Bartolomé de Las Casas

Date 1484 - 1566
Biographical NotesHistorian, reformer, and Dominican Friar. Las Casas first travelled to Hispaniola in 1502, and in 1512 or 1513 he was ordained (possibly the first Catholic priest ordained in the Americas). In his early years he participated in various expeditions for slaves and conquest in the Caribbean for which he was rewarded with a grant of land including native inhabitants and their labour (i.e. 'Encomienda'). Las Casas became an outspoken critic of the brutality faced by the indigenous peoples through conquest and forced labour and returned to Spain to plead for their better treatment. Las Casas was appointed 'Protectoría de indios' and returned to America in 1520 with a plan for peaceful settlement, which failed due to the opposition of powerful 'Encomenderos' (holders of 'Encomienda').

Following this failure Las Casas devoted his life to religious service, joining the Dominican order in 1523. In 1527 he began to write the 'Historia Apologética', which served as an introduction to his famous 'Historia de las Indias' (published posthumously). Las Casas continued to be a vocal critic of the treatment of indigenous peoples and the 'Encomienda' system. He is probably most well known for for his 'Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias', written 1542 but first published in Seville in 1552. Later in life Las Casas was made bishop of Chipas. In 1550-51 Las Casas and the humanist lawyer Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda debated the legal and theoretical basis of the Spanish conquest and treatment of the Indians in front of the Spanish court. Las Casas continued to serve as an advisor to the King of Spain and Council of the Indies until his death in 1566.
Work(s)Related Author of The Art of Travelling to Advantage (1699) in An Account of the first Voyages and Discoveries Made by the Spaniards in America Containing the most Exact Relation Hitherto Publish'd, of their Unparallel'd Cruelties on the Indians, in the Destruction of above Forty Millions of People: with the Propositions Offer'd to the King of Spain to Prevent the Further Ruin of the West-Indies ... to which is added, The Art of Travelling, Shewing how a Man may Dispose his Travels to the best Advantage