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Biography of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas

Updated on December 20, 2012

A picture of slavery that is seldom seen


Did Las Casas work increase the demand for African slaves?

Who was Bartolome de Las Casas

Most historians believe that Bartolome de Las Casas was born in 1484, though some believe that he was born in 1474. All agree, that he died in 1566.

He was known as a defender of the rights of the native people living in the Americas during the time of the colonization of the, so called, New World. At the risk of losing his own life he stood up and spoke out for the rights of natives, attempting to protect them against the horrors of brutal conquest and against the horrors that they suffered in the process of conquest.

Bartolome de Las Casas crossed paths with Columbus at a very young age

It appears the Las Casas family knew Columbus well and actually had a working relationship with him. Bartolome was very young, nine years old or so, when Columbus returned from the New World, after his first voyage. This was the time when he first saw his Indians, those that Columbus brought back with him. It is interesting that Bartolome's father and uncle actually returned with Columbus, on his second voyage, back to the New World. The Las Casas family became rich with the wealth that resulted from the holdings that they had in the New World. The relationship between Columbus's family and the las Casas family was very strong and there were times that the Las Casas family communicated with the pope on behalf of the Columbus family to be sure that their right were protected. This trusting relationship was so great the Columbus allowed Bartolome to edit his travel journals.

A critical moment in time when Bartolome decided to become a priest

A calling to the priesthood is a major event in the life of any catholic, and in the case of Bartolome, this calling was no exception. This call to the priesthood would set the course of his life and establish for him a "worldview" that would cause great conflicts in his life.

Las Casas was able to attend the very best colleges because his family had holdings in the new world that helped his family to become wealthy. After attending two of the finest universities in his home country, he traveled to the New World to see his family's holdings. He was not happy with the way the natives were being mistreated.

He spent the rest of his life fighting fiercely for the rights of the natives. Much of his work did not change the way the business people were treating the natives in the Spanish Colonial Era, but it did result in some protection for the natives.

Critics of Bartoleme do not like the way he was willing to fight fiercely for the rights of natives but, pretty much, ignored the abuse that black African slaves received at the hands of slave holders.

Bartoleme's story is a colorful one, however, and his work did have an impact of how life in the New World evolved over time, as life relates to the natives. He has earned his rightful place in history for the effort that he put into decreasing human suffering within the context of natives living the the New World.


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