Editor’s note: Quotes are taken from R. Lévesque, History of Micronesia series, University of Hawai’i Press, 1992-2002.

Conquest of the Marianas

Illustrated by Raph Unpingco, 2009.

A well-born Spaniard, José de Quiroga y Losada, was a major figure in the subjugation of the Chamorro/CHamoru people, dedicated to their Christianization, killing many of them in the process.

The historical record of Quiroga in the Mariana Islands begins with his arrival in Guam in 1679.  Until almost his death in December 1720 in Guam, Quiroga functioned as the head of the presidios or Spanish military garrisons and their operations.  Although he served as executive officer or governor of the Mariana Islands on three occasions in an acting capacity, he was never formally appointed as a Governor.

Quiroga first replaced Captain Juan Antonio Ruiz de Salas as governor.  He was then replaced by Captain Antonio Saravia in June 1681 who was subsequently replaced by Sargento Mayor Damián de Esplana in November 1683.  Esplana was replaced by Quiroga in November 1688.  Quiroga was replaced again by Esplana in June 1690.

Commanding from a camp in Macheche, Quiroga and his troops went after resistant CHamorus and by 1680 the island had been divided into five districts (Hagåtña, Humåtak, Hågat, Inalåhan and Pago), each organized around a church-centered village or pueblo into which Chamorros were “reduced” or forced to live.

A year later Quiroga is described by Father Gerard Bouwens as having shown “great bravery” and having “made wonders” in his “conquest” of Rota, “climbing over steep mountains against a big number of barbarians who, astounded at his valor, had surrendered to him.” (Father Bouwens would be appointed to lead the Saipan mission by Quiroga shortly before he and his soldiers engaged resistant Chamorros in a “final” battle on Aguijan in 1695. Bouwens would remain on Saipan until his death in 1712.)

Quiroga is perhaps best known (particularly during the periods in which he was not chief executive) for his tenacious pursuit and killing of Chamorro dissidents, the burning of their villages, his efforts in 1684 to quell resistance in the Mariana Islands (particularly on Saipan) and his belated return to Guam to stop a four-month long assault on the Spanish garrison in Hagåtña by Chamorros who had taken advantage of Quiroga’s absence. Father Bouwens had considered the “wars” between the Spanish and the Chamorros to have concluded in 1676 until the 1684 coordinated rebellion began in Hagåtña.

From Galicia, Spain, Quiroga was the nephew of Cardinal Gaspar de Quiroga, Archbishop of Toledo, and second cousin to the Archbishop of Santiago, Chile and Mexico. He counted among his mentors Thysus González de Santalla, the Spanish theologian and 13th Superior General of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and Maria de Guadalupe of Lencastre, 6th Duchess of Averio.

Quiroga originally signed “on as a sailor in order to get a passage” from Europe to Mexico.  (“The Lord permitting it to be so, that I might earn much merit, if only I knew how to take advantage of it more.  It seems to me that I have not known how.”)  Upon leaving his service in the Flanders war, where he served as a Lieutenant of Spanish Infantry, Quiroga criticized himself (in the self-effacing tone that characterizes his letters) for having squandered the “umpteen opportunities that the Lord has given me to serve Him…in order to concentrate better on the virtuous path and I see myself so much behind, I cannot write this without tears.”

He had at one point expressed his desire to Jesuit Father Tirso Gonzales to “retire to serve God” whereupon Gonzales convinced Quiroga to “leave the world” and serve the missionary efforts in the Mariana Islands where he would have a substantial impact on the outcomes of Chamorro resistance against the Spanish.  According to Father Bouwens, Quiroga led a pious, “exemplary life from the beginning…frequenting twice a week the sacraments of confession and communion…He would not knowingly commit a venial sin for all the lures of the world.”

Upon reaching Mexico, Quiroga journeyed to Acapulco with a “troop of soldiers and sailors” where he ended up in a jail “where I deserved to be…right next to Don Francisco Valenzuela,” the former Queen Mother’s lover who was to be exiled to the Philippines.

Quiroga describes his eventual passage to the Marianas on a galleon as a “very good voyage” although upon arrival a strong wind (“currents [were] running away from the shore”) prevented the ship from anchoring.  The galleon tacked back and forth as supplies and men were unloaded. As Quiroga and two priests, Father Basilio Le Roux and Father Tomás Vallejo, lowered themselves into a Chamorro proa, Quiroga conjectured that God “may have wanted me to die at sea rather than ashore.” A third priest, Father Maximilian Vanderstein, according to Father Garía Salgrado, “turned crazy during the second part of the voyage.”

Quiroga was given a house second in quality only to the house of Captain Juan Antonio de Salas, the unofficial governor of the Marianas. Salas himself came under serious criticism in several Jesuit documents for acts that conveyed a negative image of the mission. These included his apparent approval of the taking of “poor precious things” from the dwellings of priests, his scandalous public cohabitations (“the Indians [Chamorros] take good notice of such things”), and his “bestial appetite” reflected in his raping of Chamorro girls who “came to hear catechism.”  “With such monsters,” Father Emmanuel de Solόzano wrote, “how can this Mission prosper?”  Most references to Salas being replaced by Quiroga are consequently expressed in relief.

This first house in Guam appeared to also represent to Quiroga a spiritual message from God that his “will…be fulfilled” and Quiroga’s own idea of his prowess: “I am very happy that it seems that the world treats me like ballast.”  Indeed, in a 1681 letter from Father Emmanuel de Solόrzano (at one point director of the Colegio de San Juan de Latrán in Hagåtña) to Father Francisco García, Solόrzano stressed that “the good gentleman” Quiroga, although endowed with “very good habits and known virtue,” was nevertheless “hard of judgment and very self-conceited about himself and his things; he is always full of praises for himself and his nobility.”

The honorary title of Governor for Quiroga appeared to have “gotten to his head” to such an extent that he fancied himself Governor of an area as vast as “either the Philippines or Flanders.”  It was in this perceptual context that Quiroga endeavored to make “a showing, having a retinue and command.”  Father Solόrzano asserted that this confidence originated from Quiroga’s conviction that not only was his own life “righteous” and faithful to God’s commandments, he was also fulfilling the will of God.  As such, he “thinks that whatever he does, discusses and thinks, and is proposed as good to him, he must execute, because he cannot make a mistake by doing it.”

Although Quiroga did not “consult with anyone,” Solόrzano continued, he was “a man of only average skill and without any experience with Indians [Chamorros].”  And not only did Quiroga often meddle with the spiritual responsibilities and tasks of the Jesuits and did not accept spiritual counsel (which contrasts with Father Bouwens’ assertion that Quiroga did seek such counsel), his many unspecified “material mistakes” caused “prejudice toward the Christian community and [are] damaging to us.”  Quiroga had been told on numerous occasion to consult “about things with those who know more,” but he remained “judgmental and prone to being his own counsel [so that] he does not pay attention to any of it and runs over everything.”

Quiroga also attempted to persuade Chamorros that “he can do everything here, that he is more than just a camp commandant and that they must first obey his commands before those of the Fathers.”  Solόzano expressed concern that Quiroga’s apparently undiplomatic demands that the Chamorros pay tribute “in the name of the King” for the “upkeep” of the soldiers and priests could lead the Chamorros to tighten those tributes to such an extent that the Chamorros could “starve us to death.”  But if this “young man” would only admit that he needed a guide and counselor, her “Excellency could not find a more fitting subject to govern the civilian side of these islands and to establish this Christian community.”

Despite Solόrzano’s views of Quiroga’s darker side, references to Quiroga in primarily Jesuit letters are peppered with accolades: “an angel,” “a lad of much virtue with great health and good intention,” a man “who gives a wonderful example to everyone,” “famous,” “a worthy Son of the Church,” “a lion,” “noble and Christian gentleman,” “the Hernán Cortés of the Northern Marianas,” “devoted and spirited soldier,” “devout knight” (this from a May 1681 letter by Father Solόrzano to Maria de Guadalupe, Duchess of Aveiro), “honorable and exemplary,” and numerous other positive descriptors.

An anonymous Jesuit referred to Quiroga as this “angel” following his execution of two Spanish soldiers who were possibly facing charges of sodomy;his execution of Matå’pang who had killed Father Diego Luís de San Vitores eight years earlier; and his applying the “choking collar to 15 other evil-doers.” (Another Jesuit letter, however, said that Chamorros on Rota turned Matå’pang over because of their “fear” of Quiroga).  Quiroga was also sometimes referred to as “the Hermit” by Jesuits for his apparent lack of interest in women.

Not uncommon also in letters of the time were deriding characterizations of Chamorros, particularly as “barbarians” along with frequent references to their lack of Western clothing.  Quiroga himself labeled Chamorros as “new naked brothers” and as “donkeys” when Jesuits endeavored to convert them.

Chamorros who eventually cooperated and supported the mission, however, were simply referred to as “natives” or as “native allies.”  Chamorros are also referred to as indios in Spanish documents. Although this distinction between Christianized and yet-to-be Christianized Chamorros is often present in these documents.  Christianized Chamorros were also sometimes referred to as “Marianos.”

Chamorro beliefs in ancestral presences and powers were inevitably assaulted, often physically, in Quiroga’s presence.  In Jesuit descriptions of sorties undertaken by Quiroga and his men in 1680, the practice of honoring the skulls of ancestors before a fishing expedition or for the occurrence of rain, for example, was belittled and the Spanish often then destroyed the skulls.

In a simultaneously self-effacing and somewhat incoherent letter to the Duchess of Aveiro, a patroness of Jesuit missions, Quiroga describes the presence of a coarse stone on top of a venerated skull for the purpose of praying for “water, and wind, and other things.”  The village where this arrangement was found was apparently in southern Guam.  Quiroga and others spat on the stone to challenge a belief that anyone who did so “would become crazy.”  Besides destroying skulls, Quiroga and his men also destroyed spears – “the worst weapons in the whole world” and fashioned from human bone – whenever they could because “there is nothing that can be done against their poison.”

Quiroga described the conversion efforts of several priests, including those of Father Lorenzo Bustillo, who Quiroga maintained was so fluent in the Chamorro language that “he can almost teach it to the natives themselves.”

Quiroga continued to deride Chamorros in his letter to the Duchess, forecasting that before Guam became “as it should be,” considerable labor and blood would need to be spent, given “these barbarian people [who are] Godless, lawless and almost devoid of reason.”  He prayed for the creation of cotton crops so as to “relieve this so great nakedness” but then ridiculed the efforts of some Chamorros to put on clothes given to them.

His summary of the earliest military expeditions in Guam is valuable not only for the military techniques detailed and reported Chamorro responses, but also for the description of life in the Marianas as the Spanish saw it.  These expeditions were carried out four years before the concentrated suppression of Chamorros in the Northern Mariana Islands and his return to Guam to turn back the Chamorro attack on the Hagåtña garrison. Quiroga and Captain Antonio Saravia, governor of Guam from June 1681 to November 1683, had originally attempted to attack Saipan in 1683.  Their boats were separated in a storm however whereupon Quiroga spent two days and nights at sea searching for Saravia until he was driven to Rota.  Quiroga’s bravery was extolled by Saravia, who had also managed to eventually reach Rota.

In early 1684, Quiroga routinely claimed that most Chamorros in Guam villages ran into the jungle upon the approach of his soldiers, while Christianized Chamorros typically approached them singing Christian hymns.  After “prayers were sung” in one such village, Quiroga wrote that these Chamorros “then…performed their dance, and comedy, as although they are barbarians, they too have their own forms of entertainment.”

In the village of Tarague, Quiroga described the almost simultaneous  ministering by priests while soldiers chased down “evil-doers,” perhaps killing them, certainly burning their homes. The visit was typically summarized in missionary triumph before the men moved on to another village and experienced similar events.

Quiroga’s observation of Chamorro life, beliefs, and practices are sometimes relatively unique.  Besides his observation of the course stone placed on a venerated skull, he noted that the women of Tarague, who besides being “all in complete nudity…adorned with the formal dress of our mother Eve” wore numerous flowers and beat their legs below their knees to create welts.  “This way,” he wrote, “they decorate their legs in lieu of the most formal set of clothes.”  Quiroga also claimed that both men and women “fashion many scars on their bodies, which they make by biting one another…there is no part of the body that is spared.”

In his May 1684 letter from Saipan to Father Libertus de Pape, Father Peter Coomans (who was stoned to death on Saipan in July 1685) detailed the invasion of Saipan led by Quiroga in a “European-type boat…accompanied by not more than 20 native canoes [several others joined from Aguijan] with 60 select soldiers (Bouwens put the number at 76) and leader F. Mateo Cuculino, and everything needed for war.”  They had had to wait on Rota for two and a half weeks before favorable winds enabled them to reach Aquijan after sunset and according to Coomans, without the notice of Chamorros on either Aguiujan or Saipan.

Coomans  depicted the initial encounters at Saipan with Quiroga leaping into the water just before reaching land, his soldiers behind him.  Some Chamorros took “to flight” and others who challenged the landing party were wounded, a few killed.  Thus “the terrified barbarians lost spirit.”  Although these resistant villages were razed, Coomans not infrequently referred to several villages successfully requesting peace.  Those that did not “were laid waste with iron and fire…One person out of the crowd who dared to resist was cut down with an axe and his body hung by the foot from a tree to inspire fear.”

Coomans described traps with “bone spear points and fire-hardened wooden stakes” that “native allies” guided Quiroga and his men around but not before two soldiers had fallen into a pit and were wounded.  As Chamorros from this village fought, they set fire to their own houses when they eventually “took to flight.”  Quiroga and his troops undertook a number of sorties, bringing back at one point the head of the chief of the village of Agingan “as a trophy” whose “hand had been cut off when captured at sea by our men on another expedition.”  Coomans describes another “war chief” — “Punni” of the village of “Tumhum” — as “a brave man who met death boldly hurling his last spear at us.”

Within two weeks of their arrival at Saipan, the Spanish constructed a garrison and mounted  an expedition to the east, led by Quiroga, that apparently met no resistance.  Efforts were subsequently made to salvage 20 culverin and 14 swivel guns offshore from the 1638 Concepciόn wreckage while “experiencing nothing hostile except some spears thrown from the woods.” A few weeks after the Hagåtña siege began ( but before he knew of it), Quiroga sent 17 soldiers to Guam on two boats with 10 cannons from the Concepción. All were killed by Chamorros on Tinian after a storm forced them to divert there.

According to Father Bouwens’ annual report for 1684-1685, however, Quiroga, “the Hernán Cortés of the Northern Marianas,” had to undertake a series of offensive sorties to meet repeated attempts by Chamorros (“who were,” Bouwens wrote, “gigantic in body but cowardly in heart and spirit”) to overrun the Saipan garrison.  Frequently describing Chamorro warriors as being amazed at the “valor” of Quiroga and his small number of soldiers and thus temporarily driven to retreat, Bouwens also recounted Quiroga’s orderly retreat back to the garrison on several occasions where he exhorted his men to trust in God and revenge an imagined annihilation of the Hagåtña garrison.  (“There is nothing in this life that I am afraid of,” Bouwens quotes Quiroga as saying, “except the offense to God, not death.”)

During one sortie, Quiroga and 15 men sent Chamorros “squalling to the woods…with such a great push that the insurgents withdrew toward the mountains so aghast and in terror that they did so in a disorderly fashion.”  This trust in God was evident, according to Bouwens, by the fact that Quiroga and his men saw “spears break up in mid-air as they fell down at their feet.”  Bouwens took pains to stress that Quiroga spared (“moved to compassion”) wounded Chamorros who he thought could be Christianized. Nevertheless, he ordered the burning of their canoes and grain fields and  looting of “provisions enough for two years” which were brought back  to the garrison.

In attacking the Hagåtña garrison on 23 July 1684, Chamorro warriors in Guam had taken advantage of the absence of at least half of the Spanish soldiers normally stationed on the island, who were campaigning in the northern Mariana Islands.  Led by “Antonio” Yura (or Yula) from the village of Apotguan in Hagåtña, the warriors managed to conceal themselves among other parishioners at mass on the same day that Father Bouwens invited several priests for a meeting at his house.

Following the Mass, the warriors broke into two groups, one sent to assassinate the governor and the others to attack the priests.  Governor Damian de Esplana was severely wounded but survived. Several  priests were also wounded and two were killed, including Mission Superior Father Emmanuel de Solόrzano.  Yura was killed by Spanish soldiers during the attack on Governor Esplana.  It is certainly possible that if left to their own defenses, the Spanish garrison would have fallen to Yura’s forces, leading most probably to the Chamorro overthrow of the Spanish government.

However, Hineti (Don Ignacio de Hineti in Spanish records), a clan leader from Sinajana,who was probably motivated in part by opportunities to advance from his manachang lower class status proved to be a critical linchpin in the ultimately successful defense of the Spanish garrison.  During the attack, Hineti helped wounded priests into the relative safety of the garrison before gathering 50 warriors “armed with lances” who encircled the church and the priests’ residence.  He also carried two devotional statues from a burning building and gathered other “holy statues, ornaments, and jewels” during the next few days. In order to thwart a concerted attack by Yura’s men that extended from 27 July until 18 August, Chamorros from the village of Anigua joined Hineti and other Chamorro allies of the Spanish during the four-month defense of the garrison.

Several attempts were made  to reach Quiroga who was unaware of the Hagåtña attack as he pursued the pacification of the northern Mariana Islands.  These included Father Theofile de Angelis’ attempt to sail to Rota and then to Saipan.  He was killed before he could embark.  This prompted warriors from Ritidian village to sail to Saipan to try to convince Chamorros there to kill Augustin de Strobach and Carlos Boranga.  Governor Esplana also directed the “Fiscal of Asan” to sail to Saipan without stopping at either Rota or Tinian to deliver a letter to Quiroga reporting the Hagåtña attack.  Father Bouwens also sent a Chamorro to Saipan the next day with instructions for Fathers Strobach and Boranga to return to Guam.

When they reached Guam, Strobach and his Chamorro escort turned back after they saw the smoldering ruins of the Colegio de San Juan de Letrán and the priests’ residence. Chased at sea for a time by Apotguan warriors, the priest and his companion sailed to Rota  – where they found a stranded “Fiscal of Asan” who asserted that he could go no further.  It wasn’t clear if the “Fiscal of Asan” had been forced to remain on Rota by the Chamorros who brought him there.  The question naturally arises as to why Quiroga didn’t discover the Hagåtña uprising from the Chamorro who apparently reached Saipan to bring Strobach and Boranga back to Guam.

Bouwen wrote of the arrival in Guam of a “friendly” Chamorro from Rota who told them that Strobach had successfully reached Saipan and informed Quiroga of the Guam attacks.  Strobach, however, was  killed on Tinian.  Boranga – despite Bouwens’ earlier statement that Boranga had decided to stay on Saipan – was killed on Rota. Hineti’s men were “useless” in terms of sending some of them to Saipan, since they were “reared in the mountains and therefore not accustomed to sail [and] had no knowledge of seamanship.”  Nevertheless, rumors of the decimation of the Hagåtña garrison somehow reached Quiroga as did the rumor of Quiroga’s demise reach Hagåtña .  These rumors were most likely instigated by Chamorros on both islands, endeavoring to end the Spanish presence.

Apparently believing that his Hagåtña colleagues had been killed and the garrison overrun by Chamorro warriors, Quiroga “encouraged his soldiers with greater vigor that with the sword they might avenge so many sacrileges” and led them to southern Saipan where allegedly “the enemy despairing to resist him withdrew from the island toward the neighboring island.”  Then moving north, Quiroga and his soldiers slew “many rebels” and captured and wounded many others.

During an apparent lull in his Saipan campaign, Quiroga executed a disobedient Spanish soldier, imploring his troops not to offend either God’s or the military’s laws. The man was executed by firing squad to the amazement of Saipan Chamorros.  Quiroga then had a Chamorro woman, who had brought gifts for his soldiers  seized as a hostage to force someone from her village to voyage to Guam and bring back news. Upon reaching her village with Quiroga and his force, the woman cried out, leading Quiroga to cause “havoc among the Indians” killing more than 200 men, many apparently while they slept (men, “who not withstanding the vociferation of his guide, did not wake up”).

Quiroga threatened to kill five members of a chief’s family as well as to “annihilate” all the Chamorros of Saipan, if the chief failed to deliver the commander’s letter to Guam or if he returned without an answer. Quiroga finally learned of the four-month siege of the Hagåtña garrison when the voyager (it is not clear if it was the chief or someone he commanded to go) went to a Christian Chamorro friend in Guam.

This “good Indian” from Saipan invoked “the Holy Eucharist which was the password” at the Hagåtña garrison and carried Quiroga’s letter in to Sargento Mayor Damián de Esplana, who gave orders for Quiroga to return immediately to Guam.  Meanwhile “rebel” canoes from Saipan had also reached Guam with an apparent Chamorro spy for the Spanish letting the garrison defenders know that Quiroga was about to return to Guam, and thus, according to Bouwens, “restore once again the lost Christian religion.”

Upon the return of the “good Indian” Quiroga gathered his troops on Saipan and took to sea in the middle of the night with 35 men in eight canoes using the pretense of punishing Chamorros on nearby islands and under the distracting cover of small gun fire in the mountains. Three canoes with 15 men became caught in strong currents and were left behind (they eventually reached Tinian). The other canoes arrived at Guam after two days and nights at sea, reaching Hagåtña at about 3 am on 23 November 1684.

This force allegedly struck “such terror and consternation upon the spirits of the natives” that many sailed to Rota and Tinian (“all feared their total ruin and extermination”) while Quiroga made numerous sorties out of the garrison, ordering the “burning of the towns of the rebels” and killing “many Indians.” Father Lorenzo Bustillo claimed in November 1688 that “two-thirds of the people of this Island of Guan [went] to the other island” following Quiroga’s return from Saipan.

Bouwens, however, wrote in  reference only to Christianized Chamorros that they “are endowed” with many excellent qualities [“above all a charitable and obliging people”] rarely seen in the rest of the barbarian groups of America and the Orient.”  Bouwens concluded that since the 1684 “rebellion” had been defeated, Guam could once again become a “very flourishing Christian community” if the Chamorros were “educated and subjected under arms” – albeit only if soldiers on the island become better trained “in the use of arms.”


The historical record on Quiroga is relatively quiet for the next few years — until 1688 when soldiers mutinied against Quiroga.  The uprising was led by Manuel Salgado and apparently fueled by Quiroga’s arrogance and the severity of his command over them, including during their off-work hours.  Contributing to the general disenchantment was the general lack of “succor” (a frequent word of desire in Jesuit letters of the time) for soldiers. Soldiers placed  him in shackles from May 27 to August 20,  when he was freed by an illiterate Captain, Nicolás Rodriquez, who had turned against his fellow conspirators.

A year after the mutiny, Father Diego de Zarzosa, in a letter to Father Antonio Mateo Xaramillo (a Jesuit priest in the Marianas from 1678 to 1694), conjectured that its origins lay in Quiroga’s continuation of Captain Damián de Esplana’s practice of forcing soldiers to cultivate plantations and tend to pigpens from dawn to dusk because “he did not have enough Indians to do the many chores of his invention.”

Although Quiroga apparently expressed abhorrence for Esplana’s actions, once Esplana had travelled to Manila (where he would be accused of deserting his post), Quiroga simply continued this forced labor.  The soldiers were made to “work with greater rigor…without giving them time to breathe or take a little rest…they would prefer to be in the Moorish dungeons of the Barbary Coast than in the Mariana Islands,” Zarzosa wrote.  “This was the origin of an outcry calling for the death of the Governor until at last they became desperate.”

According to Father Bustillo, Captain Rodriquez, who had participated in the “conquest” of Saipan, was “very calmly and was loved by all.”  He was apparently one of the few soldiers who did not detest Quiroga and his “annoying manner,” demonstrating a “love so close that he did his best always to serve” Quiroga. On one or two occasions, Rodriquez had actually stopped soldiers from simply shooting Quiroga. There had also been a rumor that attempts were being made to poison Quiroga through his food.

Other factors that may have contributed to Quiroga’s seizure included an unspecified “weakness” of Rodriquez that Quiroga discovered (possibly the discovery of Rodriquez having sex with his fiancée in the barracks), the lack of “succor” that had become too much for the soldiers, and the ability of some soldiers to allegedly turn Rodriquez against Quiroga.

Although Quiroga had sought the protection of the Jesuits (all of whom also fundamentally detested him – “the priests of Christ are not his slaves”), Salgado led soldiers into the church on Ascension Day, seized Quiroga and took him to the fort in Hagåtña.  Quiroga was subdued “with a pair of shackles; his house was sacked, and his clothes distributed among them, with Salgado getting the best ones.”  To the “disgust” of Rodriquez, the soldiers put on Quiroga’s clothes to attend mass and then destroyed Quiroga’s house.

This appeared to be the action that won Rodriquez back over to the Jesuits with whom he could then only occasionally speak, given Salgado’s vigilant monitoring of Rodriquez.  The Jesuits assured Rodriquez that not only would he receive a full pardon but that actions against the mutineers would earn him “great honor and advantage.” At some point during the mutinous siege, Rodriquez managed to throw “himself at the feet” of a shackled Quiroga who also promised Rodriquez a pardon and the retaining of his Captain’s rank. Ironically, Salgado also aspired to establish himself as the absolute head of the Marianas government, “treating everyone with harsh words, and deeds” and subsequently earning the “insolences” of most soldiers.

Soldiers were also based in Humåtak in anticipation of the arrival of a sloop from Manila that might threaten to upend the mutiny.  Under the guise of cooperating with Salgado, Rodriquez traveled to Humåtak with fifty soldiers and Father Miguel de Aparicio to whom he secretly pledged his support for Quiroga.  After establishing himself within the defensive Humåtak encampment, Rodriquez went back to Hagåtña, unshackled Quiroga (prompting a “firing salute” in tribute to his freedom) and then quickly returned to Humåtak where he ordered the arrest and shackling of Salgado by soldiers who had tired of him just as they had tired of Quiroga.

Discovering shortly afterwards that a Sergeant and a Squad Corporal intended to put Quiroga back into irons, Rodriquez rushed back to Hagåtña (“he would fly along these roads leading from Umatag to Agadña on foot and under continuous rains”), arrested the two officers and ordered Salgado brought back to Hagåtña where all three “repentant” rebels were executed by harquebus a day before the sloop’s arrival.  Fourteen other soldiers were chained and made ready to ship off to a Manila galley.

Father Zarzosa believed that Quiroga’s dominating and grating personality returned as soon as he was unshackled.  If anything, Zarzosa contended, Quiroga became more stubborn as a consequence of his three months’ imprisonment. The mutiny had left him “somewhat alienated, and outside of himself, although very cold, and alert to anything that might lead to vanity, and self-esteem.”  He began to ride his horse with five soldiers marching in front and others following behind  to “make the Indians understand that he is the greatest Magarrahi (Magala’hi) [paramount chief] in the whole island.”

Zarzosa attributed some of this vanity (“vanity in a man who prides himself in being virtuous, and God-fearing”) to Quiroga’s attempt to divert the “melancholy” that he struggled with after his release, despite his contention that he “would bury the matter in perpetual oblivion.”  Trusting only Sergeant-Major Juan de Medrano and Rodriquez, Quiroga otherwise “fears everyone, suspects everyone, checks everything.”  Major Juan de Medrano, who arrived from Manila to assist Quiroga, also soon realized his mistake when Quiroga quickly came to resent the esteem soldiers felt for the new Sergeant-Major. Medrano subsequently regretted ever having come to Guam.

Attempted to monopolize food supply

Zarzosa also maintained that Quiroga attempted to monopolize the food supply in Guam so that priests would have to come begging him for food.  Christianized Chamorros were afraid to approach priests, even with bananas, out of fear of retribution by Quiroga.  Despite attempts by priests to talk to Quiroga about his “obstinacy” and “haughtiness,” he would metaphorically “pull the bed covers over his head” and attribute these apprehensions to the Jesuits’ imaginations.  He subsequently granted himself the title of Governor and Captain General of the Marianas and made a Quiroga seal of arms composed of three lizards that he stamped upon official orders.

While Jesuits greatly desired that Quiroga would retire and find “some [other] place where he could quietly serve God,” Quiroga himself worried that the Christian community might again be subjected to the consequences of another and possibly final mutiny against him.  However, resigning was the furthest thing from his mind.  Jesuits  threatened to leave the Marianas mission and go to Manila. Soldiers began to go the priests’ house more often to ask for supplies (“if we do not willingly give it, they will steal it from us”).  Quiroga himself would send aides to ask for things from the priests after he had carefully inspected the Jesuit store room.

Although Quiroga had served as godfather at Rodriquez’s wedding and had a house built for Rodriquez in Tumon (Tomhom) where other married officers lived, the commander would  turn on Rodriquez in apparent retribution for his initial involvement in the mutiny, despite the fact that Rodriquez had turned to the Jesuits and subdued the mutineers to achieve Quiroga’s freedom.  Father Bouwens maintained that Quiroga had already put Rodriquez on a retirement list and that his real purpose was to have Rodriquez take care of pigs and plantations in Tumon. Even the mere sight of Rodriquez would eventually make Quiroga’s “blood boil,” believing that Rodriquez’s “repentance” for having taken part in the mutiny was not sincere.

Without warning and without the Jesuits’ knowledge, Quiroga had two officers escort Rodriquez and his wife at midnight to a sloop that also contained the 14 mutinous soldiers being exiled to Manila.  Giving his wife instructions in Chamorro, Rodriquez feigned a desire to say goodbye to the priests and disappeared into the jungle, eventually making his way to Humåtak and seeking protection from Father Basilio de Roux.  Quiroga tracked down Rodriquez but Basilio put Quiroga under the threat of ex-communication if he pulled Rodriquez out of the church.

Quiroga argued that the letter of recommendation he had given Rodriquez to present to the Governor of the Philippines would protect him from the retribution of soldiers there, although the letter merely highlighted his pardon of Rodriquez with the hope that the Governor would approve it.  Rodriquez would ultimately remain in Humåtak with his wife and reputation, allowing the Jesuits to hope that  he could easily replace Quiroga if such good fortune ever came to pass.

Quiroga would somehow continue to serve under five successive governors: José Madrazo (1696-1700), Francisco Medrano (1700-1704), Antonio de Villamor y Vadillo (1704-1706), Manuel Argüelles y Valdez (1706-1706), and the governor that Quiroga had the most conflicts with, Juan Antonio Pimentel (1709-1720).  Like most other missionaries and probably many Spanish officials), Quiroga was dedicated to the Christianization of Chamorros and possessed of a fanaticism requiring conversion  at any cost, including the destruction of resisting Chamorros themselves and depopulation of the archipelago.  Even the epidemics of European diseases for which Chamorros had no immunity were for Quiroga a reflection of God’s wrath against recalcitrant Chamorros (“the vengeance of God…decimated them by means of various epidemics”).

Change of heart

It is, therefore, perhaps surprising that his last years in Guam reflect a concern with the welfare of the Chamorro people.  Out of his distorted justification (or rationaliry) for the depopulation of the Chamorro people, there emerged a desire to protect Chamorros from the abuses of Governor Pimentel and his harsh field supervisors, the appointed alcaldes. This concern was based on the successful Christian conversion of Chamorros, though the question of the extent and form of the Chamorros’ appropriation of Christianity  is a subject for contemporary scholars.

To Quiroga’s mind, after having become Christians, Chamorros were to automatically have the protection of the Church and the Spanish Crown.  In a scathing May 1720 letter to King Phillip V, Quiroga outlined the “excessive maltreatment” Chamorros experienced under Pimentel’s reign.  Eleven years previously in November 1709, Pimentel had himself written to King Phillip V decrying Quiroga’s alleged inability to govern or to establish and enforce military discipline.  He suggested that Quiroga be given land in the Philippines where he could spend his retirement years and save the Marianas presidio the expense of his salary.

Quiroga believed that while there were 50,000 Chamorros in Guam alone at the commencement of the “Conquest” in 1668, only 4,000  were alive in 1720, living in “so much poverty and misfortune.”  Quiroga placed particular emphasis on the meager few leaves of low quality tobacco given to Chamorros in payment for undertaking the difficult harvesting of “capers” on cliffs and rocks. The harvest was sold at exorbitant prices in Manila, Acapulco or to passing galleons but all for satisfying the greed of governors (including those before Pimentel) and the alcaldes.  Governor Pimentel, Quiroga emphasized in his letter, “ravage[s] them with unendurable labour…some fall ill and do not want to be cured, because they say they would rather die than live a life of endless drudgery.”  Quiroga estimated that the value of the tobacco leaves a Chamorro man would receive for his labor was “one twentieth of a silver real [34 maraveís], meaning that a man would have to labor for four to six months to afford enough of the “poorest grade fabric sold in the Governor’s [monopolistic] store” with which to make himself a pair of pants.

These few leaves of inferior tobacco were also given to Chamorros for their woven mats, baskets, and sails that were highly valued in the Philippines as well as for overseeing government-based chicken farms and piggeries in one of five partidos or district to which Chamorros were forced to settle by Quiroga and his men beginning in 1680. Although Pimentel tried to convince the Chamorros that the chickens and pigs were “for the common good of the Infantry,” Pimentel and probably other governors before him simply sold the meat to the same soldiers at high prices.

Quiroga stressed that it was therefore common that a poor soldier, even a sick one, would never eat meat unless it was given to him by the Jesuits. Pimentel would also charge exorbitant prices for the aguardiente or fermented tuba harvested from coconut trees by Chamorros. Even the private fields of the Chamorros were exploited by the alcaldes (“partly because of their greed and partly because of their fear of the Governor”), skimming off significant portions of the profits earned by Chamorros who sold their crops to the presidio and who subsequently failed to take care of their land because of this exploitation.

Quiroga expressed very belated charitable leanings when he maintained that besides the Jesuits giving clothes to islanders “who serve the Governor so that they will not have to present themselves unclothed,” he himself attempted to “meet the needs of these poor people, because it seems to me that I can find no better way to spend the salary Your Majesty allows me than to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.”

Quiroga recommended that King Phillip send “Malavar [South Indian] slaves” from Manila to relieve the strain for Chamorros who, besides having responsibilities for the piggeries also hunted “wild bulls” in the jungle, made lime and charcoal and prepared fields to be farmed for the entire sake of the presidio.

Although he recommended that the number of soldiers in the presidio be reduced from the current 130 soldiers to 50 or 60, given the subjugated and Christianized nature of Chamorros, Quiroga also expounds upon the “misery” (which “is no less” than the Chamorros suffer) of the Spanish and Filipino soldiers, including their reduced salaries, their exploitation by Pimentel’s exorbitant and monopolistic prices and the related unavailability of clothing.  Most “walk without shoes, nearly naked.”  Pimentel’s promotion of gambling also meant more soldiers taking out loans on their salaries at the Governor’s store, including those who took out loans so as to avoid the Governor eliminating their position if they drew their full salaries on payday.  “Several old men” who fought with Quiroga during the Conquest had already lost their positions because they had not gone into debt to the Governor’s store.

Quiroga also bemoaned the spiritual state of the Marianas and particularly Guam, where the virtuous conduct of the Jesuits had been unable to overshadow the “bad example” of Filipino and Spanish solders – the latter of whom originating from Mexico and were “scum.”  Quiroga was particularly concerned about their “licentiousness”: “there is no woman, married or unmarried, whom they do not solicit and abuse.”  These soldiers frequently forced husbands to leave their homes so that they could have free reign with these women.

Not only did Pimentel know about this but the Palacio that he occupied had become known as the “Harem of the Great Turk.” The Palacio’s “school for girls” was, according to Quiroga, an accumulation of concubines, most of whom were eventually married to soldiers, often unwillingly while they maintained their sexual services to Pimentel.  If these married soldiers, who subsequently rose speedily through the ranks, tried to dislodge their wives from the Palacio, they fell “from rank more quickly than they rose.”

Pimentel, Quiroga charged, also forbade priests from offering communion when he was in the church.  Pimentel’s confessions amounted to threats to cut out the tongues of others he suspected of telling the priests about his scandalous behavior.  And although five Jesuits on a Manila bound galleon who were persuaded by Guam priests to disembark began a series of devotions to San Ignacio which Pimentel began to frequent, he resisted the “life changes” that began to appear in others and stopped attending.

It would not specifically be Pimentel’s corruption that would lead to his downfall, but rather his accommodating approach to English Captain Woodes Rogers whose four ships anchored off Humåtak in March 1710.  Assessing Rogers’ superior forces, Pimentel allowed Rogers to accumulate provisions at will while the Spanish and the English entertained each other until Rogers shoved off to Mindanao a few weeks later.  Investigation into Pimentel’s corruption by Manila officials would follow after his imprisonment.  The investigation would do little to stop future governors from exploiting Chamorros and their own positions for profit.

In his Hagåtña “confession” on 7 December 1720, Pimentel maintained that Quiroga would not be able to take over the government in his usual acting capacity because of his poor health – its cause unspecified.  Records from the next governor, Luís Antonio Sánchez de Tagle (1720-1725), included a notice by Quiroga that because of his age and worsening health, he could not replace Pimentel even temporarily and that another interim governor should be found.

Joseph de Quiroga y Lozada apparently died shortly after in late December, 1720, leaving all of his possessions and whatever wealth he possessed to the Colegio de San Juan de Letrán seminary in Hagåtña for the Christian-based education of Chamorro boys.


Quiroga was a major figure in the subjugation of the Chamorro people. The consequences of this subjugation was apparent in the centuries-long Spanish acculturation of Chamorros that, in itself, is a well-spring of speculation on indigenous appropriation in real-life terms. Quiroga’s attitudes and perceptions were not particularly unique for those times. While the fanaticism he possessed is more mirrored in his forceful oppression of Chamorros, fanaticism was likely a near universal phenomenon grounded in a perceived need to Christianize natives for the sake of saving their souls from hell.

The arrival of epidemics for which Chamorros had no natural defenses probably led to more deaths than Quiroga’s sorties, violent as they were. The epidemics were seen by Quiroga as punishment from Guam against unyielding Chamorros. This mission of conversion and submission to the Spanish crown as Quiroga saw it was so ingrained into the purpose of the day that the extensive depopulation Chamorros underwent after an established Spanish presence in the Marianas was largely seen as the consequence of resistance. The singular choice that one had to make between Jesus Christ and darkness was probably no starker to the Spanish of those times than when these deaths sometimes nearly swept up entire villages. There are practically no indications in historical records of Spanish attempts to altruistically respond to the epidemics.

So it was probably more outside this gestalt of purpose that Quiroga’s arrogance, self-confidence and delusion of unquestionable purpose met with the frailties of other human beings possessed with the same fanaticism that led to the conflicts that ensue between humans under difficult circumstances. Like Inspector Javert who mercilessly pursues the virtuous Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and who Hugo describes as being a “mixture of Roman, Spartan, monk and Corporal – a physiognomist,” Quiroga’s well-known countenance and faults unknown to himself would have made him a marked man, a predictable man. And predictability as a consequence of all unquestioned beliefs would mean disaster to the indigenous people toward whom this intellectual lethargy was aimed.

By Nicholas J. Goetzfridt, PhD

For further reading

Driver, Marjorie G. “Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Mariana Islands.” Pacific Studies 11, no. 3 (1988): 21-51.

–––. “Quiroga’s Letter to King Phillip V, 26 May 1720.” The Journal of Pacific History 27, no. 1 (June 1992): 98-106.

Goetzfridt, Nicholas J. Guahån: A Bibliographic History. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011.

Lévesque, Rodrigue. History of Micronesia: A Collection of Source Documents. Québec: Lévesque Publications, 1992-1998.