Long before the coming of the Spaniards, there already existed an extensive region consisting of the present provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra and La Union) renowned for its gold mines. Merchants from Japan and China would often visit the area to trade gold with beads, ceramics and silk. The inhabitants of the region, believed to be of Malay origin, called their place “samtoy”, from “sao mi toy, which literally meant “our language”.
In 1571, when the Spanish conquistadors had Manila more or less under their control, they began looking for new sites to conquer. Legaspi’s grandson, Juan de Salcedo, volunteered to lead one of these expeditions. Together with 8 armed boats and 45 men, the 22 year old voyager headed north.
On June 13, 1572, Salcedo and his men landed in Vigan and then proceeded towards Laoag, Currimao and Badoc. As they sailed along the coast, they were surprised to see numerous sheltered coves (“looc”) where the locals lived in harmony. As a result, they named the region “Ylocos” and its people “Ylocanos”.
As the Christianization of the region grew, so did the landscape of the area. Vast tracks of land were utilized for churches and bell towers in line with the Spanish mission of “bajo las campanas”. In the town plaza, it was not uncommon to see garrisons under the church bells. The colonization process was slowly being carried out.
The Spanish colonization of the region, however, was never completely successful. Owing to the abusive practices of many Augustinian friars, a number of Ilocanos revolted against their colonizers. Noteworthy of these were the Dingras uprising (1589) and Pedro Almasan revolt (San Nicolas, 1660). In 1762, Diego Silang led a series of battles aimed at freeing the Ilocanos from the Spanish yoke. When he died from an assassin’s bullet, his widow Gabriela continued the cause. Unfortunately, she too was captured and hanged. In 1807, the sugar cane (“basi”) brewers of Piddig rose up in arms to protest the government’s monopoly of the wine industry. In 1898, the church excommunicated Gregorio Aglipay for refusing to cut off ties with the revolutionary forces of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Unperturbed, he established the “Iglesia Filipina Independiente”. Aglipay’s movement and the national sentiment it espoused helped restore the self-respect of many Filipinos.
“The great increase in population from 1715 to 1818 from 18,980 to 282,845 made the administration of the province very difficult. Due to the excessive monopolies and forced labor, there were several uprisings: first by the people of Dingras in 1589; one that was led by Pedro Almazan in 1616; the revolt of Diego Silang in 1762-1763; by Ambaristo in 1788; by Pedro Mateo in 1808 and uprising of Sarrat in 1815. For this reason, the division of the Ilocos into two provinces was recommended by the local authorities. On February 2, 1818, a Spanish Royal Decree was promulgated dividing the Province of Ilocos Norte from Ilocos Sur. Laoag City, which was then the biggest center of population, was made the capital of Ilocos Norte.”