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Las Casas, Bartolomé de (1484–1566)

  1. George Thomas Kurian

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc0128

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Kurian, G. T. 2011. Las Casas, Bartolomé de (1484–1566). The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

Abstract

“Defender of the Indians” in Spanish America, Bartolomé de Las Casas was the son of a merchant who was trained as a lawyer. He accompanied Columbus on his second journey to the New World and went to Hispaniola (Haiti) at the age of 18. He received an encomienda (large estate) as a grant for his services to the Spanish government. Las Casas was perhaps the first priest to be ordained in the western hemisphere and he was also the first to celebrate Mass in the New World in 1510. After taking part in the bloody occupation of Cuba along with Diego Velazquez, he received more land along with Indian serfs. It was at this time that he began to be concerned about the treatment of Indians by the Spaniards and decided to devote his energies to their defense. For this purpose he went to Spain in 1515 and won the support of Ferdinand for a bold experiment to create Indian towns, but his experiment came to naught because of poor planning, settler resistance and an Indian revolt. He was named by Cardinal Ximenes as “Protector of the Indians.” He later tried to plant a Spanish colony on the coast of Cumana in what is now Venezuela. This was destroyed by the Indians in 1521. Las Casas then joined the Dominican Order in 1523 and settled down to use his pen to defend the Indians. In 1537 his De Unico Modo (“The Only Way”) championed peaceful evangelization without the enslavement of Indians. His second book, Historia Apologetica (1537), refuted the prevalent notion that Indians were savages and described them as mature and civilized in their own way. The pamphlet Destruction of the Indies (1542) was his most severe attack on the greed of the Spanish settlers. His most celebrated work was the History of the Indies (1875) which was a historical chronicle of the enslavement of the Indians and the deliberate destruction of their culture, coupled with warnings of divine retribution.

Keywords:

  • Las Casas, Bartolomé de (1484–1566);
  • “defender of the Indians” in Spanish America;
  • Las Casas, first priest ordained in western hemisphere;
  • de unico modo (“the only way”);
  • championing peaceful evangelization;
  • historia apologetica;
  • destruction of the indies, greed of spanish