Hispaniola: Haiti & the Dominican Republic
Place Name Changes on the Island of Hispaniola
The text in this posting is taken from Dr. E. Lee Spence’s and Bobby Pritchett’s book The Shipwrecks, Buccaneers & Corsairs of Hispaniola: Dominican Republic & Haiti, published by the Sea Research Society. The scans are of original maps and charts in Dr. Spence’s private collection. © copyright 2010 by Edward Lee Spence.
Researching the history of Hispaniola and its shipwrecks can be both difficult and confusing. The relevant documents are in five major languages (Spanish, French, English, Dutch, and Polish in that order), each with their own spellings of place names. And even within those languages the writers are inconsistent with their spellings, especially in documents written before spelling was standardized. To compound the difficulty, many of the place names associated with Hispaniola can be found in other parts of the Antilles and the Americas. Place names have also changed as one group of people supplanted another.
When we read the name Santo Domingo we think of the capital city of the Dominican Republic, but for most of its history that name, or Saint-Domingue, as it was known to the French applied to much if not all of the island.
According to the 17th century historian, Charlevoix, the island of Hispaniola was called “Quisquea & Haïti” by its original inhabitants. The first meant “une grande terre” (a large land) and the second “une terre montagneuse” (a mountainous land). Haïti is spelled a number of ways Hayti, Ayti, and the more modern Haiti. Aristy gives and spells the original Indian name as Quisqueya and adds that they also called it Babeque. Christopher Columbus named the island La Isla Española, later Latinized (or “anglicized”) to Hispaniola.
Thomas Coke in his History of the West Indies spells the “ancient Indian name of the island,” as Hayti and relates that “its more modern appellative arose from that of its chief city, the foundations of which were laid by Don Diego Columbus, brother to the illustrious adventurer, and which was called St. Domingo, or Dominica, in honor of the name of their father…” The name, St. Domingo, “was afterwards applied to the whole island.”
The entire island of Hispaniola was also called San Domingo and Santo Domingo. Other spelling variations in various reference works are Saint-Domingue (which was the name given to the French colonial portion of Hispaniola from 1697 to 1804), S. Domingue, St. Domingue, San-Domingue, St. Doming, Saint Dominique.
Today, the island is divided into two very different countries. Haiti is on the west end of Hispaniola, while the Dominican Republic occupies the east end.
The population of Haiti is predominately of black heritage and is French speaking, while the people of the Dominican Republic are largely of white and mixed descent and speak Spanish.
The island is located between 17°36’ and 19°58’ latitude north and 68°20’ and 74°30’ longitude west.
The approximate length of the Dominican Republic’s coastline is 940 miles.
Hispaniola has the distinction of being the site of the first European shipwreck in the Americas. On Christmas morning 1492, Columbus’ flagship, the Santa María, was wrecked. Her loss led to the establishment of Navidad, the first European settlement in the New World.
 La República Dominicana, Origen y destino del pueblo cristiano más antiguo de América by Ramón Marrero Aristy, República Dominicana, 1957, p. 12
 Histoire de l’Isle de St. Domingue by Pierre François Xavier Charlevoix, Paris, 1730, Volume I, p. 4
 Poland’s Caribbean Tragedy, A Study of Polish Legions in the Haitian War of Independence 1802-1803, by Jan Pachonski and Reuel K. Wilson, Columbia University Press, New York, 1986, p. 17
 A History of the West Indies, containing the Natural, Civil, and Ecclesiastical History of each Island by Thomas Coke, Liverpool, 1808, Volume 3, pp. 304, 305, 313
 A History of the West Indies, containing the Natural, Civil, and Ecclesiastical History of each Island by Thomas Coke, Liverpool, 1808, Volume 1, p. 94
 La República Dominicana, Origen y destino del pueblo cristiano más antiguo de América by Ramón Marrero Aristy, República Dominicana, 1957, p. 9
 Wikipedia entry for Saint-Domingue, http://thelouvertureproject.org/index.php?title=Saint-Domingue
 Quisqueya, A History of the Dominican Republic by Selden Rodman, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1964, p. 173
 A History of Latin America from the Beginnings to the Present by Hubert Herring, New York, 1962, LCCCN: 60-16704, p. 122
If you are not already a member, we hope you will join Sea Research Society today.