Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Dominican Republic

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From volume 5 of the work.

98767Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) — The Dominican RepublicEwan Macpherson


The Dominican Republic is the eastern, and much larger political division of the island now comprehensively known as Haiti, which is the second in size of the Greater Antilles. The territory of this republic, estimated at 18,045 square miles, is divided from that of the Republic of Haiti, on the west, by a serpentine line running from the mouth of the Yaqui River, on the north coast, to a point not far from Point Beata, on the south. Its northern shores are washed by the Atlantic Ocean, its southern by the Caribbean Sea, while on the east the Mona Passage separates it from the Island of Porto Rico. In proportion to its size, San Domingo is much less densely settled than Haiti. Ethnologically, the Dominicans contrast with the Haitians in being a Spanish-speaking people, mostly of mixed negro and European descent, the Haitians being pure negro and speaking French. The climate in San Domingo is in some parts bad, in others remarkably good, notably in and around the city of San Domingo where, in spite of bad sanitation, it is said that "nobody need die of anything but old age". During the dry season, November to March, the mean diurnal variation on the south coast is from 70 to 80 degrees Fahr.; during the rainy seasons (summer and autumn) it is from 80 to 92. These figures, like most statistics of contemporary San Domingo, are necessarily conjectural.


From the date of its discovery until the French Revolution, the civil and ecclesiastical history of the territory now occupied by the Dominican Republic are inseparably conjoined. In December, 1492, Christopher Columbus, having failed in his expectation of identifying the island of Cuba with Japan (Cipango), had shaped his course homeward when the accident of prevailing wind brought him in sight of the island he named Hispaniola (Little Spain). On 6 December, 1492, he landed on Môle St. Nicholas (now Haitian territory), then, passing along the north coast of the island to the Bay of Samana, landed again and penetrated inland as far as the summit of Santo Cerro (Holy Hill), where, looking down upon the magnificent upland plain which he named La Vega Real, he planted a wooden cross to commemorate his discovery. His first landing had been unopposed, but at the eastern end of Hispaniola the Ciguayen tribe received the Spaniards with a volley of arrows, from which adventure the gulf now called Samana was named by Columbus Golfo de la Flechas (Gulf of Arrows). The island had been known to its inhabitants as Haiti; there were of the Arawak stock, and were accustomed to fight against the piratical Caribs, though themselves of a rather pacific character. That they worshipped idols appears from the fact that the first Bishop of Santo Domingo sent an idol of aboriginal workmanship as a present to Leo X (Moroni, Dizionario, XX, s. v. Domingo).

The first Spanish settlement, Isadora, was on the north coast. But in 1496, when Miguel Dias reported to the admiral the existence of much gold in and about the Hayna River, as well as the remarkable salubrity of the country of the Ozamas, on the south coast, Isabella, which had been found unhealthy, was abandoned. On the mouth of the Ozamas River, and on its left bank, Bartolomé Colón began the settlement of Nueva Isabella, which was not long afterwards replaced by San Domingo, on the opposite bank. Thus, the present capital of the Dominican Republic, the oldest Christian city in the New World, was already established as the capital of the "New Spains" in the last year of the fifteenth century. Leo X erected the see of San Domingo — the mother church of all Spanish America, and the oldest bishopric in the New World — in 1513. In 1514, under Alessandro Geraldini, its first bishop, the present cathedral church of San Domingo was begun; it was completed in 1540. In this cathedral, about 200 feet in length by 90 in width, the remains of several members of the Columbus family — and possibly even of the great admiral himself — still repose; here, too, is still reverently preserved a fragment of the cross which Columbus set up on Santo Cerro, and about which miraculous legends have grown up in the course of four centuries. The catalogue of adelantados of the island includes the names of Diego Colón (immediate successor to his uncle Bartolomé), of Bobadillo, and Ovando. There Columbus himself lived for many years, there he was imprisoned by his enemies, and thence he set out on his last voyage to Spain. To San Domingo Ojedo returned from his last voyage of discovery and conquest in 1500. His grave is still shown in the main doorway of the Franciscan church. In 1547 Paul III made San Domingo the metropolitan see of the New World. Meanwhile houses of the Friars Preachers, the Franciscans, and the Mercedarians sprang up rapidly, and in this West Indian port, the population of which could never have exceeded 20,000, the ruins of not fewer than half a dozen convents are still to be seen. The Jesuit college, now used as a theatre, was not founded until a later period.

While all this activity lasted, the seeds of social and political decay were being sown in Hispaniola. The aborigines were either killed or driven into hiding among the Cibao mountains; the importation of negro slaves became a regular institution. The Spanish settlers were men of the losing, not the conquering type; their blood mingled with that of the negro and, in some degree, the aboriginal, to produce the San Domingan of modern times. In 1586 Francis Drake drove the Spanish garrison out of San Domingo and burned section after section of the city until a ransom of 30,000 crowns was paid to him. In the next century French adventurers — the original boucaniers — began to use the little island of Tortuga, near the north-west coast of Hispaniola, as a piratical rendezvous; from Trotuga they gradually spread over the eastern end of Hispaniola, creating a claim of occupation which Spain recognized in the treaty of Ryswick (1691). It was in April, 1655, that an English force, conveyed thither in the fleet commanded by Admiral Penn, was driven away, after affecting a landing about thirty miles west of the capital. The natural resources of Hispaniola still enriched Spain, and the mint at Concepcion de la Vega continued to coin gold from the Hayna. After the peace of Ryswick, Hispaniola might almost have been forgotten, if an English cabinet-maker had not (about the year 1766), discovered the value of mahogany. The demand, first created by a shipment from Jamaica, was largely supplied by the Spanish island.

The French Revolution reacted upon Hispaniola. The white and mulattos of San Domingo, under Spanish leaders, attempted to restore the old regime in the Spanish colony, but in 1795 all Hispaniola was ceded to France. The Spanish authority transferred San Domingo to the representative of the French republic, who was the mulatto General Toussaint L'Ouverture. Until the Treaty of Paris (1814), the French whites, the white and colored partisans of Spain, the blacks of Haiti, and now and then a British expeditionary force fought for supremacy in San Domingo. The treacherous capture of L'Ouverture, and his mysterious death in prison at Besançon, in 1803, were followed by a general massacre of the whites in Haiti in March, 1804. The Haitian blacks now compelled the submission of San Domingo to the authority of their first president, Dessalines. At last, in 1814, the Treaty of Paris restored to Spain her oldest possession in the New World.


Out of the political chaos, which had lasted for more than half a century, arose the present Dominican Republic. Its constitution was proclaimed 18 December, 1844, and its first president was Pedro Santana; it was recognized by France in 1848, and by Great Britain in 1850. An attempt to restore Spanish rule, in 1861, in defiance of the Monroe doctrine, ended with a final Spanish evacuation in 1865. In 1897 the foreign debt of the republic had reached the amount of more than $21,000,000, the interest on which was supposed to be secured by customs receipts; following a default of interest (1 April, 1899), the Government of the United States intervened to obtain an equitable settlement, and its efforts led to the convention of 1905 (ratified in 1907), by which an agent, always a citizen of the United States, is to be permanently empowered to act as general receiver of the Dominican customs, in the interest of the foreign bondholders. Since 9 July 1905, all lands owned by the Dominican Government have been open for settlement, free for ten years, and after that at a rent of five cents per acre. Although there can be little doubt that the national resources of the republic still include large quantities of gold, silver, and copper ore, and even iron, the actual products are only vegetable: sugar (183,759 acres under cultivation in 1906); tobacco (nearly 15,000,000 pounds of leaf exported annually); cocoa; coffee. The actual timber output is insignificant. In 1907 the total length of railroad was 112 miles.

The Constitution of the Dominican Republic is said to be modelled on that of Venezuela; the president, elected for four years, is assisted by a council of ministers; the legislature is a single chamber elected by popular vote in twenty-four departments. The supreme court of the republic (a president and four judges) is appointed by the national congress, its "minister fiscal", however, being appointed by the chief executive; for courts of first instance, the republic is divided into eleven judicial districts, each presided over by an alcalde. By the terms of the Constitution education is gratuitous and compulsory.

The ancient city of San Domingo (population 16,000), is still the seat of the civil government, as well as the see of the archbishop, who, however, no longer has any suffragans. The relations between the Church and the State are (1908) very cordial. The Constitution of the Republic, in which religious liberty is an article, guarantees the church freedom of action which, nevertheless is curtailed by the law providing that the civil solemnization of marriages must precede the canonical. The municipal cemeteries are consecrated in accordance with the Church's requirements, though in some important centres of population there are non-Catholic cemeteries besides. In the Dominican Republic (with which the Archdiocese of San Domingo is coextensive) there are 600,000 Catholics, upwards of 1,000 Protestants, and very few Jews, while the Masonic lodges number about thirteen. The total number of parishes is 56, each with its own church, in addition to which there are 13 chapels and 82 mission stations. The (ecclesiastical) Conciliar seminary, at the capital, is under the care of the Eudist Fathers (Congregation of Jesus and Mary) who administer the cathedral parish. Another college under ecclesiastical control is that of San Sebastian in La Vega. A diocesan congregation of religious women numbers 30 members; these sisters, who have charge of a hospital, care for orphan children and the infirm aged.

KEIM, San Domingo (Philadelphia, 1870); HAZARD, Santo Domingo, Past and Present (New York, 1873); DEL MONTE y TEJADA, Historia de S. Domingo (Madrid, 1860); MORONI, Dixionario, s. v. Domingo; SCHOMBERGE, Notes on St. Domingo in Proceedings of British Association, 1851; Statesman's Year-Book, 1908.

E. Macpherson.