The Spanish West Indies or the Spanish Antilles (also known as "Las Antillas Occidentales" or simply "Las Antillas Españolas" in Spanish) were Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. In terms of governance of the Spanish Empire, The Indies was the designation for all its overseas territories and was overseen by the Council of the Indies, founded in 1524 and based in Spain. When the crown established the Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1535, the islands of the Caribbean came under its jurisdiction.
The islands ruled by Spain were chiefly the Greater Antilles such as Hispaniola (inclusive of modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Spain also claimed the Lesser Antilles (such as Guadalupe and the Cayman Islands) but those territories remained mostly under the carib peoples and were eventually colonised by France and Britain.
The islands that became the Spanish West Indies were the focus of the voyages of the Spanish expedition of Christopher Columbus in America. Largely due to the familiarity that Spaniards gained from Columbus's voyages, the islands were also the first lands to be permanently colonized by Spanish in the Americas. The Spanish West Indies were also the most enduring part of Spain's American Empire, only being surrendered in 1898 at the end of the Spanish–American War. For over three centuries, Spain controlled a network of ports in the Caribbean including Havana (Cuba), San Juan (Puerto Rico), Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), Veracruz (Mexico), and Portobelo, Panama, which were connected by galleon routes.
Some smaller islands were seized or ceded to other European powers as a result of war, or diplomatic agreements during the 17th and 18th centuries. Others such as Dominican Republic gained their independence in the 19th century.
Change of sovereignty or independence
- The Bay Islands were ceded to England in 1643 and then to Honduras in 1861.
- Colony of Santiago—Jamaica was lost to England in 1655, confirmed in the Treaty of Madrid (1670).
- The Cayman Islands were lost to England in the Treaty of Madrid (1670).
- Haiti (western Hispaniola) was lost to France in the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 (Saint-Domingue).
- Trinidad was lost to Britain during the Invasion of Trinidad (1797), confirmed in the Treaty of Amiens in 1802.
- Captaincy General of Santo Domingo (eastern Hispaniola) gained its independence from Spain as Spanish Haiti in 1821, then from Haiti as the Dominican Republic, and again from Spain in 1865.
- Captaincy General of Cuba was lost to the United States in 1898, after the Spanish–American War concluded by the 1898 Treaty of Paris.
- Captaincy General of Puerto Rico was lost to the United States in 1898, after the Spanish–American War concluded by the 1898 Treaty of Paris.
Today, the term Spanish Caribbean or Hispanophone Caribbean refers to the Spanish-speaking areas in the Caribbean Sea, chiefly Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. It includes regions where Spanish is the main language, and where the legacy of Spanish settlement and colonization influences culture, through religion, language, cuisine, and so on. The varieties of Spanish that predominate in this region are known collectively as Caribbean Spanish.
The term is used in contrast to Anglophone Caribbean, French Caribbean, and Dutch Caribbean, which are other modern linguistic divisions of the Caribbean region. The Hispanophone Caribbean is a part of the wider Hispanic America, which includes all the Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas. Historically, coastal areas of Spanish Florida and the Caribbean South America (cf. the Spanish Main) were closely tied to the Spanish Caribbean. During the period of Spanish settlement and colonization of the New World, the Spanish West Indies referred to those settlements in islands of the Caribbean Sea under political administration of Spain, as in the phrase "a 1765 cedula authorized seven sea ports, in addition to the port of San Juan, to trade with the Spanish Caribbean." Until the early 19th century these territories were part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
In a modern sense, the Caribbean islands of Venezuela and those of Colombia could be included in the Hispanophone Caribbean as well, due to the fact they are located in the Caribbean, but not in the Antilles.
Below is a list of islands belonging geographically to the Greater and Lesser Antilles and that were under Spanish rule in various stages of history, until it became independent from Spain. Several islands which were previously largely under Spanish rule, but since they were passed into the domain of France, England or the Netherlands, are no longer considered part of the Spanish Caribbean.
In addition, the Colombian islands of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina are located in the Caribbean, but are not part of the Antilles. Under intermittent periods of Spanish rule, these islands were administered as part of the Spanish Main (initially Guatemala, later New Granada).
- Mark A. Burkholder, "Council of the Indies" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, vol. 2, p. 293. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996.
- Romaine, Suzanne (2013). "Caribbean". In Strazny, Philipp (ed.). Encyclopedia of Linguistics. New York: Taylor & Francis. p. 176. ISBN 978-1-135-45522-4.
- Luis F. Pumarada O'Neill (July 31, 1994), National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation: Historic Bridges of Puerto Rico MPS (pdf), National Park Service
- Simon Collier, "The non-Spanish Caribbean islands to 1815" in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Latin America and the Caribbean, 2nd edition. New York: Cambridge University Press 1992, pp. 212-217.
- "Las Antillas". Digital Library of the Caribbean (in Spanish). Librería de Antonio J. Bastinos. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
- González, Hermann; Donis Ríos, Manuel Alberto (1989). Historia de las fronteras de Venezuela. Caracas: Lagoven.
- (in English and Spanish) "Method of Securing the Ports and Populations of All the Coasts of the Indies" was written in 1694 and discusses the Spanish West Indies