Role Plays: Paspahegh Indian/Spanish Captive/Interpreter

NOTE: Teachers may designate monologues, two or more student participants, or student to class exchanges.  Teachers are also free to depart from these suggestions and use the historical material as they wish to create their own learning strategies.

NAME:  Paquiquineo (A.K.A. Don Luís de Velasco)  

TITLE: Paspahegh Indian/Spanish Captive/Interpreter


Paquiquineo [pronounced pak.kwe.kwin.e.o.], later Don Luís de Velasco, was a Virginia Indian 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 known 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. Regarding the Spanish entrada [expedition], Charlotte M. Gradie writes, “ 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, Don Luís 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 appeared before King Philip II and obtained permission to accompany a Catholic mission back to the Chesapeake region of Virginia. After Pacquiquineo fell ill, a quick stop in Mexico turned into many years. 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, Don Luís 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. Despite two failed attempts, Don Luís’ 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, Don Luís opted to return to his 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 Don Luís "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 brothers a journey of a day and a half away." Don Luís soon adopted the practices expected of a chief’s son including his decision to take multiple wives, a choice that was met with derision from the priests, who hoped Don Luís would serve as an example to his tribe of the benefits of a pagan life conversion.

Throughout the following winter, Paquiquineo ignored multiple entreaties by the priests for both food and the demand that he return as an interpreter. The Spanish had picked an unfortunate time to return to Virginia, as the Indians there were experiencing a severe famine encouraged by a long period of drought. The priests survived until February by trading copper and tin for maize with surrounding Indian villages, which may have only worsened relations with Don Luís and the Paspahegh. In February, three priests went to Paquiquineo’s town in search of aid and the young man’s return to the Catholic faith. On 4 February, 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, the altar boy, 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 could be 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.


The character picture that emerges from this profile reveals Pacquiquineo to have been a shrewd, highly intelligent, inventive, and patient man who kept his plans to himself while manipulating his Spanish captors. On the other hand, he might have been at first taken in by the Spanish promises and religious proselytizing, but gradually changed his mind after witnessing how they mistreated native groups with which they had contact. At some point, Pacquiquineo becomes alienated from the Spanish, but hides his feelings under pretext and schemes to get back to Virginia and his native Paspahegh tribe. The Spanish, to their detriment, fail to recognize the change in attitude. Not unlike other liminal figures, Pacquiquineo abandons his captors at his first opportunity, returns to his native village, and plans revenge on those who first invaded his land and took him prisoner.


Although the Spanish found Don Luís 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 likely influenced the Powhatans and other surrounding tribes in their dealings with the English. Thus Don Luís leaves an important legacy in the study of Jamestown and the diverse cultural groups that inhabited the region.

But the story of Pacquiquineo is even more intriguing than these details reveal. Three mysteries stand out: 1. What are his family origins? 2. Why is there no further record of him after the Spanish killings? 3. Why did he kill the priests? One historian claimed he was really Powhatan’s brother, who reappears as Opechancanough [pronounced o.p. shan.kano]. Opechancanough, unlike his brother,  never trusted the English and he organized two attacks on the settlers, killing 347 in 1622 and another 500 in 1644. No evidence supports this theory, however. But what became of him? Professor Shifflett speculates that he might have become the chief of the Paspahegh whose name was Wowinchopunk[pronounced}. It was not unusual for Indians to take different names, especially at times of crises or when they wished to keep their identities known only within the native community. Wowinchopunk, like Opechancanough, did not trust the English from the outset of their incursion into his Paspahegh territory, which is where James Fort was planted. He attacks the settlers as soon as they arrive. His behavior suggests previous contact and an understanding that despite incomplete knowledge,  no good was likely to come from these invaders. Also, one report of a son of a Florida Indian chief making it to Virginia would fit well with Pacquiquineo’s status as Indian “royalty.” But again, little else beyond this speculation supports this theory.

In casting this figure, it is important to bring out two typical features of the colonization process:

1. how the invaders typically took Indians as captives to assist them in subsequent colonization projects.  2. how liminal figures helped the colonizers succeed. The provided essential services, as language interpreters; emissaries; storehouses of knowledge on the environment, potentially friendly tribes, food sources, and how to survive in an unfamiliar land. They are indispensable to the success of the colonies. Without them, the invaders would likely not have survived.

Also, there is supreme irony here: In 1610, the English invaded the Paspahegh village, after they refused to give them corn, burned their houses, destroyed their crops, and killed virtually all the men, women, and children of the Paspahegh tribe. If Paquiquineo witnessed this massacre (and there is no evidence to say he did), he would have experienced an unspeakably difficult set of emotions.

Finally, we are left with the question of why Paquiquineo killed the priests. This is difficult to explain without risking justification for murder. His behavior does replicate that of other liminal figures during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that collaborated with the Spanish and English invaders at first and then subsequently became alienated from them, having seen the atrocities they committed upon other native peoples. In this role play, open this question up to the students and moderate a discussion. As moderator, you have more knowledge and may be able to challenge or support specific answers. Make a final tally of the results, grouping the answers into several interpretive possibilities, based upon what we know.


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

Wolfe, B. Don Luís de Velasco / Paquiquineo (fl. 1561–1571). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from

This module created by Crandall Shifflett

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