The TaínosThe Arawakan-speaking Taínos moved into Hispaniola, displacing earlier inhabitants, circa A.D. 650. The Taínos called the island Kiskeya or Quisqueya ("mother of the earth"). They engaged in farming and fishing, and hunting and gathering. The fierce Caribs drove the Taínos to the northeastern Caribbean during much of the 15th century. The estimates of Hispaniola's population in 1492 vary widely, including one hundred thousand, three hundred thousand, and four hundred thousand to two million. By 1492 the island was divided into five Taíno chiefdoms.
The Spanish arrived in 1492. After initially friendly relations, the Taínos resisted the conquest, led by the female Chief Anacaona of Xaragua and her husband Chief Caonabo of Maguana, as well as Chiefs Guacanagarix, Guamá, Hatuey, and Enriquillo. The latter's successes gained his people an autonomous enclave for a time on the island. Nevertheless, within a few years after 1492 the population of Taínos had declined drastically, due to smallpox and other diseases that arrived with the Europeans, and from other causes discussed below. The decline continued, and by 1711 the Taíno numbered just 21,000. The last record of pure Taínos in the country was from 1864. Due to intermarriage over the centuries, many Dominicans have Taíno ancestry. Remnants of the Taino culture include their cave paintings, as well as pottery designs which are still used in the small artisan village of Higüerito, Moca.
Spanish ruleChristopher Columbus arrived on Hispaniola on December 5, 1492, during the first of his four voyages to America. He claimed the island for Spain and named it La Española. In 1496 Bartholomew Columbus, Christopher's brother, built the city of Santo Domingo, Europe's first permanent settlement in the "New World". The Spaniards created a plantation economy on the island. The colony was the springboard for the further Spanish conquest of America and for decades the headquarters of Spanish power in the hemisphere. Christopher was buried in Santo Domingo upon his death in 1506.
The Taínos nearly disappeared, above all, from European infectious diseases to which they had no immunity. Other causes were abuse, suicide, the breakup of family, starvation, enslavement, forced labor, torture, war with the Spaniards, changes in lifestyle, and even miscegenation. Laws passed for the Indians' protection (beginning with the Laws of Burgos, 1512–1513) were never truly enforced. Yet as stated above, the Taínos did survive. Some scholars believe that las Casas exaggerated the Indian population decline in an effort to persuade King Carlos to intervene, and that encomenderos also exaggerated it, in order to receive permission to import more African slaves. Moreover, censuses of the time omitted the Indians who fled into remote communities, where they often joined with runaway Africans (cimarrones), producing Zambos. Also, Mestizos who were culturally Spanish were counted as Spaniards, some Zambos as black, and some Indians as Mulattos.
After her conquest of the Aztecs and Incas, Spain neglected her Caribbean holdings. French buccaneers settled in western Hispaniola, and by the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, Spain ceded the area to France. France created the wealthy colony Saint-Domingue there, with a population 90% slave, and overall four times as populous (500,000 to 125,000) as the Spanish area at the end of the 18th century.
French ruleFrance came to own the whole island in 1795, when by the Peace of Basel Spain ceded Santo Domingo as a consequence of the French Revolutionary Wars. At the time, Saint–Domingue's slaves, led by Toussaint Louverture, were in revolt against France. In 1801 they captured Santo Domingo, thus controlling the entire island; but in 1802 an army sent by Napoleon captured Toussaint Louverture and sent him to France as prisoner. However, Toussaint Louverture's lieutenants, and yellow fever, succeeded in expelling the French again from Saint-Domingue, which in 1804 the rebels made independent as the Republic of Haiti. Eastwards, France continued to rule Spanish Santo Domingo.
In 1808, following Napoleon's invasion of Spain, the criollos of Santo Domingo revolted against French rule and, with the aid of Great Britain (Spain's ally) and Haiti, returned Santo Domingo to Spanish control.