1993 29¢ Columbus Landing in Puerto Rico
· Issued for 500th anniversary of Columbus’s landing in Puerto Rico
· Approved, designed and printed in just six months
Stamp Category: Commemorative
First Day of Issue: November 19, 1993
First Day City(s): San Juan, Puerto Rico
Quantity Issued: 105,000,000
Printed by: Stamp Venturers
Printing Method: Photogravure
Format: Panes of 50 on gravure printing cylinders of 200
Why the stamp was issued: This stamp was approved, designed, and printed in just six months to mark the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s landing in Puerto Rico. The USPS had issued several stamps in 1992 to celebrate Columbus’s voyages to America (US #2620-23 and US #2624-29). Puerto Rico postal officials had been campaigning for a stamp honoring Columbus’s discovery of the island since 1986. When a USPS official visited the island in May 1993, a local district manager requested the stamp again, pointing out its significance to the Puerto Rican people as the start of their modern history. The USPS agreed to rush the stamp into production to get it issued on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival on November 19, 1493.
About the stamp design: The stamp features artwork by Richard Schlecht, who’d provided the artwork for the block of four Columbus stamps in 1992. His tempera and watercolor painting depicts two caravels (small boats) in Boqueron Bay. Schlecht based his boat paintings on descriptions from Columbus’s navigator logs.
Special design details: Richard Schlecht said he had to take some liberties in the design: “Down in that neck of the woods, the winds are generally blowing from the east-northeast - the trade winds. We had to kind of play fast and loose with that on this picture, because the fleet just couldn't have gotten in there with a wind like that. They would have had to row them in with their sweeps, and that probably would have been mentioned in the log if it had happened, and it wasn't mentioned. So, we've got the wind coming from a different direction, kind of east-southeast. But the trade winds shift around enough so that's not unreasonable."
First Day City: The stamp dedication was held at the Rene Marquez Wing of the Centro de Bellas Artes in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
History the stamp represents:
Puerto Rico was populated by the Taino tribe, part of the Arawak Indian group, which migrated up the Orinoco River in Venezuela and settled on the island sometime around 700 A.D.. The Taino called the land Borinquen, which means “Land of the Noble Lord.” They were a farming society with a political system led by tribal chiefs. For much of the 15th century, the Taino fended off a steady stream of Caribe raiders from the South American continent.
In 1493, Christopher Columbus landed on Borinquen during his second voyage to the new world. He named the island “San Juan Bautista.” In 1508, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León was sent to conquer the Tainos, as their conflict with the Caribe was mistaken for aggression against Spain. He founded the first settlement, called Caparra, in 1508. A year later, the settlement was moved to a nearby small island and named Puerto Rico, which means “Rich Port.” A second settlement was established in 1511, on the southwestern part of the island, and named San Germán.
Within a couple of decades, the Taino population dropped from as much as 60,000 to approximately 5,000. A dispute arose between Columbus’ son Diego and Ponce de León, about titles and trading privileges related to the island. Spanish authorities denied Diego’s claim and named Ponce de León governor. A system of slavery was installed that persecuted the Tainos. It was later modified to a less harsh form, but abuses continued.
By 1510, there were rising tensions between Tainos and Spaniards. The Tainos had believed the Spanish had divine powers and were immortal. To test it, the cheiftan Urayoán had his warriors drown Diego Salcedo, a Spanish soldier. They waited for three days to see if Salcedo would rise back to the surface, and when he did not, they rose in revolt against their mortal Spanish oppressors. The revolt failed, and Ponce de León ordered 6,000 Tainos put to death. The rest of the natives fled to the mountains. In 1511, Ponce de León left on a voyage that eventually led to the discovery of Florida. In 1521, the island and the city switched names – the island is now called Puerto Rico, and the city is named San Juan.
The Spanish maintained control throughout the 19th century, despite several armed attempts by France, England, and the Netherlands to take over. Puerto Rico’s defense was helped greatly by the presence of Fort San Felipe del Morro, commonly referred to as El Morro. The fort was built in 1539 on San Juan island, and is still standing. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 by the United Nations.
Throughout the next few centuries, slavery was practiced in Puerto Rico, both with enslaved natives and slaves imported from Africa. In a 1765 census, the population of Puerto Rico was placed at nearly 45,000, with 5,000 being slaves. That was considered to be the lowest percentage in the Caribbean at the time.
The early 1800s ushered in abolition movements in most European Colonial powers. Spain abolished slavery in 1820, but allowed it to continue in its colonies. Efforts by people such as José Julián Acosta resulted in the end of slavery in 1873 in Puerto Rico.
By the mid-1800s, more than half a million people lived in Puerto Rico. The vast majority were illiterate and living in poverty. Tensions boiled over in 1868 when hundreds of men and women in the town of Lares rose in revolt. It became known as the “Lares Uprising,” or the “Lares Cry.” While the uprising was quickly put down, it helped inspire social reforms such as the Moret Law in 1870, which led to the first freeing of slaves. The Lares Cry also influenced the formation of local political parties, which tried to establish a political identity for Puerto Rico that resembled Spain. In 1897, Spain approved the Carta Autonómica, which granted administrative and political self-government to Puerto Rico.
Combined with the issues of Cuban independence, United States expansionist movements brought America and Spain into conflict at the end of the 19th century. Inflamed by “yellow journalism” (biased reporting) by publishers such as William Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, sentiment in America led President William McKinley to declare war on Spain in 1898. The bulk of the fighting occurred in Cuba and the Philippines, but American forces also invaded Puerto Rico at Guernica and engaged Spanish forces there. The short war and American victory resulted in the freedom of Cuba, the surrendering of Guam and Puerto Rico from Spain to the United States, as well as the sale of the Philippines by Spain to the U.S. for $20 million. The treaty details were first discussed in San Juan, and eventually signed in Paris.
After the war, the U.S. Congress passed the Foraker Act, which established a civilian government and commerce between the U.S. and Puerto Rico. In 1915, a Puerto Rican delegation traveled to Washington and petitioned President Woodrow Wilson to grant Cuba more independence. This resulted in the Jones Act in 1917, which established Puerto Rico as an American Territory, “organized but unincorporated.” It granted United States citizenship to all Puerto Ricans – and also made them available for the military draft. More than 20,000 Puerto Ricans were drafted and served in World War I.
The Puerto Rican economy grew rapidly until the onset of the Great Depression. The Depression, followed by World War II, resulted in the migration of many Puerto Ricans to mainland America. Changes came in politics, as well. President Harry Truman named Jesús Piñiero as the first Puerto Rican-born governor in 1946. A year later, Congress passed a law that allowed Puerto Ricans to hold elections for their own governors. In 1950, Puerto Rico’s status was upgraded from Protectorate to Commonwealth. This move angered some citizens who wanted full independence. This discontent was shown in the Jayuya Uprising, where dissidents in seven cities and villages engaged local forces (mostly police).
In the post-World War II era, Puerto Rico began an evolution from an agricultural to an industrial society. It has also been an era of the island seeking to establish its identity. In 1991, Spanish was recognized as the official language of the commonwealth, and in 1993, English was added as the second official language. In 2000, Sila Calderón became the first woman to be elected governor. The island has also held several “plebiscites,” or referendums, to determine Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States. In the most recent vote in 1998, the choice for becoming a U.S. state received 46.5% of the vote, while the “None of the Above” option received 50.3%. That option reflected the dissatisfaction with the definition of the choices, specifically the one for remaining a Commonwealth.