He father, a merchant, sailed with Columbus on his second voyage to the "New World. In Santo Domingo, Las Casas took part in military repression of the native uprisings and received an encomienda grant of Indian labor and land as a reward. He worked his charges hard and became very prosperous. However, in he gave up his encomienda and went to Rome where he was ordained a deacon before returning to the Americas. He returned to the Indies where, in , he became the first priest ordained in the New World. He shocked his parishioners on Pentecost Sunday by sharply criticizing Spanish treatment of the native population.
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He father, a merchant, sailed with Columbus on his second voyage to the "New World. In Santo Domingo, Las Casas took part in military repression of the native uprisings and received an encomienda grant of Indian labor and land as a reward. He worked his charges hard and became very prosperous. However, in he gave up his encomienda and went to Rome where he was ordained a deacon before returning to the Americas.
He returned to the Indies where, in , he became the first priest ordained in the New World. He shocked his parishioners on Pentecost Sunday by sharply criticizing Spanish treatment of the native population. He urged peaceful, not forced military conversion of the Indians to the "true faith.
He influenced policy changes called the "New Laws" of by reading the first version of his "Devastation of the Indies" to the royal court.
Las Casas won the debate but the timid judges refused to make their decision public. He published the "Devastation" in , without seeking required permission from the Inquisition. He worked on behalf of human rights in the New World until his death in July He is buried in Madrid, Spain. For more on his life, see Bill Donovan's introduction to a printed version of "Devastation," published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Las Casas was not the only clerical voice that criticized Spanish imperialists.
This voice says that you are in mortal sin, that you live and die in it, for the cruelty and tyranny you use in dealing with these innocent people. Tell me, by what right or justice do you keep this Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged a detestable war against these people, who dwelt quietly and peacefully on their own land? Why do you keep them so oppressed and weary, not giving them enough to eat nor taking care of them in their illness?
For with the excessive work you demand of them they fall ill and die, or rather you kill them with your desire to extract and acquire gold every day. And what care do you take that they should be instructed in religion? Are these not men? Have they not rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourselves? Be certain that, in such a state as this, you can no more be saved than the Moors or Turks. It depicts Las Casas working at his desk, as an Indian companion watches.
They look out a window at the native peoples whose enslavement he denounced. The first place they came to, was Hispaniola, being a most fertile Island, and for the bigness of it very famous, it being no less then six hundred miles in compass. Round about it lie an innumerable company of Islands, To throng'd with Inhabitants, that there is not to be found a greater multitude of people in any part of the world.
The Continent is distant from this about Two hundred miles, stretching it self out in length upon the sea fade for above Ten thousand miles in length. This is already found out, and more is daily discovered. These Countries are inhabited by such a number of people, as if God had assembled and called together to this place, the greatest part of Mankind. This infinite multitude of people was so created by God, as that they were without fraud, without subtlety or malice, to their natural Governors most faithful and obedient.
Toward the Spaniards whom they serve, patient, meek and peaceful, and who laying all contentious and tumultuous thoughts aside, live without any hatred or desire of revenge; the people are most delicate and tender, enjoying such a feeble constitution of body as does not permit them to endure labor, so that the Children of Princes and great persons here, are not more nice and delicate then the Children of the meanest Country-man in that place.
The Nation is very poor and indigent, possessing little, and by reason that they gape not after temporal goods, neither proud nor ambitious.
Their diet is such that the most holy Hermite cannot feed more sparingly in the wilderness. They go naked, only hiding the indecencies of nature, and a poor shag mantle about an ell or two long is their greatest and their warmest covering. They lie upon mats, only those who have larger fortunes, lye upon a kind of net which is tied at the four corners, and so fasten'd to the roof, which the Indians in their natural language call Hamecks. They are of a very apprehensive and docible wit, and capable of all good learning, and very apt to receive our Religion, which when they have but once tasted, they are carried on with a very ardent and zealous desire to make a further progress in it; so that I have heard divers Spaniards confess that they had nothing else to hinder them from enjoying heaven, but their ignorance of the true God.
To these quiet Lambs, endued with such blessed qualities, came the Spaniards like most cruel Tigres, Wolves, and Lions, enrag'd with a sharp and ferocious hunger; for these forty years past, minding nothing else but the slaughter of these unfortunate wretches, whom with divers kinds of torments neither seen nor heard of before, they have so cruelly and inhumanely butchered, that of three millions of people which Hispaniola it self did contain, there are left remaining alive scarce three hundred persons.
And for the Island of Cuba, which contains as much ground in length, as from Valladolid to Rome; it lies wholly desert, untill'd and ruin'd. The Islands of St.
John and Jamaica lie waste and desolate. Other Islands there were near the Island of St. John more then thirty in number, which were totally made desert. All which Islands, though they amount to such a number containing in length of ground the space of above Two thousand miles, lie now altogether solitary without any people or Inhabitant.
Now to come to the Continent, we are confident, and dare affirm upon our own knowledge, that there were ten Kingdoms of as large an extent as the Kingdom of Spain, joining to it both Aragon, and Portugal, containing above a thousand miles every one of then in compass, which the inhumane and abominable villanies of the Spaniards have made a wilderness of, being now as it were stript of all their people, and made bare of all their inhabitants, though it were a place formerly possessed by vast and infinite numbers of men; And we dare confidently aver, that for those Forty years, wherein the Spaniards exercised their abominable cruelties, and detestable tyrannies in those parts, that there have innocently perish'd above Twelve millions of souls, women and children being numbered in this sad and fatal list; moreover I do verily believe that I should speak within compass, should I say that above Fifty millions were consumed in this Massacre.
As for those that came out of Spain, boasting themselves to be Christians, they took two several ways to extirpate this National from the face of the Earth, the first whereof was a bloody, unjust, and cruel war which they made upon them: a second by cutting of all that so much as sought to recover their liberty, as some of the stouter sort did intend. And as for the Women and Children that were left alive, they laid so heavy and grievous a yoke of servitude upon them that the condition of beasts was much more tolerable.
Unto these two heads all the other several torments and inhumanities which they used to the ruin of these poor Nations may be reduced. That which led the Spaniards to these unsanctified impieties was the desire of Gold, to make themselves suddenly rich, for the obtaining of dignities and honors which were no way fit for them.
In a word, their covetousness, their ambition, which could not be more in any people under heaven, the riches of the Country, and the patience of the people gave occasion to this their devilish barbarism. For the Spaniards so condemned them I now speak what I have seen without the least untruth that they used them not like beasts, for that would have been tolerable, but looked upon them as if they had been but the dung and filth of the earth, and so little they regarded the health of their souls, that they suffered this great multitude to die without the least light of Religion; neither is this less true then what I have said before and that which those tyrants and hangmen themselves dare not deny, without speaking a notorious falsehood, that the Indians never gave them the least cause to offer them violence, but received them as Angels sent from heaven, till their excessive cruelties, the torments and slaughters of their Countrymen mov'd them to take Arms against the Spaniards.
Of Hispaniola In the Island of Hispaniola, to which the Spaniards came first, these slaughters and ruins of mankind took their beginning. They took away their women and children to serve them, though the reward which they gave them was a sad and fatal one. Their food got with great pain and dropping sweat, the Spaniards still consumed, not content with what the poor Indians gave them gratis out of their own want; One Spaniard consuming in one day as much as would suffice three families, every one containing ten persons.
Being thus broken with so many evils, afflicted with so many torments, and handled so ignominiously, they began at length to believe that the Spaniards were not sent from Heaven. And therefore some of them hid their Children, others their Wives, others their Victuals in obscure and secret places; Others not being able to endure a Nation that conversed among them with such a boisterous impiety sought for shelter in the most abrupt and inaccessible mountains.
For the Spaniards while they were among them did not only entertain them with cruel beating them with their fists, and with their slaves, but presumed also to lay violent hands upon the Rulers and Magistrates of their Cities: and they arriv'd at that height of impudence and unheard of boldness, that a certain private Captain scrupled not to force the Wife of the most potent King among them.
From which time forward they began to think what way they might take to expel the Spaniards out of their Country. But good God! Which when the Spaniards saw, they came with their Horsemen well armed with Sword and Lance, making most cruel havocs and slaughters among them. Overrunning Cities and Villages, where they spared no sex nor age; neither would their cruelty pity Women with child, whose bellies they would rip up, taking out the Infant to hew it in pieces.
They would often lay wagers who should with most dexterity either cleave or cut a man in the middle, or who could at one blow cut off his head. The children they would take by the feet and dash their innocent heads against the rocks, and when they were fallen into the water, with a strange and cruel derision they would call upon them to swim. Sometimes they would run both Mother and Infant, being in her belly quite through at one thrust.
They erected certain Gallowses, that were broad but so low, that the tormented creatures might touch the ground with their feet, upon every one of which they would hang thirteen persons, blasphemously affirming that they did it in honor of our Redeemer and his Apostles, and then putting fire under them, they burnt the poor wretches alive. Those whom their pity did think fit to spare, they would send away with their hands half cut off, and so hanging by the skin. Thus upbraiding their flight, Go carry letters to those who lye bid in the mountains and are fled from us.
This Death they found out also for the Lords and Nobles of the Land; they stuck up forked sticks in the ground, and then laid certain perches upon them, and so laying them upon those perches, they put a gentle fire under, causing the fire to melt them away by degrees, to their unspeakable torment.
One time above the rest I saw four of the Nobles laid upon these perches, and two or three other of these kind of hurdles furnished after the same manner; the clamors and cries of which persons being troublesome to the Captain, he gave order that they should be hang'd, but the Executioner whose name I know, and whose parents are not obscure, hindered their Calamity from so quick a conclusion, stopping their mouths, that they should not disturb the Captain, and still laying on more wood, till being roasted according to his pleasure, they yielded up the ghost.
Of these and other things innumerable I have been an eye-witness; Now because there were some that shun'd like so many rocks the cruelty of a Nation so inhumane, so void of piety and love to mankind, and therefore fled from them to the mountains; therefore they hunted them with their Hounds, whom they bred up and taught to pull down and tear the Indians like beasts: by these Dogs much human blood was shed; and because the Indians did now and then kill a Spaniard, taking him at an advantage, as justly they might; therefore the Spaniards made a Law among themselves, that for one Spaniard so slain, they should kill a hundred Indians.
Of the Kingdoms which the Island of Hispaniola did contain The Island of Hispaniola had in it five very great Kingdoms, and five very potent Kings, to whom the other Lords, of which there was a very great number were for the most part subject; for there were some few Lords of peculiar Countries that did not acknowledge the jurisdiction of these Kings; one of these Kingdoms is called Maqua, which signifies a plain.
This Plain is there be any thing in the world worth taking notice, claims a very nice observation. For from the South to the North it is stretched forward fourscore miles in length; in breadth it takes up sometimes eight, sometimes five, and sometimes ten miles, on all sides it is shut up with very high mountains; it is watered by thirty thousand Rivers and Rivolets, whereof twelve are not less then either Duerus, Ebrus, or Guadalquiver: and all the Rivers which run from the Mountains on the West side, whose number is twenty thousand, do all of them abound with gold.
With which Mountain the Province of Cibao is bounded, where are the Mines of Cibao, that afford the most exquisite and pure Gold which is so much valued among us. This Kingdom was govern'd by Guarionex, who had under his jurisdiction as his vassals, Lords and Governors so potent, that every one of them was able to bring into the field for the service of Guarionex, above Sixteen thousand men apiece.
Some of which Lords I very well knew; this King was not meanly virtuous, by nature peaceful, and much devoted to the King of Castile. This King commanded his subjects that they should present to the Spaniards a bell full of Gold, which when they were not able to do by reason that the people had but little skill how to dig out the Gold, he thereupon commanded them to present the Spaniards with as much as they could fill.
Here a Cacicus or Governor offer'd himself to the service of the King of Castile, upon condition, that he would take care that all the Country from Isabella to St. Domingue, being five hundred miles in length, might be till'd; which promises I am very confident he would cheerfully have performed; and then might the King of Castile have had a revenue of above Three millions of Castilian Crowns, and there had been still remaining in the Island above fifty Cities as large all of them as Seville.
But what was the recompense which they afforded to this mild and bountiful Prince? He might have raised an army and endeavored a revenge, but he rather chose to leave his Kingdom and his dignity, and to live a banished person in the Province of Coquaios, where a potent vassal and subject of his inhabited. But the Spaniards hearing of his sight, resolved not to let him lurk any where; but immediately making war upon him that had received them so liberally, they never rested till they had wasted all the Kingdom to find him out, at length he fell into their hands; and no sooner had they taken him, but they fettered him immediately, putting him into a ship that was bound for Spain; but the ship was wrackt by the way, many Spaniards perishing, and a great treasure of Gold being lost; God so taking revenge upon their enormities.
Another Kingdom was called Marien, where there is a port at one end of the plain that looks toward the North, being larger and more fertile then the Kingdom of Portugal, and which very well deserves to be better peopled; for it abounds with Mountains wherein are great store of Gold Mines. The name of the King that there ruled was Guacanagari, under whom there were many other potent Lords, some of whom I knew: To this place came the old sea Captain that first discovered America, who was received with so much courtesy and friendship by Guacanagari, who gave him and his associates all the help and assistance that might be for his ship was there sunk that upon his return into Spain he would often affirm, that his own parents in his own Country were never so friendly to him.
This King flying from the cruelty and enormous murders of the Spaniards, being depriv'd of his Kingdom, died poorly in the mountains. The rest of his Nobles ended their lives in that servitude and slavery which shall be hereafter related. The third Kingdom was Maquana, a Country very temperate and fertile, where the best Sugar in that Island is made. In this Country at that time Canabao did reign, who for power, dignity, gravity, and the ceremonies which were used towards him, far exceeded the rest.
This King suspecting nothing less, was by the craft and subtlety of the Spaniards taken in his own house; whom when they had taken they put a shipboard to send him to Castile; but there being six ships in the Port ready to set sail, the sea began to swell so high, and to be so unruly, that all the six ships with the Spaniards in them, together with King Canabao, who was laden with chains, all perished in the waves. The great God showing the Judgments of his wrath upon these unjust and wicked wretches as he had done upon the others.
This King had three or four brothers stout and valiant men, who being offended at the Captivity of their Lord and King, hearing of the devastations and rapines daily committed by the Spaniards in these Countries, and understanding that their brother was dead, resolved to take arms for the relief of their Country; but the Spaniards meeting them with a certain number of horse, which are a very great terror to the Indians made such a slaughter among them, that they depopulated the greatest part of this Country.
The Fourth Kingdom was called Xaraqua, being in the centre and middle of the whole Island, for eloquence of language, as also for good government and gentile customs, it excels all the rest, there was in it a great company of Lords and noble men, and for the people themselves they were the most comely in the whole Island.
The King of this Country was called Bebechio, who had a sister who was called Anacaona. Both the Brother and the Sister were very bountiful to the Spaniards, for they had freed them from the dangers of imminent death, showing great kindnesses to the Kings of Castile. Bebechio being dead, the Kingdom was solely govern'd by his Sister. Now it happened one day, that the Governor of the Island with sixty Horse, and three hundred Foot though the Horsemen were sufficient not only to waste the Island, but also the whole Continent called to him about three hundred of the Peers and Lords of the Nation, the greatest part whereof who were the more powerful, having by craft got them together in a straw Cottage, he cause to the burnt alive together with the house, the rest with an infinite fight of people he caused to be put to death by the Soldiers, who murdered the poor people like dogs with their Swords and Lances.
As for Anacaona the Queen, that he might seem to be more courteous to her, he caused her to hang her self. And if it happened that any who were either moved with compassion, or covetousness, thinking to make lackies or servants of the Children, had set them behind their horses, another would come behind them, and either run them through, or cut off their legs if they hung down upon the horse sides.
A Short Description of the Destruction of the Indies
How to treat the indigenous people became an issue as soon as the Spanish arrived in the Western Hemisphere. In addition to the converts to Catholicism that Columbus mentions, the Spanish sought gold. What means were allowable in pursuit of these ends? By what authority did the Spanish make claims on the native people and their land? The Requerimiento provided the official answer to these questions. Whatever Spanish justifications, the Spanish conquistadores or conquerors proved brutal and rapacious as the conquest continued. The authorities in Madrid did not approve.
Bartolomé de las Casas
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"A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies," by Bartolome de Las Casas
He arrived in Hispaniola as a layman then became a Dominican friar and priest. He was appointed as the first resident Bishop of Chiapas , and the first officially appointed " Protector of the Indians ". His extensive writings, the most famous being A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies and Historia de Las Indias , chronicle the first decades of colonization of the West Indies. He described the atrocities committed by the colonizers against the indigenous peoples.
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However, Las Casas found their attempts insufficient to protect the welfare of the Indians, and returned to Spain to appeal to the Spanish monarch in From to , Las Casas traveled back and forth between Spain and Spanish colonies in Latin America numerous times, struggling to find a common ground between Spanish authorities and his own humanitarian aims to improve the conditions of Indian subjects in Spanish dominions. In , after Las Casas first wrote the chronicle later known as A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies , during the hearings ordered by Charles V of Spain to resolve issues of forceful conversion and colonial exploitation of Indians, Las Casas presented the account before the members of the Council of the Indies as proof of atrocities committed upon Indians by colonial authorities. Las Casas was one of the first advocates for the indigenous people.