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Strachey's A Dictionarie of the Indian Language

Smith's Vocabulary of Indian words

Weroances and Their Tribes

English Observers

William Strachey' s Description of Critters in the Chesapeake Bay

Henry Spelman, Relation of Virginia, 1609


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Who were the first people to contact the Powhatans?

The first recorded contact of Europeans with the Powhatans occurred sometime between 1559 and 1561, when a Spanish exploration party captured a Powhatan boy. It was the practice of European explorers to kidnap adolescents, who could easily learn a new language and remember their own, therefore becoming valuable interpreters.

On September 10, 1570, Jesuit missionaries arrived in Tidewater Virginia. They sailed up the river, later named the James River after English King James I. After crossing the lower peninsula by way of creeks, they reached the York River where they set up a mission.

As was customary for Jesuit priests, they brought little in the way of food supplies. They expected the new converts to support them, but a severe drought across the area made that unlikely.

The missionaries' biggest challenge was the kwiokosuk, Powhatan priests, who were a powerful influence in the Indian community. Their roles were not just spiritual and medical, but they had strong political control as well. To have the Powhatans reject their own priests and become loyal to the missionaries, the Jesuits would have had to demonstrate even greater powers than the kwiokosuk. If they could have put an end to the drought, the Powhatan people might have been tempted to change loyalties.

However, the Jesuits were not acquainted with the customs of the Powhatan people and continued to make one mistake after another. The missionaries appeared to be competing with the kwiokosuk even more when they chose to live outside the Powhatan village and demanded food from the villagers, in imitation of the native priests' way of life.

With the pressure from the Jesuit priests for the Powhatans to convert to Christianity and their demands for food from the people, the Powhatans decided to rid themselves of the problem. On the morning of February 9, 1571, a party of warriors arrived at the mission and killed the missionaries. In retaliation, a Spanish force commanded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived in the Chesapeake Bay. Eight Powhatan Indians were executed for the murder of the Jesuit priests. Menéndez also fired on unsuspecting natives, hoping to intimidate the Powhatans into submission. This only resulted in the distrust and hatred of the Spanish by the Powhatans. Spain's abandonment of the Chesapeake sparked the interest of England.







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