Don Guillermo Manabat, a rich landlord, is believed to be the founder of Bacolor in 1574. Historical records show that Bacolor has been in existence as a proposed settlement as early as 1571, the same year Manila was founded by the Spanish. When the Spaniards arrived in Bacolor they found Bakúlud; its original name meant “level ground” because the site was formerly part of the Luzon coastline until eruptions from Mount Pinatubo raised it above the ocean floor.
The first settlers of Bacolor were believed to be Malays that came from Atjeh in Sumatra led by Panday Pira. It is believed to have been founded by Monmon, first cousin and sister-in-law of Malangsic, a son of Prince Balagtas. However, historians recorded the official foundation of Bacolor in 1574 through a landlord named Guillermo Manabat, whose palatial house and resting place is now the site of the San Guillermo Church, hence the church’s name. The name Bakúlud was changed to Bacólor with the advent of the Spanish.
Bacolor was the first capital of Pampanga and remained so for over two centuries (1698 to 1904) before the provincial seat was transferred to San Fernando in July 1904. In 1757, the provincial building, Casa Real, was constructed at the place where the Bacolor Elementary School is now located.
During the British Occupation of the Philippines, when Manila fell to the British, it became capital of the exiled government of Governor General Simón de Anda y Salazar from October 6, 1762 to May 30, 1764. The provincial offices were temporarily moved to Factoría (now San Isidro, Nueva Ecija). It remained the former capital town of Pampanga until the provincial seat of government was transferred to neighboring San Fernando in 1904. Through a decree of the King of Spain on November 9, 1765, Bacolor became Villa de Bacólor, one of the only three villas in the Philippines and was granted a special coat of arms. Simón de Anda organized an army of natives for the defense of Bacolor and with the aim of recapturing Manila.
The coming of the American colonizers broke up the military form of government and instead political and economic reforms were introduced. A civil form of government was organized and was inaugurated on February 13, 1901 by Com. William H. Taft which took place in the old Escuela de Artes y Oficios de Bacólor, later known as the Pampanga School of Arts and Trade and now the Don Honorio Ventura Technological State University, the first state university in Pampanga.
The first provincial Civil Governor was Don Ceferino Joven and the first Municipal President of Bacolor was Don Estanislao Santos. Pampanga was acknowledged as the first province to have organized civil government in the Philippines by General Grant, the then President of the United States of America.
When the Second World War broke out, Japanese fighter and bomber planes invaded the municipal town in Bacolor on December 1941 until the town was occupied by the Imperial Japanese forces in 1942. Pampangan guerrillas and Hukbalahap Communist groups joined in an insurgency centered around the municipality of Bacolor, supported by local soldiers and military officers of the Philippine Commonwealth Army. Their attacks against the Japanese occupation continued until 1945, when Filipino and American forces liberated the municipality of Bacolor.[further explanation needed]
In 1956, the sitio of Mesalipit was converted into a barrio.
On the morning of October 1, 1995, over 20 feet (6.1 m) of lahar from the slopes of Mount Pinatubo and surrounding mountains buried the entire barangay of Cabalantian among many others, killing hundreds of people. 18 out of the 21 barangays of Bacolor were buried. The lahar flows from the mountains raised the town to its current level of an approximate 37 meters above sea level. Subsidence caused the constant reclaiming of parts of Pampanga by the sea.
Bacolor is politically subdivided into 21 barangays.
- Cabambangan (Poblacion)
- San Antonio
- San Isidro
- San Vicente
- Santa Barbara
- Santa Ines