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Bartolomé de las Casas

Bartolomé de las Casas Bartolomé de las Casas[2†]

Bartolomé de las Casas, born in 1484 in Seville, Spain, was a significant figure in the history of the Americas[1†][2†]. Known as the Apostle of the Indies, he was a Spanish clergyman, writer, and activist, renowned for his work as a historian and social reformer[1†][2†][3†]. He arrived in Hispaniola as a layman and later became a Dominican friar[1†][2†]. He was appointed as the first resident Bishop of Chiapas and the first officially appointed "Protector of the Indians"[1†][2†][3†].

Early Years and Education

Bartolomé de Las Casas was born in Seville, Spain, on November 11, 1484[4†]. He was the son of a small merchant[4†][1†]. His early education took place at the cathedral academy in his native city of Seville[4†]. He is believed to have gone to Granada as a soldier in 1497 and to have enrolled to study Latin in the academy at the cathedral in Sevilla[4†][1†].

In 1502, he left for Hispaniola, in the West Indies, with the governor, Nicolás de Ovando[4†][1†]. 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[4†][1†]. He is perhaps the first person in America to receive holy orders, being ordained a priest in either 1512 or 1513[4†][1†][5†].

Las Casas eventually decided to further his education and his father’s new wealth allowed him to attend the best schools of the era: the University of Salamanca and the University of Valladolid[4†][6†]. At these institutions, Las Casas studied canon law and eventually earned two degrees[4†][6†].

Career Development and Achievements

Bartolomé de Las Casas began his career in the New World in 1502, when he left for Hispaniola with the governor, Nicolás de Ovando[1†]. He participated in various expeditions and, as a reward, was given an encomienda—a royal land grant including Indian inhabitants[1†]. He began to evangelize the indigenous population, serving as a doctrinero, or lay teacher of catechism[1†]. He is believed to have been the first person in America to receive holy orders, being ordained a priest in either 1512 or 1513[1†].

In 1513, Las Casas took part in the bloody conquest of Cuba and, as a priest-encomendero (land grantee), received an allotment of Indian serfs[1†]. However, after witnessing the degree of maltreatment of indigenous peoples by Europeans, which was often little different from slavery, Las Casas decided to return to Spain where he renounced his worldly goods[1†][4†]. He joined the Dominican religious order in 1515[1†][4†].

In 1516, he took up the cause of the indigenous peoples in the Americas and was appointed by the Crown as 'Protector of the Indians’[1†][4†]. In 1522, Las Casas wrote his most famous work, “A Very Brief Recital of the Destruction of the Indies”, a treatise describing the brutal reality of colonization[1†][4†]. This work was a selected history that permitted Las Casas to forward his case that the conquistadors were guilty of genocide in their insatiable greed for wealth[1†][4†].

Las Casas then put his ideas of tolerant governance into practice in Guatemala, where he achieved some success in establishing relations with the Kekchi Indians[1†][4†]. Despite his efforts, Las Casas was unable to prevent the progressive enslavement of the indigenous peoples of Latin America[1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Bartolomé de las Casas’s extensive writings chronicle the first decades of colonization of the West Indies and expose the oppression of indigenous peoples by Europeans in the Americas[2†]. His most famous works include:

  1. “Historia de las Indias”: This comprehensive work, which Las Casas began writing around 1527[2†][7†], outlines Europe’s New World conquests from 1492 to 1520 and attempts to portray Native Americans as culturally different from, but equal to Europeans[2†][7†]. It was first printed in 1875[2†][1†].
  2. “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies”: This extremely popular work was published during his lifetime (c. 1484–1566)[2†][8†]. In it, Las Casas described the atrocities committed by the colonizers against the indigenous peoples[2†].
  3. “Apologetic History of the Indies”: In this work, Las Casas defended the indigenous peoples and argued for their rights[2†].
  4. “De thesauris in Peru”: This lesser-known work of Las Casas is also part of his extensive writings[2†].

Las Casas’s writings had a significant impact on the perception of the colonization of the West Indies. His detailed accounts of the atrocities committed by the colonizers played a crucial role in advocating for the rights of the indigenous peoples[2†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Bartolomé de las Casas’s work as a historian, writer, and activist has had a profound impact on our understanding of the colonization of the Americas[1†]. His writings, which exposed the oppression of indigenous peoples by Europeans in the Americas, have been the subject of extensive analysis and evaluation[1†].

Las Casas’s writings, particularly “Historia de las Indias” and “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies”, provide a critical account of the conquests of New Spain and Peru[1†]. His detailed descriptions of the atrocities committed by the colonizers have been instrumental in highlighting the brutal realities of colonization[1†][9†].

His advocacy for the rights of indigenous peoples earned him the title of the “Apostle of the Indies” and the "Defender of the Indians"[1†][4†]. Despite facing significant opposition, Las Casas remained steadfast in his mission to expose the injustices perpetrated against the indigenous peoples[1†][9†].

However, it’s important to note that Las Casas’s proposed solution to the mistreatment of the indigenous peoples, the importation of slaves from Africa, was quickly regretted by him and has been a point of criticism[1†][9†]. His writings, while revealing the harsh realities of colonization, also reflect the complexities and contradictions of this historical period[1†][9†].

Las Casas’s legacy continues to inspire scholars and activists. His writings have not only shaped our understanding of the history of the Americas but also continue to influence contemporary discussions on human rights and social justice[1†][10†].

Personal Life

Bartolomé de las Casas was born in Seville, Spain, on November 11, 1484[2†][11†]. His father, Pedro de Las Casas, was a merchant[2†][11†]. His ancestors had moved to Spain from France[2†][11†]. As his father was a merchant, Bartolomé traveled quite a lot[2†][11†]. During one of those business trips, he went to Rome and observed the Festival of Flutes[2†][11†].

He sailed on Christopher Columbus’s third voyage in 1498[2†][9†]. In 1502, he settled on Hispaniola (today’s Dominican Republic and Haiti)[2†][4†]. He then moved on and participated in the conquest of Cuba in 1511[2†][4†]. In 1510 he became the first priest ordained in the Americas[2†][9†]. He devoted his life to protesting the mistreatment of the Indians, with whom he worked in Guatemala, Peru, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Mexico[2†][9†].

Bartolomé de las Casas passed away in Madrid, Spain, in July 1566[2†][1†][2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Bartolomé de las Casas left an indelible mark on the history of the Americas and the world. His tireless advocacy for the rights of indigenous peoples in the Americas was groundbreaking and laid the foundation for the modern human rights movement[12†][3†].

Las Casas was the first to expose the oppression of indigenous peoples by Europeans in the Americas and to call for the abolition of slavery there[12†][1†][2†]. His writings, particularly A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies and Historia de Las Indias, provided a vivid account of the atrocities committed by the colonizers against the indigenous peoples[12†][2†].

Despite his initial participation in the conquest of the Caribbean, Las Casas underwent a profound change of heart. He gave up his Native American slaves and encomienda, and dedicated the rest of his life to advocating for the rights of the natives[12†][2†]. His efforts, however, were not always successful, and he was often met with resistance and criticism[12†][2†].

Nevertheless, Las Casas’ legacy endures. His writings continue to be studied and his advocacy for indigenous rights is recognized worldwide[12†][2†][3†]. The commemoration of the four-hundredth anniversary of his death brought forth many discussions about his place in history and his role as a defender of the American Indians[12†][10†].

In conclusion, Bartolomé de las Casas’ impact and legacy extend far beyond his lifetime. His unwavering commitment to justice and human rights continues to inspire and influence people today[12†][3†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Bartolome de Las Casas: Spanish historian and missionary [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Bartolomé de las Casas [website] - link
  3. Wikiwand - Bartolomé de las Casas - Wikiwand [website] - link
  4. World History - Bartolomé de Las Casas [website] - link
  5. Britannica Kids - Bartolomé de Las Casas [website] - link
  6. ThoughtCo - Biography of Bartolomé de Las Casas, Spanish Colonist [website] - link
  7. eNotes - Bartolomé de Las Casas Critical Essays [website] - link
  8. The Ohio State University - Origins - Bartolomé de las Casas and 500 Years of Racial Injustice [website] - link
  9. Britannica - Bartolomé de Las Casas summary [website] - link
  10. Duke University Press - Hispanic American Historical Review - The Life and Writings of Bartolomé de las Casas [website] - link
  11. The Famous People - Bartolomé De Las Casas Biography [website] - link
  12. Google Books - Bartolomé de las Casas: A Biography - Lawrence A. Clayton [website] - link
  13. Simple Wikipedia (English) - Bartolomé de Las Casas [website] - link
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