Luis de Velasco (1511-1564) was the second viceroy of New Spain (now Mexico). A devoted and loyal public servant, he consolidated Spanish control over New Spain and implemented legislation ending Indian slavery in his viceroyalty.
Luis de Velasco was born in the town of Carrión de los Condes in Spain. The son of a noble family, he attended fine schools and joined the military. He soon rose to the rank of captain general in the kingdom of Navarre.
In 1550 Spanish monarch Philip II appointed him viceroy of New Spain. Velasco arrived in Mexico City at a difficult time. The New Laws of 1542, which prohibited Indian slavery and the granting of new encomiendas as well as their bequests to heirs of encomenderos, had created much discontent and had brought the Spanish Empire in America to the verge of disintegration. Although the Crown repealed the inheritance prohibition and allowed most encomiendas then in force to continue, passions were still high when Velasco assumed his position.
Slave owners argued that emancipating the slaves would cripple the most profitable activities of the vice-royalty, particularly gold mining, and would reduce Crown revenues. Despite these arguments, the Spanish government believed that freedmen would become tribute-paying subjects, which they were not so long as they remained slaves. Velasco thus moved to enforce the law and freed an estimated 65, 000 Native American slaves.
Velasco was entrusted with other important tasks. Since the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521, Indians had been forced to pay high tribute to the conquistadores. Velasco reduced it, thus alleviating the burden of the Indians. He also founded the towns of Durango, San Sebastián Chametla, and San Miguel el Grande and organized the Santa Hermandad, or Holy Brotherhood, a local police force which curtailed banditry. In 1553 he presided over the opening of the University of Mexico. He chose stern and incorruptible men to assist him in his work, and by the end of his administration in 1564, he had curtailed the power of the ecomenderos and consolidated the Crown's authority throughout New Spain.
Velasco focused part of his efforts on settling Florida and on exploring the Pacific Ocean. Since the Hernando De Soto exploration of Florida in 1542, the Crown had been interested in a permanent settlement there to secure it from the French and to explore for possible wealth. In 1559 Velasco sent an expedition under Tristán de Luna which landed in Pensacola Bay. But bad weather, hostile natives, disease, and starvation led to a costly failure, and the remnant of the expedition was forced to return to Mexico.
In 1564 Velasco sent an expedition to the Philippines under a Basque navigator, Andrés de Urdaneta. He established a permanent settlement and sailed back to the coast of California and then down to Acapulco. The voyage opened a continuous trade between Mexico and Asia. But by the time of Urdaneta's return, Velasco had died in office on July 31, 1564.
Information on Velasco's life and administration is available in Arthur Scott Aiton, Antonio de Mendoza: First Viceroy of New Spain (1927); Lesley Byrd Simpson, Many Mexicos (1941; 4th ed. rev., 1966); and John L. Phelan, The Millennial Kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World (1956; 2d ed. rev., 1970).