Bartolomé de Las Casas , (born 1474 or 1484, Sevilla?, Spain—died July 1566, Madrid), early Spanish historian and Dominican missionary who was the first to expose the oppression of indigenous peoples by Europeans in the Americas and to call for the abolition of slavery there. His several works include Historia de las Indias (first printed in 1875). A prolific writer and in his later years an influential figure of the Spanish court, Las Casas nonetheless failed to stay the progressive enslavement of the indigenous peoples of Latin America.
The son of a small merchant, Las Casas is believed to have gone to Granada as a soldier in 1497 and to have enrolled to study Latin in the academy at the cathedral in Sevilla (Seville). In 1502 he left for Hispaniola, in the West Indies, with the governor, Nicolás de Ovando. As a reward for his participation in various expeditions, he was given an encomienda—a royal land grant including Indian inhabitants—and he soon began to evangelize that population, serving as doctrinero, or lay teacher of catechism. Perhaps the first person in America to receive holy orders, he was ordained a priest in either 1512 or 1513. In 1513 he took part in the bloody conquest of Cuba and, as priest-encomendero (land grantee), received an allotment of Indian serfs.
Although during his first 12 years in America Las Casas was a willing participant in the conquest of the Caribbean, he did not indefinitely remain indifferent to the fate of the indigenous peoples. In a famous sermon on August 15, 1514, he announced that he was returning his Indian serfs to the governor. Realizing that it was useless to attempt to defend the Indians at long distance in America, he returned to Spain in 1515 to plead for their better treatment. The most influential person to take up his cause was Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, the archbishop of Toledo and future co-regent of Spain. With the help of the archbishop, the Plan para la reformación de las Indias was conceived, and Las Casas, named priest-procurator of the