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
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.
"JUAN DE HARO."
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
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.