First European Encounter
Juan de Salcedo arrived with around 80 soldiers in June 1572. He came to Vigan upon instructions from Spain’s King Philip II and then Governor General Guido de Lavezares to establish Spanish presence in the area. It seems though that this is not the first incursion of the Spaniards to this region because they have already identified one of the rivers that flow beside the targeted settlement as Bigan; and there is a tale about how this name came about which involved a conversation between a Spaniard and a local.
It is said that the word Vigan came from the Ilocano word bigaa. The word was a reply by a Filipino native who was asked by a Spaniard walking by the Mestizo River what the name was of the place he was traveling in. Thinking that he was being asked about the name of the plant to which the finger of the Spaniard was unintentionally pointing to, the Filipino replied, “Bigaa.” The bigaa is like a taro plant that can be found in abundance along the banks of the river during those olden times.
It took Juan de Salcedo around 23 days to reach Vigan from Manila. He explored the north and founded a town under Spanish leadership in the settlement of Vigan. From there, he went on to subdue the settlements in the southern part of the main island of Luzon — Albay, Camarines and Catanduanes. For all his efforts, the king made Juan de Salcedo the justicia mayor of the whole province of Ilocos and gave him his own land or encomienda. Aside from what is now known as the Ilocos provinces, his territory included the whole of present-day provinces of Abra and La Union, plus portions of the Mountain Province.
Juan de Salcedo brought with him missionaries of the Augustinian order in 1574 to help in his administration. The missionaries proceeded to evangelize, oversee education in the community and record their observation of the encomienda, together with its history. The town also later became the religious center for the Nueva Segovia’s archdiocese in 1758. By 1591, Vigan already consisted of 19 barrios that contribute 800 tributes to the King’s coffers. The number of its barangays grew to 21 around 1645. It was governed by an alcalde mayor and his deputy. Aside from a priest, there was also a justice. The Spanish residents lived in their own villa or estate, separate from the locals and Chinese residents. The harsh handling of Spanish leaders from both the political administration and the religious resulted to many a revolt by the natives, from the 1600s up to the end of the 1800s.