Hernando Arias de Saavedra (September 10, 1561 – 1634), commonly known as Hernandarias, was a soldier and politician of criollo ancestry. He was the first American-born person to become a governor of a European colony in the Americas.
Hernandarias was born in Asunción
as the illegitimate
son of María de Sanabria and Martín Suárez, an officer under Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
. His maternal grandparents were Diego de Sanabria and Mencia Calderón de Sanabria who were wealthy from their holdings in Paraguay. He began his military career at an early age and participated in the exploration and conquest of the territory of what is now Paraguay
. His talents as as officer
and administrator led to his being named lieutenant-governor
of Asunción in 1592 by Juan Ramírez Velasco, and he went on to serve three terms. While claiming most officials from Spain or Peru were lazy or corrupt, on Hernandarias, the new governor Diego Rodríguez Valdés Vanda y Lugarteniente wrote:
- Solo en Hernan Darias había vencido la virtud. Aunque los españoles lo tachan de que se inclina siempre a los criollos y mestizos, es muy honrado Cavallero, aunque criollo, porque no hay regla sin excepción.
- Only in Hernan Darias has virtue triumphed. Although the Spanish are constantly inclined to accuse the criollos and mestizos, he is an honorable gentleman, as for every rule there is an exception.
In the same period, his half-brother Hernando de Trejo was named bishop of the see of Asunción.
Governor of Buenos Aires
In 1596 he was elected as Lieutenant-Governor of the Rio de la Plata
province, including Buenos Aires.. In 1597, upon the death of governor Valdés Vanda, King Phillip II
ordered captain Francisco de Barraza to name a new governor of the province of Rio de la Plata
. Hernandarias was elected unanimously by the caudillo
in Asuncion as the governor of Rio de la Plata
province, including Buenos Aires. Hernandarias would go on to serve three terms as governor: 1597-1599, 1602-1609, and 1615-1617. As governor, Hernandarias enacted a number of policies to stimulate the growth of what was at that time a small port town. These included the creation of the first primary schools
for creating bricks
and tiles to replace adobe
as a construction material, and the rebuilding of a fortress
to protect the city from pirates
. Following the capture of two anchored
ships by English privateers
on March 18, 1607, he ordered the construction of a larger fort at the mouth of the Matanza River
in what is now the neighborhood of Vuelta de Rocha. He also enacted measures against smuggling
caused by prohibitions on import
and the African slave trade
. During his term as governor of Buenos Aires, Hernandarias started several expeditions, including ones to Uruguay
to rein in the Portuguese bandeirantes
, explore the Patagonia
, survey the navigability of rivers and to find the mythical City of the Caesars
. Eventually in 1604 he was captured by the native Mapuche
around 1,000km south of Buenos Aires but managed to escape with his life.
In 1603, Hernandarias changed the rules on Amerindian workers bringing about the end of the mita and encomienda labor systems through which the Spanish enjoyed the fruits of native labor in exchange for converting them to Christianity. He obtained approval for this reform from King Phillip III and in 1608 arranged the creation of the Jesuit and Franciscan reductions in the region of Guayrá (modern Paraguay). In 1611, visiting judge Francisco de Alfaro ordered the emancipation of all natives working on encomiendas who had been converted by the Jesuits in his famous Ordenanzas de Alfaro.
Cathedral of Buenos Aires
Hernandarias was directly involved in the relocation of the church in Buenos Aires in 1603. In 1616 it was determined that the church's roof was deteriorating, and, in the course of repairs the church collapsed. 1618 Hernandarias led the effort to construct the Cathedral of Buenos Aires
. Working with carpenter Pascual Ramírez, Hernandarias secured a supply of lumber from Paraguay as well as labor from Spanish colonists and natives who had converted to Christianity. On the construction of the Cathedral, Hernandarias later said in a letter:
- ... la hice derribar y fabriqué de nuevo (...) y así este templo con todos los demás de esta Provincia, de pueblos indios como de las ciudades, hasta la Catedral, puedo decir que las he fabricado no sólo con el trabajo y constancia de mi persona, sino a costa de mi hacienda.
- ... my deeds demolished and rebuilt (...) and on this temple, and all the rest of the province, from Indian towns to the cities, to the Cathedral, I can say that I have built them not just with my work and perseverance, but at the expense of my estate.
On September 7, 1614 Hernandarias was named governor of Buenos Aires for his third and final term and assumed the post on May 29, 1615. He introduced the initiative to split the Río de la Plata district
in two: the Province of Buenos Aires
, and the Province of Paraguay, including the settlements of Asunción, Santiago de Jerez, Villa Rica and Ciudad Real. Though ordered in 1617, the partition needed the approval of the king which was granted in 1618, but was not carried out until 1620. After the expiry of his term in 1617, he was succeeded as governor by Diego de Góngora.
In his personal life, he was married to Jerónima de Contreras with whom he had three daughters: Gerónima, Isabel and María
Hernandarias retired to Santa Fe
and died in 1634 at the age of 72.
His remains and those of his wife were interred at the convent of San Francisco, in Santa Fe.
Hernandarias' impact on the development of Paraguay and Argentina is remembered in the Hernandarias District
of Paraguay the city of Hernandarias, Argentina
in Paraná District
, and the Hernandarias Subfluvial Tunnel