There have been many attempts over the past century to figure out the pre-Columbian population of the island of Hispaniola, which is now home to some 20 million people. What native population was left by the end of the 16th century apparently completely mixed with the Spanish ruling class and black majority. This was due to extensive enslavement, starvation, war deaths, and spread of infections of European origin throughout Hispaniola. The highest serious estimates of Hispaniola’s pre-Columbian population are something like half to a quarter of the present population; the lowest are around 60,000 natives. I have recently created two very similar and very simple exponential models of the 15th-16th century population of Hispaniola since the arrival of Columbus. Column C is an exponential model relying only on the first four data points (1508-60,000 natives, 1510-33,528 [not 33,523 as in the Born to Die book], 1514-26,334, 1519-18,000). These data points come from the Born to Die book. Column D is an exponential model which includes the last two data points. 1900 natives in 1542 is based on the “less than 2000” natives mentioned in the Born to Die book. 150 natives in 1565 is based on a data point mentioned in Cook and Borah’s infamous piece of work, which happens to be fully available online. Both models have an R2 of over .98 if the last two data points are considered. The results of the model which includes the last two data points are shown below. I have excluded the dubious 1496 count Borah and Cook so often rely on as it does not seem that any count of the Spanish-held area of Hispaniola took place at the time. The Excel file I made is available here.
This is a decline of some 9-10% of the native population per year. However, it still only gives us roughly an eightieth of the present population of the island, or roughly a quarter million, as the supposed pre-Columbian population of Hispaniola. Even Bartolomé de Las Casas, who famously advocated a pre-contact population of Hispaniola of some 3-4 million natives, is only bold enough to say “it was believed that not one-third were left of the multitudes of people who had been on this island from the year 1494 to 1506“. This fits my exponential models remarkably well, with them yielding declines for the native population of Hispaniola of some 70% during those years. It is thus fairly safe to say that the population of Hispaniola at the time of first Columbian contact was around a quarter million, perhaps a bit less. This is the same figure that the U.S. News and World Report reported back in 2007.