Nicolás de Ovando

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Nicolás de Ovando

Nicolas de Ovando y Caceres.jpg
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
Brozas, Extremadura, Spain
Died29 May 1511 (aged 50-51)
Madrid, Spain
Resting placeChurch of San Benito de Alcántara

Frey Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres (1460 – 29 May 1511) was a Spanish soldier from a noble family and a Knight of the Order of Alcántara, a military order of Spain. He was Governor of the Indies (Hispaniola) from 1502 until 1509, sent by the Spanish crown to investigate the administration of Francisco de Bobadilla and re-establish order. His administration subdued rebellious Spaniards, and completed the brutal pacification of the native Taíno population of Hispaniola. [1]


Early life

Nicolás Ovando y Cáceres was born in Brozas, Extremadura, 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.

His Selection as Governor

As Commander of Lares de Guahaba, Ovando became a favourite of the Spanish Catholic Monarchs, particularly pious Queen Isabella I of Castile. Thus, on 3 September 1501, in response to complaints from Christopher Columbus and others about Francisco de Bobadilla, Isabella appointed Ovando to replace Bobadilla. Ovando became the third Governor of the Indies, the Islands, and the Province of Tierra Firme.

His Expedition to the Americas

On 13 February 1502, he sailed from Spain with a fleet of thirty ships. [2] It was the largest fleet that had ever sailed to the New World.

The thirty ships carried around 2 500 colonists. [3] 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. [4]

The expedition reached Santo Domingo in April 1502, and included Diego de Nicuesa and Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon. Also on board were 13 Franciscans, led by Friar Alonso de Espinar, bringing the total on the island to 25. [5]

His Administration

Island Hispaniola with Captaincy General of Santo Domingo LocationHispaniola.svg
Island Hispaniola with Captaincy General of Santo Domingo

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. [6] 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 black slaves into the Americas. Many Spanish aristocrats ordered slaves to work as servants in their homes.

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 settlers to use the natives in forced labour, to provide food for the colonists and for ships returning to Spain. Hundreds of thousands of Taíno died while forced to extract gold from the nearby mines.

Pursuant to a deathbed promise he made to his wife Queen Isabella I, King Ferdinand II of Aragon recalled 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 Madrid 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.

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  1. Noble David Cook, "Nicolás de Ovando" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, vol.4, p. 254. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996.
  2. D. H. Figueredo,"Latino Chronology: Chronologies of the American Mosaic", pg 14, 2007
  3. "Latino Chronology: Chronologies of the American Mosaic"
  4. Ovando made Hernán Cortés a notary and awarded him a land grant nonetheless. This started Cortés' career as a conquistador.
  5. Floyd, Troy (1973). The Columbus Dynasty in the Caribbean, 1492-1526. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 53–54.
  6. Karen Anderson Córdova (1990). Hispaniola and Puerto Rico: Indian Acculturation and Heterogeneity, 1492–1550 (PhD dissertation). Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms International.

Further reading