The Most Amazing Journey: Paquiquineo in EV

History  â€˘  Virginia Indians

by Peter Hedlund

“I’ve become a little bit obsessed with Paquiquineo,” Brendan Wolfe told a group of Virginia social studies teachers on October 24.

“That’s how you say it?” one of the teachers exclaimed. “PAH-kee-kuh-NAY-yo? He’s mentioned in our textbook, but there’s not much information.”

“Which is why I’m here!”

Wolfe is managing editor of Encyclopedia Virginia (EV), a project of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) in partnership with the Library of Virginia. EV regularly attends the annual Virginia Conference for Social Studies Educators and at this year’s event, in Tyson’s Corner, received the group’s Friend of Education award.

In line with the conference theme of Global Virginia, Wolfe presented on Paquiquineo, a Virginia Indian who took what Wolfe calls perhaps the most amazing journey in Virginia history. The Spanish found him somewhere on the James River in 1561. Whether he left voluntarily or was kidnapped is unknown. Either way, he traveled with them to Seville and Madrid and even met King Philip II. Paquiquineo then went to Mexico City, where he took ill and converted to Christianity, taking the new name Don Luis de Velasco. In 1570, he finally returned home, this time with a group of Jesuit missionaries.

What happened next is up for debate.

Aliquot Heroum Virginiae Notae (The Marks of Some of the Leading Men of Virginia) by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1590), depicts an Algonquian-speaking Indian in what is now North Carolina. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News.

“Paquiquineo appears to have returned to his own people and his own ways,” Wolfe said in an interview. And then, at least according to the mission’s lone survivor, he killed the Jesuits. “Or maybe they died some other way,” Wolfe said. “That’s the thing about this story. It’s so fascinating, in part because there are still so many questions.”

Wolfe wrote EV‘s entry on Paquiquineo and used his presentation to show teachers how it provides more than just an overview of the Indian’s globe-trotting journey. “We’ve got something like a dozen primary documents embedded in the entry,” Wolfe said, “which is what teachers are really looking for. We’ve gone the extra step, though. In the case of one letter, written by two of the priests just two days after they landed in Virginia in 1570, we found an original Spanish transcription. And then we had it translated.”

The original 1950s translation, Wolfe explained, was considered inaccurate even when it was new. But scholarship on Paquiquineo has been relatively scarce and no one ever came up with anything better. “What we have now is the most up-to-date online material there is on Paquiquineo,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe also directed the social studies teachers to EV‘s extensive material on Virginia Indians in general, as well as on the Age of Exploration. The project also collaborated with VFH’s Virginia Indian Heritage Programs to create the Virginia Indian Archive, another resource useful to teachers.

“We have everything they need to put Paquiquineo into the full context of his time and his place,” Wolfe said. “And if you think he is the only crazy, surprising story to be found there, then you haven’t been reading!”