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Don Luis

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Died  1646

Don Luís de Velasco (flourished 1561-1571), also known as Paquiquino, was a Native American, possibly of the Kiskiack or Paspahegh tribe, from 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. 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. 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."

Virginia Indians

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.

Spanish exploration

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 United States, the Spanish succeeded in 1565 with the establishment of St. Augustine, the first city in the United States. Small settlements spread northward along the eastern coast into Georgia and the Carolinas. The northern-most post was Santa Elena in what is now South Carolina.

Early life

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. While in the Chesapeake Bay, two indigenous youths were taken. 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. 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. In 1566, Don Luís accompanied a Spanish expedition that reached the Delmarva Peninsula in a failed attempt to establish a colony.

Ajacán Mission on Virginia's Lower Peninsula

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.

Approximate location

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.

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

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. 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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Modern times

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.


Don Luis Wikipedia

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