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Brief History
of the
Canarian Migration to Spanish America.
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by
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Miguel Hernández
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The Canary Islands consist of seven islands located some 90 miles off the West Coast of the African continent.  The geological origins of these islands are known to be volcanic but the origin of its people, the "Guanches", is unknown.  Some anthropologist claim that they were Nordic or Viking raiders, others say they were Celts and still others claim they were Berber migrants from the nearby Saharan Desert.  While their origins are in dispute, it is a fact that its people were conqured and enslaved by the Spanish in 1595 and that after approximately 100 years of colonization, intermarriage, and Christianization, the Guanches ceased to exist as a social and political unit. 

Interestingly enough, the extermination experience of the Taino nation in Puerto Rico parallels the Spanish conquest and colonization of the indigenous Guanches. In any event, the Spanish conquistadores sailed down from Spain to the Canaries and re-supplied their ships with food, water and men and continued on to Puerto Rico which was the first stop in the New World for ships going on to Cuba, Mexico, and South and North America. As soldiers and sailors in the service of Spain, Canarians formed part of the early colonization of Puerto Rico and the rest of Spanish America. Initially, their numbers were relatively small and it was not until 1678 that the mass migration to the New World really began. 

In that year, the Spanish Crown passed a royal decree (law) officially called La Real Cedula de 1678. Unofficially it was called "El Tributo de Sangre". It was a draconian measure, which mandated that 50 Canarian families were to migrate to Spainís least populated colonies in America, for each 1000 tons of Canarian exports. In essence, it was a tax credit, which accrued to the benefit of the wealthy Spanish landowners, exempting them from Spanish import taxes, provided that they provided bodies to populate the colonies. No one was officially obligated to migrate but it was an offer they could not refuse. The economic pressures made it so. Poor and landless people were offered free passage and land in the colonies, as well as a stipend of 500 "reales",  and seeds and farm implements if they agreed to leave the islands.

The first wave of Canarian migration to PR seems to be in 1695, followed by others in 1714, 1720, 1731, and 1797. The numbers of Canarians to Puerto Rico in its first three centuries is not known to any degree of precision. However, Dr. Estela Cifre de Loubriel and other scholars of the Canarian Migration to America, like Dr. Manuel González Hernández, of the University of La Laguna. Tenerife, agree that they formed the bulk of the Jibaro or white peasant stock of the island.

The Canarian migration numbers are more exact in the 19th century, and in her epic work, "La Formación de Pueblo Puertorriqueño: La Contribución de los Isleno-Canarios" she precisely identifies (by name) some 2,733 immigrants from there.  No doubt there is more because in addition to these persons whose names appear on ship manifests and other official documents there was a clandestine or illegal immigration as well. This 19th century migration was brought on by various periods of economic depressions, droughts, and a disease that attacked the grape vines which produced, at the time, some of the finest wines of Europe and the base of much of Canarian economic life.

Following is a list of some 200 + families that migrated to Puerto Rico in mid to late 19th Century. This list was gleaned from the appendix to doctoral dissertation of Julio Hernández Garcia and can be found at the library of the Universidad de La Laguna, on the island of Tenerife, Canary Islands. Dr. Hernándezís thesis includes thousands of names and the bulk of these constitute those who immigrated to Cuba, and Venezuela, the countries of choice of most of the immigrants. However, horrible travel conditions by sail and steam ships convinced many to get off at the first stop, Puerto Rico.
 

19th Century Passengers from the Canary Islands to Puerto Rico
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 Última modificación el: 3 de septiembre de 1999 | Last Update: September 3, 1999
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