Agrarian Change and Population Growth in Late Colonial Spanish America: The Case of Puerto Rico, 1765-1815

Francisco A. Scarano, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Katherine J. Curtis White, University of Wisconsin at Madison

In the present study, we seek to reveal the basic contours of Puerto Rico’s demographic evolution from 1765 and 1815, and to understand the effects of changes in the agrarian economy on the colonial population. Our main data source is an under-utilized series of general censuses compiled by Spanish officials in response to Crown mandates for better intelligence on the state of the constituent units of the Empire. Using these data, we probe the broad outlines of population change, explore the spatial distribution of such change, and pose new questions to be answered with more detailed information. Study findings allow for a more informed discussion about Puerto Rico's late eighteenth century agrarian and population transition, its lasting impacts on the island’s development, and the theoretical implications for other instances of agrarian-population shifts.

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Presented in Session 168: Historical Transitions and Demographic Responses