King's College London
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‘The paradise of the world’: conflict and society in the Caribbean

Early Spanish settlements

Ptolemy's map showing the island of Hispaniola in around 1548The island of Hispaniola, from: Ptolemy. La geografia di Claudio Ptolemeo Alessandrino con alcuni comenti & aggiunte fatteui da Sebastiano Munstero a la manno. Venetia: per Gioã. Baptista Pedrezano, 1548 [Marsden Collection B8/20]In 1493 Christopher Columbus returned to the West Indies and found that the settlement of La Navidad, which he had founded on Hispaniola the previous year, had been wiped out. He established a new settlement on the island named Isabela but the site chosen for it was poor and it did not flourish.

In 1496 its inhabitants moved to the south coast where they built the town of Santo Domingo. Hispaniola became the base from which therest of the Caribbean was to be explored and settled (Jamaica was settled in 1509, Cuba in 1511 and Puerto Rico in 1512).

In 1519 Cortés departed from Cubato conquer Mexico. Soon, although its capital, Santo Domingo, became Spain’s main administrative hub for her territories in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and the northern part of South America, Hispaniola declined in importance, as newsettlers bypassed the island, lured by richer prospects on the mainland.

However, Hispaniola and Spain’s other colonies on the Greater Antilles did attract some new settlers, who made a living by growing provisions for passing ships and, as the economy was mainly pastoral, by producing tallow and hides for export. Commodities such as sugar and tobacco were also produced and by the early 1520s there were 23 sugar mills on Hispaniola.

The image on display depicts the island of Hispaniola in around 1548.

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