Little Bits of History

Before Roanoke

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 10, 2015
Virginia peninsula map*

Virginia peninsula map*

September 10, 1570: Spanish Jesuits land and set up a mission. The area they chose for a landing site was what they called Ajacán and today we call it the Virginia peninsula. The Jesuits were hoping to bring Christianity to the Virginia Indians and set up the St. Mary’s Mission in the area the British would select 36 years later to set up a colony called Jamestown. Earlier in the century, what we call the Chesapeake Bay and what the Spaniards called the Bahia de Santa Maria was discovered. Europeans were looking for a Northwest Passage which would allow ships to get to the Pacific Ocean without sailing around South America. The Spaniards called the territory around the Bay, Ajacán. Today, it is the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Spanish first set up a settlement in what would become the US in 1565 when they established St. Augustine, Florida. The first Jesuit mission was founded the next year, also in Florida. They continued to expand with small outposts up the east coast. They moved into areas today known as Georgia and South Carolina. They also went inland and were hoping to find Mexican silver mines, but they were located in what is today, Morganton, North Carolina and no Mexican silver mines were to be found. No matter where they set up a settlement, mission, or fort, they were all soon destroyed by the people already living in the area. In 1561, a young Indian boy was captured in Ajacán (Virginia) and he was taken away and given a thorough Jesuit/European education. He was baptized as Don Luis.

In 1570, another group of priests wished to biuld a new mission. They had just withdrawn from Guale and Santa Elena and hoped to find something better northwards. They brought Don Luis along as guide and interpreter and off they went. There were two priests, six brothers, a Spanish boy, and Don Luis. They stopped in Santa Elena for provisioning before sailing north. They landed in Ajacán on this date and built a small wooden hut with a second room attached so Mass could be said. They exact location of the hut is unknown but it is thought it was near the York River or maybe not and it was near the Occoquan River.

As they sailed, Don Luis attempted to locate his home village, but was unsuccessful. But he thought he recognized some “distant relatives” on shore and so the missionaries landed. He disappeared soon after and returned to his people. When he left, the Spaniards were afraid and went looking for him. When they got close, Don Luis killed the “rescue party” and then led others back to the mission where the rest were killed, except for the boy in the group. The natives stole the clerical dress of the priests and when a Spanish rescue ship neared the place, they saw people dressed as priests and came ashore, only to find hostile natives who attacked. The fight for ownership of the coast predated the fated, failed settlement at Roanoke Island by seventeen years.

When old settlers say “one has to understand the country,” what they mean is, “You have to get used to our ideas about the native.” – Doris Lessing

When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land. – Desmond Tutu

If travel were so inspiring and informing a business … then the wisest men in the world would be deck hands on tramp steamers, Pullman porters, and Mormon missionaries. – Sinclair Lewis

Every leader of a great revolution is a fanatic and a Jesuit. – Gertrude Atherton

Also on this day: Close Your Eyes; Touch Your Nose – In 1897, the first citation for drunk driving was issued.
No More Thimbles – In 1846, Elias Howe received a patent for a sewing machine.
Italian Grad Prix – In 1961, a racing disaster occurred.
Nyon Conference – In 1937, the conference began.
Barefoot Runner – In 1960, Abebe Bikila ran a marathon and won.

* “Virginia-peninsula” by Andrew Wiseman – ESRI/Teleatlas/GDI. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


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