The Arrival of the French and the Canarian Spaniards to Hispaniola


The island of Santo Domingo or Hispaniola went through a demographic change of which few islands have gone through. The result is that this demographic change has its effects today with the existence of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. These two countries are very different regarding language, traditions, culture, economy, political and social stability, institutionalization and many other things; but, they do have one thing in common: they occupy the same island. The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern and central two-thirds while Haiti occupies the western one-third. The following maps give insights into when these demographic changes occured that, on one hand, lead the way for the creation of the Haitians after approximately 200 years that the only islandwide residents were Spanish/Dominicans, and the influx of the Canarian Spanish into the eastern and central parts of the island which further strengthen the Dominican population and made it strong enough for the later creation of the Dominican Republic.

Osorio’s Devastations (1605 – 1606)

Although politically the Spanish/Dominican people owned the entire island for about 200 years, demographically after the initial 100 years the Dominican population was concentrated in a part of the east by policy of the Spanish government. The destruction of all the Dominican towns in the west and northern parts of the island eventually allowed the establishment of the French. This was unlike most islands in the world, including the neighboring islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico and Jamaica. This last one did went through a demographic shift in the XVII century when William Penn’s victory implied that Jamaica would pass into the British Empire after around 100 years of Spanish domination. Even there, when the shift took place it encompassed the entire island, unlike what happened on Hispaniola.

The destruction of all Dominican towns and rural communities in the western and northern sides, and the forceful migration of its inhabitants to the eastern side closer to Santo Domingo (many left the island for Cuba in disgust of what the island’s governor was doing), where the Spanish authorities could have a better control over the population. The purpose of this measure was to destroy the contraband that was widespread in those port towns along the northern and western coasts. To this was later added a new grievance, the incursion of protestant Bibles in what was a Roman Catholic society and of which the entire Spanish Empire recognized the catholic church as the only religion of all its people everywhere in the world. Governor Antonio de Osorio, following orders from King Felipe III of Spain, remedy the situation by forcefully depopulating the northern coast and western side of the island.

The towns that were destroyed and are included in the map were the following. In parenthesis are the current towns and cities occupying the spots where originally these towns were founded by the Spanish in the 1490’s and 1500’s.

  • La Yaguana (Leógane, Haïti)
  • Puerto Real de Bayajá (Fort Liberté, Haïti)
  • San Fernando de Montecristi
  • San Juan de la Maguana
  • San Felipe de Puerto Plata

Other towns also destroyed and not included in the map are the following.

  • Santa María de la Vera Paz (Port-au-Prince, Haïti)
  • Villanueva de Yáquimo (Jacmel, Haïti)
  • Salvatierra de la Sabana (Les Cayes, Haïti)
  • Lares de Guaba (near Hinche, Haïti)
  • San Francisco de Bánica

Notice: Rural areas in the white shaded part of the island on the map were also depopulated by force and moved closer to the east and Santo Domingo (the purple shaded area).

The towns that were preserved and included in the map are the following. In parenthesis are the year of their foundation.

  • Santiago de los Caballeros (1495)
  • Concepción de La Vega (1494)
  • Compostela de Azua (1504)
  • Santa Cruz del Seibo (1502)
  • Salvaleón de Higüey (1505)

Other towns also preserved but not included in the map are the following.

  • La Mejorada de Cotuí (1503)
  • Santa Rosa de Bonao (1494)
  • Sabana Grande de Boyá (1533)

There were two towns founded at this time with the purpose of accommodating the inhabitants of four towns in the northern coast and in the western side of the island. The names of these towns there original and is a composite of part of the names of the destroyed towns. These newly founded towns are the following.

  • Monte Plata (Montecristi + Puerto Plata)
  • Bayaguana (Puerto Real de Bayajá + La Yaguana)

Despite it was a very bloody and destabilizing commotion that took many months to accomplish, as the authorities of Santo Domingo went place to place to effect the removal of the inhabitants and the destruction of the towns and rural areas, it had positive results at first. The two main grievances of widespread contraband and the incursion of protestant Bibles were ended. However, this radical measure would have adverse effects that were soon discovered. The Dominican-Haitian conflict that arises from time to time has its long term origin in Osorio’s Devastations. If that radical measure was not implemented by the Spanish government, today there would be no Haitians and no Haïti.

Osorio’s Devastations (1605 – 1606). The destruction of the towns along the northern and western sides of the island and the forceful migration of its inhabitants to sections of the east closer to Santo Domingo, took place at tge very early stages of the XVII century. The towns in dark orange were eliminated, those in light orange were preserved, and the towns in green were newly founded to accommodate many of the inhabitants forced to move. The purple area is where the Spanish government allowed residence on the island. The rest was devoid of people in the towns and countryside. It should be noted that this map shows only some, but not all of the towns destroyed and preserved. It also makes no notice of the rural population that settled in rural areas in the purple shaded area.

The Arrival of the French

The depopulation in the western side and northern coast during Osorio’s Devastations had several implications. First, the predominating scenery was of a wilderness devoid of people and habitation, contrasting with what any sea captain would see upon the northern coast of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Second, the area, particularly in the west, soon was covered in maroon cattles from the husbandry that managed to escape during Osorio’s Devastations. Its said that the wild cattle mutiplied very rapidly. At the same time, a demand for leather increased in Europe causing the price of cow hide in particular to increase to very lucrative levels. As the Spanish authorities forcibly removed a colony of Frenchmen (and other northern Europeans such as the Dutch) from the then Spanish island of Saint Christopher (today part of Saint Kitts and Nevis) in the Lesser Antilles, they were forced to sail on the Atlantic Ocean skirting near the northern coasts of islands such as Tortola, Vieques and Puerto Rico. The appearance of towns and inhabited rural areas along the coasts of these places discouraged the group from reaching shore.

Then they sailed near the north coast of Hispaniola. Unlike the scene they witnessed in nearby Puerto Rico, here they witness an immense island that appeared shrowded in tropical jungle and not a single person or a single town from its eastern extremity, including the peninsula of Samaná, to the most western extremity on the peninsula of Saint Nicholas. There was no signs of human habitation on the adjacent islands either, the largest along the northern coast is Tortuga Island. The lack of people, making it seem the island was uninhabited, the abundance of wild cattles and how easy it was to capture them, and the increasing demand for cow hide in Europe enticed the group to settle first on Tortuga Island and then on the island of Santo Domingo. This settlement took a long time to become permanent, because troops from Santo Domingo were constantly sent to the northwestern coast and destroy the French settlements and oust the French. Upon the troops leaving the area on their march back to Santo Domingo, the French return and resettle. Eventually, the French presence on the western side was officially recognized by Spain in the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick. That lead to a cessation of Spanish military incursion, the creation of Saint-Domingue that in 1804 would culminate with the independence of Haiti by people, half of whom were born in Africa and most of the other half didn’t have more than a generation born on the western side of the island, contrasting with the Dominicans where ancestry on the island to the 1500’s is confirmed even today as amerindian DNA is almost universal based on ancestry DNA results of Dominicans. Most of this mixture that included the amerindians ocurred in the 1500’s. For the most part, it isn’t present in most modern Haitians going by the ancestry DNA results.

First Territories Occupied by the French (1656 – 1680). Despite the entire island and all the adyacent islands were Spanish for over a century, of which Dominicans inherited the Spanish territory and are in part descendants of the Spanish, the French began to arrive in the XVII century and establishing themselves in an illegal manner at first along the western coast of the island. The dark orange is the area where the Spanish/Dominican population was concentrated. The pink areas are of the zones of French occupation, The light orange are the areas within the influence of the French. The non-shaded areas are depopulated parts of the island.

The Arrival of the Canarian Spaniards

Contrary to many of the Spaniards that arrived during the first half of the 1500’s (which included some Spaniards from the Canary Island or Canarian Spaniards), the mass of the Canarian Spaniards that settled on the island arrived during the 1600’s and 1700’s. They were farmers, but the Canary Islands suffered from gross overpopulation with every area of land owned by someone, leaving many of the Canarian Spanish, in particularly the younger ones, impossible in acheiving their dream of becoming farmers. The overpopulation also meant widespread hunger. Hispaniola, on the other hand, was charactized by an extremely large Spanish territory compared to the Canary Islands combined and despite the French already owned the western coast. Another difference is that while the Canary Islands are tropical but considersbly less fertile and more arid, Hispaniola is much wetter and greener with great soil for farming. Most important of all, while the Canary Islands were grossly overpopulated, the Spanish side of Hispaniola was grossly underpopulated with an overall small population that continue to shrink throughout the 1600’s and into the early decades of the 1700’s reaching a rock bottom of just 6,000 people in 1737. For all practical purposes, the Spanish part of Hispaniola was empty and most of the land was covered in the same thick tropical forest that was there when Christopher Columbus discovered the island on December 5, 1492.

A complete contrast existed in the French dominated western side where the French population was growing tremendously with the new arrivals of Frenchmen from France. Most importantly, they imported vast quantities of Africans to fill every nook and cranny on the western side for their lucrative plantations of sugar (at the time the world’s largest producer), cotton (those grown on the Desdunes family plantation was considered the best cotton in the world fetching a higher price), coffee, indigo and other agricultural produce. The importance of Saint-Domingue increased to such levels that at the time of the revolution starting in the 1790’s, it produced a third of all the wealth of France.

The commercial interest of the French, turning a reduced territory that never produced much into a highly productive area, meant that the French believed in their slaves-dependent economic model and the further expansion meant greater wealth creation. This expansion beyond the French limits established with Spain in the Treaty of Ryswick of 1697 and the lack of population in the frontiers on the Spanish side, encourage the illegal penetration into Spanish territory. On many instances, Spanish troops (more often consisting of island born and reared Dominicans headed by an Iberian born Spanish general) from Santo Domingo would march along the frontier and would find newly established French plantations in what effectively was Spanish territory. The Spanish troops would violently destroy these plantations forcing the French owners to flee into French territory, but these evacuations were not permanent. Similarly to what happened during the establishment of the French on the island, so too happened with the territorial expansion of the French. Once the Spanish troops left the area, there came the French to recreate their lost plantations. This happened on several occasions until the governor wanted to put an end to this recurring dilema.

Several letters were sent from Santo Domingo to Madrid for the king to read and respond. The solution to the issue of French encroachment in an attempt to not lose the Spanish part of Hispaniola was increasing the Dominican population. It was decided that the Canarian Spaniards were the perfect fit precisely because of the overpopulation, the vocation towards agriculture, the very high natural population growth (the typical Canarian Spanish woman had upwards of 8 to 10 kids) and, most importantly, they were acclimatized to a tropical setting. Immigration to Hispaniola of the Spanish Canarians became a policy sanction by the Spanish Monarchy in much of the XVII and XVIII centuries. The Dominican population increased from 6,000 people in 1737 to over 150,000 people in 1795 with the African slave population accounting for roughly 10% of the total. Although Canarian Spaniards all first arrived at the port in Santo Domingo, most were sent to add population to existing towns, refound other towns and establish completely new ones everywhere, although most were sent to the Cibao and along the frontier with Saint-Domingue. It was thought that they would defend their farms and communities and, in effect, would defend the Spanish side and discourage French incursion.

Notice: While most Canarian Spaniards were white, a significant percentage was composed of mixeds and free blacks upheld as Canarian Spanish too.

Towns that saw a considerable increase of their populations, in many becoming an absolute majority, with the arrival of the Canarian Spaniards are the following.

  • Santiago de los Caballeros
  • Concepción de La Vega
  • La Mejorada de Cotuí
  • Santa Rosa de Bonao
  • Compostela de Azua
  • San José de Los Llanos
  • Salvaleón de Higüey

The towns that were refounded by the Canarian Spaniards are the following. In parenthesis are the year of their refoundation (and foundation, whichever may be the case).

  • San Felipe de Puerto Plata (1737)
  • San Fernando de Montecristi (1751)
  • San Juan de la Maguana (1733)
  • San Francisco de Bánica (1664)

The newly founded towns by the Canarian Spaniards and are included in the map (despite some were founded years after the suppose limit of the map) are the following.

  • San Carlos de Tenerife (1684)
  • Santa Bárbara de Samaná (1756)
  • Sabana de la Mar (1756)
  • San Joaquín de Dajabón (1776)
  • San Gabriel de Las Caobas (1768; now in Haïti)
  • Concepción de Hincha (1704; now in Haïti)
  • San Rafael de la Angostura (1761; now in Haïti)
  • San Miguel de la Atalaya (1768; now in Haïti)

The newly founded towns by the Canarian Spaniards and are not included in the map (in some cases because the dates are beyond 1764, the limit of the map) are the following.

  • Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Moca (1722)
  • San Francisco de Macorís (1778)
  • Santa Cruz de Neiba (1735)
  • Nuestra Señora de la Regla de Baní (1764)
  • Las Matas de Farfán (1780)
Dominican Demographic Reinforcements (1664 – 1764). With the arrival of the Canarian Spaniards, the Dominican population increased spectacularly. Instead of searching for conquest glory, riches and to return to Spain in the lap of luxury; these Spaniards, which forms the bulk of the Spanish ancestry in modern Dominicans, were farmers searching for available fertile land to settle permanently and live a simple but comfortable life for them and their children. Usually this was accomplished with little, but more often no, use of African slaves. It was this demographic reinforcement that would later, as part of the Dominican people via racial mixture and/or widespread acceptance, create the Dominican Republic and defend its existence. Without this, during the XVIII century the Dominican people were going to disappear via absorption by the French society.

Modern Dominican Republic and Haïti

The areas occupied by the Dominicans and the Haitians gave rise to two distinct countries on one island, a direct product of their history.

Hispaniola or the island of Santo Domingo circa 1869. Notice the border between the Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo) and Haiti. This was the original border between the two countries from 1844 to 1929. Prior to that this very same border was official between the Spanish Santo Domingo and the French Saint-Domingue based on the Treaty of Basil (1777) signed between Spain and France. From 1697 to 1777, Spain and France signed the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) where for the first time Spain recognized the French presence on the western coast of the island. From that moment back to the era of the Spanish conquest the entire island and adjacent islands were all a single Spanish territory, a period of around 200 years. Dominicans, being partial descendants of the Spanish, inherited the Spanish territory. Dominicans are also partially descended of the Tainos, the original amerindians that inhabited the entire island at the time of discovery (for about 3,000 years according to anthropologists). Dominicans are as well descendants of the first Africans in the New World, something shared with other Hispanics of part or full African heritage. The Haitians, having revolted as slaves against their French masters and whom themselves have very little to no existing French ancestry, became owners of the French territory in 1804.
Hispaniola or the island of Santo Domingo circa 2020. In 1929 and 1936 were the modifications to the original border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, 159 years after the original border was created.

Evidence of the Canarian Spaniards Immigration in Modern Dominicans

In 2008 a group from the Universidad Central del Este (in San Pedro de Macorís) and the Universidad de Puerto Rico (Mayagüez Campus) found Guanches DNA in the ancestral DNA of a sample of Dominicans. Guanches are the original people of the Canary Islands prior to their conquering by the Spaniards, who mixed with many of them conserving some of the Guanches genes.

Also quite extensive is the presence of North African ancestral DNA among Dominicans, as evidenced in the results of many ancestral DNA tests and studies. North African ancestral DNA is also found among the average Puerto Ricans and in Cuba, but in other places of the Caribbean such as Jamaica or Haiti it’s virtually non-existent. Considering there has never been a migration flow directly from North Africa to the Caribbean, almost all the North African ancestral DNA found in Hispanics most likely corresponds to Spaniards who had some admixture with that group. Plus, within Spaniards there is a greater presence of North African ancestral DNA among Canarians than Spaniards from the Iberian Peninsula. Historically there has been several mass immigration to the Spanish Caribbean from the Canary Islands. Thus, it could overwhelmingly correspond to Canarian Spaniards.

Lastly, many last names that are much more prevalent in the Dominican Republic than in Latin America in general, and these are Spanish last names, happen to be most common in the Canary Islands than in the rest of Spain.