He completed his primary and secondary studies on the islet of San Juan under the tutelage of Rafael Cordero. He worked as a teacher in various schools in the capital. He later studied at the Council Seminary in San Juan. One of the teachers at the seminary, father Rufo M. Fernández, helped him get a scholarship to continue his studies at the Central University of Madrid, where in 1846 he earned a degree in physical sciences and mathematics.
During his time in Madrid, he joined the Collecting Society of Historical Documents of the Island of San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico, along with Román Baldorioty de Castro and Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, among others. The group of young Puerto Rican students dedicated themselves to searching the Spanish archives for documents related to the island. He later studied in London, Paris and Berlin.
Upon his return to Puerto Rico in 1853, he worked mainly as an educator in various institutions, including the San Juan Institute of Secondary Education, where he was a teacher and later the director, and at the Council Seminary and the School of Commerce, Agriculture and Seamanship.
He also played a role in Puerto Rican political life. In 1866, he served along with Segundo Ruiz Belvis and Francisco Mariano Quiñones as a member of the Information Board, which was created by royal decree to discuss the island’s political and socio-economic problems. Among the reports he presented as a member of the board, along with the other liberals, was the Informe sobre la abolición de la esclavitud en la isla de Puerto Rico.
Because of his liberal ideas, he was imprisoned in 1868 after the Grito de Lares uprising. In 1870, he was one of the organizers of the Liberal Reformist Party, which sought to implement reforms on the island. He was the founder and editor of El Progreso, the party’s main publication. In 1871 and again in 1879, he was a delegate to the Spanish Courts.
In 1873, he saw his dream come true with the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico. That same year, during the brief First Spanish Republic, he was director of the new Civil Institute of Secondary Education in San Juan. When the Republic fell in 1874, the Institute was closed because it was considered too liberal, but it reopened its doors in 1882.
Acosta was also a figure in literature. He was one of the collaborators on the second Aguinaldo puertorriqueño (1846). In the 1850s, he began writing literary criticism about the work of writers such as Miguel de Cervantes, Víctor Hugo and Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, among others.
In terms of his own historical writing, he is noted for his contribution to the Biblioteca histórica de Puerto Rico (1854), published by Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, which collected the research done by young Puerto Ricans who were part of the Collecting Society of Historical Documents, to which he belonged. In 1866, he also published a new edition of the Historia geográfica, civil y natural de la Isla de San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico by Brother íñigo Abbad y Lasierra. It included notes and commentaries on the text, corrected errors and updated the history to the 1870s. Because of the arduous research that was done for this edition, the Royal Spanish Academy of History offered him membership.
Among his other historical works are Los partidos políticos (a political history) (1870), Apuntes para la historia de Puerto Rico (1879) and El café y la caña de azúcar (historical sketch) (1884). He also published a large number of works on a variety of topics, including Horas de prisión (written after his imprisonment in 1868), El brigadier don Luis Padial y Viczarrondo (1879), Conferencias pronunciadas en el Ateneo de Puerto Rico sobre "la marcha progresiva de la humanidad en el conocimiento de la superficie terrestre" (1879) and Alejandro Farnasio y su tiempo (1887).
He died August 26, 1891, in San Juan.
Biografía. Recursos: Gran enciclopedia de Puerto Rico. San Juan, P. R.: Scholstic Inc., 2004.
"D. José Julián de Acosta". El mes histórico. Vol I, No. 5 febrero 1935: 5-7. Impreso.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Literatura puertorriqueña: su proceso en el tiempo. Madrid: Partenón, . Impreso.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 11, 2014.