The York River is arguably the most historically significant location for early colonial history found anywhere in America. European and Native American civilizations collided here. This was the land of Powhatan, Opechanacanough, Pocahantas, and the legendary explorations of Captain John Smith. No wonder this area’s colonial land patents (King’s grant lands) were so highly sought after by the first families of Virginia for the their Colonial plantations. The Washington’s, Lee’s, Anderson’s, Roane’s, Tucker’s, and Taliaferro’s settled its shores. History lives and breathes here. It is woven into the fabric of the estuary and its surrounding lands.

1525 January 1st

The Spanish Jesuits

Today Virginia is remembered as an English colony, but most people are unaware the Spanish explored the area much earlier than the English.  As early as 1525 the Spanish were aware of the Chesapeake Bay and named it Bahia de Santa Maria.  In 1559, a Spanish expedition captured a young Native American boy and brought him back to Spain against his will.  The Spaniards baptized the boy and gave him the Christian name of Don Luis.  According to legend, this Native American boy was no other than Chief Powhatan’s half-brother Opechanacanough, the King of the Powhatan confederacy.

Through his travels with the Jesuits, Don Luis also spent three years in Mexico.  Here he saw the Spaniards treatment of the native Indians firsthand.  Eleven years after leaving the York River, Don Luis returned with a Spanish expedition to the Chesapeake Bay.  The missionaries sailed up the James River and then to Cottage Creek where they portaged to Queens Creek on the York River.  Here a Jesuit Mission was established at Chiskiak.  Shortly thereafter, Don Luis escaped his captors and re-integrated into the Native American population denouncing Christianity.  Apparently the Jesuit Brothers pursued Don Luis but the leader and his two other party members were killed in a shower of arrows.  The Native Americans returned to the York mission to finish off the job, killing the remaining Jesuits at the camp.  They left one small boy by the name of Alonso to bear witness of what occurred to the Spanish upon their return.  Needless to say, the Spanish never returned to the Chesapeake.

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