of the respective numbers engaged in the several industries of the island must of necessity be approximate rather than exact, and this is especially true as to the subdivision or classification of the peons or laborers, whether rural or urban. All are, from the general insufficiency and instability of employment in almost every occupation, constantly changing place, work, and abode, working wherever they can and at whatever they can find to do.

A fact which impresses the observer of labor conditions in Porto Rico is the great excess of labor of the lowest grade. Unfavorable in most cases as is this excess, it is not without some small measure of advantage, for its attendant low wages and hard conditions coupled with the drastic character of Spanish rule have most happily saved the island from the necessity for and importation of the "cooly” labor upon which Cuba, Jamaica, and the Hawaiian Islands have of late years been compelled in large measure to depend.

The amelioration of the untoward conditions resulting from this excess will be considered later. That it exists in a greater degree in the few cities and larger communities than in the rural districts is no

[ocr errors]

less true in Porto Rico than in the United States. The tendency of laborers, especially of the lower grades, is to flock to the populous centers. It has, as in the United States, evidently increased since the abolition of slavery.

No more significant proof of this superabundance of labor could exist than the fact that not a few planters, even those somewhat remote from the shipping ports and commercial centers and sometimes situated at no great distance from the belt railroad or from even the sea coast, find it cheaper to transport their coffee, tobacco, and other products on the beads of peons to these ports and markets than by railroad, “bull carts," or even by sea. Unhappily, this excess of labor over the industrial demands of the island does not materially stimulate personal activity in small agricultural or other industries on the part of the unemployed. Their natural indolence and small necessities seem to lead them to accept indigence and vagrancy as no great evils.

The history of labor in Porto Rico has been one of sharply varying and kaleidoscopic conditions. The original slave labor of the indigenes, with possibly the addition of a few Negroes early brought from Santo Domingo by the conquerors, continued for many years, the native an erer decreasing and the Negro a steadily increasing factor. The employment, until the introduction of some of the chief agricultural staples in the next century after the discovery of the island by Columbus in 1493, was chiefly, according to early historians, that of labor in the placer gold mines and explorations for gold, silver, and precious stones, for the Spaniard was first of all a gold hunter. It is possible that the natives were employed to some extent in Cuban iron mines, in the salt mines, and in the iron and galena ores of their own island, and were necessarily engaged somewhat in its primitive agriculture for the support of their masters and themselves.

There is much diversity of opinion among early writers as to the population of the island in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but it is probable that the expression of Las Casas that “it was populated like a beehive” at the time of the discovery should not be taken too literally. The following, furnished by Dr. Cayetano Coll y Toste, probably states the recorded facts, as far as ascertainable, for the early periods. It will be understood that where the population figures of the few towns are given in the earlier periods, they by no means indicate the population of the rural sections:

1493 (year of discovery).-According to Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, the island was populated like a beehive. Fray Iñigo Abbad accepts Bayacete's total of 600,000 inhabitants. The probabilities are that, owing to the difficulties of obtaining food and to the struggle of the aborigines against the unhealthy condition of the intertropical zone, the number of the indigenes did not exceed 80.000 or 100,000.

1515-1535. - Thirty-five inhabitants in the village of Caparra [the first town of Ponce de Leon) and 35 in San German. the only towns of the

island (Licenciado Velazquez). The indigenes were divided into gangs and made to work in the mines. Those who took part in the uprising (about 1510) were branded on the forehead with an F.

1548.- The capital (San Juan), more than 100 residents; San German, a few more than 30 (Bishop Bastido). Aboriginals, but very few.

1556. The capital (San Juan), 130 inhabitants; San German, 20. (The latter had been burned by French corsairs.)

1616.-The capital, 500 inhabitants; San German, 200; Arecibo, 100, and Coamo, 80.

1759.-5,611 fighting men, according to Gov. Esteban Bravo. 1765.44,833 souls, according to Governor O’Reylly (first census). 1775.—70,260 souls (Fray Iñigo). 1782.--81,120 souls. 1783.-87,984 souls. 1788.—101,398 souls. 1793.-120,022 souls. 1796.--132,982 souls. 1798.-144,525 souls. 1799.-153,232 souls. 1800.--155,426 souls. 1802.-163,192 souls. 1803.-174,902 souls. 1812.-183,014 souls. 1815.--220,892 souls. 1834.-358,836 souls. 1846.443,139 souls (Santiago Fortun). 1860.-580,329 souls (Paulino Garcia). 1877.-731,648 souls. 1884.—784,709 souls.

1887.-802,439 souls. This census comprises 174,933 whites, 246,647 mixed bloods, and 76,985 Negroes; also 3,224 members of the army, 114 of the navy, and 536 prisoners.

1897.-899,394 souls. This census comprises 573,187 whites, 241,900 of mixed blood, and 75,824 Negroes; also 7,014 members of the army, 368 of the navy, and 1,101 prisoners. Since 1867 a census has been ordered taken every ten years.

From 1860 to 1867 no census was taken. A marked decrease will be noticed in the number of Negroes by comparing the total of 75,824 in the census of 1897 with that of 76,985 in the census of 1887. By prohibiting the immigration of Negroes from the neighboring islands, estimating the annual loss to that race through absorption by the white and mixed races at 3 per cent, those 75,824 Negroes that remain in the island would disappear in a period of about 300 years. This is a very interesting anthropological study, because, in the event of this happening, the island of Porto Rico would be the only one of the West Indies where the white race would predominate numerically.

As the native Indian died out the Negro came in to take his place as the chief labor factor of the island. Meanwhile the accession of large numbers, not slaves, from the Barbary coast and from the other Antil. les, from France, the island of Corsica, the South American provinces, and from Spain and Portugal, contributed different classes and numerous wage workers, who speedily became amalgamated with the body of the population. (a) At all times, and increasingly after the first half century, agriculture was the chief employment, commerce, whatever its volume, having no other basis and little development except as related to it, and all other employments being accessory only. (6) Negro slave labor was of course the main reliance, gradually increasing its numbers, as the following tables and statements will show, until 1546, when it began to decline. Meantime the heterogeneous components, from the sources mentioned, and their rapid normal increase, had come to constitute by a large plurality the preponderant body of the population, a laboring and chiefly an agricultural people.

A few Negro slaves probably came with the discoverer from Santo Domingo, and others doubtless accompanied the advent of Ponce de Leon and Diego Colon, but the first legal authorization of their introduction was in 1513, under a tax of 2 ducats per head. By the statements of Fray Iñigo Abbad it appears that through successive imperial authorizations or cedulas—besides some smuggled in-Negro slaves were brought to Porto Rico in the early period as follows:

[blocks in formation]

a Dr. Coll y Toste states that “the first Spanish immigrants were principally from southern Spain and were a population of mixed races of the Mediterranean. These immigrants, it is said, mixed their blood freely with the native Indians. Following this immigration, Negro slaves from Africa were brought to the island. In this present century (and earlier) an immigration of quite a different type of Spaniard from the pioneer element set in, both from the American continent and from Europe. They were driven, on the one hand, from the Spanish main by the wars of independence of the Central and South American Republics; on the other, many people from the high plains and north of Spain, the Balearic and the Canary Islands, came to better their fortunes in a part of Spanish America as yet untouched by the spirit of revolution and independence. These elements constitute the principal nucleus of the Spanish population in the island to-day, and they have maintained a greater purity of race than those who arrived at an earlier epoch."

According to Dr. Coll y Toste “sugar cane was taken to Hispaniola in 1506, whence it was brought to Porto Rico in 1515.” In 1548 the first sugar plantation was established near the Bayamon River. “Until then nothing but molasses was manufactured from the cane. Coffee was brought from Guadeloupe to Porto Rico in 1763. Tobacco was indigenous and much prized by the native Indians, but the Spanish Government fought its use; two Papal bulls excommunicated those who used it, and a Spanish royal cedula in 1608 prohibited definitely the cultivation of tobacco in Porto Rico. In 1634, however, tobacco was again grown, and also cacao. The cultivation of the former steadily increased until 1836, after which its cultivation diminished for a time, but revived, and it remains the third important staple of the island.”

Their importation rapidly increased in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the number of Negro slaves in the island in 1765, and for a hundred years later, was approximately as follows:

[blocks in formation]

The slave population increased rapidly up to 1845, and as rapidly fell off after that year. From 1862 to 1872 the number of slaves steadily decreased, the census of the latter year giving the total number of blacks as 257,709, of whom 31,635 were slaves. The ardent desire on the part of the native Porto Rican planters themselves to be freed from slavery, on humanitarian grounds, is to be credited with its final abolition. For many years the Porto Ricans endeavored to have the Spanish Government abolish slavery in the island; and almost or quite two-thirds of all the slaves were owned by native Porto Ricans. In 1870 they secured the so-called “Moret law," by which all new-born slaves were made free, and on March 22, 1873, the Porto Rican representative in the Spanish Revolutionary National Assembly, aided by the Spanish Liberal party, secured the passage of a law abolishing slavery in the island forever. The condition was most wisely embodied in the law that all freedmen should enter into contract with their actual possessors, with other persons, or with the State, for a period of not less than three years. Three officers of the insular government were appointed to protect the interests of the freedmen in their contracts, and provision was made to indemnify the late owners under appraisals. The number of slaves freed was 39,000, and $200 the average price paid their owners.

While the abolition of slavery, based as it was upon terms retaining the freedman upon the soil, did not for a decade influence noticeably the proportion of whites, blacks, and mixed in the population of the island, there is, in the opinion of competent observers, no doubt that in a few decades the proportion of the latter was greatly increased, or that the percentage of blacks somewhat decreased. It is impossible, however, to tell how far this may have been offset by the considerable influx, after slavery ceased, of blacks from the Danish and other West Indian islands.

Whatever of the feudal relation of the serf to the land may have existed in the earliest days of the conquerors--and there is evidence

« PreviousContinue »