Auriferous Streams And Gold Produced From

1509 TO 1536

If a systematic exploration were practised to-day, by competent

mineralogists, of the entire chain of mountains which intersects the

island from east to west, it is probable that lodes of gold-bearing

quartz or conglomerate, worth working, would be discovered. Even the

alluvium deposits along the banks of the rivers and their tributaries,

as well as the river beds, might, in many instances, b
found to


The early settlers compelled the Indians to work for them. These poor

creatures, armed with the simplest tools, dug the earth from the river

banks. Their wives and daughters, standing up to their knees in the

river, washed it in wooden troughs. When the output diminished another

site was chosen, often before the first one was half worked out. The

Indians' practical knowledge of the places where gold was likely to be

found was the Spanish gold-seeker's only guide, the Indians' labor the

only labor employed in the collection of it.

As for the mountains, they have never been properly explored. The

Indians who occupied them remained in a state of insurrection for

years, and when the mountain districts could be safely visited at

last, the auri sacra fames had subsided. The governors did not

interest themselves in the mineral resources of the island, and the

people found it too difficult to provide for their daily wants to go

prospecting. So the surface gold in the alluvium deposits was all that

was collected by the Spaniards, and what there still may be on the

bed-rocks of the rivers or in the lodes in the mountains from which it

has been washed, awaits the advent of modern gold-seekers.

The first samples of gold from Puerto Rico were taken to the Espanola

by Ponce, who had obtained them from the river Manatuabon, to which

the friendly cacique Guaybana conducted him on his first visit (1508).

This river disembogues into the sea on the south coast near Cape

Malapascua; but it appears that the doughty captain also visited the

north coast and found gold enough in the rivers Coa and Sibuco to

justify him in making his headquarters at Caparra, which is in the

neighborhood. That gold was found there in considerable quantities is

shown by the fact that in August of the same year of Ponce's return to

the island (he returned in February, 1509), 8,975 pesos corresponded

to the king's fifth of the first washings. The first smelting was

practised October 26, 1510. The next occurred May 22, 1511, producing

respectively 2,645 and 3,043 gold pesos as the king's share. Thus, in

the three first years the crown revenues from this source amounted to

14,663 gold pesos, and the total output to 73,315 gold pesos, which,

at three dollars of our money per peso, approximately represented a

total of $219,945 obtained from the rivers in the neighborhood of

Caparra alone.

In 1515 a fresh discovery of gold-bearing earth in this locality was

reported to the king by Sancho Velasquez, the treasurer, who wrote on

April 27th: " ... At 4 leagues' distance from here rich gold deposits

have been found in certain rivers and streams. From Reyes (December

4th) to March 15th, with very few Indians, 25,000 pesos have been

taken out. It is expected that the output this season will be 100,000


The streams in the neighborhood of San German, on the south coast, the

only other settlement in the island at the time, seem to have been

equally rich. The year after its foundation by Miguel del Toro the

settlers were able to smelt and deliver 6,147 pesos to the royal

treasurer. The next year the king's share amounted to 7,508 pesos, and

Treasurer Haro reported that the same operation for the years 1517 and

1518 had produced $186,000 in all - that is, 3,740 for the treasury.

A good idea of the island's mineral and other resources at this period

may be formed from Treasurer Haro's extensive report to the

authorities in Madrid, dated January 21, 1518.

" ... Your Highness's revenues," he says, "are: one-fifth of the gold

extracted and of the pearls brought by those who go (to the coast of

Venezuela) to purchase them, the salt produce and the duties on

imports and exports. Every one of the three smeltings that are

practised here every two years produces about 250,000 pesos, in San

German about 186,000 pesos. But the amounts fluctuate.

"The product of pearls is uncertain. Since the advent of the Jerome

fathers the business has been suspended until the arrival of your

Highness. Two caravels have gone now, but few will go, because the

fathers say that the traffic in Indians is to cease and the greatest

profit is in that ... On your Highness's estates there are 400 Indians

who wash gold, work in the fields, build houses, etc.; ... they

produce from 1,500 to 2,000 pesos profit every gang (demora).... I

send in this ship, with Juan Viscaino, 8,000 pesos and 40 marks of

pearls. There remain in my possession 17,000 pesos and 70 marks of

pearls, which shall be sent by the next ship in obedience to your

Highness's orders, not to send more than 10,000 pesos at a time. The

pearls that go now are worth that amount. Until the present we sent

only 5,000 pesos' worth of pearls at one time."

The yearly output of gold fluctuated, but it continued steadily, as

Velasquez wrote to the emperor in 1521, when he made a remittance of

5,000 pesos. Six or seven years later, the placers, for such they

were, were becoming exhausted. Castellanos, the treasurer, wrote in

1518 that only 429 pesos had been received as the king's share of the

last two years' smelting. Some new deposit was discovered in the river

Daguao, but it does not seem to have been of much importance. From the

year 1530 the reports of the crown officers are full of complaints of

the growing scarcity of gold; finally, in 1536, the last remittance

was made; not, it may be safely assumed, because there was no more

gold in the island, but because those who had labored and suffered in

its production, had succumbed to the unaccustomed hardships imposed on

them and to the cruel treatment received from their sordid masters.

Besides the river mentioned, the majority of those which have their

sources in the mountains of Luquillo are more or less auriferous.

These are: the Rio Prieto, the Fajardo, the Espiritu Santo, the Rio

Grande, and, especially, the Mameyes. The river Loiza also contains

gold, but, judging from the traces of diggings still here and there

visible along the beds of the Mavilla, the Sibuco, the Congo, the Rio

Negro, and Carozal, in the north, it would seem that these rivers and

their affluents produced the coveted metal in largest quantities. The

Duey, the Yauco, and the Oromico, or Hormigueros, on the south coast

are supposed to be auriferous also, but do not seem to have been


The metal was and is still found in seed-shaped grains, sometimes of

the weight of 2 or 3 pesos. Tradition speaks of a nugget found in the

Fajardo river weighing 4 ounces, and of another found in an affluent

of the Congo of 1 pound in weight.

Silver. - In 1538 the crown officers in San Juan wrote to the Home

Government: " ... The gold is diminishing. Several veins of lead ore

have been discovered, from which some silver has been extracted. The

search would continue if the concession to work these veins were given

for ten years, with 1.20 or 1.15 royalty." On March 29th of the

following year the same officers reported: " ... Respecting the silver

ores discovered, we have smolten some, but no one here knows how to

do it. Veins of this ore have been discovered in many parts of the

island, but nobody works them. We are waiting for some one to come who

knows how to smelt them."

The following extract from the memoirs and documents left by Juan

Bautista Munoz, gives the value in "gold pesos" of the bullion and

pearls, corresponding to the king's one-fifth share of the total

produce remitted to Spain from this island from the year 1509 to 1536:

In 1509, gold pesos 8,975

1510, " 2,645

1511, " 10,000

1512, " 3,043

1513, " 27,291

1514, " 18,000

1515, " 17,000

1516, " 11,490

1517-18, " 38,497

1519, " 10,000

1520, " 35,733

In 1521, " 10,000

1522, " 7,979

1523-29, " 40,000

1530, " 12,440

1531, " 6,500

1532, " 9,000

1533, " 4,000

1534, " 8,500

1535, " 1,848

1536, " 10,000

Total, 15 share 277,941

The entire output for this period was 1,389,705 gold pesos, or

$4,169,115 Spanish coin of to-day, as the total produce in gold and

pearls of the island of San Juan de Puerto Rico during the first

twenty-seven years of its occupation by the Spaniards.