First arrivalsBefore Christopher Columbus arrived, the indigenous Taínos (meaning ‘Friendly People’) lived on the island now known as Hispaniola. Taínos gave the world sweet potatoes, peanuts, guava, pineapple and tobacco – even the word ‘tobacco’ is Taíno in origin. Yet the Taínos themselves were wiped out by Spanish diseases and slavery. Of the 400, 000 Taínos that lived on Hispaniola at the time of European arrival, fewer than 1000 were still alive 30 years later. None exist today.
Haiti, the Taíno name for the island, was the first majority-black republic in the New World.
In 1821 colonists in Santo Domingo declared their independence from Spain. Haiti, which had long aspired to unify the island, promptly invaded its neighbor and occupied it for more than two decades. But Dominicans never accepted Haitian rule and on February 27, 1844, Juan Pablo Duarte – considered the father of the country – led a bloodless coup and reclaimed Dominican autonomy. Fearing an invasion and still feeling threatened by Haiti in 1861, the Dominican Republic once again submitted to Spanish rule. But ordinary Dominicans did not support the move and, after four years of armed resistance, succeeded in expelling Spanish troops in what is known as the War of Restoration . (Restauración is a common street name throughout the DR, and there are a number of monuments to the war, including a prominent one in Santiago.) On March 3, 1865, the Queen of Spain signed a decree annulling the annexation and withdrew her soldiers from the island.
The young country endured one disreputable caudillo (military leader) after the other. In 1916 US President Woodrow Wilson sent the marines to the Dominican Republic, ostensibly to quell a coup attempt, but they ended up occupying the country for eight years. Though imperialistic, this occupation succeeded in stabilizing the DR.