This collection of documents should help resolve the controversies growing out of Aurelio Tió’s earlier work, Fundación de San Germán y su significación en el desarrollo político, económico, social y cultural de Puerto Rico. In this book the author claims that on his second voyage Columbus touched Puerto Rico first at the Bay of Añasco, not at the Bay of Aguada-Aguadilla or Borquerón as is generally supposed. Tió also argued that the first Spanish settlement on the island was not at Caparra but at San Germán (Rincón) in the hills falling to the sea at the Bay of Añasco. For the most part, these and other theories were not readily accepted. Professional historians, states Tió, were bound too strongly to the traditional “capitoline” interpretation of Puerto Rican history and resented his new views which detracted from the luster of the San Juan area. As an amateur historian, his work was generally ignored as that of an aficionado outside the professional guild. This book of documents is his attempt to vindicate himself and to strengthen the ease set forth in his earlier work.
Tió has transcribed fourteen sets of documents from the Archives of the Indies and the Archives of Protocol in Seville. The first, and most controversial, is the probanza of Juan González Ponce de León, a participant in the conquest of Puerto Rico. Dated June 18, 1532, the González document sets Juan Ponce de León’s first expedition to Puerto Rico in 1506 rather than 1508, the generally accepted date. Probably, surmises Tió, this was a secret expedition. The same document also places Ponce’s point of landing at the Bay of Añasco. The second document, dated 1523, attempts to establish the exact location of San Germán. Another contains evidence, although indirectly, on the date of the erection of the blockhouse at Higüey. Three other documents concern the first creole governor of the island, Juan Troche de Ponce de León. Another nueva fuente adds Gerónimo de Ortal (February-August, 1537) to the list of Puerto Rican governors. As might be expected, Juan Ponce de León claims the limelight in many of the documents. Tió has included the adelantado’s agreements with the crown for the conquest of Bimini and others bearing on Ponce’s lineage.
On the surface this is a scholarly work with all the scholarly trappings—careful transcription of the documents, copious explanatory notes, maps, bibliography, and appendices on a variety of topics. Yet for all these accouterments, Tió is not completely convincing. Rather than pursuing the more Rankean course of letting the documents speak for themselves, he uses inference, deduction, and dialectics to make his case. The second document on the location of San Germán, for example, covers two printed pages; following it are notes and subnotes of fifty-three pages. These give excellent lessons in the use of evidence and demonstrate the editor’s erudition, but they are simply no substitute for conclusive documentation. In the ease of the González proof, the date 1506 may well have been the time of Ponce’s first expedition to Puerto Rico, but it may also have been the mistake of men recalling an event which had occurred over twenty years before. Relaciones de méritos y servicios often contain such errors.
Despite these reservations I do not wish to enter the lists against the author and his views. He is a learned and nimble-witted historian, whose work shows great energy and perception. His theories, however, need further analysis. With the evidence still too flimsy or scanty, Tió’s interpretations need to be put to a sterner, more severe test. They should not, however, be disregarded.