Antonio de Montesinos
Antonio de Montesinos (or Antonio Montesino) was a Spanish Dominican friar on the island of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti) who, with the backing of his prior, Fray Pedro de Córdoba and his Dominican community at Santo Dominigo, preached against the enslavement and harsh treatment of the Indigenous peoples of the Island. Montesinos's preaching led to the conversion of Bartolomé de las Casas and his subsequent entrance into the Dominican Order.
Montesinos became a Dominican friar at the convent of St. Stephen in Salamanca, where he may have studied. He was part of the first band of Dominicans to come to Hispaniola island, in September 1510, under the leadership of Pedro de Córdoba.
On the 21st of December, 1511, the fourth Sunday of Advent, Montesinos preached an impassioned sermon criticizing the practices of the Spanish colonial encomienda system, and decrying the abuse of the Taíno Indian people on Hispaniola.
Listing the injustices that the indigenous people were suffering at the hands of the Spanish colonists, Montesinos proclaimed that the Spanish on the island "are all in mortal sin and live and die in it, because of the cruelty and tyranny they practice among these innocent peoples" According to Bartolomé de las Casas, who was an eyewitness of this event, Montesinos also asked those in attendance,
"Tell me by what right of justice do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these people who dealt quietly and peacefully on their own lands? Wars in which you have destroyed such an infinite number of them by homicides and slaughters never heard of before. Why do you keep them so oppressed and exhausted, without giving them enough to eat or curing them of the sicknesses they incur from the excessive labor you give them, and they die, or rather you kill them, in order to extract and acquire gold every day." 
Although there were divisions among the friars themselves, the primary policy of the Preaching Friars (Dominicans) in the New World was in defense of the aboriginal American Indians under Spanish and Portuguese rules, a policy for which they fought for over three centuries. The initial result of the protests against the friars at Santo Domingo was an order from King Ferdinand II that Montesinos and other Dominicans who supported him should be shipped back to Spain. Ferdinand at first referred to the preaching of Montesinos as "a novel and groundless attitude" and a "dangerous opinion [that] would do much harm to all the affairs of that land". While in Spain, however, Montesinos and his companions were able to persuade the king of the correctness of their position.
As a result, the king convened a commission which promulgated the Laws of Burgos, the first code of ordinances attempting to protect the indigenous people, regulate their treatment and conversion, and limit the demands of the Spanish colonizers upon them.
Montesinos' sermon also had a formative impact upon Bartolomé de las Casas, who heard it firsthand. Las Casas became well known for his advocacy of the rights of indigenous peoples of the Americas.
In June, 1526, with Fr. Anthony de Cervantes, he accompanied 500 colonists under the leadership of Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón to San Miguel de Gualdape, possibly where the English subsequently founded Jamestown; or, as some are inclined to think, closer to present day Savannah. Regardless of actual location, it is safe to assert that mass was celebrated for the first time in the present-day United States by these Dominicans, given that at that time priests were obliged to say mass each day. The colony was abandoned in October after only 3 months, and he and about 150 other survivors returned to Hispaniola.
A large statue of Montesinos delivering his sermon faces the Caribbean sea at the seafront of Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). The stone and bronze statue is 15 meters tall and was designed by Mexican sculptor Antonio Castellanos. It was donated to the Dominican people by the Mexican government and inaugurated in 1982 by the presidents of Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
- Bartolomé de Las Casas, in his magisterial, Historia de las Indias, offers several versions of his first name (Antón, Antonio or Antoño), but always only refers to his last name as "Montesino" without the "de" or the final "s." See Isacio Pérez Fernández, "Notas documentales, bibliográficas y críticas" in Bartolomé de Las Casas, Obras Completas 5. Historia de las indias III (Madrid: Alainza Editorial, 1994), note 12, page 2509.
- Hanke 1946, p. 142.
- "Antonio Montesino". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- Las Casas explicitly affirms that it was the fourth Sunday of Advent, which that year was the 21st of December; he also affirms that the Gospel reading was from John 1.19b-28, which is indeed what the Dominican Rite Missal in use at Santo Dominigo at that time used on the fourth Sunday of Advent. See Las Casas, Historia de las Indias, volume 3, chapter 3 (Obras Completas 5.3, page 1760); for more on the date of this sermon, see Isacio Pérez Fernández, "Notas documentales, bibliográficas y críticas" in Bartolomé de Las Casas, Obras Completas 5. Historia de las indias III (Madrid: Alainza Editorial, 1994), note 14, page 2510.
- Warner 1987,p. 295
- Bartolome de Las Casas: Witness: Writing of Bartolome de Las casas. ed and trans by George Sanderlin (Maryknoll: Orbis books, 1993) 66-67.
- See the document prepared by the Order of Preachers, “In Evangelical Solidarity with the Oppressed: the Fifth Centenary Anniversary of the Arrival of the Order in America”(PDF)[dead link]
- Hanke 1946, p. 142-3.
- Hanke 1946, p. 143
- Seed 1992, p. 202
- Warner 1987, p. 296
- Warner 1987, p. 299.
- Hanke, Lewis. (1946) Free Speech in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America. The Hispanic American Historical Review, 26,2:135-149.
- Seed, Patricia. (1992). Taking Possession and Reading Texts: Establishing the Authority of Overseas Empires. The William and Mary Quarterly, 3,49,2:183-209.
- Watner, Carl. (1987). "All Mankind Is One": The Libertarian Tradition In Sixteenth Century Spain. The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 8,2:293–309.