Chapter Three: Living in Color: Native and Immigrant Free People of Color in Their Communities
Living in Color: Native and Immigrant Free People of Color in Their Communities
Throughout most of the island’s history, the majority of Puerto Rico’s inhabitants were rural free colored and poor whites, engaged in subsistence agriculture and seeking out a paltry existence in the colonial backwater. In the eighteenth century, Spain refused to see Puerto Rico as anything other than a military outpost, and the island’s economy remained underdeveloped. It was not until 1815 that the economic development of Puerto Rico received official support. In that year, King Ferdinand VII issued the Real Cédula de Gracias al Sacar, which liberalized trade, offered incentives for immigrants, and opened Puerto Rican ports to legal commerce.1 The Cédula de Gracias al Sacar of 1815 was an open invitation to people from both Europe and the Americas to settle in Puerto Rico.
Immigrants had been drawn to the island even before the 1815 document was published. The turbulent years at the turn of the nineteenth century set whites, free people of color, and slaves adrift in the Atlantic World. During the Spanish domination of Puerto Rico, a foreigner was simply defined as a person who originated from a country or territory other than Puerto Rico. Peninsulares (those who originated ← 35 | 36 → from the Iberian Peninsula), Spanish subjects from other territories in the Americas, and émigrés from non-Spanish dominions were all groups included in the expansion of Puerto Rico. To relocate into the Puerto...
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