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History of Vieques

A brief history of Vieques island, it's people and culture.

Vieques Puerto Rico was inhabited by Native American's between 3000 and 2000 BC. Around 200BC the Igneri people originating from Venezuela arrived and in 1000AD merged with Hispanolia and Cuban groups to form the Taíno culture. In the early 1600’s the Spanish arrived and decimated the Taíno population by killing, imprisoning and enslaving the entire population and beginning a 300 year period of lawlessness, pirates and outlaws from Europe fighting for control of Vieques.

Queen Isabel II by Madrazo y Kunz

The Spanish Settle Vieques

In the beginning of the 19th Century, the Spanish secured and settled Vieques Island and in 1811 Puerto Rico began the annexation of Vieques. Vieques was formally annexed to Puerto Rico in 1854. Sugar Cane plantations dominated the island in the 19th century and many immigrants arrived in Vieques to work on the plantations. Some were brought in as slaves and others as independent economic migrants.

Named after the Queen Isabel II, the first and only reigning female monarch of Spain, the town of Isabel II Isabel Segunda was founded in 1844, under the leadership of the second governor of Vieques, Fracisco Saînz.

Queen Isabel II was the first and only reigning female monarch of Spain, and the town of Isabel II Isabel Segunda was named after her

Queen Isabel II

Queen Isabella II came to the Spanish throne at the age of thirteen and was Queen regent of Spain from 1833 - 1868. Queen Isabel II is the proper title and name of the Monarch. Isabel II is the only town in Vieques and is often called El Pueblo by locals. After the Spanish-American war in 1898, Puerto Rico and Vieques were ceded to the United States. During WWII the US purchased about two thirds of the island as a base to provide a safe haven for the British fleet should Britain fall to Nazi Germany. After the war, the US Navy continued use of the area for military exercises.

Vieques Goes Green

Today Vieques island is the Caribbean’s largest national wildlife refuge

In May 2003 the Navy withdrew from Vieques, and the land became a protected National Park Preserve, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildfe Service. Today Vieques island is the Caribbean’s largest national wildlife refuge, home to wild horses, sea turtles, migratory and resident bird populations and other wildlife.


El Fortín Condé de Mirasól

El Fortin was the last fortress built by the Spaniards in the New World. Construction began in 1845 under order of the Governor of Puerto Rico, who was also known as the Count of Mirasol. Built to defend against European enemies in the Leeward islands and insurgent activists in South America, the fort was never used for military purposes.

With funds from the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture, the fort was restored in the early 1990's and now houses the Vieques Museum of Anthropology, History and Art.

Aside from it's permanent installations, the Museum hosts traveling exhibits and is home to the annual Cultural Festival of Vieques. Robert Rabin is the curator of the museum, and the island historian. As the historian he brings the Vieques of bygone eras alive in exhibits, stories and visits to the historical sites.

The historic fort is open Wed - Sun from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. Information at 787-741-1717. The fort overlooks the town of Isabel II and is an easy walk from there.