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Santo Domingo

Explored and claimed by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage in 1492, the island of Hispaniola became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American mainland. In 1697, Spain recognized French dominion over the western third of the island, which in 1804 became Haiti.

Santo Domingo reprints available by clicking on images.
Black Revolt in Santo Domingo
September 16, 1802
Jean Francois Pourvoyeur

The remainder of the island, by then known as Santo Domingo, sought to gain its own independence in 1821 but was conquered and ruled by the Haitians for 22 years; it finally attained independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844.

In 1861, the Dominicans voluntarily returned to the Spanish Empire, but two years later they launched a war that restored independence in 1865.

November 22, 1879, Colonies and India, London, United Kingdom


. . . In Santo Domingo, as in every other part of the West Indies where slavery does not exist, labour difficulties vanish where tact, sympathy, and fair dealing are brought into play by the employer. The Negro is very grateful for a kind word, a kind act, and he will work steadily and well where he receives these, and just treatment in the matter of wages. Of course he requires management, and perhaps more supervision than the European labourer, for he becomes idle and listless if he feels no eye on him; but at the worst, he never ''scamps" his work, and he does not know what "malingering" is.

Santo Domingo, with a Glance at Hayti
Samuel Hazard. 1873

Santo Domingo past and present. Samuel Hazard. 1873.

In the towns of Santo Domingo the rate of wages for labourers is from one to two shillings a day. Carpenters, masons, joiners, and other handicraftsmen get from two to three dollars. Agricultural labour is paid for at the rate of a shilling a day; but agricultural labourers are scarce, and cannot be got to work continuously for wages. The products of the country are grown by peasant farmers, cultivating in the rudest fashion their own or the public lands; and where the estates are large, and belong to one owner, they are generally cultivated on the metayer system.

West Indies. 1688. (from Pirates of the Caribbean)

West Indies.

In mines, however, or on railways, where the temptation of high wages would intervene, labour would be forthcoming in any quantity.

No railway contractor would have any difficulty in getting as much unskilled labour as he required in the country; and in the event of the mines being opened by capitalists, there will be no lack of labour to work them. Physically, the men are a fine lot. If disposed to idle their time when they are not overlooked, they are capable of great endurance, and can work in their climate as well and as long as Englishmen in theirs. Neither are they deficient in intelligence. They are less given to larceny of growing crops and of poultry than the peasantry of the English West India Colonies, and certainly they have more self-respect, the natural consequence of national independence and self-government.


"If I am asked whether the law and property are respected in Santo Domingo, I will say, as to the latter, Yes. I have some hesitation in saying the laws are respected. Leaving alone the frequent revolutions, during which all law is set aside, crime indeed is not more frequent in Santo Domingo than in European countries; indeed, I believe it, on the whole, to he less so. It is certainly punished, as in other countries, in the regular course of justice, and public opinion generally is sound and favourable to law and order. The prison system, however, is a farce. The prisons exist, but the Government makes no provision for the feeding or clothing of prisoners; and it is no uncommon thing to see a convict in chains begging in the streets, with a soldier, equally wretched-looking, behind him ! Prisoners are also hired out to work for private individuals; and sometimes the only pay a soldier receives is the money which the prisoner whom he guards divides with him out of the proceeds of his labour.

West Indies. Caribbean, Cuba, Florida. 1757.

Map. West Indies. Caribbean, Cuba, Florida. 1757.

A man who takes no active part in the politics of the country is safe at all times in his person, and generally so in his property. If he is the possessor of herds, they may be requisitioned by an army on the march; but his rights as owner are always respected, in reality or in profession. If not paid in cash for what is taken, paper promises to pay will be given, and should the party in arms succeed in grasping power the farmer is Sure to be well paid. Foreigners are never interfered with except in this way, though they very often abuse the hospitality of the country.

An American, resident in Port-au-Prince, some years ago, where he accumulated a large fortune, did his best to help on the ruin of the country by flooding it with counterfeit paper currency, which he would regularly import from New York in barrels and hogsheads; yet no violence was ever offered to his person in the many revolutions which occurred in the country during his sojourn. They have now reverted to a metallic currency in Haiti; but in the days to which I refer the currency was paper, issued by the Government, and it was unconvertible. Whenever an ambitious General wished to "pronounce," he would seek Captain Cutts and contract with him for so much money, as much as he thought necessary for his purposes, payable in the paper of the country. Captain Cutts would then send one of the "greenbacks," or "assignats," of the country to New York, with an order for so many hundredweight of the same pattern of note, which would duly arrive in the ordinary packages in which American goods are put up. On arrival the "money" was counted out to the aspiring General, who, if his "pronunciamento" landed him in power, rewarded his Yankee friend with some valuable concession; but, in the event of failure, why, Captain Cutts had the deposit money on account of the loan, which more than covered the cost of manufacturing the notes and conveying them to Haiti."


"Title to land is in a state of considerable confusion in both Haiti and Santo Domingo. Things are decidedly "mixed" in that respect. The fact is, the country is wanting in many of the fundamental institutions of a community with pretensions to civil order. Land is conveyed in the most informal manner, and there is no proper registration of titles. In Haiti, whites who are also foreigners cannot hold real property, but the land laws are more liberal in Santo Domingo: and there are plantations and cattle runs in various parts of the country owned and worked by Europeans or white Americans. In the Vega Reale there are many white native families, and foreigners with capital are eagerly welcomed there . . . "


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Cruelty of the Spanish Encomienda System on a Sugar Plantation in Santo Domingo.

The system, instituted in 1503 by the Spanish Crown, granted a Spanish soldier, conquistador, officials or colonist a tract of land or a village together with its Indian inhabitants, purportedly in exchange for protection of the Indians.

The receiver of the grant, the encomendero, could exact tribute from the Indians in gold, in kind, or in labour and was required to protect them and instruct them in the Christian faith. The encomienda did not include a grant of land, but in practice the encomenderos gained control of the Indians’ lands and failed to fulfil their obligations to the Indian population. The crown’s attempts to end the severe abuses of the system with the Laws of Burgos (1512–13) and the New Law of the Indies (1542) failed in the face of colonial opposition and, in fact, a revised form of the repartimiento system was revived after 1550.

The encomienda was designed to meet the needs of the colonies’ early mining economy. With the catastrophic decline in the Indian population and the replacement of mining activities by agriculture, the system lost its effectiveness and was gradually replaced by the hacienda system of landed estates. The encomienda was not officially abolished, however, until the late 18th century. ~ Encyclopaedia Britannica

"The extraordinary fertility of Santo Domingo surpassing even that of Cuba is unquestioned. There is no economic product of the temperate or tropical regions of the globe which cannot be profitably raised in the various soils and the varying climate of the country. Throughout the whole extent of the Republic of Haiti, the coffee plant grows without any culture, and fully half the berries are left every year to fall and rot on the ground.

Cotton and indigo grow in the wild state, and in Dominica fields of sugar-cane, planted more than seventy years ago, are still reaped annually, and the produce converted into sugar and tafia. With proper care and skilful manipulation the tobacco of the Vega Keale would rival the produce of Cuba. The south-western part of the island, comprising the districts of Azua and Neyba, is a splendid sugar country, with, in addition, indications of gold mines in every direction, gold sand being found in all the rivers.

The water power is magnificent, and would turn any number of sugarmills. On the south-eastern coast, stretching far into the interior, are the vast prairies or savannahs known as "Los Slanos," covered with long grass- and with clumps of shady trees here and there. Here could be raised countless herds of sheep and cattle, and indeed this is now done to some extent. The Vega Reale and the valley of the Cibao are tobacco and wheat countries. All the fruits of temperate climates flourish throughout their whole extent, side by side with the sugar-cane, the cocoa, and the coffee. The soil throughout is of the richest, blackest loam, and is compared by every American visitor to the splendid lands of the Mississippi Valley. The valleys of the tracts of land stretching from Samana to Monte Christo and on to Cape Haitien are equal in fertility to any other part of the country. They are the natural home of the cocoa plant, which flourishes in an extraordinary manner in the deep loose soil washed from the mountain slopes and hillsides by every shower of rain."

Puerto Plata

Christopher Columbus discovered this natural port in the early 1490's. History has provided a couple of explanations for its name, which translated into English, means Port of Silver. Some say it was due to the silvery appearance the mist took on the background mountain, Isabela de Torres. Others say it wasn't the mist at all, but the silvery looking leaves of the guayaba trees that grow on the mountain. Others believe it derived from the appearance of thousands of shimmering silver coins in the port's waters at sunset. The beauty of Puerto Plata is illustrated by its nickname, 'La Novia del Atlantico' (The Bride of the Atlantic).

Caribbean Islands (West Indies).
J. & F. Tallis, mapmakers. 1851.

In 1540 the first fort in the New World was built, Fuerte de San Felipe. This port became a stop for traders between Europe and Caribbean ports.

During the 1600's the Spanish lost interest in the port, moving south to Santo Domingo and the neighboring Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba. Having been abandoned, illicit activities increased, and as a result, the city was later destroyed by Spanish royal decree.

West Indies.
Printed by the Saturday Evening Post. 1898.

In the 1740's the city was rebuilt by some Spanish families who immigrated from the Canary Islands. The thriving port and a tobacco boom made this city the wealthiest and cosmopolitan in the Caribbean for a few decades, beginning in the 1870's. It lost most of its importance of that time but did grow into the largest city on the North Coast of the country.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

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



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

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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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