The number of inhabitants in Borinquén when Spanish colonization began is unknown. Chroniclers of that era and historians disagree on the number and estimates range from 30,000 to 600,000 indigenous people. However, archaeological evidence suggests there was a close relationship between socio-economic organization and population density; for this reason, it is believed there were no more than 50,000 people living on the island. Epidemics, especially smallpox, cruel treatment by the colonizers, who pressed them into forced labor, migration to other islands and losses in the battles with the Spaniards all contributed to the rapid decline of the natives. As the number of Indians declined, slaves were introduced.
In 1765, the first census in Puerto Rico was conducted. It produced a count of 44,833 inhabitants, with 5,037 of those black slaves. Details about the free population were not specified in the count. The number of black slaves rose to 51,265 in 1846, one of the last counts before the abolition of slavery. The census of 1765 began a rich history of census taking. Under Spanish rule, the population was counted 13 times.
A year after the United States invasion, the first census under U.S. command was conducted under the supervision of the United States Department of War. This census determined that at the end of the 19th century the island population was 953,243 inhabitants. Beginning in 1910, Puerto Rico was included in the United States Census and since then the Census Bureau, under the United States Commerce Department, on the first of April in years ending in zero, has provided official figures on the number of residents. Under United States rule, 11 censuses have been conducted.
Reaching a level of one million inhabitants took more than 130 years, but the population rose to two million in less than fifty years. Passing three million was an even faster process, taking about four decades. It is expected that the 2010 census will show the Puerto Rico population stabilized around four million, which would imply that reaching the fourth million occurred in less than thirty years.
Author: gf Ana L. Dávila Román
Published: September 16, 2014.
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