Hispaniola and Puerto Rico

The five caciquedoms of Hispaniola at the time of Columbus’ arrival (1492). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

The island of Hispaniola, later split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was home to the Taíno and later colonised by the Spanish Empire after its discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492. It was also the site of many female rulers. After Spanish conquest, the French gained control of Haiti after Hispaniola was divided between the two nations in 1697, though French settlement had begun decades before. Throughout the period of colonisation, several indigenous cacicas continued to rule over divided territories but not without difficulty owing to the island’s status as a central location for enslaved workers to be employed on plantations. In 1791, Toussaint Louverture led a revolt of enslaved peoples against the French colonists, which succeeded in 1803. A century of political change followed between empire and republic, followed by colonisation by the United States of America, which ended in 1934.

Its neighbour, Puerto Rico, was also settled by the Taíno peoples, having previously been home to the Ortoiroid and Saladoid peoples in the early period. Puerto Rico was colonised by the Spanish after Columbus’ arrival and became a site for trade in foodstuffs and was an active port. It did not become a site for heavy plantation work like its neighbours, though enslaved workers were used on the island for labour. Independence movements throughout the nineteenth century were largely unsuccessful, with Spain encouraging European settlement in an attempt to dissuade rebellion. After the Spanish-American war, Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States of America in the Treaty of Paris on 11 April 1899. Since 1950 Puerto Rico has existed as a commonwealth state under the USA.

You can find out more about some of these amazing female leaders below!


Fernandez, Ronald, Serafín Mendez Mendez and Gail Cueto. Puerto Rico Past and Present: An Encyclopedia. Westport: Greenwood, 1998

Journal of Haitian Studies

Levin Rojo, Danna A., and Cynthia Radding, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Borderlands of the Iberian World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019

Madiou, Thomas. Histoire d’Haïti. Port-au-Prince: J. Courtois, 1847

Oliver, José R. Caciques and Cemí Idols: The Web Spun by Taíno Rulers Bteween Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2009.

Robiou Lamarche, Sebastian. Tainos and Caribs: The Aboriginal Cultures of the Antilles. 2019

Waterman, Charles E. Carib Queens. Boston: Bruce Humphries, 1932.

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