[A 1654 map of Keelung and Danshui - looking from north. Danshui River is on the right and Keelung Island on the left.]
It is a story known to all Taiwanese: the very first time Portuguese sailors set their eyes on this beautiful island, they exclaimed excitedly, "Ilha Formosa!" Actually, the Portuguese were probably very easily impressed as they had called many other places Formosa. The one for Taiwan, however, stuck and became the best-known in the World. Those Portuguese were most likely among the first to sail north to Japan. The many maritime routes along the east coast of China to Japan all went closely by Taiwan making the latter an ideal re-supply station [see map below].
[South East Asia European routes in the 1630s by José E. Borao]
Those involved in the Far East trade had long understood the geopolitical importance of this island. This was also the reason why Taiwan or parts of it had changed hands so many times throughout history. The 徳川家康Tokugawa Ieyasu Shogunate of Japan (1543-1616) at one point had also contemplated subjugating Taiwan, disregarded only after Tokugawa's death. [Note: They eventually succeeded in 1895.] On the other hand, even though the Ming Court (1368-1644) claimed sovereignty over it, Taiwan was never in the firm grip of China, often because of turmoils within China itself leaving little for the proper governance of Taiwan. It was more a hot [sweet] potato, to be handled gingerly or tossed entirely, than a prized possession.
"Parts of Taiwan" naturally included Danshui.
After the murder of Antonio de Vera et al in Danshui, the remaining Spanish soldiers hastily retreated to Keelung. By that time, Rosario, the re-supply ship, had arrived from Manila. The occupation force joined in by sailors from the Rosario totaling 100 men boarded 4 Chinese junks and sailed into Danshui River to avenge the deaths of Antonio de Vera and his men. After a lopsided battle, the 圭柔社Senar people gave up their tribal leaders and entered a peace agreement with the Spaniards that included an apology for the misdeed and a promise to deliver rice. Danshui thus became the second Spanish territory in Taiwan in early 1628.
The Spaniards then built Fort Santo Domigo with large driftwood recovered from Danshui River. They drove wooden poles into the ground and paved the floors with stones. In the 1635 report of Spanish Colonial Gov of Taiwan, Alonso Garcia Romero, this fortress was described as to consist of a watch tower and three straw-roofed wooden buildings - all surrounded by a wooden stockade fence. These structures were actually fire hazards, only to be rebuilt with stones in 1636 when the fort was torched by the Aborigines revolting against excessive taxation. This new fortress was reluctantly dismantled two years later when the Spanish occupation force was ordered by Governor General of the Philippines, Don Sebastián Hurtado de Corcuera, to prepare to abandon territories in Taiwan and return to Manila. [Note: The same site, now a tourist's attraction, was occupied by the Dutch, Koxinga's army, and then the British until 1980.]
Throughout the 16th and the 17th centuries, besides plundering and pillaging, one of the principal missions of Spanish expeditions was to spread Catholicism. The military was always accompanied by priests who, once a land was conquered, commenced to convert the natives. The same was done in Danshui, quite successfully, too.
According to the Dominican priests, there were 8-9 small Senar farming villages near Fort Santo Domingo. There was also the 八里坌社Pantao people living in Bali, the traditional enemy of the Senar. The Pantao claimed to be the descendants of ship-wrecked Spaniards and had therefore quickly established a cordial relation with the priests. The Senar tribesmen were willing converts as well. A church, the Nuestra Señora del Rosario was built in the Santo Domingo area to accommodate the Senar people. However, the Senar were also suspicious of the intimate relation between the Pantao and the Spaniards. In March, 1636, in an unfortunate incident, Fr Francisco Vaez was killed by the Senar with a spear, his right hand cut off, and his head cut through the jaws - on the day he was to meet up with the Pantao to build another church. These Senar people were led by Pila who had just been freed from prison through the intervention of Fr Vaez (Pila was arrested and imprisoned for his role in the earlier uprising). And 3 years later, Fr Luis Muro and 25 others were murdered in Paktau (now 北投) by Fr Vaez's assassins. Fr Muro was accompanying the soldiers on a mission to buy rice and ironically to also inform the assassins that they were pardoned by the colonial gov't. He was shot dead with more than 500 arrows. Such were the perils of preaching in a foreign land.
The priests were often the only contacts between the natives and the Spaniards. They had left behind invaluable records of the lives and the customs of the Aborigines. One of them, Fr Jacinto Esquivel even compiled a dictionary of the native languages.
Apparently there were also Spanish-local inter-marriages complete with dowries, in Spanish silver dollars, for the Aboriginal brides. And a rudimentary legal system was in place to mediate local disputes and handle complaints against the Spanish soldiers.
Besides the Aboriginal residents, there were also Han settlers in Danshui who raised sugarcane and rice crops. Record showed that they had openly welcomed the immigration of Japanese farmers when asked by the Spaniards; although it is unclear if any Japanese ever did settle in Danshui. [Note: Some, supposedly pirates, did settle in Keelung area.]
By 1638-41, with the hostile head-hunting Aborigines lurking nearby, skirmishes with the Dutch, and a large Dutch contingent approaching from the south, the Spanish occupation was no longer sustainable, not without the continuing long-distance reinforcement and logistical support from the Philippines. The Spanish colonization of Taiwan finally came to an end in 1642 when the last garrison in Keelung surrendered to the Dutch. The priests and the POWs were all sent to Batavia.
In a short span of 10 years (1627-37), Danshui, through the efforts of the dedicated Spanish priests, entered the realm of recorded history which is to continue uninterrupted to this day.