Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres

Nicolás de Ovando
3rd Governor of the Indies
In office
September 3, 1501  1509
Appointed by Isabella I of Castile
Preceded by Francisco de Bobadilla
Succeeded by Diego Columbus
Personal details
Born 1460
Brozas, Extremadura, Spain
Died 29 May 1511 (aged 50-51)
Madrid, Spain
Resting place Church of San Benito de Alcántara

Fray Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres (Brozas, Extremadura, 1460 – Madrid, 29 May 1511) was a Spanish soldier from a noble family and a Knight of the Order of Alcántara. He was Governor of the Indies (Hispaniola) from 1502 until 1509. His administration is perhaps best known for its brutal treatment of the native Taíno population of Hispaniola.

Early life

Nicolás Ovando y Cáceres was born in Brozas in 1460. Born into a noble and pious family, second son of Diego Fernández de Cáceres y Ovando, 1st Lord of the Manor House del Alcázar Viejo, and his first wife Isabel Flores de las Varillas (a distant relative of Hernán Cortés), Ovando entered the military Order of Alcántara, where he became a Master (Mestre or Maitre) or a Commander-Major (Comendador-Mayor). This Spanish military order, founded in 1156, resembled the Order of Templars, with whom it fought the Moors during the Reconquista. His elder brother was Diego de Cáceres y Ovando.

Selection as governor

As Commander of Lares de Guahaba Ovando became a favorite of the Spanish Catholic Monarchs, particularly of the pious Queen Isabella I. Thus, in response to complaints from Christopher Columbus and others about Francisco de Bobadilla the Spanish monarch on September 3, 1501, appointed Ovando to replace Bobadilla. Ovando become the third Governor and Captain-General of the Indies, Islands and Firm-Land of the Ocean Sea.

Expedition to the Americas

Thus, on 13 February 1502, he sailed from Spain with a fleet of thirty ships.[1] It was the largest fleet that had ever sailed to the New World.

The thirty ships carried around 2,500 colonists.[2] Unlike Columbus's earlier voyages, this group of colonists was deliberately selected to represent an organized cross-section of Spanish society. The Spanish Crown intended to develop the West Indies economically and thereby expand Spanish political, religious, and administrative influence in the region. Along with him also came Francisco Pizarro, who would later explore western South America and conquer the Inca Empire. Another ship carried Bartolomé de las Casas, who became known as the 'Protector of the Indians' for exposing atrocities committed by Ovando and his subordinates. Hernán Cortés, a family acquaintance and distant relative, was supposed to sail to the Americas in this expedition, but was prevented from making the journey by an injury he sustained while hurriedly escaping from the bedroom of a married woman of Medellín.[3]


When Ovando arrived in Hispaniola in 1502, he found the once-peaceful natives in revolt. Ovando and his subordinates ruthlessly suppressed this rebellion through a series of bloody campaigns, including the Jaragua Massacre and Higüey Massacre. Ovando's administration in Hispaniola became notorious for its cruelty toward the native Taíno. Estimates of the Taino population at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards in 1492 vary, with Anderson Córdova giving a maximum of 500,000 people inhabiting the island.[4] By the 1507 census, according to Bartolomé de las Casas battlefield slaughter, enslavement and disease had reduced the native population to 60,000 people, and the decline continued. In 1501, Ovando ordered the first importation of Spanish-speaking slaves of African descent (Ladinos) into the Americas. Many Spanish aristocrats ordered slaves to work as servants in their homes. However, most slaves were sent to work in the sugar cane fields.

After the conquests made by his lieutenants including Juan Ponce de León and Juan de Esquivel, Ovando founded several cities on Hispaniola. He also developed the mining industry, introduced the cultivation of sugar cane with plants imported from the Canary Islands, and commissioned expeditions of discovery and conquest throughout the Caribbean. Ovando allowed Spanish adventurers to use the natives to help provide food for the colonists as well as ships returning to Spain. Ovando also allowed the Taíno to be exploited for their labor, and thousands died trying to extract gold from the nearby mines.

Pursuant to a deathbed promise he made to Queen Isabella I, King Ferdinand V recalled the brutal Ovando to Spain in 1509 to answer for his treatment of the native people. Diego Columbus was appointed his successor as governor, but the Spanish Crown permitted Ovando to retain possession of the property he brought back from the Americas.

Ovando died in Spain on 29 May 1511. He was buried in the church of the former monastery of San Benito de Alcántara, which belonged to his military order and which sustained significant damage in later centuries.

See also


  1. D. H. Figueredo,"Latino Chronology: Chronologies of the American Mosaic", pg 14, 2007
  2. "Latino Chronology: Chronologies of the American Mosaic"
  3. Ovando made Hernán Cortés a notary and awarded him a land grant nonetheless. This started Cortés' career as a conquistador.
  4. Karen Anderson Córdova (1990). Hispaniola and Puerto Rico: Indian Acculturation and Heterogeneity, 1492–1550 (PhD dissertation). Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms International.


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