Bartolome de Las Casas was the first and fiercest critic of Spanish colonialism in the New World. An early traveller to the Americas who sailed on one of Columbus' voyages, Las Casas was so horrified by the wholesale massacre he witnessed that he dedicated his life to protecting the Indian community. He wrote "A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies" in 1542, a shocking catalogue of mass slaughter, torture and slavery, which showed that the evangelizing vision of Columbus had descended under later conquistadors into genocide. Dedicated to Philip II to alert the Castilian Crown to these atrocities and demand that the Indians be entitled to the basic rights of humankind, this passionate work of documentary vividness outraged Europe and contributed to the idea of the Spanish 'Black Legend' that would last for centuries.
Bartolome de las Casas was born in Seville around 1484. At the age of eighteen he left for the New World, where he participated in the conquest of Cuba and witnessed the first full-scale massacre of an Indian community. He became a priest and entered the Dominican order. He dedicated himself to the protection and defence of the Indians. Anthony Pagden teaches in the Department of History at John Hopkins University, Baltimore. He is the author of The Fall of Natural Man and Spanish Imperialism and the Political Imagination. Nigel Griffin read modern languages at Oxford and was a Fellow of New College in the 1970s. He now concentrates on writing and translating and has worked for both the UN and the World Bank.
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