In our walk through the city that morning I found it to be the best-kept and cleanest city I have seen in any Spanish country. It has not, of course, the wealth or the grandeur of Havana, but it is in much better order. The streets are broader than in the old parts of Havana, there is a good system of sewerage, and plenty of lights, both gas and electric. There are good broad sidewalks and well-paved roadways. The houses are mostly of brick or stone, cemented on the outside, and this cement is kept in good repair and well painted or whitewashed. Rain water is used exclusively, caught from the roofs and stored in stone tanks. This is the grand city of Porto Rico, and the Porto Riconians are justly proud of it, rarely calling it by name, but speaking of it always as "the city" or "el capital."|
Our first objective point was the café. Every Spanish city, of course, has its café, and San Juan has two. We chose the one on the corner opposite the great cigar factory, "Los dos Antilles," because it was the nearest. and found nearly all its marble tables in use already, although the Porto Rico breakfast hour, 11 o'clock, had barely arrived.
There are only two meals a day in Porto Rico, breakfast at 11 and dinner at 5, and everybody, rich or poor, must eat at those hours, or go without. Breakfast is the more important meal of the two, to be taken with great deliberation and solemnity and soup and Spanish wine, and all the public offices from 11 till 1 while the officers go to breakfast. The café, however, is not a place to eat, except such light things as cakes and ice cream. It is devoted to drinking and smoking and talking, and it is such a universal place of resort that one is reasonably sure in the course of an hour or so of seeing all his male acquaintances there. It has none of the obstreperous features of an American bar, and light and cooling drinks were in far greater demand than strong liquors.
There was a delightfully cooling appearance in the great "schooners" of lemonade they were serving out, and it was comforting to know that manufactured ice is sold in San Juan cheaper than we could buy the natural article in New-York last Summer. They do not, however, cool the lemonade to an alarming extent with it, merely dropping in a bit the size of a walnut to float on top. I hope my visit to Porto Rico may be productive of some good in teaching the waiters in the café how to fill up a glass with cracked ice and let the liquid fill in the intestices.
They were making and serving "American cocktails," which seemed to be in great demand, but there was nothing tempting in a little glass of brownish liquid served with a silver spoon to stir it up. It was positively necessary in that climate to have some cooling drink.
There is no denying that San Juan is outrageously hot. I think it is the hottest place I ever saw, though I have been much nearer the Equator. We were in a constant state of moisture, and after being on shore the steward always had to hang our clothes out to dry before they could be put away. Yet this was the coolest season of the year, and the natives considered it unpleasantly cold, and wrapped themselves well if they went out at night...
While in the café Mr. Friedlander found himself so overburdened with wealth that he was compelled to ask the Captain to help him carry it. He had had $50 worth of commercial paper cashed, and all the proceeds were two big rolls of Mexican silver pesos and a double handful of American dimes and quarters, all with holes in them. This is the coin of the country, and poor enough coin it is. Mexican dollars are ragged and shapeless enough when fresh from the mint, but these are all well worn. American dimes and quarters pass readily, provided they have holes in them. The more they are defaced the better they go, and I did not see more than two American coins on the island without holes. They tell me the Government defaces the coins to keep them in circulation on the island, because after being punched they will not pass elsewhere. An American dollar is worth from $1.17 to $1.20 in Mexican silver, but it must be gold, our notes are almost unknown.
From the café we went further up the hill to the American Consulate. Col. Stewart, the Consul, is in America, having come home last Fall to vote, and not having yet returned. His Secretary, Mr. Hayden, another Virginian, is acting as Consul during his absence, and we found him installed in a large and airy room wtih a very high ceiling, almost on the top of the hill. With him was another American, Mr. Holt, who is initiating the Porto Ricans into the mysteries of life insurance. Mr. Holt had recently returned from a horseback trip among the mountains, and had brought with him an ample supply of very fine native cigars, some of which we immediately helped him to dispose of. As the American residents of Porto Rico may almost be counted on the fingers, and as American vessels seldom visit St. John, our Consul's chief duty is to hoist the Stars and Stripes on Sundays and holidays. Both Col. Stewart and Mr. Hayden are noted in Porto Rico for their good American hospitality.
About the streets were posted notices of an opera to be given in the theatre on the evening of "Sabado, Noviembre 29," and as that was the evening then approaching, we returned to the ship in time to eat dinner and prepare for a first appearance in the theatre of San Juan. This theatre is an imposing building as seen from the outside, fully as large as most of our New-York theatres. In the three cities of Porto Rico the theatre is a great institution, being the only means of amusement. Without any permantent native companies. they all manage to have two or three performances a week throughout the year, companies coming both from Cuba and from Spain. The performers in the present instance were from Havana, and they had been in Porto Rico for some two months, playing in all the large towns. Nobody would have recognized us, certainly, as belonging to a freight ship, when we went on shore in grand style at about 8 o'clock for the opera. Supercargo Maloney when arrayed in his black clothes and white tie had a decidedly clerical appearance; Mr. Friedlander might easily have been mistaken for a professor from some of the German universities, and the Captain and I looked as respectable as the weather permitted. I think the steward felt quite proud of us as we went down the ship's ladder.
We occupied a box, of course--our position as ship's officers would admit of nothing less. The theatre we found very clean and well kept, something that cannot always be said of theatres in that part of the world. It is the best theatrical building in the West Indies except the famous Tacon Theatre in Havana. The only exciting event of th evening was when, in the utter absence of applause, we four determined to applaud the next thing that happened, whatever it might be. This we did with great enthusiasm--but without other effect upon the audience than to attract all eyes to our box. Both performers and audience were as solemn throughout as if they were in a church, except on two or three occasions, when the language of the libretto was broad enough to cause a laugh. Happily, our ears were not shocked by anything indelicate, as we could not understand it. The theatre was less than half full; Sunday night is the only night that can bring out the fashion of San Juan.
It was a great relief to get back to the ship after the heat of the city, and have a comfortable smoke on deck before turning in. On the way out in the small boat we were challenged by the guard on a small Spanish ram that lay at anchor, under the impression probably that we were carrying away the theatre or Town Hall, but the boatman satisfied him by replying, "El vapor," the steamer, and we were allowed to proceed. There were armed guards, too, at the city gates and in front of the theatre. Porto Rico, like Cuba, is overrun with Spanish soldiers. Every soldier, every officer, every petty little official, even down to the Custom House inspectors, is imported from Spain, and Porto Rico has to support them. Nobody on the island is allowed to keep a boat, not even a rowboat, without a license; and only a Spaniard can get a license. The rest of them have to induce some Spanish friend to take out the license for them, in his own name.
Sunday is, of course, the great day of the week, when all the flags are flying and every amusement known to the island is in operation. The business places are all open withing certain hours, many of them all day. Clerks and shopkeepers have a hard time of it, the shops being open from 6 or 7 in the morning till 9 or 10 at night, Sundays and all. Their only play days are the church holidays, which fortunately for them come pretty often. Everything, of course, is Roman Catholic, there being only one small Protestant church on the island. But the Church is of small account in Porto Rico. Some women and children are still numbered among the faithful, but the men pay little attention to it, beyond observing the holidays and taking care that the priests do not visit their houses too often during business hours. This is not, I think, so much on account of a lack of religious feeling among the people as because the Church is an old Spanish institution, and they are unalterably opposed to all things Spanish.
There is so little communication between Porto Rico and the United States that the island is very little known to us, and its importance is vastly underestimated. It has a population of over 800,000, which is much greater than the population of any other West Indies island except Cuba. In the richness and fertility of its soil it is superior to Cuba or Jamaica. It raises as good tobacco as Cuba, as good sugar, and far better coffee. The harbor of San Juan is always busy. There were a number of steamers in port when we arrived, and fully a dozen came in and went off again in the three days we were there. Among these was one of the handsomest steamships I ever saw, our great Atlantic liners not excepted, the Alphonse XIII., with 1,600 passengers on board, bound for Cuba. This vessel is 6,000 to 7,000 tons, and her interior fittings I believe to be the finest afloat. I was taken all over her by her very obliging officers, and shall have more to say about her next week. Among the other steamers in port on Sunday morning was a fine large iron one flying the British flag, and as soon as I saw her I asked Capt. Godfree what she was.
"She is one of the Windward Island steamers, the Caribbee," he replied, "of the Quebec Line."
I always claim a cousinship with any vessel of the Quebec Line, wherever found, for they are my old friends of Bermuda and Trinidad; and I immediately hazarded a guess that her Captain's name was Fraser. It was a safe guess, for the Quebec Line Captains are nearly all Frasers.
"You are right," Capt. Godfree replied, "It is Capt. Fraser, and he is to sail for New-York tomorrow."
It was instantly settled that we should pay Capt. Fraser a visit in the afternoon.
The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1891 was equivalent to $22.88 in 2007.
The New York Times, May 15, 1898, p. 16:|
ISLAND OF PUERTO RICOHistory and Characteristics of the Spanish Colony Attacked by Sampson's Fleet.
AN UNDEVELOPED COUNTRY
Mineral Wealth and Productive Soil of Which the Spaniards Have Failed to Take Advantage--Exports and Imports.
PHILADELPHIA, May 13.--Prof. Wilson of the Philadelphia Museum has prepared some data about Puerto Rico, including much that has never been published before. His paper is in part as follows:
Puerto Rico is the most eastern of the Greater Antilles in the West Indies. On the east the Lesser Antilles sweep in a great bow toward Trinidad, on the South American coast, inclosing the Caribbean Sea. Of these St. Thomas, a Danish island and coaling station, is of great strategic importance. It is southwest from the capital of Puerto Rico, about ninety miles away. A strait of seventy miles separates the island from Haiti on the west. The distances of San Juan from other strategical points are: 2,100 miles to Cape Verde Islands, 1,050 miles to Key West, and 1,420 miles to Hampton Roads.
The island is a parallelogram in general outline, 108 miles from the east to the west, and from 37 to 43 miles across, and it has an area computed at 3,530 square miles, or not quite half that of New Jersey. The population in 1887 numbered 798,565, of whom 474,933 were white, 246,647 milattoes, and 76,905 negroes. Slavery was abolished in 1873, three years after the colony was declared to be a representative province of Spain...
Puerto Rico was sighted by Columbus on the 16th of November, 1493. Three days later he anchored in the bay, the description of which corresponds to that of Mayagues. In 1510 and 1511 Ponce de Leon visited the island and founded a settlement, and gave it the name San Juan Bautista.
Buccaneers and pirates harassed its coasts and plundered the people during a large part of the eighteenth century. Landings were effected by the English in 1702 ad Arecibo, in 1743 at Ponce, and in 1797 at the capital, but each time they were repulsed by the Spaniards... Its principal exports are sugar, coffee, and tobacco...