A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies[2] (Spanish: Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias) is an account written by the Spanish Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas in 1542 (published in 1552) about the mistreatment of and atrocities committed against the indigenous peoples of the Americas in colonial times and sent to then Prince Philip II of Spain.[1]

A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies
Bartolomé de las Casas (1552) Brevisima relación de la destrucción de las Indias.png
Cover of the Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias
AuthorBartolomé de las Casas
Original titleLa Brevísima relación
CountrySpanish Empire
Publication date


Bartolomé de las Casas explains in the prologue that his fifty years of experience in Spanish colonies in the Indies granted him both moral legitimacy and accountability for writing this account.[3] In 1516, Las Casas was granted the title of Protector of the Indians by Cardinal Cisneros after he submitted a report on their severe demographic decline due to harsh labor and mistreatment by colonial officials.[4] During the time when Las Casas served as the Protector of the Indians, several clerics from the Order of Saint Jerome attempted to reform certain systems which used the native populace as laborers. However, Las Casas found their attempts insufficient to protect the welfare of the Indians, and returned to Spain to appeal to the Spanish monarch in 1517.[5]

From 1517 to 1540, Las Casas traveled back and forth between Spain and Spanish colonies in Latin America numerous times, struggling to find a common ground between Spanish authorities and his own humanitarian aims to improve the conditions of Indian subjects in Spanish dominions.[3] One of many purposes of his travels was to continue to protest Spanish colonial mistreatment of Indians.

In 1542, after Las Casas first wrote the chronicle later known as A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, during the hearings ordered by Charles I of Spain to resolve issues of forceful conversion and colonial exploitation of Indians, Las Casas presented the account before the members of the Council of the Indies as proof of atrocities committed upon Indians by colonial authorities.[5]

Las Casas was one of the first advocates for the indigenous people.[6] The book was published when De Las Casas was sixty-seven years old.[6] A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies is one of many books by De Las Casas that shows that he was highly persuasive and respected by the Spanish court.[7] A Short Account was one of the most influential sources used to attempt to improve colonial conditions for the indigenous people.[6] The book was also one of the first texts that revealed the devastation of Old World diseases in the New World.[7]

The book has been critiqued for centuries for its reliability about the treatment of the indigenous people and the number of indigenous people who died as a result of the mistreatment by the Spanish conquistadors.[6] It was written to persuade the Spanish king to act in response to the Spanish conquistadors' abuse of the indigenous population.[7] As a primarily persuasive text, many critics argue that facts and figures about the mistreatment and death toll were exaggerated, making the text largely unreliable.[6]


It was written for Charles I of Spain.[1] Las Casas appeals to the King's pathos throughout his account by describing Charles I[1] as a lover, cultivator and as a man of justice.[8] One of the stated purposes for writing the account is his fear of Spain coming under divine punishment and his concern for the souls of the Native peoples.[3] The account is one of the first attempts by a Spanish writer of the colonial era to depict examples of unfair treatment that indigenous people endured in the early stages of the Spanish conquest of the Greater Antilles, particularly the island of Hispaniola.[9] Las Casas takes a strong anti-colonial stance, on account of the extreme violence inflicted on the indigenous occupants of the islands by the Spaniards. He describes the extensive torture, murder, and mutilation of the Natives, referring to them as "innocent Sheep" who were "assaulted" by the Spanish colonizers.[10] De las Casas noticed that no matter where he visited, the Spanish were committing the same crimes. On the island of Hispaniola, the Spanish were herding people into a straw building and setting fire to it, burning the occupants alive. In addition, “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.”[10] On Puerto Rico and Jamaica, he saw the Spanish, “with the same purpose and design they proposed to themselves in the Isle of Hispaniola, perpetrating innumerable Robberies and Villanies as before.” and that “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.”[10] De las Casas also notes that what the Spanish were doing drove many natives to commit suicide. On Cuba, “By the ferocity of one Spanish Tyrant (whom I knew) above Two Hundred Indians hang'd themselves of their own accord; and a multitude of People perished by this kind of Death” and “Six Thousand Children and upward were murder'd, because they had lost their Parents who labour'd in the Mines.”[11]


A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies is a book that marks a significant moment in the way 21st century colonial Latin American historians would address world history.[6] By comparing what historians know today about colonial Latin America, with the descriptions and recommendations given by De Las Casas in A Short Account, they are able to understand more about De Las Casas' own biases, prejudices, and outlook on the colonization of the Americas. De Las Casas' A Short Account, was a revised history of the conquest, in the way that he includes facts that would aid him in his argument.[6] De Las Casas' A Short Account, revealed the ways 16th century scholars used rhetoric to lobby for changes during the Spanish colonization of the Americas.[6] His book, A Short Account, complicated the humanitarian and ethical arguments made in the 16th century by empathizing with indigenous people while recommending the use of enslaved African people in the Americas. De Las Casas supported the overall Spanish colonial experiment in the Americas, while condemning the abuse of the indigenous people.

De Las Casas used the term “New World” to look at the Americas and Western hemisphere and did not use the term or idea of the “ancient world” as a way to describe the Spain, Europe and the Eastern hemisphere.[6] This linguistic shift marked a transition in historical text and thought by moving away from the medieval view of geography and world history to a more modern view.[6] De Las Casas addressed the new population in the Americas and introduced it in a political way in addressing the Spanish King.[6] De Las Casas introduced and presented the people of the Americas in the context of the Spanish empire.[6]

De Las Casas is also noted as one of the first writers and thinkers to racialize the indigenous people of the Americas.[6] In his attempt to defend the indigenous people, he argues that they are part of the human race by describing their bodies, skin color, language and culture.[6] In A Short Account, De Las Casas racialized the indigenous people and created a new understanding for them in the context and hierarchy of European ideas of race.[6]

His account was largely responsible for the passage of the new Spanish colonial laws known as the New Laws of 1542, which abolished native slavery for the first time in European colonial history and led to the Valladolid debate.[citation needed] This text was used as a way to convince the King of Spain of the cruelties caused by the Spanish Conquistadors.[7] As such, he did not focus on or mention the effects of disease as a cause of suffering for the native people.[7] Instead, De Las Casas focused on the suffering caused by the Spanish conquistadors so that the King would address the conquistador's behavior.[7]

It was republished in 1620, by Jan Evertszoon Cloppenburch, alongside the book Origin and progress of the disturbances in the Netherlands by Dutch historian Johannes Gysius.[1] The book was frequently reprinted, alone or in combination with other works, in the Netherlands and in other countries struggling against the power of Spain in Europe and the Americas.[12] The title in English, German, Dutch, and most languages, was manipulated to farther insist in the detrimental consequences of the Spanish conquest. The images described by Las Casas were later depicted by Theodor de Bry in copper plate engravings that helped expand the Black Legend against Spain.

Rhetorical strategyEdit

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies is a book that is acclaimed by scholars for its rhetorical effect. De Las Casas juxtaposes the inhumane mistreatment of the Spanish conquistadors with the inherent goodness of the indigenous people in an exaggerated manner in his strategy of persuasion. His text largely uses an emotionally persuasive argument instead of a logical argument in A Short Account in his effort to convince the King of Spain. De Las Casas revised and re-edited this book in order to make his best argument in favor of the indigenous people.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e "Mirror of the Cruel and Horrible Spanish Tyranny Perpetrated in the Netherlands, by the Tyrant, the Duke of Alba, and Other Commanders of King Philip II". World Digital Library. 1620. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  2. ^ Also translated and published in English as A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies, among several other variants.
  3. ^ a b c "CASAS: A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE DESTRUCTION OF THE INDIES". www.columbia.edu. Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  4. ^ Bayle, Constantino (1945). El protector de indios. Seville: Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos. pp. 12–13.
  5. ^ a b Wagner; Parish, Henry Raup; Helen Rand (1967). The Life and Writings of Bartolomé de Las Casas. New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 109–13.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p von Vacano, Diego (2012-01-01). "LAS CASAS AND THE BIRTH OF RACE". History of Political Thought. 33 (3): 401–426.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Joralemon, Donald (Spring 1982). "New World Depopulation and the Case of Disease". Journal of Anthropological Research. 38 (1): 108–127. doi:10.1086/jar.38.1.3629951. JSTOR 3629951. PMID 12312908.
  8. ^ 1484-1566., Casas, Bartolomé de las (1992). A short account of the destruction of the Indies. Griffin, Nigel. (1st ed.). London, England: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140445626. OCLC 26198156.
  9. ^ De Las Casas, Bartolome (1992). A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. London: Penguin Classics. pp. xiii.
  10. ^ a b c de las Casas, Bartolome (January 9, 2007) [translation originally published in 1689]. "A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies". Project Gutenberg. p. 3.
  11. ^ de las Casas, Bartolome (January 9, 2007) [translation originally published in 1689]. "A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies". Project Gutenberg. p. 4.
  12. ^ "Mirror of the Cruel and Horrible Spanish Tyranny Perpetrated in the Netherlands, by the Tyrant, the Duke of Alba, and Other Commanders of King Philip II". www.wdl.org. 1620-01-01. Retrieved 2016-03-10.

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