Las Casas

Las Casas

[lahs kah-sahs]
Las Casas, Bartolomé de, 1474-1566, Spanish missionary and historian, called the apostle of the Indies. He went to Hispaniola with his father in 1502, and eight years later he was ordained a priest. In 1514 he began to work for the improvement of conditions among the indigenous population, especially for the abolition of their slavery and of the forced labor of the encomienda. He devoted the rest of his life to that cause, going to Spain to urge the government to action, converting uncivilized tribes, and striving to break the power of Spanish landholders over native laborers. He tried unsuccessfully to establish a model colony for people of indigenous descent (1520-21), went to Peru with a royal cedula prohibiting native enslavement, worked among the native people of Guatemala, and for a brief time (1544-47) was bishop of Chiapa. In his concern to help the indigenous people of South America he endorsed the proposal to import African slaves, but repented his action almost immediately. Chiefly through his agency, humanitarian laws, called the New Laws, were adopted (1542) to protect the indigenous people in Spanish colonies, although later alterations, notably those of Pedro de la Gasca, rendered them almost ineffective. The writings of Las Casas contain good anthropological and historical material. He spent much of his time writing the monumental Historia de las Indias (1875-76); for selections in English translation, see Tears of the Indians (ed. by John Phillips, 1953) and Devastation of the Indies (1974).

See biographies by H. R. Wagner (1967), and J. Friede and B. Keen, ed. (1971).

Bartolomé de las Casas, O.P. (August 24 1484July 17 1566), was a 16th century Spanish Dominican priest, and the first resident Bishop of Chiapas. As a settler in the New World, he was galvanized by witnessing the torture and genocide of the Native Americans by the Spanish colonists. He is commemorated as a missionary in the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on July 17.


Bartolome de las Casas was born in Seville in 1484. With his father, he emigrated to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola in 1502 on the expedition of Nicolás de Ovando, during which he witnessed the extermination of the Taínos. He became a priest eight years later, and served as a missionary to the Arawak (Taino) of Cuba in 1512. There, he received a repartimiento (a grant of native labor) which he exploited. Starting in 1514, however, he became an adamant opponent of Spanish colonialism, joining the Dominican Order in 1522. His 1520-21 attempt to create a more equitable colonial society in Venezuela was sabotaged by his colonial neighbors. He died in Madrid. In 2000, the Roman Catholic Church began the process to beatify him.

List of works

  • . Trans. Nigel Griffin.
  • . Extracts. he was a very good man!

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