Don Luis

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Don Luís de Velasco
Kiskiack or Paspahegh tribe leader

Don Luís de Velasco, also known as Paquiquino, was a Native American, possibly of the Kiskiack or Paspahegh[1] tribe, from the are of what is now Tidewater, Virginia. In 1561 he was taken by a Spanish expedition. He traveled with them ultimately to Spain, Cuba and Mexico, where he was baptized as Don Luís de Velasco and educated.[2] Don Luís returned to Virginia in 1571 as guide and interpreter for a party of Jesuit missionaries. He is believed to have taken part in a later massacre of the Jesuits at this site, when the region was struggling with famine.

Carl Bridenbaugh is one of the historians who have speculated that Don Luís was the same person as Opechancanough, younger half-brother (or close relative) of the Powhatan (Wahunsonacock), paramount chief of an alliance of Algonquian-speakers in the Tidewater.[3] Opechancanough succeeded to the post of paramount chief and led two noted attacks on Jamestown settlers, one in 1622 and another in 1644, in an effort to expel them. The Virginia anthropologist Helen C. Rountree has suggested this is an unlikely coincidence, arguing that the Virginia Indians may have claimed otherwise "in an attempt to disavow their association with Opechancanough, whose memory was still so detested by the English due to the attack of 1622."[4] Alternatively, Don Luís may have been the father of Powhatan who had arrived from Spanish dominion in the West Indies according to English accounts.[5]

Virginia Indians[edit]

During the sixteenth century, the Indians in Tidewater Virginia were Algonquian speakers. They lived in towns and villages located along the rivers feeding the Chesapeake Bay, and were ruled by chiefs, or weroances that were part of the Powhatan confederacy.[6]

Spanish exploration[edit]

Early in the 16th century, Spanish explorers discovered the Chesapeake Bay while in search of the fabled Northwest Passage. They gave the land now known as Virginia the name Ajacán.

After several failed attempts at colonization of the portion of the New World now known as the future United States, the Spanish succeeded in 1565 with the establishment of St. Augustine, the first European city in what would become the United States. Small settlements spread northward along the eastern coast into Georgia and the Carolinas. The northernmost post was Santa Elena in what is now South Carolina.

Early life[edit]

Spanish exploration northward in the area of the Chesapeake Bay continued into the late 16th century. During an exploratory voyage in June 1561, ordered by Luís de Velasco, the second viceroy of New Spain, the caravel Santa Catalina, captained by Antonio Velázquez, entered the Chesapeake.[7] While in the Chesapeake Bay, two indigenous youths were taken.[8] One of them was likely the son of an Algonquian chief of the Native Americans in the village of Kiskiack on the Virginia Peninsula (in an area now part of the lands of the U.S. Naval Weapons Station Yorktown) who accompanied the caravel on its return.[3] It is not known whether he was taken by force or by choice. The Spanish called him Paquiquino (little Francis) at first. In September 1561, he arrived in Seville, and subsequently traveled to Córdoba and Madrid where he had an audience with Philip II of Spain. In August 1562, Don Luís arrived in Mexico City where he fell ill. Upon recovery, he was baptized Don Luís de Velasco and received a Jesuit education.[4] In 1566, Don Luís accompanied a Spanish expedition that reached the Delmarva Peninsula in a failed attempt to establish a colony.[2]

Ajacán Mission on Virginia's Lower Peninsula[edit]

In 1570, Juan Bautista de Segura, Jesuit vice provincial of Havana, wanted to establish a mission in Ajacán without a military garrison, which was unusual. One of the chief stumbling blocks to converting the Natives to Christianity at other locations had been the often deplorable conduct of the colonial soldiers. On garrison duty, not challenged by the prospect of fighting, they were apt to seek an outlet for their boredom in drunkenness, thievery, bullying and sexual license. Despite concerns about the plan's feasibility, Father Segura eventually obtained permission from his superiors for the founding of the new Ajacán Mission, which was to be called "St. Mary's Mission."

In August 1570, Father Segura, Father Luís de Quiros, former head of the Jesuit college among the Moors in Spain, and six Jesuit brothers set forth from their base in Havana to establish their new mission in Ajacán. A young Spanish boy, Alonso de Olmos, called Aloncito, also accompanied the priests to serve mass. They were also accompanied by Don Luís as their guide and translator. On September 10, Don Luís and nine Spaniards landed in the region now known as the Virginia Peninsula.[9]

Approximate location[edit]

It is possible the location they chose was at Queen's Creek on the north side of the Lower Peninsula, near the York River. More recent findings suggest that the mission may have been on the New Kent side of Diascund Creek near its confluence with the Chickahominy River.[10]

Don Luís likely set about attempting to locate his native village which he had not seen in ten years. There, a small wooden hut was constructed with an adjoining room where mass could be celebrated. Soon after the ship bringing them had departed, Don Luís left the Jesuits, supposedly to seek his uncle and supplies.

Abandonment, massacre[edit]

As time went by, first days, and then months, the eight Jesuits realized that they had been abandoned. To their added misfortune, it was a time when the mid-Atlantic region was enduring a long period of famine.[2] The food they brought with them was in short supply. Immediately there was a dependence on the Indians for food.

They successfully traded with some natives for food, but it was increasingly in short supply as the winter months set in. Around February 1571, Don Luís returned with other natives and stole all their clothing and supplies. The natives killed both of the priests and all six brothers. Only Alonso de Olmos, the young servant boy, was spared.

Survivor, retaliation, aftermath[edit]

In the spring of 1571, after the massacre at the Ajacán Mission, a Spanish supply ship arrived and found natives wearing the missionaries' garments and ornaments. Two natives were captured and interrogated, informing the crew of the massacre.[11]

In August 1572, Pedro Menéndez de Aviles arrived from Florida with thirty soldiers and sailors to take revenge for the massacre. Initially, Menéndez de Avilés believed that Don Luís' uncle was responsible for the killings. He lured several natives aboard his ship with gifts and used them as hostages. From them, Menéndez de Avilés learned of Alonso de Olmos' survival and was able to secure the boy's return. After gaining a fuller picture of the massacre from Olmos, Menéndez de Avilés attempted to use other natives as hostages to bargain for the hand-over of Don Luís. Don Luís did not turn himself over to the Spanish.[11]

Before leaving the bay, Menéndez de Avilés had the remaining native hostages baptized and hanged from the ships' yards. During the expedition, 20 natives were killed.[12][11]

The failed attempt at establishing a mission in Virginia was the end of Spanish ventures to colonize the area. Don Luís subsequently disappeared from the historical record.

Possible link between Don Luís and Opechancanough[edit]

At the time of the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown in 1607, a fierce Native American warrior named Opechancanough was the half-brother of Wahunsonacock, the Chief of the Powhatan Confederacy, The name Opechancanough meant "He whose Soul is White" in the Algonquian language.

It is speculated by some historians, but not known with certainty, that Don Luís was either the father of Wahunsonacock or may even have been Opechancanough. What is known is that Opechancanough was violently opposed to the European settlers. A period of relative peace between the Powhatans and the settlers ended not long after the death of his brother, Wahunsonacock, when Opechancanough became the new chief.

Beginning with the Indian massacre of 1622, Chief Opechancanough gave up on diplomacy with the English settlers of the Colony and Dominion of Virginia and tried to force them to abandon the region both then and again in 1644, when he was captured. Opechancanough was later killed by a soldier assigned to guard him. At the time, he was said to be about 90 years old. The timing makes the possibility that Opechancanough and Don Luís were one and the same at least feasible.

Possible father of Powhatan[edit]

Alternatively, Don Luís may have been the father of Wahunsonacock aka Chief Powhatan. When discussing a treaty between the English and Powhatan Confederacy, Ralph Hamor records that Powhatan's father had arrived in Virginia from the Spanish West Indies, a curious fact that matches the life of Don Luís:

"Thirdly they should at all times be ready and willing to furnish vs with three or foure hundred bowmen to aide vs against the Spaniards, whose name is odious amongst them, for Powhatans father was driuen by them from the west-Indies into those parts..." - Ralph Hamor, A TRVE DISCOVRSE of the present estate of Virginia, and the successe of the affaires there till the 18 of Iune. 1614.[13]

Based on this possibility, Frank T. Siebert Jr. speculates that Don Luis' experience observing Spanish rule contributed to the later founding of the Powhatan Confederacy by uniting six tribes before of his presumable death around 1583-1585, at which point Wahunsonacock would have succeeded him.[5]

Modern times[edit]

Descendants of the Powhatan Confederacy live on in Virginia in many places, including two reservations in King William County. The Richmond Diocese of the Catholic Church has designated St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in New Kent County as the new Shrine of the Jesuit Martyrs.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charles M. Hudson; Carmen Chaves Tesser (1994). The Forgotten Centuries: Indians and Europeans in the American South, 1521-1704. University of Georgia Press. p. 359. ISBN 978-0-8203-1654-3.
  2. ^ a b c Jerald T. Milanich (February 10, 2006). Laboring in the Fields of the Lord: Spanish Missions And Southeastern Indians. University Press of Florida. pp. 92, 98–99. ISBN 978-0-8130-2966-5. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  3. ^ a b MR Peter C Mancall (2007). The Atlantic World and Virginia, 1550-1624. UNC Press Books. pp. 544–545. ISBN 978-0-8078-3159-5. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  4. ^ a b Rountree, Helen C. (December 15, 2010). "Don Luís de Velasco / Paquinquineo (fl. 1561–1571)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved February 20, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Siebert, Frank T. (1975). "Resurrecting Virginia Algonquian from the dead: The reconstituted and historical phonology of Powhatan". In Crawford, James D. (ed.). Studies in Southeastern Indian Languages. University of Georgia Press. p. 287. ISBN 978-0-8203-0334-5.
  6. ^ Huber, Margaret Williamson (January 12, 2011). "Powhatan (d. 1618)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved February 20, 2011.
  7. ^ Toscano, Nicolás (2008). "La Florida y el suroeste americano" (PDF). 2008 Yearbook (in Spanish). Instituto Cervantes. p. 42. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  8. ^ "A" New Andalucia and a Way to the Orient: The American Southeast During the Sixteenth Century. LSU Press. 1 October 2004. p. 184. ISBN 978-0-8071-3028-5. Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  9. ^ Loker, Aleck (2010). La Florida: Spanish exploration & settlement of North America, 1500 to 1600. p. 185. ISBN 9781928874201. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  10. ^ Seattle Catholic article about Virginia's Jesuit Martyrs
  11. ^ a b c Seth Mallios (August 28, 2006). The Deadly Politics of Giving: Exchange And Violence at Ajacan, Roanoke, And Jamestown. University of Alabama Press. pp. 53–57. ISBN 978-0-8173-5336-0. Retrieved June 30, 2012.
  12. ^ Parramore, Thomas (2000). Norfolk: The First Four Centuries. p. 11. ISBN 9780813919881. Retrieved 2011-11-05.
  13. ^ Hamor, Ralph (2004-03 (EEBO-TCP Phase 1).). A true discourse of the present estate of Virginia and the successe of the affaires there till the 18 of Iune. 1614. Together with a relation of the seuerall English townes and forts, the assured hopes of that countrie and the peace concluded with the Indians. The christening of Powhatans daughter and her mariage with an English-man. Written by Raphe Hamor the yonger, late secretarie in that colony. Check date values in: |date= (help)

Further reading[edit]