Source 1: Bartolome de Las Casas, Excerpt from Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies. (1542) Directions

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Source 1: Bartolome de Las Casas, Excerpt from Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies. (1542)


  1. Read the introduction below.

  2. Before reading the transcript, go to the following website for a reading by StacyAnn Chin (spoken word poet)- (only one playing per table)

  3. After reading/listening, discuss with your partner and answer the questions on your worksheet

Introduction: As Spanish dominion in the Americas extended throughout the Americas, voices were raised that questioned the Spanish treatment of conquered peoples. Often these voices belonged to members of the Spanish clergy living in the Americas. One of the most effective critics was Bartolome de Las Casa.
Illustrations from Las Casas’ Account:


The Indies were discovered in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. Forty-nine years have passed since the first settlers penetrated the land, the first being, the large and most happy isle called Hispaniola. Perhaps the most densely populated place in the world. There must be close to two hundred leagues of land on this island. All the land so far discovered is a beehive of people; it is as though God had crowded into these lands, the great majority of mankind.

And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve. And because they are so weak and complaisant, they are less able to endure heavy labor and soon die of no matter what malady.

Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts, there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days. Killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola, once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three millions), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.

Their reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits. It should be kept in mind that their insatiable greed and ambition, the greatest ever seen in the world, is the cause of their villainies. And also, those lands are so rich and felicitous, the native peoples so meek and patient, so easy to subject, that our Spaniards have no more consideration for them than beasts. No, thanks be to God, they have treated beasts with some respect; I should say instead like excrement on the public squares.

The Indians began to seek ways to throw the Christians out of their lands. They took up arms, but their weapons were very weak and of little service in offense and still less in defense. The Christians, with their horses and swords and pikes began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against them. They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house. They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim's feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive.

When tied to the stake, the cacique or the chieftan Hatuey, a very important noble was told by a Franciscan friar about the God of the Christians and of the articles of Faith. And he was told what he could do in the brief time that remained to him, in order to be saved and go to heaven. The chieftan had never heard any of this before, and was told he would go to Inferno where, if he did not adopt the Christian Faith, he would suffer eternal torment, asked the Franciscan friar if Christians all went to Heaven. When told that they did, he said he would prefer to go to Hell.

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