Chesapeake Bay - Colonial Period - The Mariners' Museum
The Mariners' MuseumChesapeake Bay - Our History and Our Future
Native AmericansColonial PeriodOyster Wars20th CenturyEconomyLighthousesWatermenResourcesCreditsSponsorsHome

Ajacan, The Spanish Jesuit Mission

Roanoke Colony

Jamestown Colony

St. Mary's City

The French

Exploration of the Chesapeake Bay

Gabriel Archer

John Smith, A Map of Virginia, 1612

The accidents that happened in the Discoverie of the bay

What happened the second voyage to discover the Bay

Chesapeake Bay -
Our History and Our Future
has been made possible
in part by:
Bank of America
Ajacan, The Spanish Jesuit Mission

The Spanish were looking for ways to benefit from North America. Like the English, the Spanish were looking for the Strait of Anian (which the English call the Northwest Passage) that would lead them to the riches of the Spice Islands and the Orient. The Spanish were also looking to possibly use Indians in the slave trade, obtain furs, and find a safe port for Spanish galleons to protect themselves from storms and pirates. A Spanish explorer named Juan Menendez Marques was in search of the strait that would lead him to the Orient. In this effort to find the strait he planned a settlement on the Bahia de Santa Maria (Chesapeake Bay). In 1570, eight Jesuit missionaries led by Father Juan Baptista de Segura, set out from Santa Elena, a town just north of St. Augustine, in present day Florida.

Earlier in his travels some historians believe that Menendez picked up a young Indian in the Chesapeake Bay region to be used as a translator. To show that they meant the young Indian no harm, they left a young Spanish boy with the Indians as insurance. The young Indian, referred to by the Spanish as Don Luis, was taken by the Spaniards first to Mexico and later to Spain before returning to Virginia. Francisco Sacchini wrote, "the brother of a principal chief of that region gave himself up to some Spaniards... After he was brought to Spain and treated honorably and kindly, he was baptized by Luis de Velasco, Viceroy of Mexico, whose name he received. When King Philip thought it fitting, he later ordered the man to be returned to his province in company with some Religious of the Dominican order." While the identity of Don Luis is still uncertain, he did play an important role in the Spanish settlement.

With the help of Don Luis, the Spanish built a settlement on the York River called Ajacan. Back home once again with his people, Don Luis went to live with his family, where he was made a chief. He refused to be an ambassador to his people for the Spanish missionaries because he remembered how they had treated Indians in other countries. The Jesuit priests also were demanding that the Powhatans supply them with food, which was already scarce due to a drought. In 1571 the Powhatans attacked the mission and killed all the priests.

Later that same year, a relief ship came to the mission. They found only Powhatans. Dressed in the dead priests' clothing, the Powhatans tried to lure the ship to land. Fearing a trap, the sailors refused. The Powhatans then attacked the ship by canoe. Two chiefs were captured by the Spanish and taken to Havana. In questioning them, the Spanish leaders found out that the Spanish boy they had left in Don Luis's place was still alive at a Powhatan village and sent a second relief expedition. The Spanish and Powhatans fought and many Powhatans were captured. The Spanish boy was returned and the Spanish killed many of the Powhatan prisoners. The Spanish never attempted to settle in the Chesapeake Bay again. But their interest in the region remained high.

Continue to: Roanoke Colony



Native Americans | Colonial Period | Oyster Wars | 20th Century | Economy
Lighthouses | Watermen | Resources | Credits | Home

Navigation Bar