Cayetano Coll y Toste was a surgeon, historian and politician. He served as the official historian of Puerto Rico from 1912 until his death in 1930. The 14 volumes of the Boletín Histórico de Puerto Rico display his social, historical and anthropological research.
He was born in Arecibo on November 3, 1850. His family moved to Ponce, where he completed his primary education. He earned a degree in Philosophy and Letters at the Jesuit College of San Juan, formerly the Council Seminary, in 1869. He moved to Barcelona where he studied medicine and surgery. In 1873, he presided over a society of young students from Cuba and Puerto Rico called Tertulia Antillana de Amigos de la Ciencia. He also founded and managed the literary review El Ramillete (1873) and directed the annual El Tiburón, where he published the works that were his entrance into the world of journalism and letters. He earned his degree in 1874.
Upon returning to Puerto Rico, he married Adela Cuchí and settled in Arecibo, where he practiced medicine. He held various civil posts, including Superintendent of Schools. In 1889, he was a member of the Arecibo Board of Public Education and established and directed the Monserrate Hospital in Arecibo. He moved to San Juan in 1893, where he was named Forensic Physician for the Puerto Rico Royal Territorial Court.
Coll y Toste was a member of the Liberal Party. In 1897, during the brief rule of the autonomous government, he was named delegate from the San Juan region. During this period he also held the posts of central administrator for Customs, sub-secretary of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce, and delegate to the House of Representatives for Arecibo.
After the arrival of the United States, he held the post of Treasury Secretary, where he achieved the elimination of the tax called the personal warrant (1898). He was also trustee for the Provincial Delegation, civil secretary of the Military Government, Commissioner of the Interior for the Civil Government (1900) and director of the Home for Children, a politically appointed post. From 1912 until his death in 1930, he was the official historian of Puerto Rico.
As a man of letters, he distinguished himself as a historiographer. He compiled a great number of historical documents related to Puerto Rico from the Archive of the Indies in Seville, which he used as a resource for many of his historical texts. His work is extensive, but with little methodological rigidity. Among his texts are a volume of historical notes titled Crónicas de Arecibo (1891); Memoria sobre el aspecto general de la civilización de Puerto Rico en 1797 (1891), Colón en Puerto Rico (1893), Prehistoria de Puerto Rico (1907), which won an award from the Economic Society of Friends of Puerto Rico; the essay “Reseña del Estado Social, Económico, y Político de Puerto Rico al tomar posesión de ella los Estados Unidos” and “La Instrucción Pública en Puerto Rico hasta el 1898” (1909); Leyendas puertorriqueñas (1924-1925), divided into three volumes and including “El pirata Cofresí,” “Güanina,” “Una página de gloria” etc.; Puertorriqueños Ilustres (1957) and Narraciones puertorriqueñas (1962), the last two compiled by his granddaughter, Isabel Cuchí y Coll.
He contributed to various local publications such as the Revista Puertorriqueña, La Democracia, Puerto Rico Ilustrado, Revista de las Antillas, El Mundo, Plumas Amigas (which he edited in 1912); Repertorio Histórico de Puerto Rico and La Semana Política. He helped found and manage the latter (1906). Among the foreign publications to which he contributed were Las Antillas of Cuba, Cultura Hispanoamericana of Spain and Tobacco of the United States. He also tried his hand at poetry with “Mártir de Atenas,” “Una página de gloria” and “A Virgilio Dávila.”
One of his principal works is the Boletín Histórico de Puerto Rico, which he published twice a year. It consisted of 14 volumes (5,012 pages) written between 1914 and 1927. It contains studies on diverse topics related to the pre-history, history, anthropology, archaeology, ethnography and philology of Puerto Rico.
He also published some of his studies in the field of medicine, including Tratamiento de la Fiebre Amarilla (1896), a work he broadened with his clinical study titled El pulso de la fiebre amarilla; Notas terapéuticas regionales (1903); Introducción del cólera en la Isla (1909); La medicina entre los indios (1915), a critique of the work of Agustín Sthal, and others.
Cayetano Coll y Toste was president of the Puerto Rican Athenaeum, president of the History Society, corresponding member of the Royal Academy of History of Spain and the Academies of History of Cuba and Venezuela; assistant director of the Antillean Academy of Language; member of the Academy of Medicine; president of the Society of Writers and Artists. He was honored by the Spanish Government, which named him Commander of the Royal American Order of Isabel and named him Gentleman of the Order of Bolivar in Venezuela.
He died on November 19, 1930, in Madrid.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 11, 2014.
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