Luis, Don (Flourished 1560s)

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Don Luis (Flourished 1560s)

Powhatan tribal leader


Kidnapped. In 1561 a Spanish ship commanded by Pedro Menéndez de Aviles journeyed into the Chesapeake Bay and seized an adolescent boy. The Spanish named the boy Don Luis, and he stayed under the care of Menéndez, who became commander of Spanish Florida in 1565. Don Luis viewed Spanish colonial society firsthand for nine years. He was taught the Spanish language and the intricacies of Catholicism. Menéndez hoped to use Don Luis as an interpreter and missionary for a Spanish colony to be established in the Chesapeake region. Since Don Luis was related to a Powhatan chief, Menéndez treated him well; he lived in Cuba, Mexico, and Spain at different times and even met King Philip II.

Return to the Chesapeake. In 1570 Don Luis returned home accompanied by two Jesuit priests and seven assistants, but with no military support. Don Luis directed the Jesuits to settle in an area away from any native village, and he then left them to rejoin his people. Quickly he asserted his elite status and took several wives, in direct repudiation of his Christian education. After six months the Jesuits pestered Don Luis and his people incessantly for food, and Powhatan religious leaders viewed the missionaries as a threat. Having reached the end of his patience, Don Luis led a war party that killed all of the Jesuits except for one boy.

Aftermath. Menéndez soon learned what happened to the Jesuits he had helped finance, and he dispatched a punitive expedition to the Chesapeake. The Spanish rescued the boy and killed several Powhatans, but Don Luis refused to deliver himself over to them. In retaliation for the killing of the Jesuits and Don Luiss refusal to cooperate, the Spanish hanged some Powhatan captives from the yardarms of their ship and let them die of starvation and exposure. After seeing the opposite of what the fathers were, they tremble, wrote a member of the punitive force, this chastisement has become famous throughout the land. The fate of Don Luis is uncertain. It is possible that he was related to the Powhatan leaders Wahunsonacock and Opechancanough, who confronted John Smith and the English after 1607. Some speculate that Don Luis and Opechancanough may have been the same person. Regardless, Don Luis certainly shaped his peoples perceptions of Europeans by telling them of all the things he had seen in Europe, Cuba, and Mexico.


Clifford M. Lewis and Albert J. Loomie, The Spanish Jesuit Mission in Virginia: 15701572 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1953).