OPECHANCANOUGH
The captured Indian youth was initially taken to Mexico, where he was baptized and educated by the
Dominicans. He was later taken to Spain. During his two years in Spain, he met King Phillip II. While he
was in Spain, he was generally assumed to be "the son of a petty Chief". He eventually left Spain for
Havana, Cuba, in the company of Dominican missionaries. Don Luis carried on the Powhatan tradition
of being a great speaker, and seems to have mastered the art of persuasion. He convinced the
Dominicans to return with him to his homeland, under the pretense of helping them in their quest to
"Christianize" his fellow tribesmen. Phillip II wanted to establish a missionary settlement in the Tidewater
region of Virginia (then known as "Ajacan"). Some historians believe that Opechancanough was that
unnamed captive, and his experiences among the Spanish may have influenced his deep distrust of
European settlers in the "New World". He must have known that their plans for colonization would result
in the cultural annihilation and displacement of his people by the Europeans.

Another theory about Opechancanough's distrust of Europeans can be found in the writing of John
Smith. Smith boasted of having shamed the well-respected leader  by holding a pistol to his breast
while marching him in front of his assembled tribesmen. The Pamunkey warriors laid aside their
weapons in an attempt to save the life of Opechancanough, not out of cowardice, but in solidarity of
their love for him. Opechancanough was shown an egregious lack of respect by John Smith.
Opechancanough was a  
younger brother of  
paramount chief  
Wahunsenacawh  
(Powhatan). He was  
primarily known as the  
nationalist war chief who  
masterminded the  
intertribal Indian rebellion  
of 1622, and later 1644,  
until he was assassinated  
while held in captivity by  
the English colonists in  
Virginia in 1646.  There
are many theories  about
the true identity of  
Opechancanough as well  
as his rationale for  
instigating the ingeniously
 coordinated Virginia  
Indian rebellions.  
Whatever reasons he may
have had for his actions,  
the stories that have been
told about him are  
fascinating...  In 1560, the
son of a   major  
Powhatan chief  was
seized by the Spanish  
when they entered the  
Chesapeake Bay (which  
they called the "Bahia de  
Santa Maria"). The youth  
was christened Don Luis.
Powhatan Museum
of Indigenous Arts and Culture
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