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30.11.10

(English) Bartolomé de Las Casas, Luis Berrio and the 200 farmworkers who arrived in Santo Domingo in 1520

Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas

.


Pedro Samuel Rodríguez Reyes

Summary:


The present writing deals with 2 topics. The first one refers to the contradictions between historical documents and witnesses’ testimonies; the other, to the fact that all actions within the colonising enterprise didn't necessarily result from the monarch’s will, who governed the Spanish Kingdom, but that circumstances such as chance happenings, personal struggles among the actors as well as the specificities of the social background surrounding some of the monarchs in the home land, generated contradicting facts in the conquest and colonisation process of America. We present here a case involving both topics. In the 16th century two hundred farmworkers left Antequera (Malaga, Andalusia, Spain) and reached their destination – Santo Domingo- not as farmworkers but as publicans and ruffians, and, loafers and bums.

Sinopsis:


Due to the abuses and cruelties which that first generation of Spaniards committed against the Española island’s natives, fray Bartolomé de las Casas conceived the plan to people the American lands with farmworkers recruited in the Spanish rural areas.

Introduction:


Some perfectly documented historical data points out to unquestionable facts. However, in some cases, written testimonies of first hand actors throw doubt upon such unquestionable facts.

Such is the case we are dealing with in the present writing. These 16th C. documents, to be found in the Archivo General de Indias (1) (Sevilla, Spain), refer to the emigration to Santo Domingo of some 23 farmworkers families from Anteqera, a city some 50 km, North of Malaga, Andalusia, Spain.

The said documents refer to one of the so called “farmworkers projects”, directed and coordinated by Fray Bartolome de las Casas. The written testimonies contradicting the said documents are indeed, the testimonies by de las Casas, whcih are inserted in his voluminous works entitled “ Historia de las Indias ( “History of the Indies” ) (2). In this work he alludes to such farmworkers calling them publicans, ruffians, loafers and bums (3).

The AGI ( Archivo General de las Indias) documents are mentioned by the dominican historian and investigator, Genaro Rodríguez Morel in an interesting work which he wrote under the title “ Economic Development and Demographic Changes in Española”, published in the AGN bulletin ( Archivo general de la Nacion), Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, No 117, year LXIX January-April 2007, p. 79-144. In this work, among other topics, the author mentions Luis Berrio, as heading those families.

The present writing , however, doesn't pretend passing jugments of values upon the theme, which will be the attribution of experts, not of the present author. The writer of these lines limits himself to examining the obvious contradictions between those documents in the AGI and the Las Casas testimonies; presenting in passing some personal interpretations.

In the The AGI documents are gathered the declarations as they were being made and the investigator Rodriguez Morel refers precisely to the fact. Now why should Fray Bartolome de las Casas’ testimonies contradict what is expressed in the documents referering to the case?

We are aboarding the analysis from a strategy angle based on two general premises. One of them deals with the influence exerted by the feudal lords of the time in the Peninsula, the other takes into consideration some social historical and economic peculiarities of the aforementioned city of Antequera in those times.

In addition and before launching into the examination of the case, we shall indulge in including a short commentary to offer our personal point of view as to what we meant in the first paragraph of the summary when we said that "all actions within the colonising enterprise didn’t necessarily result from the monarch’s will who governed the Spanish Kingdom but that some reprovable actions resulted from the peculiarities of some monarch’s surroundings in the metropoli”. This must be stressed because up to now, in the Ibero American field, the commission of reprovable actions through the colonial period is attributed directly to the Spanish Crown, without any due perspectives being offered. In this specific case, we are inclined to think that, regarding the person who lead the destiny of Spain when in 1517 Fray Bartolome de Las Casas articulated his projects, the king didn't even have the sufficient time for Indies related matters and even less so for details concerning the recruiting of farmworkers who would leave to la Española.

The monarch in question was Carlos I of Spain (1516-1556) and V of Germany ( 1519-1558) who had been born in the year 1500 and was proclaimed king in 1516 ( aged 16) . In 1517 Las Casas failed to have an interview with the young king, but this monarch happened to be overwhelmed by a feverish whirl of priority activities, proper of his surroundings.

Charles I of Spain and V of Germany, who in 1519 (aged 19) was proclaimed Emperor of the Sacred Roman Germanic Empire; was the Catholic Kings' and of Maximilian of Austria's (Habsburg) grand son; he was heir to the austrian territories and the Low lands (where he had been born); and who in 1518 (at the age of 18) confronted intricate situations in Aragon: in addition his mother was unfit to govern.(Juana I of Castille, known as Juana the Mad )

Thus, this near teenage king, who was in constant deliberations in the Barcelona Courts; with suspended trips to Valencia for him to leave abruptly to Germany, summoning previously the Castellan Courts…would very unlikely have time, nor would he consider it a priority to devote time to some farmworkers related questions, leaving the details and the decisions of such matters in the hands of the so called King’s Counsel or Counsel of Indies. It is therefore reasonable to grant the individuals who lead those instances part of the responsibilities for posible mistaken decisions or reprovable actions in the Hispano American conquest and colonization process , discarding thus a distorted view that in this process all actions whether reprovable or not originated from a counscious and centralized state policy lead by the very will of the monarch in person.

But let us proceed with our present task.

Examination of the farmworkers case:


Let us consider who Luis Berrio was basing us on the De Las Casas' writings. This man didn't only head the families just as another farmworker, but he acted as an important assistant- squire- of the same Las Casas in the farmworkers recruiting project, in order to people the Indies; and it was Las Casas who had him appointed his assistant, getting him a royal patent. Berrio is described by Las Casas as somebody who had been brought up in Italy; an individual who, according to the friar ,”seemed a good person, but who didn't have the same simplicity and gratitude as the cleric's who appointed him and had the king grant him a salary and food...(to the point that Berrio) wanted that when (Las Casas) sent him to some village to gather the king's food supplies , he didn't want to appear to be the cleric's but the king's envoy (4).

In his writings, Fray Bartolome De Las Casas offers information about his relationship with Luis Berrio. The latter, being the friar's assistant, plotted with one of his ennemies, the Burgos Bishop, to the extent that said Bishop changed, falsidified and rewrote the royal patent concerning him, so that in the latter it could be read that Berrio could do as he wished , not what his superior, Las Casas, would tell him to do. In this light we can see what the friar writes:

“ God's and the King's servant had to falsify that patent, as it is reffered to bellow. Even though in other matters, the bishop, as President of that Counsel could perhaps order alter the contents of patents signed by the king, without the whole Counsel to appear, and change words without committing a forgery, but even so it is very dubious that in all those cases, at least in this particular one, he could do so, because it was done to the cleric's annoyance and with great enough malice, and against the king's will and against what had been very well ordered, and discussed and determined as being very profitable for the the kingdoms of Castilla and ones, and in damage of the local interests, the Bishop couldn't do so wihtout guilty falsity. Therefore, the priest wasn't aware at all then, of the changes, erasing and overwriting and forgery of the said patent" (5).

These are the circumstances in which Berrio appeared in the city of Antequera, where he recruited the supposed farmworkers with whom he was to sail to Santo Domingo.

The day Berrio is getting ready to leave he tells Las Casas he is going to visit his family there where he was married. Las Casas repeatedly denies him the permission, until Berrio declares he possesses the patent, rewritten and falsified by the Burgos Bishop, and leaves. Berrio visits his family and in passing stops over in Antequera and there he manages to gather some 200 individuals. He leads the group to Sevilla where he registers them, before the competent authorities at the Casa de Contratacion, as farmhands who are sailing off to Santo Domingo with him. This is when the competent authorities at the Casa de Contratacion issue the documents we are dealing with, the very same that some 5 centuries later appear at the AGI (Sevilla) and are examined by the dominican historian and investigator Rodriguez Morel.

Through the examination of Las Casas's testimonies, clues appear showing the difficulties that would be met, in feudal Spain, by someone intending to gather farmworkers with the purpose of sending them to the Indies. Let us see the cleric's references as to the all pervading atmosphere and the way those feudals Lords would oppose their serves being taken away.

Let us consider a first case:
.
“and arriving at some places, he had the local folks gather in the churches , where he announced them the King's intention to people of those lands [the Indias]; then he described the happiness , fertility, healthiness and wealth of those lands; in the third place he dwelt on the favour the King was doing to them. Being thus told and informed few people delayed at coming to register to go and people the Indies, and within a few days he found a great number of people mainly from Berlanga...and in order to register, they stole into the town hall, for fear of the constable… They didn't do it secretly enough for the constable to ignore it ; he then sent a squire with another person to beg the cleric leave his land; the cleric was reluctaint to do so, saying he would then go and kiss his hands… the constable asserted that he was being greatly damaged and begging him to go and get farmworkers from other parts” (6).

Let us see another case in which one of those farmworkers expresses the lack of liberty he suffers in feudal Spain:

“ the priest moved about those feudal estates, and most of them moved by the day, and at a place belonging to the Coruña Count, called Rello, which consisted in 30 houses, 20 persons enlisted , among whom 2 neighbours, brothers, 70 year old men ,with 17 sons, and the cleric told the eldest: 'You , father, what do you want to go to the Indies for, being so old and tired?' The good old man answered 'to my faith , Sir, he says, to die then, leaving my sons in a free and promising land' " (7).

Thus, a Luis Berrio paying a visit to his family knew how difficult it was to convince the local Lords to let their serves, farmworkers and individuals of various trades at their service leave to the Indies. In order to convince those Lords the mere royal patent covering him might not prove sufficient. More over, He was not accompanied by his superior and chief, a religious man as influencial as Las Casas. Therefore, it is partly understandable that Berrio would lay his hand on whatever publicans, ruffians, bums and loafers roaming the streets and public squares in that andalusian city.

Now let the same Fray Bartolome de las Casas relate how Luis Berrio happened to be in Antequera, and the sort of individuals he could get there:

“ Berrio begged the clergyman a great many times to let him leave to Andalusia, where he was married. The clergyman would tell him he couldn't grant him the permission , because thus was the business for which the king paid him a salary ” ( 450 maravedies a day/psr)

At that time, they were moving about those lands where they could find the appropriate people for those parts of Spain. Once they had fulfilled the King's orders in that region, the time would come when they would leave from the ports bellow, because eventually they would all have to leave. The latter, as he came to realize that begging for permission from the cleric was of no avail, he, one day, came wearing boots to take leave from the cleric, saying he wanted to know his orders as and go to Andalusia and that he would carry out the king's orders over there. The cleric remained astounded by his insolence, and refused to talk to him considering then to cancel his salary, believing the patent concerning him was still blank as it had been when he was given it. Some astute squire, one of the cleric's company, called Francisco de Soto, took a few steps with him. He told Berrio that as he was leaving without father Las Casas' permission, he knew that his salary could be canceled since the patent stipulated that those who accompanied him had to do as he would tell them, to what Berrio answered: “as to that , I'm well provided,” where it said “do as he tells you” it is wriltten “ do as You deem” as Berrio told him and more. Francisco de Soto then went back to the cleric and told him “ Lord, do not complain of Berrio but of the Burgos Bishop and of the others who are your ennemies, they are trying to deprive you of what you earn with your sweat and work”.

Las Casas goes on with his narration:

“Berrio went to Andalusia and had a rest in his land, eating at the King's expense, and when he juged it right he went to Antequera and found 200 people , mainly publicans and some ruffians and bums and loafers, and few farmhands and took them to the Casa de Contratacion in Sevilla. At the sight of so many people the Casa officials didn't know what to do, and eventually, for them not to split up there, they agreed to board them on ships about to leave, and sent them” (8).

We have to admit that Las Casas doesn't explain how he realized that most people Berrio got hold of in Antequera weren't farmworkers. However, according to the friar's very writings it can be inferred that. He was convinced that the appropriate individuals for the mission they were in charge of, couldn't easily be found in Andalusia, but in other areas.The following sentence reveals this fact:

“ They were then going around that region where the right people could be found".
That is to say that at that time Las Casas , Berrio and the other followers were going around the appropriate region where people fit for farmwork, to be shipped to the Indies, were to be found. It can thus be deduced that Las Casas knew perfectly well the nature of the people in the whole area. However and as a relief to Berrio Las Casas promissed him that :

“ upon fulfilling the king's orders in those lands, time will come when they will go to the ports bellow, because eventually they'll all have to leave ”.

With that, Las Casas promisses Berrio that indeed they would go to Andalusia and that he could visit his family, but only after having worked in those places where the appropriate people were most likely to be found.

The friar wanted to make the most out of time and Andalusia was not his priority. What he might have tried to tell Berrio in a direct manner, was that overthere in the ports below, they would only find free people, not the sort of courageous and coveted land serves from deep Spain, where humble individuals lived, who were skillful at carrying out their work, who were humble and simple and were taken advantage of and exploited by the landlords of the time. Las Casas must have been convinced that Andalusia was peopled by individuals who were too free; city people very close to the freedom of the ports.

In those days the Andalusia region on the whole , and Antequerra city in particular were changing from its previous condition of a military place into an area of urban and demographic expansion , starting in 1492, with the inclusion of Sevilla and Granada into the Castillan Crown.

What class of individuals would Berrio contract in a city that, in a lapse of less than 20 years, expanded from just over 2 000 inhabitants to some 15 000? He could only find individuals from the urban social margins in an Antequera which in the XVIth. Century, thanks to its great comercial activity, managed to turn into one of the main cities in Andalusia. Who would be ready to live the indian adventure, leaving a city where traffic of goods was regulated betwen the two main axes, namely: Sevilla-Granada and Malaga- Cordoba,?. The risk was very high to find only publicans and loafers. Las Casas knew it. Luis Berrio wouldn't find there what they were looking for.

With the same meaning an additional inference could be made through the reading of some paragraphs of the mentionned Rodríguez Morel's research work. Namely: the dominican investigator's assertion “ before undertaking the voyage ( the Antequeran neighbours) presented various demands among which was the right to lay the foundation and administer a village personnaly” In the next paragraph Rodríguez Morel says “another of the conditions layed by the labourers was to have the right to form town counsels” (9).

We understand that such requirements could easily be part of the idiosyncrasy of free urban individuals from “the ports bellow” but we find it difficult to attribute it to people of such nature, for instance, as this 70 year old man who in Rello ( Coruña) told Las Casas “ I want to go to the Indies and leave my sons in a free and well- provided land”.

It would seem difficult to understand the determination with which those requirements were stated if they had been the expression of such humble and fearful farmworkers who in Berlanga “ stealed into the town hall for fear of the constable”.

In those days the andalusia region on the whole , and Antequerra city in particular were changing from its previous condition of a military place into an area of urban and demographic expansion , starting in 1492, with the inclusion of Sevilla and Granada into the Castillan Crown.

With the same meaning an additional inference could be made through the reading of some paragraphs of the mentionned Rodríguez Morel's research work. Namely: the dominican invetigator's assertion “ before undertaking the voyage ( the Antequeran neighbours) presented various demands among which was the right to lay the foundation and administer a village personnaly” In the next paragraph Rodríguez Morel says “another of the conditions layed by the labourers was to have the right to form town counsels” (10).

It would seem difficult to understand the determination with which those requirements were stated if they had been the expression of such humble and fearful farmworkers who in Berlanga “ stole into the town hall for fear of the constable”. Such demands are more likely to have been the fact of displaced individuals living in the social margins in an Antequerra which was undergoing an overwhelming demographic growth, where the Catholic Kings themselves had started, off late, the erection of the Colegiata de Santa Maria la Mayor (1514-1550). Individuals from the social margins, not from any specific village but from a city experimenting an unusual building fever. A city of vast historical experience where everything from an arab castle to a roman town had been built: which was taken in 1410 by the Infant Don Fernando “that of Antequera”. A city that later was branded as “ the key to the kingdom of Granada”: where at the very time of Berrio and Las Casas an impressing migration wave was originated (11).

These where the very likely reasons why Las Casas didn't waver when he figured out that this was the place where Berrio had met these people willing to go to the Indies and therefore they could only be urban displaced and marginalized subproducts , that is to say publicans, ruffians and bums.

A final inference can me made upon the functioning and idiosyncrasy of those antequerans by examining Friar Bartolome de Las Casas' writings upon the responses and calamities those inmigrants were confronted to as they arrived in Santo Domingo, and their behaviour there. Here is what the cleric has to say upon the matter:

" As they arrived in the Santo Domingo island and city , where they were confronted to the greatest dangers and trials , as the king's officials had not received any patent nor order concerning them, not even from the king , because the cleric hadn't sent it for the mentionned reason , no remedy was given to them, they had no choice but many died and the others went to hospital, and those who escaped and recovered turned into publicans as they may very well have been previously, and others became cowboys and others still went and robbed the Indians in other places." (12).

It must be noted that although Bartolome de Las Casas had no tangible evidence that those antequeran immigrants had actually been loafers and ruffians, he does sound convinced of it . He reveals it in a very honest way confessing the following "They turned into publicans as they may very well have been before".

Conclusions:


Thus, considering all the aforementionned, there remain few doubts that those antequerans arriving in Santo Domingo in 1520 , were in their majority nothing else but marginalized unemployed people, loafers and city ruffians and bums and publicans, ready to launch into whatever adventure. We tend to think that indeed , Luis Berrio enlisted people who in their vast majority weren't farmworkers.

On an other hand, there is no reason to believe that Berrio acted deliberatly in oreder to be followed by such individuals. The social economic and historic conditions of that city offered no alternative choice to the circumstances.

However, if we insisted on looking for somebody responsible for the deeds, we would have to search into areas close to sentimental explanations and partly perversion. We could situate the sentimental explanation in Luis Berrio's uncontroled wish to see his family. The pervert aspect however is very obvious. Berrio's unlikely promise to bring farmworkers from there, was but a deceiving excuse. What's more, his very words betray his awareness of his own insolence. He bragged and lied when he told Las Casas " I'll carry out the king's orders over there", which means over there in Andalusia, where I am going without your permission and covered with the fake document handed to me by your ennemy the Burgos Bishop, I'll see my family and at the same time I'll find farmworkers to the king's satisfaction.

When confronted to these proceedings friar Las Casas must had to felt humiliated and that he was made the fool of and submitted to pervert pressure on the part of a renegade and and ungrateful inferior who pretended putting him at odds with the very king and for the worst the cleric had come to realize that he was dealing with a despicable being who accpted forming an alliance with his superior's ennemy and who even had the nerve to manipulate him. This is why Las Casas described Berrio as an individual “who had the appearance of a good man.. but who wasn't that simple and who didn't have much gratitude”.

There certainly was rancour between Bartolome de Las Casas and Luis Berrio. I should think that the friar was right. However, it must be admitted that this sour reaction makes it difficult to establish conclusive criteria.

Eventually, after all the above examined, and in function of all the reflexions which must have been elaborated upon this subject matter , unavoidable questions arise: shall histography keep qualifying those immigrants from Antequera as farmworkers or shall it modify their condition identifying them as publicans ? Who is right in the end; the AGI documents or father Bartolome de Las Casas' written tetimonies?


Descripencies between Documents and Testimonies must occur more frequently than what we may think, and it could prove useful to keep confronting them in order to elaborate new interpretations.

---

Notes:
1- a) Archivo General de Indias, A.G.I., Indiferente General 419, libro VII, folios 89-90v.
b) A.G.I., Indiferente General 420, libro VIII, folios 149-150v.
c) A.G.I., Contratación 4675, libro I, folios 133ss.
d) A.G.I., Indiferente General 420, libro VIII, folios 232-233v.
Ver: Genaro Rodríguez Morel; “Desarrollo económico y cambio demográfico en La
Española". Boletín del Archivo General de la Nación, BAGN; año LXIX, Volumen
XXXII, Número 117. Enero-abril 2007. Santo Domingo, D.N., República
Dominicana, pp.106-107

2- Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas; “Historia de Las Indias”, Tomo III. Ediciones del Continente, S. A., Hollywood, Florida, 1985

3- Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas; ob. cit., p. 192

4- Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas; ob. cit., pp.189-190

5- Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas; ob. cit., p. 190

6- Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas; ob. cit., p. 191

7- Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas; ob. cit., pp.191-192

8- Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas; ob. cit., p. 192

9- Ver: Ayuntamiento de Antequera: Historia:
http://www.antequera.es/antequera/municipio/historia.html


10- Genaro Rodríguez Morel; ob. cit., p.107

11- Ayuntamiento de Antequera, URL cit.

12- Bartolomé de Las Casas; ob. cit., p. 192
---
Pedro Samuel Rodríguez Reyes
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
2007
---

Versión en español:

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