History Timeline 1500s

Above: Painting, entitled Discovery of the Mississippi, by William H. Powell, 1847, is located in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Right: Giovanni de Verrazzano, 1889, engraving by F. Allcarini, Tocchi, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Giovanni da Verrazzano

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1500s


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  • Timeline

  • Detail - 1514

    1514-1515 - Bartolomé de las Casas, a chaplain advocates for better treatment of the native population in the colonies, giving up his Indian slaves, and championing the cause in writings and meetings with Spanish leaders.

    Bishop of Chiapas

    Bartolomé de las Casas had been a boy watching the parade of Columbus upon his triumphal return from his first voyage to Sevilla, Spain on March 31, 1493. His family had prospered from trade and slavery of Amerindians in the Caribbean, at first through his father's and uncle's return on the second voyage of Columbus, and later when both Bartolome and his father emigrated permanently on April 15, 1502 to the island of Hispaniola (today's Dominican Republic and Haiti). He was eighteen years old when he arrived in Santo Domingo, became an owner of Taino slaves and participated in the raiding of their homes and villages, although he deplored the brutality engaged in by others.

    In 1510, now twenty-six years of age, Bartolomé de las Casas was ordained a priest, the first in the Americas. He traveled back and forth to Spain, participated in religious and political maneuvers, including the recall of Dominican friars who had denied him confession due to his slave holding ways. There was a division in his duties as both a priest and merchant with political overtones. Between 1510 and 1514, he would engage in the conquest of Cuba and other Caribbean islands (Bayamo, Camaguey, and Hatuey), which included brutal treatment of the natives. He would be awarded a large estate, encomienda, in Cuba, including its slaves and gold.

    During preparation for a sermon in 1514, las Casas read a passage condemning aquisition of wealth from wrongful gain as unacceptable. He changed his mind; preached to other landowners that their treatment of the Taino and other native populations was wrong. In November of 1515, he arrived back in Seville to employ King Ferdinand to change the policy of Spain toward treatment of the Amerindians in the encomienda system. On December 24, 1515, Bartolome de las Cases had his first meeting with the King, who seemed sympathetic, and planned a second discussion. The King passed before that meeting occurred.

    Without this supposed advocate, de las Casas proposed his solutions in writing, the "Memorial de Remedios para las Indias," written in 1516.

    Opening - "The remedies that seem necessary in order that the evil and harm that exists in the Indies cease, and that God and our Lord the Prince may draw greater benefits than hitherto, and that the republic may be better preserved and consoled."

    Proposals - Moratorium on use of Indian labor in the Caribbean until rules and regulations were established.

    Slavery would be changed to ownership of man-hours instead of a person. Native communities that were self-governing would provide this service.

    Settlement of one thousand natives would be established as satellites (suburbs) of existing towns or mines.

    These recommendations would not be attained, although over the next thirty years, de las Casas would continue the work for improvement in the condition of the native population upon his appointment as the Protector of the Indians (1516) and Bishop of Chiapas (1544), and his participation in the Vallodolid Debate on the topic, which did not occur until 1550.

    What is Encomienda?

    It was a labor system devised by the monarchy, plus political and merchant class of Spain upon conquest. The conquerors retained the right to use the native population that was conquered as subjects of the Spanish monarch. First used against Muslim populations conquered under Spanish authority, it was used extensively in Spanish colonization of the New World.

    The economienda was granted to a specific person, who could then subjugate the indigenous population as a mechanism to gain wealth through various activities; i.e. mining, agriculture, etc. It became a form of communal slavery, somewhat run by the indigenous community by a forced system in exchange for protection from other tribes, as well as the teaching of Christianity and Spanish.

    The formal encomienda system began with the appointed Royal Governor after Christopher Columbus was ousted, Fray Nicolas de Ovando, and the formal granting of encomiendas in 1503. It continued until 1542.

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    What the Bishop of Chiapas Would Later Write

    From the Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1544/1552) - "In this Isle (Hispaniola), 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."

    Image above: Bishop of Chiapas, Bartolomé de Las Casas, 16th Century, Unknown Painter. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons via the General Archives of the Indies. Photo below: Depiction of a Taino Village, 2005, Michael Zalewski. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Source info: Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies, Bartolome de las Cases, 1544/1552, Project Gutenberg; Wikipedia; Bartolomé de las Casas: A Brief Outline of His Life and Labor," David Orique, lascasas.org.

    Taino Village

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