The Indies were discovered in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. In the following year a great many Spaniards went there with the intention of settling the land. Thus, forty-nine years have passed since the first settlers penetrated the land, the first so claimed being the large and most happy isle called Hispaniola, which is six hundred leagues in circumference. Around it in all directions are many other islands, some very big, others very small, and all of them were, as we saw with our own eyes, densely populated with native peoples called Indians. This large island was perhaps the most densely populated place in the world.
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His several works include Historia de las Indias first printed in A prolific writer and in his later years an influential figure of the Spanish court, Las Casas nonetheless failed to stay the progressive enslavement of the indigenous peoples of Latin America.
Las Casas—who was ordained in either or —may have been the first person in America to receive holy orders. Las Casas was especially critical of the system of slavery in the West Indies. The plan ended in disaster, but Las Casas did not give up.
Some 10 years later he commenced work on the Historia de las Indias History of the Indies. Las Casas did not publish Historia in his lifetime, but he did publish a summary of Historia as a polemic.
As a young man, Las Casas participated in several military expeditions in the West Indies. In return for his participation, Las Casas was granted an encomienda —a Spanish royal land grant—and an allotment of Indian serfs. Las Casas quickly evangelized the serfs on his land, and, in either or , he became a priest. On August 15, , Las Casas delivered a now-famous sermon declaring his intent to return the serfs to the governor of the West Indies.
Las Casas thenceforth advocated for better treatment of the American Indians. He wrote many petitions, treatises, and books on the subject of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. The former was written as an introduction to a proposed book called Historia de las Indias , and the latter was published as a stand-alone summary of that book.
Under the New Laws, encomenderos land grantees were required to release the serfs on their land after the span of a single generation. The laws threatened the existence of the treasured encomienda system.
Unsurprisingly, they were extremely unpopular in the Americas and were met with much resistance. The son of a small merchant, Las Casas is believed to have gone to Granada as a soldier in and to have enrolled to study Latin in the academy at the cathedral in Sevilla Seville. As a reward for his participation in various expeditions, he was given an encomienda —a royal land grant including Indian inhabitants—and he soon began to evangelize that population, serving as doctrinero , or lay teacher of catechism.
Perhaps the first person in America to receive holy orders , he was ordained a priest in either or In he took part in the bloody conquest of Cuba and, as priest- encomendero land grantee , received an allotment of Indian serfs. Although during his first 12 years in America Las Casas was a willing participant in the conquest of the Caribbean, he did not indefinitely remain indifferent to the fate of the indigenous peoples. In a famous sermon on August 15, , he announced that he was returning his Indian serfs to the governor.
Realizing that it was useless to attempt to defend the Indians at long distance in America, he returned to Spain in to plead for their better treatment.
He sailed for America in November Las Casas returned to Spain the next year. In addition to studying the juridical problems of the Indies, he began to work out a plan for their peaceful colonization by recruiting farmers as colonists. The location selected for the new colony was on the Gulf of Paria in the northern part of present-day Venezuela. Las Casas and a group of farm labourers departed for America in December The failure to recruit a sufficient number of farmers, the opposition of the encomenderos of Santo Domingo, and, finally, an attack by the Indians themselves all were factors that brought disaster to the experiment in January Upon his return to Santo Domingo, the unsuccessful priest and political reformer abandoned his reforming activities to take refuge in religious life.
He joined the Dominican order in The Historia , which by his request was not published until after his death, is an account of all that had happened in the Indies just as he had seen or heard of it. But, rather than a chronicle, it is a prophetic interpretation of events. Las Casas interrupted work on the book only to send to the Council of the Indies in Madrid three long letters in , , and , in which he accused persons and institutions of the sin of oppressing the Indian, particularly through the encomienda system.
Encouraged by the favourable outcome of this experiment, Las Casas set out for Spain late in , arriving there in According to those laws, the encomienda was not to be considered a hereditary grant; instead, the owners had to set free their Indian serfs after the span of a single generation. To ensure enforcement of the laws, Las Casas was named bishop of Chiapas in Guatemala , and in July he set sail for America, together with 44 Dominicans.
The rigorous enforcement of his regulations led to vehement opposition on the part of the Spanish faithful during Lent of and forced Las Casas to establish a council of bishops to assist him in his task. But soon his uncompromisingly pro-Indian position alienated his colleagues, and in he returned to Spain. Article Media.
Info Print Print. Table Of Contents. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Written By: Enrique Dussel. See Article History. Top Questions. West Indies: European exploration and colonialism, — Spain: The conquest of Granada.
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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. Arriving as one of the first Spanish and European settlers in the Americas, Las Casas initially participated in, but eventually felt compelled to oppose, the abuses committed by colonists against the Native Americans. In his early writings, he advocated the use of African slaves instead of Natives in the West Indian colonies but did so without knowing that the Portuguese were carrying out "brutal and unjust wars in the name of spreading the faith".
Bartolomé de Las Casas
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A Short Description of the Destruction of the Indies
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.
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His several works include Historia de las Indias first printed in A prolific writer and in his later years an influential figure of the Spanish court, Las Casas nonetheless failed to stay the progressive enslavement of the indigenous peoples of Latin America. Las Casas—who was ordained in either or —may have been the first person in America to receive holy orders. Las Casas was especially critical of the system of slavery in the West Indies. The plan ended in disaster, but Las Casas did not give up. Some 10 years later he commenced work on the Historia de las Indias History of the Indies. Las Casas did not publish Historia in his lifetime, but he did publish a summary of Historia as a polemic.