PAQUIQUINEO, DON LUÍS, AND THOMAS SAVAGE
It's 1572. A group of Spanish Jesuits who'd attempted to establish a mission in Virginia have disappeared. Like all missionaries, Jesuits regularly sail off in search of new people to convert. As they see it, their efforts are good for souls, but also for empire. Once the priests have baptized the natives, then soldiers, farmers, and merchants can safely come in and exploit the land.
These priests, though, have gone missing. And now a ship prickly with conquistadors has come looking for them. Sailing up the James River, the Spaniards scan the dense shoreline, hazy with heat. They don't see missionaries but they do see Indians wearing the Jesuits' black robes. One even hangs a Eucharist dish around his neck.
The Spaniards assume the worst. After a tense negotiation, they learn there's a boy who's still alive. He's an altar boy, a kid brought along to help build the chapel and serve Mass.
After a few days, the Indians produce this young man. He's called Alonso, and apparently he's become fluent in Algonquian, to the point that he's almost forgotten his Spanish. He's been transformed, in other words, from a Spaniard into an Indian.
I imagine Alonso sitting there on the ship, in front of these Spaniards. It must take him a moment to adjust, moving as he is from one world to another. The Spaniards pelt him with questions and he just blinks, trying to remember his words.
The Spaniards urgently ask him about someone named Don Luís.
Where is he? they demand. What's he done? Is it murder?
* * *
Don Luís, as it happens, was an Indian transformed into a Spaniard. Before he took a Spanish name, he was Paquiquineo. And his story, as told by Alonso and others, is one of the most interesting in Virginia history. It's part travelogue, part murder mystery. And it places in sharp relief how two cultures saw each other and, for that matter, how they saw themselves.
What does it mean to be Algonquian? Or Catholic? What sacrifices would you be willing to make to preserve your life? And to what extremes would you go to preserve your identity?
These are the kind of questions this story provokes. They're urgent in their own way, no less now than they were then. And we'll explore them in the course of three acts. Here, then, is Act I.
* * *
It's eleven years earlier: June 1561. An early summer squall blows the Spanish caravel Santa Catalina into the Chesapeake Bay. There, on the James River, its crew encounters two Virginia Indians: Paquiquineo and an unnamed companion. These two Indians leave with the Spanish. But do they go voluntarily?
There are conflicting versions.
A Spanish account written in 1610 claims that Paquiquineo was the son of a chief.
The captain asked the chief for permission to take him along that the King of Spain, his lord, might see him and others whom he had brought along. He gave his pledge word to return him with much wealth and many garments. The chief granted this …
In this version, Paquiquineo is a willing adventurer. Other scholars, though, shake their heads. The Spaniards most likely took the Indians as slaves, they argue.
Whatever the case, what's important is that there are things we don't know. Gaps in the story. And when we fill in these gaps, the story changes.
How? Part of what's interesting about this story is that it's about an Indian going abroad and encountering European culture. But doesn't it matter whether Paquiquineo encounters Europe voluntarily or as a prisoner? Is he treated like royalty or like a slave?
It also matters that we understand the place, the culture, the religion of Paquiquineo's birth. By studying these, we can begin to understand the world view of Virginia Indians.
Much of what we know about that comes from European observers, men like Captain John Smith. In one memorable passage from his history Smith describes a days-long ritual he witnessed while a prisoner of the Indians.
During this ritual one of the Indians created a model of the world by mapping three concentric rings around a central fire. One circle was made from cornmeal, another from ears of corn, and the third from sticks. Writes Smith:
The circle of meale signified their Country, the circles of corne the bounds of the Sea, and the stickes my Country. They imagined the world to be flat and round, like a trencher, and they in the middest.
The Indians used the ceremony to determine that Smith's intentions were friendly. But another likely purpose was to call upon the gods to accept the Englishman into their world.
The Indian world, in other words, is a series of concentric circles, circles that are guarded by elaborate ritual. Crossing from one to the other is no small thing, and now Paquiquineo has just boarded ship and abandoned the safety of his own.
* * *
It takes the Spaniards three months to cross the Atlantic. They arrive in Lagos, Portugal, in August 1561 aboard the Santa Catalina. So what about this ship's name? Saint Catherine was a fourth-century virgin. And in an amazing bit of foreshadowing her name is said to derive from catha, meaning "total," and ruina, or "ruin."
Catherine hailed from Alexandria, in Egypt. And she got herself in trouble with the Roman emperor when she derided him for his material excess. She told him to marvel not at manmade things but at the sun, moon, and stars. These celestial bodies, she declared, run from the beginning of the world, in the east, to the end, in the west.
Impressed but unmoved, the emperor beheaded the future saint. But it's interesting, this idea of the world beginning in the east and ending in the west.
Some medieval world maps—so-called T-O maps—consist of two concentric circles. The great sea is in the outer circle, the known world in the inner. East is at the top and Jerusalem in the center. World maps that might look familiar to us today were still pretty new in 1561. And yet lurking not too far in the past is this circular worldview with a striking similarity to Paquiquineo's own.
So Paquiquineo, from the end of the world, sails east and arrives in Portugal. It's almost as if he's going back in time!
* * *
From Lagos, the group makes its way overland to Seville, Spain. There, the Santa Catalina's captain files the necessary paperwork. He registers his expenses and asks for additional funds in order to take Paquiquineo to meet the king. It's here that we learn Paquiquineo's name for the first time. That's because this expense report still exists, tucked away in some Spanish archive. And you can see the name Paquiquineo, where the Spanish bureaucrat carefully wrote it down.
I imagine him taking dictation from the tired, sea-smelling captain.
Or perhaps the Indian, described by several witnesses as being clever, has picked up a little Spanish by now. Perhaps he announces himself.
His Indian companion, though, is afforded no such opportunity. He remains forever silent.
* * *
Paquiquineo arrives in Madrid at the end of October. The king's court has just moved there and the town is miserable and crowded. In recent months its population has almost doubled, from 9,000 to 16,000. And its streets, according to one visitor, reek of royalty and priests, thieves and ruffians.
By contrast, the Indians of Tidewater Virginia number only about 15,000 spread across 6,000 square miles.
In Madrid, Paquiquineo must feel cramped and overwhelmed. Everything's new: the food, the clothes, even the smells. He does enjoy high-class accommodations, though, at the Real Alcázar. It's an old castle originally built by Muslim invaders. And that word Alcázar actually comes from the Arabic word for castle.
Here's an extra bit of cultural and political context. Around the time that Paquiquineo is in Spain, a huge debate is happening over how best to treat natives like him. Some, like the theologian Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, argue that Indians are beasts. They can't think rationally and therefore can't be converted. Others, like Bartolomé de las Casas, think the Indians are rational and ought to be treated as such. Las Casas is remembered for exposing the worst atrocities of the Spaniards. Less well remembered is how the Spaniards were willing to openly debate these issues in the first place.
* * *
And so into this charged intellectual, religious, multicultural atmosphere walks Paquiquineo. And he actually meets Philip II, the king of Spain, of Naples, of Sicily, of Milan, and of the Netherlands. He's the former king of England and the future king of Portugal. And certainly the most powerful man in the world. And Philip approves a mission to Virginia to be led by Dominican friars, now resident in Mexico City.
Paquiquineo will guide them and thus be allowed to return to his homeland.
It's amazing if you stop to think about it. Paquiquineo encounters a Spanish ship on the James River and within a few months he's standing before Felipe Segundo, the king of Spain. He's traveled a mind-boggling distance, possibly against his will, but he's still an Indian. The itchy new clothes aside, he's still Paquiquineo.
Although the Spaniards have requested several times, he has refused to convert. He has refused to forsake the spirits he was raised to appease. And yet here he is getting what he wants anyway—to go home.
I think it's fair to say that Paquiquineo was indeed clever.
* * *
After another long voyage, the Indian arrives in Mexico City. It's here that the Spanish viceroy, Don Luís de Velasco, plans to personally greet Paquiquineo and where the Dominicans will make final arrangements for their mission.
The year is 1562, or just forty-one years after the destruction of what had originally been the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán. A famous map of the island city, which some scholars have argued has indigenous sources, was published in 1524. It's remarkable for those same concentric circles. It could be a T-O map or rings of corn kernels.
Paquiquineo makes it to the convent of Santo Domingo and there he and his companion become ill. Perhaps thinking this is it, they finally agree to convert. They're baptized and Paquiquineo receives the Christian name of the viceroy himself, Don Luís de Velasco. In the end, though, they don't die.
Which is great, except that the Indians are sick for so long they miss their boat. The mission is canceled.
Some scholars see something fishy here. Is it plausible that both the Indians were somehow cured? No, they say. Paquiquineo was playing the Spaniards. He was just pretending to be sick so that the mission would be called off. It's an interesting theory because it gives Paquiquineo agency. He's acting in the world, which is something that Europeans are loathe to let Indians do.
It seems just as plausible, though, that they were actually sick. To argue otherwise is to say that the Spaniards couldn't tell when someone was faking a near-fatal illness.
The fever. The shakes. The glassy eyes.
Could Paquiquineo possibly have been that clever?
* * *
Whatever the case, this dramatic moment marks the end of Act I. Taken from Virginia, Paquiquineo travels to Europe, meets the most powerful man in the world, and sails back to America, this time to one of the largest, most multicultural cities on earth. Mexico City's population was about 67,000, compared with, if you'll recall, maybe 16,000 in Madrid. As an aside—Tenochtitlán had 250,000 people before Cortés arrived. Disease was something the Spaniards were familiar with.
All of these inhabitants formed what one visiting monk described as "a mixture of evil people": Spaniards and Indians, called mestizos. Spaniards and Africans, called mulattos. Spaniards and mestizos, called castizos. Spaniards and mulattos, called moriscos. And Indians and Africans, called zambos.
They were hustlers and heretics, prisoners and slaves, and their very existence rendered moot the Spanish ideal of limpieza de sangre, or blood cleansed of all non-Christian influences.
This, then, is where Paquiquineo nearly dies and is reborn: a Christian and with a Christian name: Don Luís de Velasco.
It's 1566. Five years since the Virginia Indian Paquiquineo left home with the Spanish. He met King Philip in Madrid, nearly died in Mexico City, and was baptized Don Luís de Velasco. Now he's a Christian. And the Dominicans have organized a mission back to Virginia that Don Luís will guide.
The ship carries fifteen soldiers and a few friars. The idea is to settle Virginia, spread the Gospel, and maybe find a path to the Pacific.
On August 2 they sail north from Havana.
By August 14, they're as far north as Chincoteague Bay, Maryland. But the ship encounters a fierce storm and blows out to sea.
Ten days later they still haven't found the Chesapeake. Instead they're off the coast of North Carolina. So they sail north again, but on September 6 they're back in Chincoteague Bay. At this point, they resign themselves to failure. Instead of continuing to look for Virginia, they sail east for Spain.
Take a second and imagine this moment from Don Luís's point of view. After five years of travel and illness, he's so close to returning home. And yet now he must go all the way back to Spain. It's around this time that Don Luís's Indian companion—the one who left Virginia with him—disappears from the records. I know it's overly dramatic, but I've always imagined him dying from heartbreak as that ship turns east. As he watches the Eastern Shore slowly disappear behind the horizon.
Don Luís, we can guess, is made of sterner stuff.
* * *
The Spanish had been exploring the American Southeast for more than fifty years. Ponce de León first rode the Gulf Stream to Florida in 1513. And his countrymen scoured the coast for the next few decades. They were looking for slaves mostly—theirs had all died—but also precious metals and a shortcut to the Pacific.
In 1527, a Spaniard named Pánfilo de Narváez landed near present-day Tampa Bay and marched his men north. But the expedition soon petered out. Eleven years later Hernando de Soto followed Narváez's route north and west, eventually making it all the way to the Mississippi River.
Along the way, though, the Spaniards encountered some hostile Indians. There was a battle near a town. And then something remarkable happened. This is from an account one of Soto's men later published:
Two leagues from the town, coming into the plain field, one of our men espied ten or eleven Indians, among whom was a Christian, which was naked, and scorched with the sun, and had his arms raised after the manner of the Indians, and differed nothing at all from them.
The Christian was Juan Ortiz. He had been on the expedition led by Narváez eleven years earlier. After being captured by Indians, over time he became one. Or at least that was the impression of the Spaniards. Hearing him cry his name, they had trouble even understanding what he was saying. They misheard Ortiz for oro, the Spanish word for gold.
They heard what they wanted to hear, in other words. And they saw what they wanted to see: not a man, but an Indian. A tool by which they might attain wealth and glory.
When the Spaniards realized Juan Ortiz was one of their own, they used him as an interpreter. He moved from one world to another, from one concentric circle to another, as best he could. Then a few years later he died.
Did he ever again feel fully Spanish or fully Indian?
Juan Ortiz and Don Luís. Their names rhyme in more ways than one.
* * *
Don Luís lands back in Spain in the fall of 1566. And that's when the recriminations begin. The ship's ensign blames Don Luís for failing to recognize the Chesapeake. The ship's pilot blames the weather.
Those close to the governor of Florida, a strongman name Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, blame the Dominicans. The religious politics of exploration are intense. Various orders—the Dominicans, the Franciscans, the Augustinians—are always vying for access. Falling in and out of favor. And at the moment Menéndez doesn't much care for the Dominicans.
This accident of fate may be what saves Don Luís's life. The ensign doesn't trust the Indian but he's overruled. Some historians, though, have wondered. Perhaps Don Luís did refuse to find the Chesapeake. Perhaps he refused for the same reason he had pretended to fall ill years before in Mexico City. He had wanted to avoid bringing Spanish soldiers into Virginia.
There's no way of knowing whether this is true. Who's to say Don Luís was even able to navigate these waters? And that must have been a crushing sacrifice, not to finally returning home after five years.
The point, though, is this: We don't know where Don Luís stands.
Is he Don Luís or Paquiquineo? Spanish or Indian? Is he a Christian or just pretending?
How can we know? How can the Spanish know? For that matter, how can he know?
* * *
Don Luís next travels to Seville. There he takes up residence in a Jesuit monastery. The Society of Jesus was new then, maybe twenty-five years old. And the group had only been in Seville for a little more than a decade.
Their founder, Ignatius of Loyola, was a Spaniard from the Basque country. One of his older brothers was a priest, the other a soldier. And so between a life of God and a life of the world, Ignatius chose the world. He read popular adventure books and joined the army. He lived exactly the kind of life that Cervantes later caricatured in Don Quixote. Affairs, gambling, children out of wedlock.
Then, at the siege of Pamplona, in 1521, Ignatius was badly wounded. His leg broken, he was an invalid and asked for books of chivalry to pass the time. By mistake, though, his caretaker brought him Vita Christi, a life of Christ. The text left him transformed.
The future saint joined a monastery, and for a year he lived in a cave. There he penned a guide to the religious life he called Spiritual Exercises.
Now, four decades later, Don Luís has joined the Jesuits and probably engages with Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises. The priests use the program as a day-by-day guide to meditation. A guide to spiritual transformation.
In the fifth exercise of week one, for example, Don Luís is asked to imagine hell:
The first point will be to see with the eyes of the imagination those great fires, and the souls as it were in bodies of fire.
The second, to hear with the ears the wailings, the groans, the cries, the blasphemies against Christ our Lord, and against all his saints.
The third, to smell with the sense of smell the smoke, the brimstone, the filth, and the corruption.
The fourth, to taste with the sense of taste the bitter things, such as tears, sadness, and the worm of conscience.
The fifth, to feel with the sense of touch how those fires touch and burn the souls.
* * *
It's impossible to know what Don Luís thinks about the burning of souls. In Virginia his obligations were to a series of spirits. They demanded correct behavior and certain kinds of rituals. Withhold the proper respect, and the spirits might ruin your hunt. Or they might conspire to see you defeated in battle. To mitigate that possibility, warriors like Don Luís wore their hair long on one side and shorn on the other, imitating the look of the spirit Okee.
In Seville, Don Luís's hair has probably been cut short all around. Does that mean, like Saint Ignatius or the conquistador Juan Ortiz, that he has been transformed? Does that mean he is thinking about the inner world of his soul instead of the outer world of spirits?
Here we are, at the end of Act II, and we know very little about Don Luís the person. He has been all over the world, so we can guess he is strong, adaptable, and smart.
We have no idea what he thinks about heaven and hell.
But nine years after he left, as Don Luís prepares to return to Virginia, those burning fires of hell from the Spiritual Exercises, the wailings, the groans, and the cries—
They all add up to an eerie bit of foreshadowing.
We're back to where we started in Act I. It's 1572 and the Spaniards have come looking for the missing Jesuits. They find a boy still alive, an altar boy named Alonso de Olmos. He's been living with the Indians for more than a year, so that his hair has grown long. But just on one side, in the style of a warrior. He struggles with his Spanish.
I imagine him sitting there on the ship, taking a moment to adjust. The Spaniards, prickly with armor and moral outrage, pelt him with questions:
What happened? Why are you living as a savage? Where are the Jesuits?
They're all dead.
He can smell salt on the water, can taste the fish he'd learned to spear from it.
What about Don Luís? they want to know.
But Alonso just blinks.
* * *
Years earlier Don Luís had been a Virginia Indian named Paquiquineo. But that was before he'd been picked up by the Spanish somewhere on the James River—
Before he'd sailed to Spain and had an audience with the king, Philip II—
Before he'd been to Mexico City—
Before he'd fallen ill and been reborn a Christian—
Before he'd sailed north with the Dominicans but failed to find the Chesapeake Bay—
Before he'd studied with the Jesuits, completing Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises—
Before he'd used his five senses to imagine the horrors of hell. The wailings, the groans, and the cries.
Now he's in Seville, his hair cut short, and one of the Jesuit fathers comes quietly, likely interrupting his prayers. Brother Luis, he says, a new mission has been organized. You must go.
And so he does, Don Luís. And so perhaps does Paquiquineo.
* * *
He meets the missionaries at the tiny Spanish outpost of Havana. They are led by a contentious, scandal-prone priest named Father Juan Baptista de Segura. It's August 1570 and Segura has only been in America for two years. But he's concluded that the place is a wasteland.
Because they are either dead or enslaved, there aren't many Indians left to convert. China—that is where the future lies. Still, Segura wants to make one last run at Virginia.
What attracts him is what continues to attract the Spanish governor: the idea that the Chesapeake Bay might lead to some passage west to the Pacific. After all, what better way to get to China?
The governor suggests that Segura take a hundred soldiers with him, but the priest refuses. Perhaps he wants to get himself killed, the governor thinks. And what's worse, Segura has stocked his company with men who are dangerously inexperienced—both in the world and among the Indians.
They sail north around August 5. They don't go straight to Virginia, though. Instead, they stop at Santa Elena, a Spanish outpost near present-day Parris Island, South Carolina. What happens here is remarkable. The missionaries meet a fellow Jesuit, Juan de la Carrera. He looks over this crew of innocent young brothers and their Indian guide, and he immediately sees trouble. He wrote about it later:
The Indian did not satisfy me. Judging from what he had told me about the grandeurs of his land and the existence of another sea in the region, I saw that he was a liar. I begged and entreated Father Segura to examine the plan more thoroughly, to talk it over with the fathers present and to decide what was best in conformity with their advice. The idea of a superior wanting to go to such remote and distant lands relying on an Indian, leaving everything behind, without a guard of soldiers or any people other than his own, was in my opinion not good.
In the end, two of Segura's best priests agree with Carrera and abandon the mission. One person does join from Santa Elena: his name is Alonso de Olmos. The son of Spanish settlers, he's now Father Segura's altar boy.
He climbs aboard ship with the older priests, the friars, and Don Luís. And on August 5 they all set sail for Virginia.
* * *
"We arrived and unloaded the cargo yesterday," wrote one of the priests in a letter to Spanish authorities. It was dated September 11.
We find Don Luís's land quite different from what was thought, although not due to any fault in Don Luís's telling us about it. Rather, Our Lord has punished it with six years of famine and death, leaving a much reduced population than before.
The Indians gather to greet the Jesuits, the priest writes, but have nothing to offer. They are thrilled, however, to see the boy they once knew as Paquiquineo. He's been gone now for nine years.
It seems to them that Don Luís has been raised from the dead and come down from heaven. Those who remain are all his relatives who are greatly consoled by him and they have regained hope and faith that God wants to favor them. They say they want to be like Don Luís and beg us to stay in this land with them.
The Indians' leader appears to be a brother of Don Luís. He tells the priests of his three-year-old son, who is quite ill.
He thought the boy was about to die and he begged us to go to baptize him. So Father Segura sent one of our priests last night to baptize him as he was so close to death.
There's famine and death in the land, but Don Luís is risen. He and the Jesuits are welcomed as saviors. They're even called to the sickbed of an important child.
Under the circumstances, then, things are going well. Or t least better than the skeptical Father Carrera may have predicted. And yet it all unravels rather quickly. The reasons, as we shall see, are complicated, while the consequences—the consequences are deadly.
* * *
In his letter, the Jesuit notes that a bit of "carelessness" has changed the dynamic between Spaniards and Indians. The problem, he says, has to do with the trading of goods.
Scholars have focused on this. They've said that tensions can be traced to an important difference between Europeans and Indians. They operated on different economic models.
The Indians had what's called a gift-exchange economy. Instead of trading goods of equal value, Indians gave gifts. In return, they didn't receive goods but debts, or the unspoken promise of future gifts. Not surprisingly, the Spanish missionaries didn't understand how this worked. They refused to barter with Don Luís's people because they thought it would morally corrupt them. They did need to trade for food, however. So they did it with Indians who were not Don Luís's people.
This seems reasonable enough. But it violates one of the important rules of the gift-exchange economy: never trade with rivals while refusing to trade with friends. This was considered gravely insulting.
There are hints of all this is the priest's letter.
Scholars have also wondered about that baby. Did Don Luís's brother really understand that he was sending the priests to baptize his sick three-year-old? Or did he expect them to heal the boy? And if the child didn't survive, did Don Luís's brother think he'd been tricked?
The priest's letter ends, "May Christ, Our Lord, be with you all."
He is never heard from again.
* * *
Everything we know from this point forward we know from Alonso de Olmos. He's the altar boy, the one sitting on the ship's deck, looking all the Indian and forgetting his Spanish. Alonso tells a priest that Don Luís lodged with the Jesuits only a few nights before rejoining his brothers, who lived more than a day's journey away. He's returned, in a way, to being Paquiquineo, or perhaps now he's someone new altogether. As it happens, the Indians of Tidewater Virginia change names often. It's a way of reflecting new identities. When a warrior becomes a man, for instance, he receives a new name. Or when he proves himself in battle.
Paquiquineo may receive a new name, too, but Alonso doesn't say. To him, Paquiquineo will always be Don Luís. And Don Luís, Alonso tells the priest, "fell into evil ways" and "took up with women."
Just as Indians take multiple names, so they also take multiple wives. Chances are, Paquiquineo has simply readopted his Indian ways. This may be a rejection of Spanish culture, or merely an acknowledgment of his new situation. Spanish ways work for Spanish contexts, Indian ways for Indian contexts.
Whatever the case, Paquiquineo slips off his identity as Don Luís de Velasco and slips away into the woods.
* * *
The winter does its worst. The Jesuits attempt to trade for food but with little success. They cannot grow. They cannot hunt.
They send messages to Don Luís but receive no reply. They must've been near starvation. And perhaps they do starve.
Some scholars have wondered whether Don Luís is the scapegoat here. Could it be that Alonso de Olmos simply tells the Spaniards what they expect to hear, even what they want to hear?
Come February, Don Luís finally relays word that he'll visit.
The boy tells the priest:
When Don Luís arrived with his tribe armed with clubs and lances, he greeted Father Segura, who was in bed, sick and praying. Raising his club and giving his greeting were really one gesture, and so in wishing him well, he killed him.
"All the rest," Alonso says, referring to the Jesuits, "were murdered also."
* * *
When Paquiquineo first left Virginia, more than a decade earlier, it was aboard the Santa Catalina. The Saint Catherine, a ship whose name means "total ruin." And when he returned, sailing west into the sunset, he sailed to the end of the world.
Or so it was easy for the Spaniards to believe.
* * *
Perhaps Paquiquineo was peeved about the trading. Perhaps that was an issue on which he couldn't be flexible. Or perhaps he found himself caught between pleasing his own people and pleasing the Jesuits, and his anxiety exploded into violence. Or maybe he sought retribution for his companion's death and his own near death.
On the other hand, maybe the Jesuits starved. And maybe the Indians adopted, rather than captured, Alonso de Olmos. He was young, still able to learn new ways and a new language. This happened often enough across tribes. So why not with Alonso?
Still, his Spanish rescuers are desperate to know: Where's Don Luís?
Vengeance lights up their eyes.
"I saw that he was a liar," the Jesuit Juan de la Carrera had written. With the benefit of hindsight he squeezes Don Luís into the stereotype of a conniving and duplicitous savage—
One who nevertheless played his assigned role: Judas to Father Segura's Christ.
Still: Where's Don Luís?
And perhaps that's one reason why this story has lasted for so long—
Fascinated for so long.
Where's Don Luís? We don't know. Don Luís—or Paquiquineo—disappeared from the historical record. The Spaniards never found him and therefore, in a way, felt free to invent him.
Who was he? They didn't know and neither do we.
Perhaps that's fitting. After all, what right do we have to take more from Don Luís than he's already given?
THE STRANGE LIFE OF THOMAS SAVAGE
On one side of the clearing were the men in armor—
Men with knotty, unkempt beards and suspicious eyes. John Smith was there, so was Christopher Newport, and a few others.
On the opposite side were the men in skins—
Men with painted faces and hair spiked like hedgehogs. Powhatan, wearing a long robe embroidered with shells, lorded above them all.
And in the middle, trying not to tremble, stood two boys.
There had been a feast and a ceremony. The two parties had exchanged gifts. Captain Newport, recently from England, had presented the great chief a suit of clothes, a hat, and a greyhound—a skinny beast, confused and excited.
Powhatan reciprocated and without a translator communicated his satisfaction. He then approached one of the boys, bare-skinned Namontack. He pushed the child in the direction of the beards.
Captain Newport caught Thomas Savage's eye. He then addressed the chief.
"This is my son," he lied. "Thomas Newport."
Powhatan understood well enough and seemed pleased.
The old man opened his arms and into them walked young Savage.
It was February and his whole body shivered.
* * *
The Indians called this land Tsenacomoco. Powhatan ruled over twenty-eight to thirty-two tribes that hunted in its woods, fished in its rivers, and farmed in its fields. They also fought, more than occasionally.
It had been this way for hundreds of years.
Then the English ships came. That was less than a year ago, in April 1607. They sailed into the bay and up the wide, salty river. There they disgorged their 104 men at possibly the most inhospitable spot in all of Tsenacomoco—
A narrow spit of land prone to tidal flooding and devoid of fresh water. Mosquitoes were known to carry grown men away.
Unsurprisingly, it was empty of Indians, and occupying it didn't pose a threat to any nearby groups. In other words, by sheer stupid luck, the men in armor had found the one anchorage in Tsenacomoco where they wouldn't have been killed immediately.
They built a fort, explored the river and the bay, and quarreled with one another. Soon they began to die—
"Of the bloudie Flixe," according to the colonist George Percy.
"Of the swelling."
"Of a wound given by the Savages."
Or, in one instance, just "suddenly."
It was the water, mostly. Why else would no one live there?
* * *
Powhatan watched the Englishmen carefully—
Feasting them in order to learn their ways and sometimes killing them to test their power.
One of the beards, John Smith, brazenly stole grain from whole villages.
Why do they not farm themselves? Powhatan wondered. Why are they such terrible hunters?
Powhatan's brother, the foreign-looking Opechancanough, captured Smith over the winter. Powhatan sat down with this man and saw someone for whom might was right.
This made sense to Powhatan, so he set about impressing the Englishman with his own might. Although it was the cold season, he brought out the best and richest of foods. He lectured about the known world—
Which he demonstrated by having one of his priests fashion three concentric circles around a central fire.
My country, Powhatan indicated. The sea. Your country.
And then, cruelly perhaps, Powhatan staged a mock execution. He brought his prisoner out and laid his head on two great stones.
One of the chief's daughters effected to save the beard, placing herself between him and the war clubs—
Powhatan found the drama of it all satisfying. He again sat down with Smith, who was now in his debt. The old man offered him a title and the rule of a town. He offered, in other words, to make him family.
To make him an Indian.
And at that moment the chief realized—
They were more alike than he had first thought.
* * *
Thomas Savage had been in Virginia only a month when he was given to Powhatan.
He was thirteen. His parents were gone.
That he had survived the punishing storms of the Atlantic was miracle enough. Now he was being asked to make another, far more profound crossing.
The Englishmen understood that he was still young enough to pick up the Indian language—
That his immersion in their culture would prove useful.
Powhatan expected the same from the bare-skinned Namontack. After a time, these boys would serve as translators, liaisons, and yes, spies, too. Everyone understood this. It was all part of the bargain.
So young Thomas accepted the embrace of the wrinkly old chief, whose breath smelled of nuts and squirrel. He bent down and patted the greyhound.
A Savage among the savages, he might have thought. Except that Captain Newport had claimed Thomas as his own in order to increase the boy's value.
He was Thomas Newport—now twice removed from his original self.
* * *
Thomas lived happily enough among the Indians of Tsenacomoco. He learned the language. He ate from a kettle and walked the woods.
When Powhatan needed to appear strong, he made sure to keep his Newport close, for other men to see. When Powhatan was busy, Thomas helped the women with the crops.
That first year, the old man sent him to James Fort to negotiate the release of some Indian captives. When he failed, Powhatan exploded in a fit of rage. Word was sent that Thomas should not return.
By this time Powhatan had become something of a father to him—
How couldn't he have?
But no sooner had Thomas begun to disentangle all his mixed-up feelings, than Powhatan had sent his daughter—
That same dramatic girl who had saved John Smith—
To fetch him home.
* * *
By the summer of 1609, peace was turning to war. It happened slowly and then quickly, the way a pot of water boils.
The rains had not come and everyone was hungry.
Late in the season, English soldiers marched downriver. The idea was to negotiate for food, but they skirmished with the Indians instead. Fifty of the English were killed. The remainder laid waste to the Indian town. They burned the houses, ransacked the temples, and desecrated the corpses.
Another English party traveled upriver. There was more fighting, another sixty English killed. In order to broker a peace, John Smith presented the Indian chief with a fourteen-year-old boy named Henry Spelman.
"He sold me to him," was how Henry later put it, not without some bitterness.
Henry and Thomas became friends. Henry came from a well-heeled family. He knew how to read and write. He knew his own mind in ways that perhaps Thomas did not.
In November, Powhatan dispatched young Spelman to Jamestown with an invitation for the English to visit him at his new capital, Orapax.
Captain John Ratcliffe and about fifty of his soldiers traveled to meet Powhatan. Instead of finding corn to trade, however, they walked into a bloody ambush.
Ratcliffe was killed in the traditional way. By women using mussel shells.
Appalled and feeling ill-used, Spelman fled. Thomas had been there, too, but he stayed.
What kept him there? Was it loyalty or lack of nerve? Or did Powhatan simply hold him a little closer?
* * *
That winter Powhatan cut off trade to the fort. He also ordered his warriors to restrict access to the surrounding woods, where the English might hunt or forage. It was not quite a siege in the conventional sense, but it had the same effect.
Unconvinced his arrows could overcome English muskets, the great chief would let famine do the fighting for him. He would starve them out.
Thomas traveled with the Indians on their winter pilgrimage deep into the woods.
While his countrymen ate dogs, cats, mice, boots, and even each other, he feasted on lean deer, nuts, and cornbread.
He stayed away from the fort, so he likely knew only some of the horrors that transpired there. He wasn't present when the English gathered together come spring, their remnant now a gaunt and exhausted sixty, and decided to abandon Virginia.
They buried their cannon, boarded their ship, and set sail down the river.
They were happy to go. The Indians could have this land. And they could have Thomas, too. Thomas Savage. Thomas Newport. Whoever he was.
But then something truly remarkable happened.
As they sailed downriver, they encountered another ship. They were reinforcements from England. A new governor, too, who ordered them to turn around.
"You're going back," he declared, having no idea how hard that must have been to hear.
* * *
At some point Thomas decided to go back, too.
Late in the year he invented an errand that took him to the fort and there he stayed. Henry Spelman was living somewhere up north, but Pocahontas came and went sometimes. From Powhatan, though—that old chief who had taken him in and taught him the world—Thomas kept clear.
And how did Powhatan feel about that? Not too long after Thomas left, a bookish colonist transcribed the words to an Indian war song that had been heard. He spent some time working out the language, and probably consulted Thomas for help.
The song, they decided, brags of how the Indians have killed the English for their guns and their copper. In one verse, the third, they complain that they could have killed Thomas Newport, but they didn't. And yet he abandoned them anyway.
Thomas Newport? the boy must have thought.
Don't know him. I'm Thomas Savage now.