who established Jamestown in 1607 were not the first Europeans to visitor
even to inhabitthe shores of the Chesapeake Bay. This great body
of water, known to sixteenth-century Spaniards as the Bahía de
Santa María, or St. Mary's Bay, first appeared on European maps
in the early 1500s. The bay then received little attention from Europeans
until 1561, when Antonio Velázquez, the supply agent for a Spanish
expedition, landed there after a storm drove his ship north from its
intended destination. At the Chesapeake Bay, Velázquez and his
men encountered a young Powhatan man they believed to be of noble rank
and took him back to Spain with them. This man, known to the Spaniards
as Don Luis de Velasco, lived there and in Mexico for nearly a decade
before returning to his homeland in the company of Spanish Jesuit missionaries
in 1570. In addition to this evangelization effort, the second half
of the sixteenth century brought Spanish, French, and, later, English
exploration of the Chesapeake region in the search for the sea which
was thought to connect the Atlantic coast to the Pacific Ocean and the
wealth of the Orient.
voyages to the Chesapeake took place as part of a sixteenth-century
contest between empires to explore and settle the lands of today's southeastern
United States. Long
before the English founded their colony at Roanoke in 1585, both the
French and the Spanish had established settlements along the present
United States Atlantic coast. A map ,
engraved by Theodor de Bry after the original by Jacques Le Moyne de
Morgues, shows the sites of two French forts in the present-day southeastern
United States. The first appears here in the upper right hand quadrant
of the map as "Charlefort," or Charlesfort, built on what
is now Parris Island, South Carolina in 1562. The second, oriented directly
center on the map, was "Carolina," or Fort Caroline, constructed
on the River May, now the St. Johns River, in 1564. Spaniards sought
to establish a permanent presence along this coast as early as 1526,
when Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón founded the short-lived town
of San Miguel de Gualdape on the shores of present-day South Carolina
or Georgia. More successful Spanish settlement efforts in La Florida,
which in the sixteenth century included much of today's southeastern
United States, came with the establishment of Santa Elena on Parris
Island, South Carolina in 1566 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.
The town of Santa Elena only lasted until 1587, when Philip II ordered
it dismantled for strategic and financial reasons, but Santa Elena's
sister city of San Agustín has been continuously occupied from
1565 until the present day.
time the English arrived at Jamestown, the peoples who inhabited the
Chesapeake and, more broadly, the coast of the southeastern United States
had had long experience with Europeans, whether directly or indirectly.
At times, the Europeans who visited these shores captured coastal residents
in their quest for information about unknown lands. De Bry's engraving
of a Le Moyne illustration shows
how the Guale helped the French at Charlesfort when supplies there ran
low in 1562. The types of support portrayed in this imagegifts
of food cultivated by the Indians, transportation in the dugout canoes
that Europeans found so precarious, and guidance about the means of
subsistence in this landwere typical of the help indigenous peoples
provided to Spaniards and Frenchmen throughout the sixteenth century.
Powhatan and his followers gave similar assistance to John Smith and
his men at Jamestown. Indigenous groups inland who had not yet encountered
Europeans learned of them through trade and communication networks.
Some of the food and other items that coastal Indians offered Europeans
traveled along established trade routes from peoples of the interior,
who received manufactured goods in return. Ultimately, Indians paid
a high price for this contact in the form of death and disease.
for territory in the New World was not the only manifestation of the
sixteenth-century rivalry between France and Spain. In this age of religious
wars, their struggle also involved the battle for souls. Don Luis de
Velasco, the Powhatan man taken from the Chesapeake in 1561, found himself
at the heart of Spanish attempts to convert his people to Catholicism
and so save them from the heresy of Protestantism. Following his initial
voyage to Spain in the company of Antonio Velázquez, Don Luis
traveled to Mexico, where he lived in a Dominican monastery and received
instruction in the Christian faith. He participated in one failed expedition
to find his homeland and place Dominican priests there before joining
the Jesuit missionary effort in 1570. By then, the Jesuits, who traveled
to La Florida as part of Pedro Menéndez's conquest and settlement
venture, had failed in their evangelization of the Orista and the Guale
on the present-day southern South Carolina and northern Georgia coasts.
The Chesapeake region offered the Jesuits one last chance to establish
a successful mission in these lands. The Jesuits believed that by refusing
any military accompanimentfollowing years of observing soldiers
abuse and anger Indiansand relying on Don Luis to assist them
with their work, they would greatly improve their chances of bringing
the peoples of the Chesapeake to Catholicism.
their mission on the Chesapeake Bay, the Jesuit fathers anticipated
a return on their efforts beyond the evangelization of this region.
Like other Spaniards of their day, the Jesuits believed the Chesapeake
was the site of the passage to the Pacific Ocean. They sought to establish
a presence there for access, not to the wealth of China, but to its
souls. Instead, the Chesapeake mission proved a disaster for the Jesuits
and led to the order's withdrawal from La Florida. Soon after their
arrival at the Chesapeake, Don Luis left the Jesuit fathers and catechists
and, to their despair, returned to the ways of his people. After five
months of pleas from the Jesuits that he act according to Christian
teachings and provide them with food and other assistance, Don Luis
and his followers killed most of the religious, sparing only one Spanish
boy, Alonso de Olmos. Alonso lived among the Indians until 1572, when
a ship carrying Pedro Menéndez and other members of the Jesuit
order arrived to learn the fate of the missionaries. When Alonso told
the story of their death, Menéndez hanged eight or nine Indians
from his ship's lateen yard in retribution. Don Luis was not among them.
He likely lived on to tell future generations of Powhatans stories of
his experiences among the Spaniards.
never again attempted colonization of the Chesapeake region, although
they continued their reconnaissance of this coast. When the English
settled at Jamestown, they were constantly on the lookout for a Spanish
attack against their foothold in the New World. They knew how Spain
had responded to previous challenges to its claims made under the Papal
Donation of 1493, including Pedro Menéndez's massacre of Frenchmen
in La Florida in 1565. The Spaniards were indeed watching the English
at Jamestown, as the diplomatic correspondence from this period demonstrates.
of James Fort, part of what is known as the Zúñiga
map, arrived with a letter to Phillip III from the Spanish ambassador
to England, Don Pedro de Zúñiga, in 1608. The Spanish
knew of Jamestown's difficult, early days, but ultimately declined to
send a force there to expel the English.
Suggestions For Further Reading
Barbour, Phillip L., ed. The
Jamestown Voyages Under the First Charter, 1606-1609. Vol. I.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.
Hoffman, Paul E. A
New Andalucia and a Way to the Orient: The American Southeast During
the Sixteenth Century. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University
Hulton, Paul H. The
Work of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues: A Huguenot Artist in France, Florida,
and England. 2 vols. London: British Museum Publications Limited,
Lewis, Clifford and Albert J. Loomie. The
Spanish Jesuit Mission in Virginia, 1570-1572. Chapel Hill: University
of North Carolina Press for the Virginia Historical Society, 1953.
McGrath, John T. The
French in Early Florida: In the Eye of the Hurricane. Gainesville:
University Press of Florida, 2000.
Quinn, David B., ed. New
American World: A Documentary History of North America to 1612.
5 vols. New York: Arno Press and Hector Bye, Inc., 1979.
Wright, Irene A. "Spanish Policy Toward Virginia,
1606-1612: Jamestown, Ecija, and John Clark of the Mayflower."
The American Historical Review
25 (1920): 448-79.