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) which was 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 established the Spanish City of Manila, they began looking for new centers of administration 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 towards the 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. Consequently, 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 Spanish mission of “bajolascampanas”. 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 sugarcane (“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 Independence”. Aglipay’s movement and the nationalist sentiment it espoused helped restore the self-respect of many Filipinos.
In an effort to gain more political control as a result of the increasing population of the region, a Royal Decree was signed on February 2, 1818 splitting Ilocos into two provinces Ilocos: Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. Soon thereafter, the provinces of La Union and Abra likewise became independent.