Quick history lesson (pay attention, a short quiz will follow).
Vieques was first spotted by Christopher Columbus in November 1493. “Spotted” is the operative word here. He didn’t bother to come ashore to claim the island for Spain, he just called dibs on it from the deck of the Santa Maria.
Minimum effort, maximum gain.
He totted it up in his notebook and, just like that, it belonged to Spain. Its pristine beaches and fertile fields were instantly the property of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and its indigenous, peaceable Taino and Carib people were instantly their subjects.
In the meantime, Columbus dubbed Vieques and the neighboring island of Culebra “Las Islas Inutiles”—the useless islands.
Talk about bad press.
Surprisingly, it was the French who first settled Vieques around 1535. It’s hard to imagine how they endured in this unimaginably remote backwater without a single vineyard, snail farm or petit four in sight.
Not that they suffered long. In 1666 the English released them from their Gallic misery by thoughtfully invading the island and tossing them out. In 1688 the bloodthirsty Spaniards returned and booted out the English, who hung on barely twenty years this time before the Spaniards turned up again in 1710.
Almost unbelievably, the English took one more shot at Vieques around 1745 before finally throwing in the towel when Spain reinvaded in 1752.
For a place described as “useless,” Vieques seemed to get plenty of people pretty worked up.
In 1811, for some inexplicable reason, the Spanish sent a Frenchman to serve as military commandant on Vieques but, big surprise, this gentleman spent most of his days holed up in his country house smoking, drinking and making sport with the local lovelies.
His fun was interrupted in 1816 by none other than Simon Bolivar, who dropped by en route from Venezuela to St. Thomas.
The French commandant reported that Bolivar, true to his name as the Great Liberator, “liberated” half his possessions before sailing on to glory.
Even more surprising is the fact that it was a Frenchman, LeGuillou, who once and for all consolidated Spanish control of Vieques. LeGuillou was himself a refugee. Having operated a spectacularly successful sugar plantation on Haiti for a couple of decades, he had been invited by his slaves in 1823 to get lost—or have his throat cut.
Having heard that Vieques was in a state of anarchy, LeGuillou set sail for San Juan to make a deal with the governor: he would “tame” the island for Spain in return for unfettered personal use of the island for the rest of his life.
Nice work if you can get it.