from The Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies
Born in Spain, Bartolomé de last Casas traveled to Hispaniola in 1502. Initially, he participated in and benefited from the exploitation of the native inhabitants, authorized by the Spanish crown and its encomienda system. After becoming a priest, his perspective changed. He released his own slaves, encouraged others to do the same, and began to advocate for Native American rights. One of his early solutions was to use African slaves instead of native inhabitants; he later regretted this suggestion, realizing that substituting one group for another was no real solution at all. The Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies is both a history and a testimony; Casas serves as a powerful advocate for human rights, speaking out on behalf of the colonized while documenting the “devastation” that he witnessed.
- Consider how Casas positions himself in the narrative. How does he present himself to his audience? Why or how might this positioning be significant?
- How does Casas present the contact zone?
- Consider how Casas makes his case. How does he build his argument? Where is he most persuasive?
A Short Account Of The Destruction of the Indies
of Bishop Brother Bartolomé de Las Casas, or Casaus,
to the most high and most mighty Prince of Spain,
our Lord the Prince Philip
Most high and most mighty Lord:
As Divine Providence has ordained that the world shall, for the benefit and proper government of the human race, be divided into kingdoms and peoples and that these shall be ruled by kings, who are (as Homer has it) fathers and shepherds to their people and are, accordingly, the noblest and most virtuous of beings, there is no doubt, nor could there in all reason be any such doubt, but that these kings entertain nothing save that which is morally unimpeachable. It follows that if the commonwealth suffers from some defect, or shortcoming, or evil, the reason can only be that the ruler is unaware of it; once the matter is brought to his notice, he will work with the utmost diligence to set matters right and will not rest content until the evil has been eradicated. This would appear to be the sense of the words of Solomon in the Bible: ‘A king that sitteth in the throne of judgement scattereth away all evil with his eyes’. For, granted the innate and natural virtue of the ruler, it follows that the simple knowledge that something is wrong in his kingdom is quite sufficient to ensure that he will see that it is corrected, for he will not tolerate any such evil for a moment longer than it takes him to right it.
Contemplating, therefore (most mighty Lord), as a man with more than fifty years’ experience of seeing at first hand the evil and the harm, the losses and diminutions suffered by those great kingdoms, each so vast and so wonderful that it would be more appropriate to refer to them as the New World of the Americas – kingdoms granted and entrusted by God and His Church to the Spanish Crown so that they might be properly ruled and governed, converted to the Faith, and tenderly nurtured to full material and spiritual prosperity –5 I am persuaded that, if Your Highness had been informed of even a few of the excesses which this New World has witnessed, all of them surpassing anything that men hitherto have imagined even in their wildest dreams,Your Highness would not have delayed for even one moment before entreating His Majesty to prevent any repetition of the atrocities which go under the name of ‘conquests’: excesses which, if no move is made to stop them, will be committed time and again, and which (given that the indigenous peoples of the region are naturally so gentle, so peace-loving, so humble and so docile) are of themselves iniquitous, tyrannical, contrary to natural, canon, and civil law, and are deemed wicked and are condemned and proscribed by all such legal codes. I therefore concluded that it would constitute a criminal neglect of my duty to remain silent about the enormous loss of life as well as the infinite number of human souls despatched to Hell in the course of such ‘conquests’, and so resolved to publish an account of a few such outrages (and they can be only a few out of the countless number of such incidents that I could relate) in order to make that account the more accessible to Your Highness.
Thus it was that, when the then bishop of Cartagena and tutor to your Highness, the archbishop of Toledo, asked me for a copy of my Account, I duly gave him one and this he presented to Your Highness. But Your Highness has been fully occupied with journeys, by land and sea, as well as other pressing royal business, and it may well be that Your Highness has never found the time to read the Account, or has perhaps allowed it to slip to the back of your mind. Meanwhile, the boldness and the unreason of those who count it as nothing to drench the Americas in human blood and to dispossess the people who are the natural masters and dwellers in those vast and marvellous kingdoms, killing a thousand million of them, and stealing treasures beyond compare, grow by the day, and, masquerading under false colours, they do everything within their power to obtain further licence to continue their conquests (licence that cannot be granted without infringing natural and divine law and thereby conniving at the gravest of mortal sins, worthy of the most terrible and everlasting punishment). I therefore determined to present Your Highness with this Short Account, which is but a brief digest of the many and various outrages and depredations which could and should be recorded. I implore Your Highness to accept it and to read it in that spirit of clemency and royal benevolence with which Your Highness traditionally approaches the works of those of Your Highness’s subjects and servants whose only desire is to serve the public good and the interests of the Crown. It is my fervent hope that, once Your Highness perceives the extent of the injustices suffered by these innocent peoples and the way in which they are being destroyed and crushed underfoot, unjustly and for no other reason than to satisfy the greed and ambition of those whose purpose it is to commit such wicked atrocities, Your Highness will see fit to beg and entreat His Majesty to refuse all those who seek royal licence for such evil and detestable ventures, and to put a stop once and for all to their infernal clamour in such a way that nobody will henceforth dare to make such a request nor even to mention ventures of this kind.
This, Your Royal Highness, is a matter on which action is both urgent and necessary if God is to continue to watch over the Crown of Castile and ensure its future well-being and prosperity, both spiritual and temporal. Amen.
THE CRUELTIES OF THE Spaniards Committed in AMERICA.
America was discovered and found out Ann. Dom. 1492, and the Year insuing inhabited by the Spaniards, and afterward a multitude of them travelled thither from Spain for the space of Nine and Forty Years. Their first attempt was on the Spanish Island, which indeed is a most fertile soil, and at present in great reputation for its Spaciousness and Length, containing in Circumference Six Hundred Miles: Nay it is on all sides surrounded with an almost innumerable number of Islands, which we found so well peopled with Natives and Forreigners, that there is scarce any Region in the Universe fortified with so many Inhabitants: But the main Land or Continent, distant from this Island Two Hundred and Fifty Miles and upwards, extends it self above Ten Thousand Miles in Length near the sea-shore, which Lands are some of them already discover’d, and more may be found out in process of time: And such a multitude of People inhabits these Countries, that it seems as if the Omnipotent God has Assembled and Convocated the major part of Mankind in this part of the World.
Now this infinite multitude of Men are by the Creation of God innocently simple, altogether void of and averse to all manner of Craft, Subtlety and Malice, and most Obedient and Loyal Subjects to their Native Sovereigns; and behave themselves very patiently, sumissively and quietly towards the Spaniards, to whom they are subservient and subject; so that finally they live without the least thirst after revenge, laying aside all litigiousness, Commotion and hatred.
This is a most tender and effeminate people, and so imbecile and unequal-balanced temper, that they are altogether incapable of hard labour, and in few years, by one Distemper or other soon expire, so that the very issue of Lords and Princes, who among us live with great affluence, and fard deliciously, are not more effminate and tender than the Children of their Husbandmen or Labourers: This Nation is very Necessitous and Indigent, Masters of very slender Possessions, and consequently, neither Haughty, nor Ambitious. They are parsimonious in their Diet, as the Holy Fathers were in their frugal life in the Desert, known by the name of Eremites. They go naked, having no other Covering but what conceals their Pudends from publick sight. An hairy Plad, or loose Coat, about an Ell, or a coarse woven Cloth at most Two Ells long serves them for the warmest Winter Garment. They lye on a coarse Rug or Matt, and those that have the most plentiful Estate or Fortunes, the better sort, use Net-work, knotted at the four corners in lieu of Beds, which the Inhabitants of the Island of Hispaniola, in their own proper Idiom, term Hammacks. The Men are pregnant and docible. The natives tractable, and capable of Morality or Goodness, very apt to receive the instill’d principles of Catholick Religion; nor are they averse to Civility and good Manners, being not so much discompos’d by variety of Obstructions, as the rest of Mankind; insomuch, that having suckt in (if I may so express my self) the the very first Rudiments of the Christian Faith, they are so transported with Zeal and Furvor in the exercise of Ecclesiastical Sacraments, and Divine Service, that the very Religioso’s themselves, stand in need of the greatest and most signal patience to undergo such extream Transports. And to conclude, I my self have heard the Spaniards themselves (who dare not assume the Confidence to deny the good Nature praedominant in them) declare, that there was nothing wanting in them for the acquisition of Eternal Beatitude, but the sole Knowledge and Understanding of the Deity.
The Spaniards first assaulted the innocent Sheep, so qualified by the Almighty, as is premention’d, like most cruel Tygers, Wolves and Lions hunger-starv’d, studying nothing, for the space of Forty Years, after their first landing, but the Massacre of these Wretches, whom they have so inhumanely and barbarously butcher’d and harass’d with several kinds of Torments, never before known, or heard (of which you shall have some account in the following Discourse) that of Three Millions of Persons, which lived in Hispaniola itself, there is at present but the inconsiderable remnant of scarce Three Hundred. Nay the Isle of Cuba, which extends as far, as Valledolid in Spain is distant from Rome, lies now uncultivated, like a Desert, and intomb’d in its own Ruins. You may also find the Isles of St. John, and Jamaica, both large and fruitful places, unpeopled and desolate. The Lucayan Islands on the North Side, adjacent to Hispaniola and Cuba, which are Sixty in number, or thereabout, together with with those, vulgarly known by the name of the Gigantic Isles, and others, the most infertile whereof, exceeds the Royal Garden of Sevil in fruitfulness, a most Healthful and pleasant Climat, is now laid waste and uninhabited; and whereas, when the Spaniards first arriv’d here, about Five Hundred Thousand Men dwelt in it, they are now cut off, some by slaughter, and others ravished away by Force and Violence, to work in the Mines of Hispanioloa, which was destitute of Native Inhabitants: For a certain Vessel, sailing to this Isle, to the end, that the Harvest being over (some good Christian, moved with Piety and Pity, undertook this dangerous Voyage, to convert Souls to Christianity) the remaining gleanings might be gathered up, there were only found Eleven Persons, which I saw with my own Eyes. There are other Islands Thirty in number, and upward bordering upon the Isle of St. John, totally unpeopled; all which are above Two Thousand miles in Lenght, and yet remain without Inhabitants, Native, or People.
As to the firm land, we are certainly satisfied, and assur’d, that the Spaniards by their barbarous and execrable Actions have absolutely depopulated Ten Kingdoms, of greater extent than all Spain, together with the Kingdoms of Arragon and Portugal, that is to say, above One Thousand Miles, which now lye wast and desolate, and are absolutely ruined, when as formerly no other Country whatsoever was more populous. Nay we dare boldly affirm, that during the Forty Years space, wherein they exercised their sanguinary and detestable Tyranny in these Regions, above Twelve Millions (computing Men, Women, and Children) have undeservedly perished; nor do I conceive that I should deviate from the Truth by saying that above Fifty Millions in all paid their last Debt to Nature.
Those that arriv’d at these Islands from the remotest parts of Spain, and who pride themselves in the Name of Christians, steer’d Two courses principally, in order to the Extirpation, and Exterminating of this People from the face of the Earth. The first whereof was raising an unjust, sanguinolent, cruel War. The other, by putting them to death, who hitherto, thirsted after their Liberty, or design’d (which the most Potent, Strenuous and Magnanimous Spirits intended) to recover their pristin Freedom, and shake off the Shackles of so injurious a Captivity: For they being taken off in War, none but Women and Children were permitted to enjoy the benefit of that Country- Air, in whom they did in succeeding times lay such a heavy Yoak, that the very Brutes were more happy than they: To which Two Species of Tyranny as subalternate things to the Genus, the other innumerable Courses they took to extirpate and make this a desolate People, may be reduced and referr’d.
Now the ultimate end and scope that incited the Spaniards to endeavor the Extirptaion and Desolation of this People, was Gold only; that thereby growing opulent in a short time, they might arrive at once at such Degrees and Dignities, as were no wayes consistent with their Persons.
Finally, in one word, their Ambition and Avarice, than which the heart of Man never entertained greater, and the vast Wealth of those Regions; the Humility and Patience of the Inhabitants (which made their approach to these Lands more facil and easie) did much promote the business: Whom they so despicably contemned, that they treated them (I speak of things which I was an Eye Witness of, without the least fallacy) not as Beasts, which I cordially wished they would, but as the most abject dung and filth of the Earth; and so sollicitous they were of their Life and Soul, that the above-mentioned number of People died without understanding the true Faith or Sacraments. And this also is as really true as the praecendent Narration (which the very Tyrants and cruel Murderers cannot deny without the stigma of a lye) that the Spaniards never received any injury from the Indians, but that they rather reverenced them as Persons descended from Heaven, until that they were compelled to take up Arms, provoked thereunto by repeated Injuries, violent Torments, and injust Butcheries.
Of the Island HISPANIOLA.
In this Isle, which, as we have said, the Spaniards first attempted, the bloody slaughter and destruction of Men first began: for they violently forced away Women and Children to make them Slaves, and ill-treated them, consuming and wasting their Food, which they had purchased with great sweat, toil, and yet remained dissatisfied too, which every one according to his strength and ability, and that was very inconsiderable (for they provided no other Food than what was absolutely necessary to support Nature without superfluity, freely bestow’d on them, and one individual Spaniard consumed more Victuals in one day, than would serve to maintain Three Families a Month, every one consisting of Ten Persons. Now being oppressed by such evil usage, and afflicted with such greate Torments and violent Entertainment they began to understand that such Men as those had not their Mission from Heaven; and therefore some of them conceal’d their Provisions and others to their Wives and Children in lurking holes, but some, to avoid the obdurate and dreadful temper of such a Nation, sought their Refuge on the craggy tops of Mountains; for the Spaniards did not only entertain them with Cuffs, Blows, and wicked Cudgelling, but laid violent hands also on the Governours of Cities; and this arriv’d at length to that height of Temerity and Impudence, that a certain Captain was so audacious as abuse the Consort of the most puissant King of the whole Isle. From which time they began to consider by what wayes and means they might expel the Spaniards out of their Countrey, and immediately took up Arms. But, good God, what Arms, do you imagin? Namely such, both Offensive and Defensive, as resemble Reeds wherewith Boys sport with one another, more than Manly Arms and Weapons.
Which the Spaniards no sooner perceived, but they, mounted on generous Steeds, well weapon’d with Lances and Swords, begin to exercise their bloody Butcheries and Strategems, and overrunning their Cities and Towns, spar’d no Age, or Sex, nay not so much as Women with Child, but ripping up their Bellies, tore them alive in pieces. They laid Wagers among themselves, who should with a Sword at one blow cut, or divide a Man in two; or which of them should decollate or behead a Man, with the greatest dexterity; nay farther, which should sheath his Sword in the Bowels of a Man with the quickest dispatch and expedition.
They snatcht young Babes from the Mothers Breasts, and then dasht out the brains of those innocents against the Rocks; others they cast into Rivers scoffing and jeering them, and call’d upon their Bodies when falling with derision, the true testimony of their Cruelty, to come to them, and inhumanely exposing others to their Merciless Swords, together with the Mothers that gave them Life.
They erected certain Gibbets, large, but low made, so that their feet almost reacht the ground, every one of which was so order’d as to bear Thirteen Persons in Honour and Reverence (as they said blasphemously) of our Redeemer and his Twelve Apostles, under which they made a Fire to burn them to Ashes whilst hanging on them: But those they intended to preserve alive, they dismiss’d, their Hands half cut, and still hanging by the Skin, to carry their Letters missive to those that fly from us and ly sculking on the Mountains, as an exprobation of their flight.
The Lords and Persons of Noble Extract were usually expos’d to this kind of Death; they order’d Gridirons to be placed and supported with wooden Forks, and putting a small Fire under them, these miserable Wretches by degrees and with loud Shreiks and exquisite Torments, at last Expir’d.
I once saw Four or Five of their most Powerful Lords laid on these Gridirons, and thereon roasted, and not far off, Two or Three more over-spread with the same Commodity, Man’s Flesh; but the shril Clamours which were heard there being offensive to the Captain, by hindring his Repose, he commanded them to be strangled with a Halter. The Executioner (whose Name and Parents at Sevil are not unknown to me) prohibited the doing of it; but stopt Gags into their Mouths to prevent the hearing of the noise (he himself making the Fire) till that they dyed, when they had been roasted as long as he thought convenient. I was an Eye-Witness of these and and innumerable Number of other Cruelties: And because all Men, who could lay hold of the opportunity, sought out lurking holes in the Mountains, to avoid as dangerous Rocks so Brutish and Barbarous a People, Strangers to all Goodness, and the Extirpaters and Adversaries of Men, they bred up such fierce hunting Dogs as would devour an Indian like a Hog, at first sight in less than a moment: Now such kind of Slaughters and Cruelties as these were committed by the Curs, and if at any time it hapned, (which was rarely) that the Indians irritated upon a just account destroy’d or took away the Life of any Spaniard, they promulgated and proclaim’d this Law among them, that One Hundred Indians should dye for every individual Spaniard that should be slain.
Of the Kingdoms contained in Hispaniola.
This Isle of Hispaniola was made up of Six of their greatest Kingdoms, and as many most Puissant Kings, to whose Empire almost all the other Lords, whose Number was infinite, did pay their Allegiance. One of these Kingdoms was called Magua, signifying a Campaign or open Country; which is very observable, if any place in the Universe deserves taking notice of, and memorable for the pleasantness of its Situation; for it is extended from South to North Eighty Miles, in breadth Five, Eight, and in some parts Ten Miles in length; and is on all sides inclosed with the highest Mountains; above Thirty Thousand Rivers, and Rivulets water her Coasts, Twelve of which prodigious Number do not yield in all in magnitude to those famous Rivers, the Eber, Duer, and Guadalquivir; and all those Rivers which have their Source or Spring from the Mountains lying Westerly, the number whereof is Twenty Thousand) are very rich in Mines of Gold; on which Mountain lies the Province of rich Mines, whence the exquisite Gold of Twenty Four Caracts weight, takes denomination. The King and Lord of this Kingdom was named Guarionex, who governed within the Compass of his Dominions so many Vassals and Potent Lords, that every one of them was able to bring into the Field Sixteen Thousand Soldiers for the service of Guarionex their Supream Lord and Soverain, when summoned thereunto. Some of which I was acquainted with. This was a most Obedient Prince, endued with great Courage and Morality, naturally of a Pacifick Temper, and most devoted to the service of the Castilian Kings. This King commanded and ordered his Subjects, that every one of those Lords under his Jurisdiction, should present him with a Bell full of Gold; but in succeeding times, being unable to perform it, they were commanded to cut it in two, and fill one part therewith, for the Inhabitants of this Isle were altogether inexperienced, and unskilful in Mine-works, and the digging Gold out of them. This Caiu proferred his Service to the King of Castile, on this Condition, that he would take care, that those Lands should be cultivated and manur’d, wherein, during the reign of Isabella, Queen of Castile, the Spaniards first set footing and fixed their Residence, extending in length even to Santo Domingo, the space of Fifty Miles. For he declar’d (nor was it a Fallacie, but an absolute Truth,) that his Subjects understood not the practical use of digging in Golden Mines. To which promises he had readily and voluntarily condescended, to my own certain knowledge, and so by this means, the King would have received the Annual Revenue of Three Millions of Spanish Crowns, and upward, there being at that very time in that Island Fifty Cities more ample and spacious than Sevil it self in Spain.
But what returns by way of Remuneration and Reward did they make this so Clement and Benign Monarch, can you imagine, no other but this? They put the greatest Indignity upon him imaginable in the person of his Consort who was violated by a Spanish Captain altogether unworthy of the Name of Christian. He might indeed probably expect to meet with a convenient time and opportunity of revenging this Ingominy so unjuriously thrown upon him by preparing Military Forces to attaque him, but he rather chose to abscond in the Province De los Ciquayos (wherein a Puissant Vassal and subject of his Ruled) devested of his Estate and Kingdom, and there live and dye an exile. But the Spaniards receiving certain information, that he had absented himself, connived no longer at his Concealment but raised War against him, who had received them with so great humanity and kindness, and having first laid waste and desolate the whole Region, at last found, and took him Prisoner, who being bound in Fetters was convey’d on board of a ship in order to his transfretation to Castile, as a Captive: but the Vessel perished in the Voyage, wherewith many Spaniards were also lost, as well as a great weight of Gold, among which there was a prodigious Ingot of Gold, resembling a large Loaf of Bread, weighing 3600 Crowns; Thus it pleased God to revenge their enormous impieties.
A Second Kingdom was named Marien, where there is to this day a Haven, upon the utmost Borders of the Plain or open Countrey toward the North, more fertil and large than the kingdom of Portugal; and really deserving constant and frequent Inahbitants: For it abounds with Mountains, and is rich in Mines of Gold and Orichalcum, a kind of Copper Mettal mixt with Gold; The Kings name of this place was Guacanagari, who had many powerful Lords (some whereof were not unknown to me) under his subjection. The first that landed in this Kingdom when he discovered America was an Admiral well stricken in years, who had so hospitable and kind a reception from the aforesaid Gracanagari, as well as all those Spaniards that accompanied him in that Voyage, giving them all imaginable help and assisstance (for the admiral’s vessel was sunk on their Coasts) that I heard it from his own mouth, he could not possibly have been entertained with greater Caresses and Civilities from his own parents in his own Native Country. But this King being forced to fly to avoid the Spanish slaughter and Cruelty, deprived of all he was Master of, died in the Mountains; and all the rest of the Potentates and Nobles, his subjects, perished in that servitude and Vassalage; as you shall find in this following Treatise.
The Third Kingdom was distinguished by the Appellation of Maquana, another admirable, healthful and fruitful sRegion, where at present the most refined sugar of the Island is made. Caonabo then reigned there, who surmounted all the rest in Power, State, and the splendid Ceremonies of His Government. This King beyond all expectation was surpriz’d in his own Palace, by the great subtilty and industry of the Spaniards, and after carried on board in order to his transportation to Castile, but there being at that time six Ships Riding in the Haven, and ready to set Sail such an impetuous storm suddenly arose, that they as well as the Passengers and Ships Crew were all lost, together with King Canabao loaded with Irons; by which judgement the Almighty declared that this was as unjust and impious an Act as any of the former. This Kind had three or four Brothers then Living, Men of strength and Valour, who being highly incensed at the Captivity of their King and Brother, to which he was injuriously reduc’d, having also intelligence of the Devastations and Butcheries committed by the Spaniards in other Regions, and not long after hearing of their Brothers death, took up Arms to revenge themselves of the Enemy, whom the Spaniards met with, and certain party of Horse (which proved very offensive to the Indians) made such havoc and slaughter among them, that the half of this Kingdom was laid waste and depopulated.
Xaraqua is the Fourth Kingdom, and as it were the Centre and Middle of the whole Island, and is not to be equalled for fluency of Speech and politeness of Idiom or Dialect by any Inhabitants of the other Kingdoms, and in Policy and Morality transcends them all. Herein the Lords and Peers abounded, and the very Populace excelled in in stature and habit of Body: Their King was Behechio by name and who had a Sister called Anacaona, and both the Brother as well as Sister had loaded the Spaniards with Benefits and singular acts of Civility, and by delivering them from the evident and apparent danger of Death, did signal services to the Castilian Kings. Behechio dying the supreme power of the Kingdom fell to Anacaona: But it hapned one day, that the Governour of an Island, attended by 60 Horse, and 30 Foot (now the Cavalry was sufficiently able to unpeople not only the Isle, but also the whole Continent) he summoned about 300 Dynasta’s, or Noblemen to appear before him, and commanded the most powerful of them, being first crouded into a Thatcht Barn or Hovel, to be exposed to the fury of the merciless Fire, and the rest to be pierced with Lances, and run through with the point of the Sword, by a multitude of Men: And Anacaona her self who (as we said before,) sway’d the Imperial Scepter, to her greater honor was hanged on a Gibbet. And if it fell out that any person instigated by Compassion or Covetousness, did entertain any Indian Boys and mount them on Horses, to prevent their Murder, another was appointed to follow them, who ran them through the back or in the hinder parts, and if they chanced to escape Death, and fall to the ground, they immediately cut off his Legs; and when any of those Indians, that survived these Barbarous Massacres, betook themselves to an Isle eight miles distant, to escape their Butcheries, they were then committed to servitude during Life.
The Fifth Kingdom was Hiquey, over whom Queen Hiquanama, a superannuated Princess, whome the Spaniards Crucified, did preside and Govern. The number of those I saw here burnt, and dismembered, and rackt with various Torments, as well as others, the poor Remnants of such matchless Villanies, who surviving were enslaved, is infinite. But because so much might be said concerning the Assassinations and Depopulating of these people, as cannot without great difficulty be published in Writing (nor do I conceive that one fragile part of 1000 that is here contained can be fully displayed) I will only add one remark more of the prementioned Wars, in lieu of a Corollary or Conclusion, and aver upon my Conscience, that notwithstanding all the above-named Injustice, profligate Enormities and other Crimes which I omit, (tho sufficiently known to me) the Indians did not, nor was it in their power to give any greater occasion for the Commission of them, than Pious Religioso’s Living in a well regulated Monastic Life did afford for any Sacrilegeous Villains to deprive them of their Goods and Life at the same time, or why they who by flight avoided death should be detain’d in perpetual, not to be ransom’d Captivity and Slavery. I adde farther, that I really believe, and am satisfied by certain undeniable conjectures, that at the very juncture of time, when all these outrages were commited in this Isle, the Indians were not so much guilty of one single mortal sin of Commission against the Spaniards, that might deserve from any Man revenge or require satisfaction. And as for those sins, the punishment whereof God hath reserved to himself, as the immoderate desire of Revenge, Hatred, Envy or inward rancor of Spirit, to which they might be transported against such Capital Enemies as the Spaniards were, I judge that very few of them can justly be accused of them; for their impetuosity and vigor I speak experimentally, was inferior to that of Children of ten or twelve years of age: and this I can assure you, that the Indians had ever a just cause of raising War against the Spaniards, and the Spaniards on the contrary never raised a just was against them, but what was more injurious and groundless then any undertaken by the worst of Tyrants. All which I affirm of all their other Transactions and passages in America.
The Warlike Engagements being over, and the Inhabitants all swept away, they divided among themselves the Young Men, Women, and Children reserved promiscuously for that purpose, one obtained thirty, another forty, to this Man one hundred were disposed, to the other two hundred, and the more one was in favor with the domineering Tyrant (which they styled Governor) the more he became Master of, upon this pretence, and with this Proviso, that he should see them instructed in the Catholick Religion, when as they themselves to whom they were committed to be taught, and the care of their Souls instructed them were, for the major part Idiots, Cruel, Avaritious, infected and stained with all sorts of Vices. And this was the great care they had of them, they sent the Males to the Mines to dig and bring away the Gold, which is an intollerable labor; but the Women they made use of to Manure and Till the ground, which is a toil most irksome even to Men of the strongest and most robust constitutions, allowing them no other food but Herbage, and such kind of unsubstantial nutriment, so that the Nursing Womens Milk was exsiccated and so dryed up, that the young Infants lately brought forth, all perished, and females being separated from and debarred cohabitation with Men, there was no Prolification or raising up issue among them. The Men died in Mines, hunger starved and oppressed with labor, and the Women perished in the Fields, harrassed and broken with the like Evils and Calamities: Thus an infinite number of Inhabitants that formerly peopled this Island were exterminated and dwindled away to nothing by such Consumptions. They were compelled to carry burthens of eighty or one hundred pound weight, and that an hundred or two hundred miles compleat: and the Spaniards were born by them on the Shoulders in a pensil Vehicle or Carriage, or kind of Beds made of Net-work by the Indians; for in Truth they made use of them as Beasts to carry the burthens and cumbersom baggage of their journeys, insomuch that it frequently happened, that the Shoulders and Backs of the Indians were deeply marked with their scourges and stripes, just as they used to serve a tired Jade, accustomed to burthens. And as to those slashes with whips, blows with staves, cuffs and boxes, maledictions and curses, with a Thousand of such kind of Torments they suffered during the fatigue of their laborious journeys it would require a long tract of time, and many Reams of Paper to describe them, and when all were done would only create Horror and Consternation in the Reader.
But here is is observable, that the desolation of these Isles and Provinces took beginning since the decease of the most Serene Queen Isabella, about the year 1504, for before that time very few of the Provinces situated in that Island were oppressed or spoiled with unjust Wars, or violated with general devastation as after they were, and most if not all these things were concealed and masked from the Queens knowledge (whom I hope God hath crowned with Eternal Glory) for she was transported with fervent and wonderful zeal, nay, almost Divine desires for the Salvation and preservation of these people, which things so exemplary as these we having seen with our eyes, and felt with our hands, cannot easily be forgotten.
Take this also for a general Rule, that the Spaniards upon what American Coasts soever they arrived, exercised the same Cruelties, Slaughters, Tyrannies and detestable Oppressions on the most innocent Indian Nation, and diverting themselves with delights in new sorts of Torment, did in time improve in Barbarism and Cruelty; wherewith the Omnipotent being incensed suffered them to fail by a more desperate and dangerous lapse into a reprobate state. Of the Isles of St. John and Jamaica. In the Year 1509, the Spaniards sailed to the Islands of St. John and Jamaica (resembling Gardensa and Beehives) with the same purpose and design they proposed to themselves in the Isle of Hispaniola, perpetrating innumerable Robberies and Villanies as before; whereunto they added unheard of Cruelties by Murdering, Burning, Roasting, and Exposing Men to be torn to pieces by Dogs; and Finally by afflicting and harassing them with un-exampled Oppressions and torments in the Mines, they spoiled and unpeopled this Contrey of these Innocents. These two Isles containing six hundred thousand at least, though at this day there are scarce two hundred men to be found in either of them, the remainder perishing without the knowledge of Christian Faith or Sacrament.
Of the Province of CARTHAGENA.
This Province is distant Fifty Miles from the Isle of St. Martha Westward, and situated on the Confines of the Country of Cenusia, from whence it extends One Hundred Miles to the Bay of Uraba, and contains a very long Tract of Land Southward. These Provinces from the Year 1498 to this present time were most barbarously us’d, and made desert by Murder and Slaughter, but that I may the sooner conclude this brief summary. I will not handle the particulars, to the end I may the better give an Account of the detestable Villanies that ruin’d other Regions.
Of the Pearl-Coast, PARIA, and TRINITY-ISLE.
The Spaniards made great Spoils and Havock from the Parian Coast to the Bay of Venecuola, exclusively, which is about Two Hundred Miles. It can hardly be exprest by Tongue or Pen how many, and how great Injuries and Injustices, the Inhabitants of this Sea-shore have endur’d from the year 1510, to this day. I will only relate Two or Three Piacular and Criminal Acts of the First Magnitude, capable of comprehending all other Enormities that deserve the sharpest Torments, Wit and Malice can invent, and so make way for a deserved Judgment upon them.
A Nameless Pirate of the Year 1510, accompanied with a parcel of Sixty or Seventy, arriv’d at Trinity Island, which exceeds Sicile, both in Amplitude and Fertility, and is contiguous to the Continent on that side where it toucheth upon Paria, whose Inhabitants, according to their Quality, are more addicted to Probity and Vertue, than the rest of the Indians; who immediately published an Edict, that all the Inhabitants should come and cohabit with them. The Indian Lords and Subjects gave them a Debonair and Brotherly Reception, serving them with wonderful Alacrity, furnishing them with dayly Provisions in so plentiful a manner, that they might have sufficed a more numerous Company; for it is the Mode among Indians of this New World, to supply the Spaniards very bountifuly with all manner of Necessaries. A short time after the Spaniards built a stately House, which was an Appartment for the Indians, that they might accomplish their praemeditated Designs, which was thus effected. When they were to thatch it, and had rais’d it two Mens height, they inclos’d several of them there, to expedite the Work, as they pretended, but in truth that they who were within, might not see those without; thus part of them surrounded the House with Sword in Hand that no one should stir out, and part of them entred it, sand bound the Indians, menacing them with Death, if they offered to move a Foot; and if any one endeavoured to escape, he was presently hackt in pieces; but some of them partly wounded, and partly unwounded getting away, with others who went not into the House, about One Hundred and Two Hundred, betook themselves to another House with Bows and Arrows; and when they were all there, the Spaniards secur’d the Doors, throwing in Fire at another place, and so they all perished. From hence they set Sail to the Island of St. John with near upon One Hundred and Eighty Slaves, whom they had bound, where they sold one half of them, and thence to Hispaniola, where they dispos’d of the rest. Now when I taxed this Captain with Wickedness and Treachery in the very Isle of St. John, he dismist me with this Answer; Forbear good Sir. I had this in commission from those who sent me hither, that I should surprize them by the spetious pretense of Peace, whom I could not sieze by open Force, and in truth this same Captain told me with his own Mouth, that in Trinity-Isle alone, he had met with a Father and Mother in Civil usage, which he uttered to his greater Confusion and the aggravation of his Sins. The Monks of our Order of St. Dominic on a certain time held a Consult about sending one of their Fraternity into this Island, that by their Preaching they might instruct them in the Christian Faith, and teach them the way to be sav’d, of which they were wholly Ignorant. And to this end they sent thither a Religious and Licentiate in Theologie, (or Doctor in Divinity, as we term it among us) a Man Famous for his Vertue and Holiness with a Laic his Associate, to visit the Country, converse with the Inhabitants, and find out the most convenient places for the Erection of Monasteries. As soon as they were arriv’d according to custom, they were entertain’d like Coelestial Messengers, with great Affection, Joy and Respect, as well as they could, for they were ignorant of their Tongue, and so made use of signs, for the present. It hapned that after the departure of that Vessel that brought these Religious Men, another came into the Port, whose Crew according to their Hellish Custom, fraudulently, and unknown to the Religious brought away a Prince of that Province as Captive, who was call’d Alphonsus, (for they are ambitious of a Christian Name,) and forthwith desire without farther Information, that he would Baptize him: But the said Lord Alphonsus was deceitfully overperswaded to go on board of them with his Wife and about Seventeen more, pretending that they would give hime a Collation; which the Prince and they did, for he was confident, that the Religious would by no means suffer himo be abus’d, for he had no so much Confidence in the Spaniards; but as soon as they were upon Deck, the perfidious Rogues, set Sail for Hispaniola, where they were sold as Slaves. The whole Country being extreamly discompos’d, and understanding that their Prince and Princess were violently carried away, addressed themselves to these Religioso’s, who were in great danger of losing their Lives: But they being made to understand this unjust Action, were extraordinarily afflicted, and ’tis probable would have suffered Death, rather than permit the Indians to be so injuriously dealt with, which might prove an Obstruction to their receiving of, and believing in God’s Word. Yet the Indians were sedated by the promises of the Religious; for they told them, they would send Letters by the first Ship that was bound for Hispaniola, whereby they would procure the Restitution and Return of their Lord and his Retinue. It pleased God to send a Ship thither forthwith, to the greater confirming of the Governours Damnation, where in the Letters they sent to the Religious of Hispaniola, Letters containing repeated Exclamations and Protestations, and protest against such Actions, but those that received them denyed them Justice, for that they were partakers of that Prey, made of those Indians so injustly and impiously captivated. But when the Religious, who had engag’d to the Inhabitants, that their Lord Alphonsus should be restor’d within Four Moneths, and found that neither in Four, nor Eight Moneths he was return’d, they prepar’d themselves for Death, and to deliver up their Life to Christ, to whom they had offer’d it before their departure from Spain: Thus the Innocent Indians were revenged on the Innocent Priests; for they were of Opinion, that the Religious had a hand in the Plot, partly, because they found their Promises that their Lord should return within Four Moneths, ineffectual, and partly because the Inhabitants made no difference between a Religious Frier and a Spanish Rogue. At another time it fell out likewise, through the Rampant Tyrrany and Cruel Deeds of evilminded Christians, that the Indians put to Death two Dominican Friers, of which I am a faithful Witness, escaping my self, not without a very great Miracle, which Transaction I resolve silently to pass over, lest I should terrifie the Reader with the Horror of the Fact.
In these Provinces, there was a City seated on the Bay of Codera, whose Lord was call’d Higueroto, a Name, either proper to Persons or common to the Rulers of that Place. A Cacic of such signal Clemency, and his Subjects of such noted Vertue, that the Spaniards who came thither, were extraordinarily welcom, furnished with Provisions, enjoying Peace and Comfort, and no Refreshment wanting: But a perfidious Wretch got many of them on board, and sold them to the Islanders of St. John. At the same time I landed upon that Island, where I obtained a sight of this Tyrant, and heard the Relation of his Actions. He utterly destroy’d that Land, which the rest of the Spaniards took very unkindly at his Hands, who frequently playd the Pirate, and rob’d on that shore, detesting it as a wicked thing, because they had lost that place, where they use to be treated with as great Hospitality and Freedom, as if they had been under their own Roof: Nay they transported from this place, among them, to the Isles of Hispaniola and St. John Two Millions of Men and upward, and made the Coast a Desert.
It is most certainly true, that they never ship off a Vessel freighted with Indians, but they pay a third part as Tribute to the Sea, besides those who are slaughter’d, when found in their own Houses. Now the Soarce and Original of all this is the ends they have propos’d to themselves. For there is a necessity of taking with them a great number of Indians, that they may gain a great sum of Mony by their Sale, now the Ships are very slenderly furnished with Provisions and Water in small Quantity, to satisfie few, left the Tyrants, who are term’d Owners or Proprietors of Ships should be at too great expence in Victualling their Vessels, nay they scarce carry Food enough with them to maintain the Spaniards that manage the Vessel, which is the reason so many Indians dye with Hunger and Thirst, and of necessity they must be thrown over-board: Nay one of them told me this for a Truth, that there being such a Multitude of Men thus destroy’d, a Ship may sail from the Isle of Lucaya to Hispaniola, which is a Voyage of Twenty Leagues and upward, without Chart or Compass, by the sole Direction or Observation of dead fluctuating Carkasses.
But afterward, when arriv’d, and driven up into the Isle whither they are brought to be sold, there is no Person that is in some small measure compassionate, but would be extreamly mov’d and discompos’d at the sight; viz. to spie old Men and Women, together with Naked Children half starv’d. Then they separate Parents from Children, Wives from their Husbands, about Ten or Twenty in a Company, and cast lots for them, that the Detestable Owners of the Ships may have their share; who prepare Two or Three Ships, and equip them as a Fleet of Pirates, going ashore ravaging and forcing Men out of their Houses, and then robbing them: But when the lot of any one of them falls upon a parcel, that hath an aged or diseased Man; the Tyrant, whose Allotment he is, usually bursts out, as followeth. Let this old Fellow be Damm’d, why do you bestow him upon me; must I, think you; be at the charge of his Burial? And this sickly Wretch, how comes he to be one of my alloted portion must I take care for his cure? Not I. Hence you may guess what estimate and value the Spaniards put upon Indians, and whether they practise and fulful that Divine and Heavenly precept injoyning mutual Love and Society.
There can be nothing more cruel and detestable then the Tyrannical usage of the Spaniards towards the Indians in their Pearl-Fishing; for the Torments undergone in the unnatural Exenteration and tearing out with Paracidal hands the richer bowels of our common Mother, or the inward cruciating racks of the most profligate, Heaven daring Desperado can admit of no comparison with these, although the extracting or digging for Gold is one of the sharpest subterranean Drudgeries, they plunge them down four or five ells deep under Water, where swimming about without breathing, they eradicate and pull up Oisters, wherein the Pearls are engendred. Sometimes they rise up to the superfities of the Water with Nets full of Oisters for respiration and Air, but if these miserable Creatures stay but a little more then is Ordinary to rest themselves the Hangman is immediately upon them in a Canow or small Boat, who beating them with many stripes drag them by the hair of the head under Water, that they may drudge again at their expilcation or Pearl Fishing. Their Food is Fish, and the same which contains the Pearls and Cassabus made of Roots with a few Mahids, the Bread of that Countrey; in the former there is little or no nutriment or substance, and the other is not made without great trouble, nor for all this have they a sufficient allowance thereof to support nature. Their Lodging or Bed is the Earth confined to a pair of Stocks, for fear that they should run away: And it frequently happens that they are drown’d with the toil of this kind of Fishing and never more seen, for the Tuberoms and Maroxi (certain Marine Monsters that devour a complete proportioned Man wholly at once) prey upon them under Water. You must consider withall, that it is impossible for the strongest constitution to continue long under Water without breathing, and they ordinarily dye through the extream rigor of the Cold, spitting Blood which is occasioned by the too great compression of the Breast, procreated by a continued holding breath under Water, for by too much cold a profluvium of blood follows. Their hair naturally black is changed into a combust, burnt or Sun-colour like that of the Sea Wolves, their shoulders and backs covered, or overspread with a saltish humor that they appear rather like Monsters in humane shape then Men.
They have destroy’d all the Lucayans by this intolerable or rather Diabolical exercise, for the accustomary emolument or gain of lucre, and by this means gain’d the value of fifty, sometime one hundred Crowns of every individual Indian. They sell them (though it is prohibited) publickly; for the Lucayans were excellent Swimmers, and several perished in this Isle that came from other Provinces.
Of the River Yuya Pari.
This River washeth the Province arising from its head or fountain in another Region, Two Hundred miles off and better, By this a wretched Tyrant entred it and laid waste the Land for the space of many miles, and murder’d abundance of them by Fire and Sword, &c. At length he died violently, and all his Forces moldred away of themselves, many succeeded him in his iniquity and cruelty and so dayly destroy them, sending to Hell the Souls redeemed by the blood of the Son of God.
I desire therefore that the Readers who have or shall peruse these passages, would please seriously to consider whether or no, such Barbarous, Cruel and Inhumane Acts as these do not transcend and exceed all the impiety and tyrrany, which can enter into the thoughts or imagination of Man, and whether these Spaniards deserve not the name of Devils. For which of these two things is more eligible or desirable whether the Indians should be delivered up to the Devils themselves to be tormented or the Spaniards? That is still a question.
Nor can I here omit one piece of Villany, (whether it ought to be postpon’d or come behind the cruelty of Brute Animals, that I leave to decision). The Spaniards who are conversant among the Indians bred up curst Curs, who are so well instructed and taught that they at first sight, fly upon the Inhabitants tearing them limb by limb, and so presently devour them. Now let all persons whether Christians or not consider, if ever such a thing as this reacht the ears of any Man, they carry these Dogs with them as Companions where ever they go, and kill the fettered Indians in multitudes like Hogs for their Food; thus sharing with them in the Butchery. Nay they frequently call one to the other, saying, lend me the fourth part of one of your Slaves to feed my Dogs, and when I kill one, I will repay you, as if they had only borrowed a quarter of a Hog or Sheep. Others, when they go a Hunting early in the morning, upon their return, if you ask them what sport had you to day at the Game? They will answer, enough, enough, for my Dogs have killed and worried 15 or 20 Indian Vassals. Now all these things are plainly prov’d upon those Inquisitions and Examinations made by one Tyrant against another. What I beseech you, can be more horrid or barbarous?
But I will desist from Writing any longer at this time, till some Messenger brings an account of greater and blacker Impieties (if greater can be committed) or else till we come to behold them again, as we have done for the space of forty two years with our own Eyes. I will only make this small addition to what I have said that the Spaniards, from the beginning of their first entrance upon America to this present day, were no more sollicitous of promoting the Preaching of the Gospel of Christ to these Nations, then if they had been Dogs or Beasts, but which is worst of all, they expressly prohibited their addresses to the Religious, laying many heavy Impositions upon them, dayly afflicting and persecuting them, that they might not have so much time and leasure at their own disposal, as to attend their Preaching and Divine Service; for they lookt upon that to be an impediment to their getting Gold, and raking up riches which their Avarice stimulated them so boundlessly to prosecute. Nor do they understand any more of a God, whether he be made of Wood, Brass or Clay, then they did above an hundred years ago, New Spain only exempted, which is a small part of America, and was visited and instructed by the Religious. Thus they did formely and still do perish without true Faith, or the knowledge and benefit of our Religious Sacraments.
I Frier Bartholomeas de las Casas or Casaus of the Order of St. Dominick, who through the mercy of God am Arriv’d at the Spanish Court, Cordially wishing the expulsion of Hell or these Hellish Acts out of the Indies; fearing least those Souls redeemed by the pretious Blood of Christ, should perish eternally, but heartily desiring that they may acknowledge their Creator and be saved; as also for the care and compassion that I ever had for my Native Countrey Castile, dreading least God should destroy it for the many sins committed by the Natives her Children, against Faith, Honour and their Neighbours: I have at length upon the request of some Persons of great Quality in this Court, who are fervently zealous of the Honour of God, and moved with pitty at the Calamities and Afflictions of their Neighbours (though I long since proposed it within my self, and resolved to accomplish it, but could not, being distracted with the avocations of multiplicity of constant Business and Employment, have leisure to effect it) I say I have at length finished this Treatise and Summary at Valencia, Decemb. 8. An. Dom. 1542, when they were arrived at the Height, and utmost Degree of executing Violences, Oppressions, Tyrrany, Desolations, Torments, and Calamities in all the aforesaid Regions, Inhabited by the Spaniards (though they are more Cruel in some places than other) yet Mexico with its Confines were more favourably treated than the rest of the Provinces.
And indeed no Man durst openly and publickly do any injury to the Inhabitants; for there some Justice, (which is no where else in India) though very little is done and practiced; yet they are grievously opprest with intolerable Taxes. But I do really believe, and am fully perswaded that our Sovereign Lord Charles the Fifth, Emperour and King of Spain, our Lord and Prince, who begins to be sensible of the Wickedness and Treacheries, which have been, and still are committed against this Miserable Nation, and distressed Countries contrary to the Will and Pleasure of God, as well as His Majesties that he will in time, (for hitherto the Truth hath been concealed and kept from his Knowledge, with as great Craft, as Fraud and Malice) totally extirpate and root up all these Evils and Mischiefs, and apply such proper Medicines as may purge the Morbifick and peccant Humours in the Body Politick of this New World, committed to his Care and Government as a Lover and Promoter of Peace and Tranquility. God preserve and bless him with Renown and a happy Life in his Imperial State, and prosper him in all his Attempts, that he may remedy the Distempers of the Christian Church, and Crown him at last with Eternal Felicity, Amen.
After I had published this Treatise, certain Laws and Constitutions, enacted by his Majesty then at Baraclona in the Month of December, An. Dom. 1542, promulgated and published the Year ensuing in the City of Madera, whereby it is provided, (as the present Necessities requir’d) that a period be put to such great Enormities and Sins, as were committed against God and our Neighbours, and tended to the utter Ruine and Perdition of this New World. These Laws were published by his Majesties Order, several Persons of highest Authority, Councellors, Learned, and Conscientious Men, being assembled together for that purpose, and many Debates made at Valedolid about this weighty Affair, at length by the unanimous Consent and Advice of all those who had committed their Opinions to Writing, they were made publick who traced more closely therein the Laws of Christ and Christianity, and were judged Persons pure, free from and innocent of that stain and blemish of depriving the Indians of their Treasures by Theft and Rapine, which Riches had contaminated and sullied the Hands, but much more the Souls of those who were enslav’d by those heaps of Wealth and Covetousness, now this obstinate and hot pursuit after Wealth was the Original of all those Evils committed without the least Remorse or Check of Conscience.
These Laws being thus promulgated, the Courtiers who promoted these Tyrants, took care that several Copies should be transcribed, (though they were extremely afflicted to see, that there was no farther hopes or means to promote the former Depredations and Extortions by the Tyranny aforesaid) and sent them to several Indian Provinces. They, who took upon them the Trouble and Care of Extirpating, and Oppressing by different ways of Cruelty, as they never observed any Method or Order, but behav’d themselves most inordinately and irregularly, having perused these Diplomata or Constitutions, before the new made Judges, appointed to put them in Execution, could Arrive or be Landed, they by the assistance of those (as ’tis credibly rumour’d, nor is it repugnant to truth) who hitherto favour’d their Criminal and Violent Actions, knowing well that these Laws and Proclamations must necessarily take effect, began to grow mutinous, and rebel, and when the Judges were Landed, who were to Execute these Mandates, laying aside all manner of Love and Fear of God, were so audacious as to contemn and set at nought all the Reverence and Obedience due to their King, and so became Traytors, demeaning themselves like Blood-Thirsty Tyrants, destitute and void of all Humanity.
More particularly this appear’d in the Perusian Kingdoms, where An. Dom. 1542, they acted such Horrid and Stupendous Enormities, that the like were never known or heard in America, or throughout the whole World before that time: Nor were they only practised upon the Indians, who were mostly destroy’d, but upon themselves also, God permitting them by his just Judgement to be their own Executioners, and sheath their Swords in one anothers Bowels. In like manner the other parts of this New World being moved by the Example of these Rebels, refused to yield Obedience to those Laws. The rest pretending to petition his Majesty turn Rebellious themselves; for they would not voluntarily resign those Estates, Goods and Chattels they have already usurped, nor willingly manumit those Indians, who were doomed to be their Slaves, during Life; and where they restrain’d the Murdering Sword from doing Execution, they opprest them gradually with personal Vassalage, injust and intolerable Burthens; which his Majesty could not possibly hitherto avert or hinder, because they are all universally, some publickly and openly, others clancularly and secretly, so naturally addicted to Rob, Thieve and Steal; and thus under pretext of serving the King, they dishonour God, and defraud his Imperial Majesty.
Here the Author having finished the matter of Fact in this Compendious History, for Confirmation of what he has here written, quotes a tedious and imperfect Epistle (as he styles it) beginning and ending anonymous withal, containing the Cruelties committed by the Spaniards, the same in effect as our Author has prementioned, now in regard that I judge such reiterated Cruelties and repeated Barbarisms are Offensive to the Reader, he having sailed already too long, and too far in an Ocean of Innocent Indian blood: I have omitted all but Two or Three Stories not taken notice of by the Author. One of the Tyrants, (who followed the steps of John Ampudia, a notorious Villain) gave way to a grat Slaughter of Sheep the chief Food and Support of the Spaniards as well as Indians, permitting them to kill Two or Three Hundred at a time, only for their Brains, Fat, or Suet, whose Flesh was then altogether useless, and not fit to be eaten; but many Indians, the Spaniards Friends and Confederates followed them, desiring they might have the hearts to feed upon, whereupon they butchered a great many of them, for this only Reason, because they would not eat the other parts of the Body. Two of their gang in the Province of Peru kild Twenty Five Sheep, who were sold among the Spaniards for Twenty Five Crowns, merely to get the fat and brains out of them: Thus the frequent and extraordinary Slaughter of their Sheep above a Hundred Thousand Head of Cattel were destroy’d. And upon this Account the Region was reduced to great penury and want, and at length perished with Hunger. Nay the Province of Quito, which abounded with Corn beyond Expression, by such proceedings as these, was brought to that Extremity that a Sextarie or small Measure or Wheat was sold for Ten Crowns, and a Sheep at as dear a rate.
This Captain taking leave of Quito was followed by a poor Indianess with loud Cries and Clamours, begging and beseeching him not to carry away her Husband; for she had the charge of Three Children, and could not possibly supply them with Victuals, but they must inevitably dye with hunger, and though the Captain repulsed her with an angry brow at the first; yet she approacht him a second time with repeated Cries, saying, that her Children must perish for want of Food; but finding the Captain inexorable and altogether unmov’d with her Complaints, and her Husband not restor’d, through a piquant necessity wedded to despair; she cut off the Heads of her Children with sharp Stones, and so dispatcht them into the other World.
Then he proceeded farther to another City, and sent some Spaniards that very Night, to take the Indians of the City of Tulilicui, who next day brought with them above a Hundred Persons; some of which (whom he lookt upon to be able to carry burthens) he reserved for his own and his Soldiers service, and other were chain’d, and perished in their Fetters: but the little Infants he gave to the Casic of Tulilicui, abovesaid to be eaten up and devoured, whose skins are stuft with Ashes and hung up in his House to be seen at this very day. And in the close of this Letter he shuts up all with these words, ’tis here very remarkable and never to be forgotten, that this Tyrant (being not ignorant of the Mischiefs and Enormities executed by him) boastingly said of himself, They who shall travel in these Countreys Fifty years hence, and hear the things related of me, will have cause to say or declare, that never such a Tyrant as I am marched through these Regions, and committed the like Enormities.
Now not to quit the Stage without one Comical Scene or Action whereon such Cruelties have been lively personated, give me leave to acquaint you with a Comical piece of Grammatical Learning in a Reverend Religioso of these parts, sent thither to convert the West-Indies Pagans, which the Author mentions among his Reasons and Replications, and all these I pass by as immaterial to our purpose, many of them being repeated in the Narrative before.
The weight and burthen of initiating the Indians into the Christian Faith lay solely on the Spaniards at first; and therefore Joannes Colmenero in Santa Martha, a Fantastic, Ignorant, and Foppish Fellow, was under Examination before us (and he had one of the most spatious Cities committed to his Charge as well as the Care and Cure of the Souls of the Inhabitants) whether he understood how to fortifie himself with the sign of the Cross against the Wicked and Impious, and being interrogated what he taught, and how he instructed the Indians, whose Souls were intrusted to his Care and Conduct; he return’d this Answer, That if he damn’d them to the Devil and Furies of Hell, it was sufficient to retrieve them, if he pronounced these Words, Per Signin Sanctin Cruces. A Fellow fitter to be a Hogherd than a Shepherd of Souls.
This Deep, Bloody American Tragedy is now concluded, and my Pen choakt up with Indian Blood and Gore. I have no more to say, but pronounce the Epilogue made by the Author, and leave the Reader to judge whether it deserves a Plaudite.
The Spaniards first set Sail to America, not for the Honour of God, or as Persons moved and merited thereunto by servent Zeal to the True Faith, nor to promote the Salvation of their Neighbours, nor to serve the King, as they falsely boast and pretend to do, but in truth, only stimulated and goaded on by insatiable Avarice and Ambition, that they might for ever Domineer, Command, and Tyrannize over the West- Indians, whose Kingdoms they hoped to divide and distribute among themselves. Which to deal candidly in no more or less intentionally, than by all these indirect wayes to disappoint and expel the Kings of Castile out of those Dominions and Territories, that they themselves having usurped the Supreme and Regal Empire, might first challenge it as their Right, and then possess and enjoy it.
Prologue of Bartolome De Las Casas (1484 – 1566) is produced by Timothy Robbins and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolomé de las Casas by Project Gutenberg is released in the public domain