HomeThe Journal of Historyvol. 51 no. 1-4 (2005)

Juan de Santa Cruz and the Establishment of the Spanish Mission of the Mariana Islands during the 17th Century

Augusto V. De Viana

Discipline: Development, Philippine History



Natives from the Philippines were among the colonists who founded the Spanish mission in the Marianas in 1668. One of these was Juan de Santa Cruz, a native of noble birth from Indang, Cavite. He was a friend of Fr. Diego Luis de Sanvitores who argued for and led the establishment of the Mariana mission. Together with nineteen Filipino indios who hailed from other parts of the Philippines, de Santa Cruz left the Philippines and arrived in the Marianas on June 15, 1668. He was designated as the military commander of the mission.

As military commander, de Santa Cruz's role was to ensure the safety of the missionaries. When conflict erupted between the Spanish colonists and the natives of the Marianas, de Santa Cruz ably defended the mission from attacks. Aside from protecting the mission, de Santa Cruz conducted the first survey of Guam and recovered cannons from the sunken wreck of the galleon Concepcion.

De Santa Cruz left the Marianas in 1671. Shortly thereafter, the first large scale Chamorro rebellion erupted. He had earlier warned of the rebellion and suggested that the potential leader of the uprising be deported to the Philippines.

As a leader, de Santa Cruz was hailed as the first peaceful conquistador of the Marianas by Fr. Francisco Garcia, who wrote the first biography of Fr. Sanvitores. His wife became the first school teacher of the Marianas, while his nephew, Juan de Santa Cruz, became an officer and interpreter of the mission. De Santa Cruz's story belies misconceptions that the natives of the Philippines were merely servants of the Spaniards. They actually commanded military forces and some of them were conquerors. It also shows that even ordinary indios could become principales or leading citizens of the colonial society. This paper discusses the role of natives of the Philippines in the Mariana Islands, with emphasis on Juan de Santa Cruz.