Item of the Day: Las Casas’s Account of Voyages and Discoveries (1699)

Full Title:

An Account of the First Voyages and Discoveries Made by the Spaniards in America. Containing the most Exact Relation hitherto publish’d, of their unparallel’d Cruelties on the Indians, in the destruction of above Forty Millions of People. With the Propositions offer’d to the King of Spain, to prevent the further Ruin of the West-Indies. By Don Bartholomew de las Casas, Bishop of Chiapa, who was an Eye-witness of their Cruelties. Illustrated with Cuts. To which is added, The Art of Travelling, shewing how a Man may dispose his Travels to the best advantage.

Written by Bartolome de las Casas. Fourth English edition, but a separate new translation. Printed in London by J. Darby for D. Brown at the Black Swan and Bible without Temple-Bar, J. Harris at the Harrow in Little Britain, and Andr. Bell at the Cross-keys and Bible in Cornhil, 1699.From the Preface:

AMerica was first discover’d by Christopher Columbus a Genoese in the year 1492, in the Name of Ferdinando King of Arragon, but takes its Name from Americus Vespucius a Florentine, who discover’d the Country of Brezil five years after, by order of Emanuel King of Portugal.

The Europeans had no sooner enter’d on this vast Continent, and the Islands about it, but the Natives shew’d ’em all imaginable Kindness and Respect, and were ready to worship ’em as Gods; but these soon took care to convince ’em of their Error, and to deliver’em from the danger of falling into this sort of Idolatry, by treating ’em with all manner of Cruelties, and tormenting ’em like so many Devils: so that these barbarous People receiv’d as great a turn in their thoughts concerning the Spaniards, as the Barbarians of the Island of Melita did in respect of St. Paul; for as these believ’d him to be a God whom they had just before taken for a Murderer, so the other really found them to be Murderers, who they had a little before esteem’d as so many Gods.

The following Relation of the Destruction of many Millions of Indians by all the inhuman methods the Spaniards could invent, would appear incredible, were not the truth of it confes’d, and attested by the Spaniards themselves, and among others, especially by Don Bartholomew de las Casas Bishop of Chiapa, who made large Complaints of these Cruelties to the King of Spain, and to the Royal Council for the Indies, with a design to put a stop to ’em if possible. That he is a Person of irreproachable Credit in this case, will appear by the following account, wherein he challenges all the World to disprove the truth of the matters of Fact he asserts, while he stood the Test of a Court who could easily have detected him, if he had attempted to impose on ’em by a malicious Falshood.

From “Of the new Kingdom of Grenada,” pp. 93-95

When the Indians were first subjugated to the Tyranny of the Spaniards, the chief Captain, who was General of the rest, took possession of the King’s Person as well as of the Country, and kept him Prisoner for five or six Months, without any reason in the World, demanding Gold and Emeralds of him continually. This King, who name was Bogata, in the midst of his fears, promis’d the Spanish General to deliver up all the Gold-plate he had, hoping by this means to get out of the hands of this Tyrant: he sent a great many Indians to his House to fetch these precious Goods; and at the several turns they made he gave the Spaniard a great quantity of Gold and Emeralds; who was not content with this, but threaten’d to kill him. Accordingly he commanded this unfortunate King to be brought before him to receive his Sentence. This is the Treatment these Tyrants give the most illustrious Person of the new World: This haughty General pronounc’d a fatal Sentence against this Prince, by which he was condemn’d to most horrible Torments if he did not immediately send for all the Gold he had: Accordingly this Tyrant’s Executioners laid hold of the King, stretch’d him out at length upon the ground naked, and pour’d boiling Rosin upon his Belly; besides this, they put his feet into a Fire, having fasten’d his Neck to a Stake fix’d in the ground with two of these Hangmen held him by the Arms. The cruel General came from time to time to look upon him while this Torture continued, threatning to take away his Life if he did not speedily deliver up his Gold. God seem’d by his Providence to signify his Displeasure against these Cruelties, in suffering the City where they were committed to be consum’d with Fire in a moment. The rest of the Spaniards took pattern by their General, and fill’d up his steps: And having no other trade than that of tormenting the Indians, and cutting ’em in pieces, they practised the same Villanies in divers parts of this Kingdom: They inflicted terrible Punishments on several Caciques, and all their Subjects, who too imprudently depended on the good words and promises the Spaniards made ’em: And this after they had given ’em incredible Sums of Gold, and many Emeralds. These Presents, tho so valuable, could not soften their obdurate Hearts, and render ’em civil to their Benefactors. The Tortures to which they put the Indians were to make ’em bring yet more Gold and precious Stones; and the same motive has induc’d ’em to burn all the great Lords of the Country with a slow fire. A great multitude of Indians one day came to meet the Spaniards with a great deal of humility and simplicity (as their manner is) to offer ’em their service, supposing themselves safe; but while they were sleeping without any apprehension of danger, being faint and weary, a Spanish Captain commanded his men to massacre ’em all, which was accordingly executed. This was done to strike the whole Country with terror and consternation, and to fright the Inhabitants out of their Gold by the horror of so tragical a Spectacle. The General made his Souldiers swear how many Caciques and Indians each of ’em had kill’d, and how many they had reserv’d alive for their Slaves; these he immediately order’d ’em to bring out into the most publick place of their City, and made ’em there cut off the heads of 4 or 500 of these poor Creatures. Divers Witnesses have depos’d that this Captain order’d the hands and noses of many Indians both Men and Women to be cute off, and exercis’d other unheard of Cruelties among ’em. He sent into Bogata’s Province to enquire who had succeeded that Prince, whom he had so inhumanly put to death: The Men he sent to make this Discovery took as many Indians as they could; such of ’em as could not tell the name of their late Prince’s successor, were barbarously abus’d, some of ’em had their Arms and Legs cut off; others were expos’d to the fury of greedy Dogs, and soon torn in pieces by ’em.

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Filed under 1690's, American Indians, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt, Slavery, Travel

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