Paquiquineo, later Don Luís de Velasco, was a Virginia Algonquian who served as an interpreter and liaison for the Spanish during their failed attempt to establish a mission in the Chesapeake region in 1570, decades before the arrival of the English at Jamestown. Though little is certain about Paquiquineo’s life before or after his dealings with the Spanish, his legacy is of great importance to both early Euro-Indian relations and the history of Virginia. "The idea is an intriguing one," writes historian Charlotte M. Gradie, "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."
The son of a chief, Paquiquineo crossed paths with the Spanish years earlier in the Chesapeake, and either by force or of his own volition, accompanied the Spanish to Mexico, then on to Spain, sometime around 1561. During his stay in Europe, he impressed King Philip II and obtained permission to accompany a Catholic mission back to the Chesapeake region of Virginia. A quick stop in Mexico turned into many years after Paquiquineo fell ill. During his time in Mexico, Paquiquineo converted to Christianity and was given the name Don Luís de Velasco after his sponsor, the current viceroy of New Spain (present-day Mexico). After his conversion, Paquiquineo reassured the priests of his desire to return to his homeland, which he referred to as Ajacán, and introduce his people to the God of the Spanish. After two failed attempts, his wish was realized when he landed on the James River in September 1570, accompanied by a group of Jesuit priests and a teenage altar boy, Alonso de Olmos, more than nine years after he had left. No soldiers accompanied the mission to Virginia, which was unusual; the priests worried the soldiers would curtail their efforts to establish peaceful relations with the Indians they set out to convert.
The difficulty in returning to Virginia would not be the only hardship faced by the Jesuits in their failed attempt to establish a northern mission. Soon after helping the priests establish their mission on the York River, Paquiquineo opted to return to his Paspahegh village—an understandable choice for a boy who had been away from his people for nine years, and now returned as a man. Father Juan Rogel, a priest who stayed behind in La Florida, noted in a letter that Paquiquineo "did not sleep in their hut more than two nights nor stay in the village where the Fathers made their settlement for more than five days. Finally he was living with his kinsmen, a journey of a day and a half away." Paquiquineo soon adopted the practices expected of a chief’s son. His decision to take multiple wives was met with derision from the priests, who hoped he would serve as an example to his tribe of the benefits of a pagan life converted.
Throughout the following winter, Paquiquineo ignored multiple entreaties by the priests for both food and his services as an interpreter. The Spanish had picked an unfortunate time to return to Virginia, as the Indians there were experiencing a severe famine brought about by a long period of drought. The priests survived until February by trading copper and tin for maize with surrounding villages, which may have only worsened relations with Paquiquineo and his tribe. In February, three priests went to Paquiquineo’s town in search of aid and the young man’s return to the Catholic faith. On February 4th, Paquiquineo killed the three priests then traveled back to the Spanish mission, where he and other members of his tribe killed the remaining Jesuits, leaving only Alonso alive. Father Rogel, who later interviewed Olmos (although sources disagree on whether Alonso witnessed the murders), wrote that Paquiquineo greeted Father Juan Bautista de Segura: "Raising his club and giving his greeting were really one gesture, and so in wishing him well, he killed him."
A military expedition was sent to the James River in August of 1572, after no traces had been found of the Jesuit mission by a relief ship that had made the journey some months earlier. A smaller number of Paquiquineo's people were captured and found guilty of the missionaries’ murder, after several of the tribesmen were discovered with items once belonging to the Jesuits. Alonso was returned to the Spanish, but the man they knew as Don Luís was never seen by the Spaniards again. Although it is pure speculation, since he was a Paspahegh Indian, Paquiquineo may have been still a member of the Paspahegh tribe when the English arrived and built James Fort in the midst of Paspahegh territory.
Although the Spanish found Paquiquineo to be “a most convenient scapegoat,” blaming him for the failure of the mission ignores the complexities of cross-cultural interaction as witnessed throughout European colonization of the Americas and beyond. The short-lived Spanish experiment in Virginia would have likely influenced the Powhatan and other surrounding tribes in their dealings with the English. Thus Paquiquineo leaves an important legacy in the study of Jamestown and the diverse cultural groups that inhabited the region.
Gradie, Charlotte M. "Spanish Jesuits in Virginia: The Mission That Failed." The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 96, no. 2 (April 1988): 131–156.
Loker, Aleck. La Florida: Spanish Exploration & Settlement of North America, 1500-1600. Williamsburg: Solitude Press, 2010.
Rountree, Helen C. Powhatan Foreign Relations: 1500-1722. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993.
Shifflett, Crandall. "The Algonquian Exchange," in Virtual Jamestown. Retrieved November 14, 2013, from http://www.virtualjamestown.org/essays/introduction.html
Wolfe, B. Don Luís de Velasco / Paquiquineo (fl. 1561–1571). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Don_LuA.