In 1975, in a remote corner of Haiti, Dr. William Hodges, a medical missionary and founder of the Hôpital le Bon Samaritain in Haiti, stumbled almost unexpectedly upon the ruins of the long-lost and nearly forgotten Spanish city of Puerto Real.

The city coat of arms, awarded to Puerto Real in 1503
The city coat of arms, awarded to Puerto Real in 1503

The city had existed on the northern coast of what is today Haiti between 1503 and 1578, as an outpost of the Spanish empire inhabited by Spaniards, American Indians and Africans.  Abandoned for more than four centuries, Puerto Real is today covered by agricultural and grazing fields near the town of Limonade, an invisible but archaeologically tangible remnant of a very early chapter in European-American history – the rise and decline of the Spanish empire in the Caribbean.

Hodges, a medical missionary and lifelong avocational scholar of the Spanish presence in Haiti, discovered Puerto Real while searching for an even earlier remnant of the Spanish empire – the lost fort of La Navidad. La Navidad had been established by Christopher Columbus in 1492 when his flagship, the Santa Maria wrecked off the coast near Puerto Real. Dr. Hodges and his family carried out preliminary tests at Puerto Real to determine whether or not it might be the site of La Navidad, but soon realized they had discovered the remains of Puerto Real.   When they had documented the magnitude of the find, Dr. Hodges contacted Dr. Charles Fairbanks of the University of Florida, who accepted the invitation to join forces with him in the study of the Spanish town.

Ultimately, through the concerted efforts of the Haitian Institute de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Nacional, the Organization of American States, the National Endowment for the Humanities,  the Musee de Guahaba in Limbé, Haiti, and the University of Florida, a seven-year-long interdisciplinary study of Puerto Real was launched.  The work has been conducted by many archaeologists, historians, zooarchaeologists and architects.  Their work is summarized below, and is reported in more detail in Puerto Real: The Archaeology of a Sixteenth Century Spanish Town in Hispaniola (1995, edited by Kathleen Deagan, University Press of Florida).


View artifacts from Puerto Real