Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ever heard of this guy? (7)

If you've been around the Chesapeake Bay region, you may have wondered why there's no sign of a Spanish influence, as is found not too many hundred miles to the south. After all, by the early 1500s, the Spanish had pretty much taken over what would become the southern Atlantic coast of the U.S., busy looking for gold, native slaves, fountains of Eden, etc. Why not head north and take over there, too?

An important reason was a young Indian, and the Spanish themselves were to blame.

In 1562 a Spanish admiral called Pedro Menendez de Aviles sailed into the bay and before long persuaded the leader of the local tribe, the Pamunkey, to send his son back to Spain to get a "civilized" education. Once in Spain, the son was baptized Don Luis Velasco and trained to return to the New World and convert the pagan natives.

Velasco did return. He was taken to Mexico, where he saw how his Spanish benefactors had wiped out the Aztecs. The light began to dawn. Maybe these white folks weren't exactly a good deal.

Less that a decade after being sent to Spain, Velasco, now back in the Chesapeake area and quite disenchanted, led Pamunkey fighters on a raid on a Jesuit mission, wiping it out. Largely as a result, Spain's efforts to colonize the Chesapeake region were abandoned. So much for an Alamo along the James.

Subsequently, the Pamunkey and other tribes in the area banded together against any other dangerous weirdos who might arrive from across the sea. As it turned out, the alliance wasn't particularly successful. But, because in my entire supposedly well-educated life I had never heard of Don Luis Velasco, I feel as though I have learned something cool. (After all, probably unlike the Pocahontas story told by John Smith about the girl pleading for his life, Velasco almost certainly was real.)

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