What is a summary of A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolomé de las Casas?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In 1542, Bartolomé de las Casas, a Spanish friar of the Dominican church, wrote A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies to protest the oppression of the native inhabitants at the hands of Spanish colonialists under Prince Philip II, King of Spain.

Bartolomé particularly protests the fact that millions were being murdered for the sake of gold. The professed purpose of the Spanish conquistadors in the Caribbean and Central America had been to convert heathen inhabitants to Christianity; yet, Bartolome points out that the true motive appears to be to accumulate wealth in gold. Thus, the Spaniards are murdering millions of natives all for the sake of gold.

Bartolomé also points out the fact that the natives are very gentle people, a point supported by other Christian missionaries. According to Bartolome, everywhere the Spanish went in the islands, the natives greeted them in friendship and offered them any provisions they had. Sadly, the Spaniards in return used the gentleness and generosity of the natives to easily plunder the natives' villages, enslave the natives, and collect all their gold and jewels. The Spaniards were guilty of massacres, rape, and even infanticide. Those who were enslaved were sold for excellent prices in Peru and Hispaniola, the Spaniards' first colony in the Caribbean.

However, sadly, all of Bartolomé's accounts of the atrocious treatment of the native was not enough to move the king to action. While the king professed that conversion of the natives was the motive for colonization, accumulation of wealth was really the true motive. More importantly to the king, the conquistadors who took gold from the natives only sent a tiny amount back to the Spanish royal treasury, keeping most of the gold for themselves. Hence, the king was more interested in prosecuting the conquistadors for theft than for murder charges.

Though the suffering and death continued in the Spanish Caribbean islands, Bartolome never let go of his commitment to saving the natives.