Attack On San Juan By The Hollanders Under Bowdoin


Holland emancipated itself from Spanish domination in 1582 and assumed

the title of "the United Provinces of Netherland." After nearly half a

century of an unequal struggle with the most powerful kingdom in

Europe, the people's faith in final success was unbounded, while Spain

was growing weary of the apparently interminable war. At this

juncture, proposals for a suspension of hostilities were willin

entertained by both nations, and after protracted negotiations, a

truce of twelve years was signed in Bergen-op-Zoom, April 9, 1609. In

it the absolute independence of the United Provinces was recognized.

This gave the Spanish colonies a welcome respite from the ravages of

privateers till 1621, the first year of the reign of King Philip IV,

when hostilities immediately recommenced. France and England both came

to the assistance of the Provinces with money for the raising of

troops, and the wealthy merchants of Holland, following the example of

the French merchants in the former century, fitted out fleets of

privateers to prey upon the commerce and colonies of Spain and

Portugal. The first exploits of these privateers were the invasion of

Brazil and the sacking of San Salvador, of Lima and Callao (1624).

Puerto Rico was just beginning to recover from the prostration in

which the last invasion had left it, when on the morning of the 24th

of September, 1625, the guard on San Felipe del Morro announced 8

ships to windward of the port.

Juan de Haro, the governor, who had assumed the command only a few

months before, mounted to an outlook to observe them, and was informed

that more ships could be seen some distance down the coast. He sent

out horsemen, and they returned about 8 o'clock at night with the news

that they had counted 17 ships in all.

Alarm-bells were now rung and some cannon fired from the forts to call

the inhabitants together. They were directed to the plaza, where arms

and ammunition were distributed. During the night the whole city was

astir preparing for events, under the direction of the governor.

Next morning the whole fleet was a short distance to windward. Lest a

landing should be attempted at the Boqueron or at Goat's Creek, the

two most likely places, the governor ordered a cannon to be planted at

each and trenches to be dug. In the meantime, the people, who had

promptly answered the call to arms, and the garrison were formed into

companies on the plaza and received orders to occupy the forts,

marching first along the shore, where the enemy could see them, so as

to make a great show of numbers.

The artillery in the fort was in bad condition. The gun-carriages were

old and rotten. Some of the pieces had been loaded four years before

and were dismounted at the first firing. One of them burst on the

sixth or seventh day, killing the gunners and severely wounding the

governor, who personally superintended the defense.

In the afternoon of the day of their arrival the Hollanders came down

under full sail "with as much confidence," says the chronicler, "as if

they were entering a port in their own country."

That night the fort was provisioned as well as the scanty resources of

the island permitted. The defenders numbered 330, and the food supply

collected would not enable them to stand a long siege. The supply

consisted of 120 loads of casabe bread, 46 bushels of maize, 130 jars

or jugs of olive oil, 10 barrels of biscuit, 300 island cheeses, 1

cask of flour, 30 pitchers of wine, 200 fowls, and 150 small boxes of

preserved fruit (membrillo).

Fortunately during the night 50 head of cattle and 20 horses were

driven in from the surrounding country.

From the 26th to the 29th the enemy busied himself landing troops,

digging trenches, and planting 6 pieces of cannon on a height called

"the Calvary." Then he began firing at the fort, which replied, doing

considerable damage.

At 9 o'clock on the morning of the 30th, a drummer under a flag of

truce presented himself before the castle with a letter addressed to

the governor. It was couched in the following terms:

"Senor Governor Don Juan Faro, you must be well aware of the reasons

of our coming so near and of our intentions. Therefore, I, Bowdoin

Hendrick, general of these forces, in the name of the States General

and of his Highness the Prince of Orange, do hereby demand that you

deliver this castle and garrison into our hands, which doing we will

not fail to come to terms with you. And if not, I give you notice,

that from this day forward we will spare neither old nor young, woman

nor child; and to this we wait your answer in a few words.


To which epistle the governor replied:

"I have seen your paper, and am surprised that you should ask such a

thing of me, seeing that I have served thirteen years in Flanders,

where I have learned to value your boastings and know what sieges are.

On the contrary, if you will deliver the ships in which you have come

to me, I will let you have one to return with. And these are the

orders of my King and Master, and none other, with which I have

answered your paper, in the Castle of San Felipe del Morro, the 30th

of September, 1625.


The next day a heavy cannonading commenced, the Hollanders firing over

150 shots at the castle with small effect. The same day a Spanish ship

arrived with wine and provisions, but seeing the danger it ran of

being taken, did not enter the port, but steered to la Espanola, to

the great disappointment of the people in the fort.

On the 4th of October the governor ordered a sortie of 80 men in three

parties. On the 5th Captain Juan de Amezquita led another sortie, and

so between sorties, surprises, night attacks, and mutual cannonadings

things continued till the 21st of October.

On that day Bowdoin sent another letter announcing his intention of

burning the city if no understanding was arrived at. To which letter

the governor replied that there was building material enough in the

island to construct another city, and that he wished the whole army of

Holland might be here to witness Spanish bravery.

Bowdoin carried his threat into effect, and the next day over a

hundred houses were burned. Bishop Balbueno's palace and library and

the city archives were also destroyed. To put a stop to this wanton

destruction Captains Amezquita and Botello led a sortie of 200 men.

They attacked the enemy in front and rear with such elan that they

drove them from their trenches and into the water in their haste to

reach their launches.

This, and other remarkable exploits, related by the native

chroniclers, so discouraged the Hollanders that they abandoned the

siege on the 2d of November, leaving behind them one of their largest

ships, stranded, and over 400 dead.

The fleet repaired to la Aguada to refit. Bowdoin, who, apparently,

was a better letter writer than general, sent a third missive to the

governor, asking permission to purchase victuals, which was, of

course, flatly refused.

The king duly recompensed the brave defenders. The governor was made

Chevalier of the Order of Santiago and received a money grant of 2,000

ducats. Captain Amezquita received 1,000 ducats, and was later

appointed Governor of Cuba. Captain Botello also received 1,000

ducats, and others who had distinguished themselves received

corresponding rewards.

Puerto Rico's successful resistance to this invasion encouraged the

belief that, provided the mother country should furnish the necessary

means of defense, the island would end by commanding the respect of

its enemies and be left unmolested. But the mother country's wars with

England, France, and Holland absorbed all its attention in Europe and

consumed all its resources. The colonies remained dependent for their

defense on their own efforts, while privateers, freebooters, and

pirates of the three nations at war with Spain settled like swarms of

hornets in every available island in the West Indies.