The Fort Holds! > Magazine > Attractions/Sights > Puerto Rico

Fuerte San Felipe del Morro, JCD
The Fort Holds! > Attractions/Sights > Puerto Rico
From the moment a Spanish settlement named Puerto Rico was established on the north coast of San Juan Bautista island (in later centuries the names of the capital and the island were interchanged), its location at the gateway to the New World made it desired by friend and foe alike. Dispatches chronicling the four major attacks on San Juan might have sounded something like this:


Puerto Rico, San Juan. 1595. The English sea captain Francis Drake made an audacious attack on the harbour settlement of Puerto Rico and was soundly repelled. Learning of a treasure-laden Spanish galleon in Puerto Rico’s bay, Drake led a fleet of 27 ships manned by 2,500 men to the harbour. Garrison soldiers fired cannons from the sea-level battery and the large hornwork on the promontory of El Morro, holding invading forces at bay. One unconfirmed report states a cannonball ripped through Drake’s cabin, splintering a stool from under him and killing two men. After several days of failed attempts to penetrate defenses, resulting in many casualties, Drake sailed away.

The soldiers and the Castle at El Morro have proved their worth, but we must not become complacent.


Puerto Rico, San Juan. 1598. The British Earl of Cumberland and his 1,700-man army have defeated the Spanish forces, and Puerto Rico is now in British hands. Learning from Captain Drake’s mistakes three years ago, Cumberland did not enter the harbour. Instead, he anchored his fleet of 21 ships east of the settlement and entered along San Antonio Bridge. Though a small group of Spanish soldiers fought valiantly – unconfirmed reports state Cumberland narrowly escaped drowning when he fell into the water in heavy armour – they were vastly outnumbered.

Several months later. Nature has contrived against Puerto Rico’s new colonizers. The summer heat contaminated food supplies and the resulting dysentery killed more than 400 soldiers and sickened another 400. Cumberland and his remaining men retreated, burning and looting as they went.


Puerto Rico, San Juan. 1625. Boudewijn Hendricksz and his fleet of 17 Dutch ships lay siege to Puerto Rico. Sailing directly into El Morro’s cannons, the Dutch gained entrance to the harbour. Residents fled while El Morro’s defenders, ably led by Governor Juan de Haro, were able to withstand the siege. After 21 days of battle, the Dutch withdrew. Tragically, they sacked and burned the town to the ground as they left. Castleifications in the town of Puerto Rico must be strengthened if the Crown truly wants to keep the island of San Juan safe and under Spanish rule.


San Juan, Puerto Rico. 1797. San Juan, a city of 62 acres protected by 200 acres of Castles and walls and more than 450 mounted guns, has repelled the British fleet. Commanded by Ralph Abercromby, British ships anchored off the coast east of the city of San Juan and some 3,000 troops marched ashore and prepared to attack. Supported by long-range cannon fire from the massive Castle at San Cristóbal a mile away, Spanish artillery crews wreaked havoc on English lines; after 17 days the British sailed away in defeat.

Abercromby reported that San Juan could have resisted a force ten times larger than the one he brought to bear.
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