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The Hidden Story: The Influence of Spain on Early Virginia History

While the history of the 1607 English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia may be familiar to many, few are aware of the Spanish mission that predated it by some thirty-six years. The story of this Spanish foothold in Virginia is a fascinating tale that begins in 1561, when a Spanish caravel on a supply run is blown off course into the Chesapeake Bay. There the Spanish encountered a Virginia Indian by the name of Paquiquineo, who was taken on board, (whether forcibly or not, is a matter of debate among scholars).

The ship’s captain, Antonio Velázquez, then set a new course and sailed for Europe. Landing in Lagos, Portugal, the captain journeyed with Paquiquineo overland to Seville, Spain. At the House of Trade, Captain Velázquez filed a request for fifty ducats to purchase formal clothing for Paquiquineo, to whom he referred as the "princely person." Captain Velázquez then appeared before King Philip II and was granted permission to lead a Catholic mission to the Chesapeake Bay, with Paquiquineo as interpreter. Captain Velázquez and Paquiquineo journeyed back across the Atlantic to the capitol of New Spain in Mexico City, in order to make preparations for the mission. There, Paquiquineo became ill. On the brink of death, he converted to Christianity and took the name Don Luís de Velasco, after the viceroy of New Spain.

After recovering from his illness, Paquiquineo made attempts to return to his native Virginia, however, it was not until 1570 that his plans were realized. Now back in Spain, Paquiquineo joined a group of Jesuit priests and together, they set out to establish a Catholic mission in Virginia. In September of 1570, they arrived in the Chesapeake Bay and began to prepare for the winter ahead. On the York River, near Paquiquineo’s tribal lands, the missionaries built two small structures: a house of at least two rooms and a chapel. Almost immediately, Paquiquineo abandoned the missionaries and rejoined his tribe. Later, in February of 1571, Paquiquineo led an ambush and killed the missionaries, with the single exception of an altar boy, Alonso de Olmos. In retaliation for the mission attack, Spain sent soldiers to Virginia in 1572. A handful of Indians were hanged, but Paquiquineo was never found, seeming to disappear altogether from the historical record.

In recent years scholars have re-examined Jamestown-era rumors which suggest that Paquiquineo may have re-emerged in the historical record under the name of native Powhatan Chief, Opechancanough. Known for the Powhatan Indian Attack of March 22, 1622 on Jamestown Virginia, Opechacanough well recognized the European threat based upon his own, possibly extensive, first-hand experience. If Paquiquineo is indeed Opechancanough, then the strong links between the failed Spanish mission in Virginia and the English settlement on Jamestown Island take on a whole new dimension of meaning and relevance.

However, even on its own, the legacy of Paquiquineo is truly significant. "The idea is an intriguing one," the historian Charlotte M. Gradie has written, "for the Jesuit failure to establish a mission in Virginia was a turning point in the history of Spain's American empire as well as in Jesuit history: Virginia was left to the English, and the Jesuits built their great missions elsewhere." For half a century, the Spanish explored the Atlantic coast of North America looking for valuable natural resources, as well as a shortcut to Asia. If the Jesuit mission had succeeded, the Spaniards might have planted a colony in Virginia, more than thirty years before the English settlement at Jamestown.


Don Luís de Velasco / Paquiquineo (fl. 1561–1571) Brendan Wolfe http://encyclopediavirginia.org/don_lua

Spanish Jesuits in Virginia: The Mission That Failed Charlotte M. Gradie The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 96, No. 2 (Apr., 1988), pp. 131-156

Published by: Virginia Historical Society http://www.jstor.org/stable/4249006

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