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Las Casas, Bartolome de 1474-1566

Missionary; born in Seville, Spain, in 1474. His father was a companion of Columbus in his two earlier voyages, and in the seeond one he took this son, then a student [325] at Salamanca, with him. Bartolome accompanied Columbus on his third and fourth voyages, and, on his return, entered the order of the Dominicans, that he might become a missionary among the natives of the new-found islands of the West. He went to Santo Domingo, and was there ordained a priest, in 1510, and gave the name to the island in compliment to his order. Las Casas was chaplain to Velasquez when the latter conquered Cuba, and did much to alleviate the sufferings of the conquered natives. In 1515 he went to Spain to seek redress for them, and found a sympathizer in Cardinal Ximenes, who became regent of Spain the following year, and sent out three monks to correct abuses. Their services were not satisfactory, and, returning to Spain, Las Casas was appointed “Universal Protector of the Indies.” Seeing the few negroes who were in Santo Domingo and Cuba growing robust while laboring under the hot sun, he proposed the introduction of negro slaves to relieve the more effeminate natives. This benevolent proposition gave rise to a lucrative traffic, and a perversion of the purpose of Las Casas, and he obtained from Charles V. a grant of a large domain on the coast of Venezuela, for the purpose of collecting a colony under his own guidance. This project failed, and in 1527 he proceeded to labor as a missionary among the Indians in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. To reward him for his benevolent labors, his King appointed him bishop of Cuzco, a rich see; he declined it, but accepted that of Chiapa, in Mexico. The Spaniards were offended by his zeal in behalf of the Indians, and an officer of the Spanish Court undertook to justify the conduct of the Spaniards towards the natives. Las Casas, in selfdefence, wrote a work upon the natives, which contained many particulars of the cruelties of the Spanish colonists. It was translated into several European languages, and increased the hostilities of the colonists and offended the Church. He returned to Spain in 1551, after about fifty years of benevolent missionary labor, and passed the remainder of his days in a convent at Valladolid. There he completed his General history of the Indies, published in 1875, and several other works, in Latin and Spanish. He died in Madrid, in July, 1566.

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