When Christopher Columbus lingered on the island in 1492, San Sebastián had barely been founded. Four years earlier, in 1488, there had been a terrible massacre in the wake of the failed uprising against Hernán Peraza, the island’s governor. When it was all over, what had been Villa de las Palmas, on a spot known to the Guanches as Hipalán, was renamed San Sebastián.
The boom in transatlantic trade following Columbus’ journeys helped boost the fortunes of the town, whose sheltered harbour was one of the Canaries’ best ports. Nevertheless, its population passed the 1000 mark only at the beginning of the 19th century. The good times also brought dangers, as, like other Canarian capitals, San Sebastián was regularly subjected to pirate attack from the English, French and Portuguese, and it declined from the 16th century onwards.
The fate of the town was linked intimately with that of the rest of the island. Its fortunes rose with the cochineal (a scale insect that produces a red dye) boom in the 19th century, but that industry collapsed with the emergence of synthetic dyes. Many gomeros emigrated to the Americas and elsewhere in the Canaries in the 19th and 20th centuries.