Reenacting in Puerto Rico
Published in the Smoke & Fire News • December 2007
By. Héctor L. Díaz
Captain of the Recreated “Regimiento Fixo de Puerto Rico”
A gentle breeze caresses your face as a boat slowly brings you to a beach east of San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico. It is April 18, 1797, and you are part of a British force arriving to take the Caribbean island from Spain. But, suddenly, the peaceful shore explodes in your face! Well drilled soldiers of the “Fixed Regiment of Puerto Rico”, militia and armed civilians have appeared out of nowhere, intent on preventing the landing. The fighting spreads. Your fleet opens fire and a sharp engagement is joined. How could this have happened? Well drilled troops? An armed populace? It was not like this in Spanish Trinidad which your army had recently captured without a problem. Will you make it out of here alive?
It really does not matter, for when the firing stops, the fallen from both sides rise again.
“Welcome to Puerto Rico”, a local re-enactor tells you while extending his hand with a smile, which brings you back to 2008. Here and there, others greet your “invading” peers with very Latin-American “abrazos”, or hugs, only reserved for close friends.
You have done much better than General Sir Ralph Abercromby and his troops back in 1797. Then, a naval contingent of 68 ships landed anywhere from 8,000 to 14,000 British and German soldiers near an area occupied today by the International Airport in Isla Verde. They immediately headed west to capture San Juan. However, over 4,000 defenders mobilized from all over the island to stop them, putting up such a “…brave…” and determined resistance that the British, in their own words, were completely “…astonished…”. Even after a relentless two-week bombardment, they still held in their badly damaged defensive line, which they would dutifully rebuild every night. They had also started to regain lost ground and to close in on the British. Finally, in danger of being cut-off from his fleet, Abercromby ordered the siege lifted on May 30th. In their haste to re-embark, the British abandoned their cannon and many of their military supplies. They never again tried to attack San Juan.
Part of the Unites States since 1898, Puerto Rico has a very rich military history. During Spanish colonial times it fended-off attacks by the likes of Sir Francis Drake; the Dutch West India Company; Sir Ralph Abercromby; and American Admiral William T. Sampson and also countless raids by Caribs, French corsairs and Colombian independence fighters. The island, however, is still mostly virgin territory in what refers to serious re-enactments of both the military and civilian kind. There is much that can be done in this respect in Puerto Rico, which counts with impressive and well-kept Spanish military fortifications and restored colonial areas.
At present, the “Fixed Regiment” and its associated “militia” is trying to do just that. During the last weekend of April 2008, it will recreate scenes of the 1797 attack in San Juan, and it is inviting all of those who may be interested in participating to travel over. The most appropriate impressions are those of the British, French, German, American, and Spanish military forces from the times of the American Revolution to the early Napoleonic period. We are already working on developing other impressions from different time periods in the island’s history.
The “Fixed Regiment of Puerto Rico” was established in 2004 and has trained close to 40 members. It has already taken part in re-enactments in the United States, Puerto Rico and Spain, and its founders have over 15 years of reenactment experience each.
Puerto Rico being part of the United States, American citizens have no need to obtain visas or exchange currency in order to travel to the island.
Hope to see you in April! You can expect a warm reception, but not like the one accorded to Sir Ralph when he “visited us” in 1797.
Cristo Street looking south into the bay.
Calle del Cristo mirando al sur hacia la bahía.
Plaza de Armas - Main Square in Old San Juan where the Spanish garrison formed ranks for hundreds of years.
During the Night March, the regiments will assemble here. Camp followers will have special access to the second floor of the City Hall veranda facing the plaza.
Plaza de Armas - la plaza principal del Viejo San Juan donde la guarnición Española se formaba por cientos de años. Durante la Marcha Nocturna, los regimientos tendrán una asamblea aquí. Las damas y otros seguidores de campamento tendrán acceso al balcón en el segndo piso de la Alcaldía que mira sobre la plaza.
Small Street of the Nuns - looking at the San Juan Cathedral which stands next to the old Carmelite Convent, now a 5 star hotel.
Caleta de las Monjas - mirando hacia la Catedral de San Juan que se encuentra frente al antiguo Convent Carmelitano, ahora un hotel de cinco estrellas.