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Puerto Rico

The Port of San Juan is the capital and biggest city in Puerto Rico. Located on the northern shores of the island, it is the second-oldest capital established by Europeans in the Americas.

The Spanish originally called it “Ciudad de Puerto Rico” (or Rich City Port) and the island "San Juan." Over time, common usage has reversed the names.

Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon founded the first settlement in the area of the Port of San Juan, calling in Caparra, in 1508. In 1521, the settlement was moved to the harbor entrance and renamed to San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico. The Spanish began to fortify the settlement in 1533 to protect it from the indigenous Taino and other European powers.


Spanish explorers used the Port of San Juan as their departure point in the early 16th Century, and merchant vessels called often at the port. While it withstood attacks by many, including Sir Francis Drake in 1595, it was captured for a short time in 1589 by the 3rd Earl of Cumberland. In 1625, the Dutch made a surprise land-side assault to take the Port of San Juan, resulting in the construction of the fortress of San Cristobal, the biggest Spanish fort in the Americas.

In 1797, the British attacked the Port of San Juan again, laying siege to the Port of San Juan but were repelled by the strong Puerto Rican defenses. In 1898, the guns at San Cristobal fired on a US fleet that was bombing the Port of San Juan. That year, the Treaty of Paris made Puerto Rico a US territory.

April 24, 1823, New Times, London, United Kingdom
April 24, 2010, British Press, London, United Kingdom


The following Correspondence has recently passed with the Admiralty on this subject:

Freeman's court, April 15, 1823

Patriot Pirates. Privateers. Robert H. Patton, Author.

Sir — We think it right to communicate to you for the information of their Lordships, some intelligence which we have received from a person who left Puerto Rico on the 1st January last, as to the proceedings of the Privateers in that quarter.

He was at Puerto Rico about a fortnight, during which time two American vessels and one British, were brought in. Commissions were granted without reserve to privateers to capture any vessels of whatever description that were found trading or attempting to trade with the Spanish colonies proof of circumstance being all that was necessary to procure condemnation. Encouraged by this system, a privateer of 14 guns and 180 men was fitting out at Puerto Rico when he left, for the express purpose of cruising in the track of vessels bound to Buenos Ayres in the Pacific, all of which that they could succeed capturing, they were determined to bring into Puerto Rico. Among the many vessels that bad been brought into Puerto Rico, he could hear of no instance of any escaping condemnation.

We are, Sir,
Your most obedient Servants, 
(Signed) James A. Powles and Co.
Admiralty Office, April 17, 1832

GENTLEMEN Having laid before my Lords Commissioner of the Admiralty your letter of yesterday's date, communicating some intelligence which you had received from a person who left Puerto Rico on the 1st January last, respecting the proceed of the privateers fitted out at that Island to cruise against vessels trading with the late Spanish Colonies; I am commanded by their Lordships to acquaint you, that orders from the Spanish Government, rescinding the regulations under which the proceedings alluded to were instituted at Puerto Rico, have received at that Island subsequently to the date mentioned in your letter.

I am, Gentlemen, 
Your very obedient Servant,
(Signed) J. W. Croker

July 31, 1830, The Sandusky Clarion, Sandusky, Ohio


In the year 1825, as nearly as I can recollect, Capt. Sloat, of the American armed schooner Grampus, stationed at St. Thomas, captured a celebrated pirate, that had been outlawed for some years, in the following manner. The name of the pirate I cannot now remember.

Caribbean Map.

Captain Sloat having heard that the pirate was somewhere along the south side of Puerto Rico, purchased or hired a small sloop that had just arrived at St. Thomas, from thence, loaded with tobacco and coffee. As soon as he had discharged her cargo, he put two lieutenants and thirty-five men on hoard, well armed, with four or six small six pounders, with orders immediately to proceed to the same place she would have returned to had he not engaged her; retaining one or two of her former crew as pilots. On her entering the small harbor, the pirate discovered and knew her, and made all possible sail to prevent her communicating with the shore before he captured her; expecting to find specie or dry goods, in return for the tobacco and coffee she had taken to St. Thomas.

As he approached the sloop to nearly a short parallel distance, he showed symptoms of suspicion on discovering the guns (all hands were concealed but the pilots), he then had too much headway to escape, which he attempted by wearing; but the sloop got outside of him and gave him a discharge of musketry, which was kept up with all the vigor possible, killing 11 of his crew; the remainder laid flat down, and refused to fight or navigate . . . (article is destroyed at this point and picks up again)

The pursuers immediately knew him to be the one they were in search of, and having recollected having more than once passed him, without suspecting who it was so well did he act his part and such unconcern did he show. In a short time they again discovered the pretended herd. Two or three of the foremost in the pursuit at tacked him. He made a wonderful defence. One or two attacked him with swords for some little time; while a third, seeing how obstinately he fought, fired his blunderbuss, loaded with slugs, at him, which took effect in his shoulder and knee. He nevertheless continued to fight with his other hand until the one who fired at him struck him with the but-end of his blunderbuss on the ribs, a most severe blow, which brought him to the ground. They even then had difficulty in securing him.

Historic print of Ponce, Puerto Rico.

He and the other prisoners were sent to St. John's, the capital of Puerto Rico, to be tried. The Americans returned to St. Thomas's, after being in great distress, from the leaky state of the old sloop, and the heavy rains that fell during this expedition. The deck, as they expressed it, leaked like a riddle. After their return, Captain Sloat determined to visit the pirate and sailed to St. John's, Puerto Rico. He was admitted to the cachot where the pirate was confined, thirty feet below the level of the sea, in the Mora Castle. He found him quite composed, and busily employed in taking all the possible care he could of his wounds, although he was sentenced to death. Captain Sloat informed him that visited him in consequence of the account his officers gave him of his dauntless courage and cool presence of mind under danger that had appalled all his companions, and also his wonderful exertion in working his vessel alone as he had done. Captain S. expressed his regret that such qualities should have been so badly applied. The pirate said he had been so long accustomed to be fired at, it never gave him the least concern He had a firm conviction on his mind that he would not be touched. He mentioned further, that that consciousness kept him always cool and collected in action. He once determined on quitting his mode of life, and becoming a citizen of the United States; but that, a few days after he had sailed from St. Domingo with that intention, he was wrecked on that Island, in the hurricane of 1819. He was the only one saved on board; but he lost the vessel, cargo, and specie, of great value, which was his all. This reduced him to a very low and desperate state, obliging him to associate with a few lawless characters like himself.

They embarked in small vessel or boats, and captured whatever they could. He mentioned having killed above four hundred persons with his own hands during the preceding eight years that he had been outlawed; but he declared that never, to his knowledge, had he ever killed a native of Puerto Rico, his birth place. He appeared touched by Captain Sloat's sympathy, and declared that he had created feelings in his breast he thought never could have existed. He made an unreserved confession of all that he had done himself, but would give no information that would lead to the detection of others, although he had himself in a manner been betrayed, the particulars of which I cannot recollect. When he was taken out to be shot, there was not the least concern visible on his countenance. He fell without a struggle; and all the companions of his lawless life who had been taken were similarly condemned, and underwent the same fate.

September 30, 1848, Californian

The steamer Great Western is to sail from New York on the 12th of each month for Bermuda, St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, carrying the mails.

August 13, 1875, Anglo American Times, London, United Kingdom

The New York Herald gives the details of an attack on the British mail steamer Eider by the Spanish authorities at Puerto Rico. The Eider had on board a passenger named Luis Venegas, who had come to St. Thomas from Puerto Rico whence he took passage to San Domingo, as agent of a mercantile firm. It is alleged that in a town of that island, Puerto Plata, an expedition was forming to invade the Spanish island of Puerto Rico, which kept the Spaniards on the alert. On the arrival of the Eider at Aquadilla, the Spanish officials searched among the names of the passengers, and no sooner did they see Venegas than they demanded his surrender. As the captain refused it was telegraphed at all the ports at which the steamer was to touch, and on arrival, permission to land passengers was refused. On reaching the capital, however, the order was peremptory to surrender Venegas, and the gunboat El Lincecleared for action, and got the mail steamer under her guns, and Luis Venegas was taken against the protest of the captain, and it added, shot.

May 11, 1852, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

The Order states that the government has ordered a reinforcement of 1600 men to go to Cuba, 1200 of whom will go from Spain and the rest from Puerto Rico. Four thousand percussion muskets are also to be sent.

General Conedo, the new Governor-General, was to leave for Cadiz, where he was to embark for Havana, with the new Captain-General of Puerto Rico.

October 17, 1870, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, USA

The Gleaner says that the three shore ends of the cables from Jamaica to Cuba, Jamaica to Aspinwall, Jamaica to Puerto Rico, have been successfully laid, and the vessels will leave shortly with the deep sea portions for Aspinwall, and will afterward return to Kingston to load up with cable for Puerto Rico.

The expedition may be expected at Colon on the 12th October, when the work of laying the cable from that port to Jamaica will be immediately commenced.

August 15, 1900, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, USA

Sailed for Puerto Rico

Boston, August 14. — The gunboat Mayflower, having on board Governor Charles H. Allen of Puerto Rico, sailed from Charleston Navy Yard today for the Island.

January 25, 1900, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, USA

Puerto Rico Census

San Juan (Puerto Rico), January 24 — The official census of Puerto Rico has been finished. San Juan has 32,500 inhabitants. Ponce has nearly twice as many residents, the number being 56,000.There are 957,000 inhabitants on the island.

February 19, 1906, The Washington Post , Washington, District of Columbia, USA

The Isle of Pines.

An impartial perusal of the official documents relating to the transfer of the Isle of Pines from Spain to the United States, as contained In the majority and minority reports of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on the Isle of Pines treaty, leaves the conviction that the treaty is the proposed consummation of a fine piece of jugglery, whose only apparent object is to smooth over a blunder made by Gen. Leonard Wood.

In the treaty of Paris, Spain ceded to the United States "the island of Porto Rico and other Islands now under Spanish sovereignty in the West Indies." It is now contended that the Isle of Pines was not one of the "other islands," but was considered a part of Cuba. The United States, however, did not so consider the Isle of Pines during or after the war, according to the correspondence of various officials. A military government was established in the Isle of Pines, administered by Gov. Gen. Wood.

Assistant Secretary of War Meiklejohn made the official statement that the Isle of Pines belonged to the United States. The map of the United States prepared by the General Land Office was changed in order to insert a map of the Isle of Pines as American territory, and the former Commissioner of the General Land Office, now a member of Congress, stated on the floor of the House that President McKinley gave specific instructions to the Interior Department that the Isle of Pines should be noted upon the large cession map of the United States showing the different acquisitions of public domain.

Maritime Maps.

The War Department not only approved the acts of Gov. Gen. Wood in appointing a mayor of the Isle of Pines, but issued alluring statements to the public regarding the opportunities awaiting enterprising Americans In the new possession. The first shadow of doubt upon the title of the United States to the Isle of Pines was cast by Senator Platt, of Connecticut, in his famous amendment, when he used the words: "That the Isle of Pines shall be omitted from the proposed constitutional "boundaries of Cuba, the title thereto being left to future adjustment by treaty." This was not, of course, a concession that the Island belonged to Cuba, but was quite the reverse; but upon it has been erected the fragile plan for the disposal of the Isle for a "consideration" that has all the appearance of a makeshift and an afterthought. Mr. Root as Secretary of War directed Gov. Gen. Wood to advise the incoming Cuban government that "the present government of the Isle of Pines will continue as a de facto government, pending the settlement of the title," &c. The "present government" at that time was, of course, the United States, acting through its military officers in Cuba.

Instead of obeying these instructions, Gov. Gen. Wood transferred the Isle of Pines to Cuba. The blunder was not noticed at the time, and not until American residents of the Isle of Pines made complaint did the matter demand the attention of the United States. Then a treaty was negotiated "for the adjustment of title to the Isle "of Pines." This treaty was signed March 2, 1904. The consideration to the United States for "relinquishing" all "claim of title" was declared to be "the grants of coaling and naval stations in the island of Cuba, heretofore made." Scrutiny of the "grants" in question shows them to be in the form of a lease, signed July 2, 1903, in which the United States obtains Guantanamo and Bahia Honda in consideration of $2,000 gold per annum. This lease, which is really a treaty, was signed by Minister Squiers and the acting secretary of state of Cuba, Jose M. Garcia Montes, and was approved by the President October 2, 1903. It contains no hint or suggestion of any consideration other than the $2,000 gold per annum.

Senator Morgan, in his minority report, describes the pending treaty as "an afterthought to cover a plain violation of law." The documents in the case certainly leave much to be explained, If the proposed transfer of the Isle of Pines is not what it appears to be an effort to gloss over the act of Gen. Leonard Wood in transferring the Isle of Pines to Cuba when he was plainly directed not to do so.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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