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Paquiquineo - a chief’s son converted to Christianity. Source: jozefklopacka / Adobe Stock.

Paquiquineo: Brave Traitor or Freedom Fighter?

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In 1561, a Native American from Virginia by the name of Paquiquineo was invited, in some accounts kidnapped, to Spain where he met the king and eventually was sent back to the Americas to assist the Spaniards in the conversion of his people to Christianity. While with the Spaniards, he adopted the name Don Luis de Velasco.

He ultimately ended up returning to his people, turning tables on the Spaniards, and may or may not have later become an influential paramount chief in the early 17th century. He disappeared from history after returning to his people in 1571, but he still became a legend.

Spanish Control Through Conversion

The Spanish expansion into eastern North America began in 1513, when Juan Ponce de Leon, allegedly in search of the fountain of youth, reached Florida and gave it the name that it has today. In the years following, the Spaniards established a number of trading posts along the southeastern North American coast, including Polanco in Florida (modern day Pensacola), and Santa Elena (present day Parris Island, South Carolina). The Spanish believed that there were abundant natural resources near the Chesapeake Bay area and possibly even a shortcut to the Pacific Ocean.

Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon. (Carlstak / Public Domain )

The Spanish were also interested in spreading Christianity among native populations for reasons that go back to the Spanish reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula . This reconquest was seen in explicitly religious terms. The Christian Spaniards considered themselves liberators, freeing formerly Christian lands from Muslim oppressors.

When the Spanish came to the Americas, they had the same mentality towards the native inhabitants. They were a people that needed to be converted. In addition to this religious motivation, there was likely a desire to use Christianity to consolidate their control of the Americas to gain access to its natural resources, particularly gold.

At this early date, other European powers, such as the French and the English, who would later occupy the northeast of the North American continent, had not yet penetrated the interior. The eastern woodlands region was still entirely settled by Native Americans and in the control of Native American chiefdoms.

Most Native Americans in the region lived in settled towns and practiced a mixture of farming and hunting. Some groups also still built mounds and constructed temples and houses atop them.

The Native Americans in the eastern woodlands at the time were divided into chiefdoms that engaged in regular conflicts over land and resources. Bands of warriors would engage in skirmishes and bring back trophies in the form of scalps and severed heads. Many Native American groups in the eastern woodlands area were matrilineal.

They also practiced a form of polygyny, which the Spanish missionaries didn’t quite understand and mistook for adultery. This was only one of many misunderstandings that likely made the interactions between Native American and European cultures more contentious than they could have been.

Although the Spanish Jesuits and Friars may have had a genuine interest in spreading Christianity among the Native Americans , one of their objectives was to search for new sources of gold and other commodities. The Native Americans soon realized this and found that one way to get rid of the Spanish was to con them by telling them of a faraway land overflowing with gold. This mythical land usually turned out to be the land of the local native community’s enemies.

Despite these difficulties, Spanish missionaries and explorers continued undaunted. The Spanish were particularly convinced that rich natural resources existed in Paquiquineo’s homeland, somewhere in modern day Virginia, referred to as Ajacan in historical records, and they were interested in making it into a colony of Spain.

Although some Spanish thinkers, namely the theologian Juan Gines de Sepulveda, believed that the Native Americans were inherently warlike and needed to be conquered, the school of thought that they should be peacefully converted to Christianity, promoted by the Dominican friar Bartolome de las Casas, was gaining ground.

The Spanish believed Native Americans such as Paquiquineo’s tribe needed to be converted to Christianity. (Fæ / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

A prominent strategy of the early Spanish Empire, when they came to a new region that they intended to conquer, was to first send missionaries to establish missions and spread Christianity. Once the missions had been established, political control of the region could be more easily secured.

Before the Spaniards could expand into Ajacan, they had to convert the local indigenous peoples to Christianity, and it is in this context that Paquiquineo unwittingly walked into history.

Paquiquineo’s First Meeting with the Spaniards

According to one historical report, Paquiquineo, and a companion of his, ran into a Spanish ship which had been blown off course. The ship was captained by Antonio de Velasquez. His ship had been a supply ship which plied the route between Polanco and Santa Elena.

In June of 1561, a summer storm purportedly threw them off course and they ended up near the Chesapeake Bay. While there, the Spaniards met with Paquiquineo’s people and bestowed gifts to them. The captain appeared to have seen Paquiquineo as important.

Paquiquineo was likely the son of a chief. Because of the likely status of the young man, the captain invited Paquiquineo to Spain to have an audience with the king. Paquiquineo’s family agreed. In another account of the tale, however, Paquiquineo was simply kidnapped.

Paquiquineo’s Life Among the Spaniards

Whether he went willingly or was kidnapped, Paquiquineo and a companion found themselves in Spain in September of 1561. The following month, they appeared before King Philip II.

The king and several Spanish priests appear to have been interested in using Paquiquineo and his companion as a means to facilitate the conversion of his people. As a result, Spanish priests began to introduce him to Christianity.

In May 1562, after spending the winter in Spain, Paquiquineo and his companion were taken to the Americas where they planned to make a stop in New Spain before heading to Ajacan. They arrived in New Spain in August 1562 and visited Mexico City. While there, Paquiquineo and his companion both became gravely ill.

Map of Spanish North America showing Ajacan, where Paquiquineo’s people lived. (Magnus Manske / Public Domain )

Near death, they both decided to convert to Christianity. When Paquiquineo converted, he took the name Don Luis de Velasco. His companion appears to have disappeared from history not long after this point.

Don Luis wanted to return to his family, but the friars insisted that the authorities keep him in New Spain. A chance came in 1563 when an expedition consisting of 50 soldiers and two priests was proposed to go to Ajacan, but it was denied approval by the Spanish king.

He got another chance finally in August of 1566. An expedition to Ajacan was assembled consisting of Don Luis, two Dominican friars, and 15 soldiers. They departed shortly after August 1st.

While on their way to Ajacan, however, they experienced several storms and chose to head east for Spain. While in Europe for a second time, Don Luis spent four years studying in Seville with the Jesuits.

In 1570, he was sent with a group of Jesuits to find his homeland. They eventually arrived in Ajacan in September 1571, a decade after he had first left.

Paquiquineo’s Homecoming

When they first arrived, Don Luis and the Jesuits were welcomed warmly and invited to stay. Don Luis’s people were overjoyed to see him, as they had believed him to be dead. Meanwhile the Jesuits began to build their mission.

Using timber from Cuba, they constructed a chapel and a house. While at first Don Luis lived with them, he soon returned to his home village and spent less and less time with the Jesuits. While there, he abandoned his Spanish identity.

He went back to using his native name, Paquiquineo, and began to participate in the religious and social rites of his people, including marriage. The Jesuits were appalled and recorded that he had “fallen into evil ways” and “taken up with women”.

Nonetheless, they were still reliant on him for supplies. By winter, however, he had stopped responding to their requests entirely.

In February of 1571, Paquiquineo and a group of warriors slaughtered the Jesuits. It is not clear why Paquiquineo and his people did this. Some anthropologists have suggested that it is related to how his people perceived trade with the Spaniards.

Paquiquineo and a group of warriors slaughtered the Jesuits. (Internet Archive Book Images / Public Domain )

Paquiquineo’s people may have practiced a form of gift giving in which a gift is given with the expectation of receiving gifts in the future. In this gift giving system, the two parties would not just exchange goods, but one would give a gift and the recipient party had an expectation of giving a future gift.

The Spaniards may have just treated it like a normal trade transaction, offending their hosts. When Paquiquineo’s people stopped helping the Jesuits, the Jesuits began to trade with other Native American groups. This may have gone further in offending Paquiquineo’s people, leading to the slaughter.

The Spanish did not understand the trade ‘rules’ of Paquiquineo’s tribe. (Sporti / Public Domain )

Another explanation, suggested by the anthropologist Helen C. Rountree, is related to the honor-shame dialectic. Paquiquineo’s people were likely Algonquian and the Algonquians were usually culturally shame oriented. In this case, if Paquiquineo had helped the Jesuits, he may have received ridicule for making himself into a servant of weak, starving foreigners.

He also would have been shamed had he simply ignored them and left them to starve. Killing them in this context would have protected him from public shame and ridicule which is dreaded in honor-shame cultures.

What Happened to Paquiquineo?

The figure known as Paquiquineo disappears from history after 1571 as far as reliable historical documents are concerned. In 1572, a Spanish expedition came to find the missing Jesuits. When the Spaniards did not find the missionaries, several of Paquiquineo’s people were captured in a skirmish and executed to avenge the Jesuits, but Paquiquineo himself was nowhere to be found.

There have been several attempts to look for Paquiquineo later in history, possibly as a Native American chief. One example is the identification of Paquiquineo with Opechancanough.

Opechancanough was a relative of Chief Powhatan . He was known for being a powerful paramount chief in the early 17th century. He is infamous for having instigated two major conflicts with the English, one in 1622 and another in 1644.

John Smith taking the King of Pamunkey, Opechancanough, prisoner. (Pierre5018 / Public Domain)

John Smith taking the King of Pamunkey, Opechancanough, prisoner. (Pierre5018 / Public Domain )

Opechancanough was believed by many contemporary Native Americans to not be from the region. They said that he had come from further southwest and that he likely originated from Spanish controlled lands. He was also in a matrilineal line in which he inherited his title as chief.

The fact that Opechancanough was a chief and the fact that he is said to have come from Spanish controlled lands has led some historians to suggest that there is a connection between the chief and Paquiquineo who was also likely the son of a chief and spent years in the lands of the Spanish Empire . Additionally, the names of Paquiquineo, which originates from Spanish sources, and Opechancanough, which originates from English sources, sound similar.

When Opechancanough died in 1646, he was said to have been about 100 years old. If Paquiquineo was a young man when he was first taken by the Spaniards in 1561, that would make his year of birth sometime in the 1540s which is consistent with the idea that he would later become Opechancanough. Furthermore, Chief Opechancanough allegedly had a lot of distrust for Europeans, particularly the English, which would make sense if he had been kidnapped by Europeans in his youth.

Despite these arguments, there are also problems with this hypothesis. For one thing, although Opechancanough was said to be unyieldingly hostile towards the English, other sources suggest that he wasn’t hostile in every case.

Also, the land where Paquiquineo was likely born was not under the control of Opechancanough’s people in the 1570s. These facts make it less likely that they are the same person.

The Different Paquiquineo Made

Almost nothing is known about Paquiquineo, or Don Luis de Velasco, but his role in history is significant. The Spaniards primarily expanded through establishing missions but they failed in Virginia, requiring them to go elsewhere.

If the Spanish had succeeded in establishing a mission in Virginia, then Virginia may have gone to the Spanish instead of the English. In this way, Paquiquineo’s actions shaped the future of the Spanish Empire. If it had not been for him, the cultural history of Virginia and much of the American southeast might have looked very different .

Top image: Paquiquineo - a chief’s son converted to Christianity. Source: jozefklopacka / Adobe Stock.

By Caleb Strom

References

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