The Powhatan Confederacy and Jamestown Colonists
Written and researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A.


The Powhatan people were an Algonquin-speaking people. At their peak, the Powhatans were part of the Powhatan Confederacy based in Virginia. Today's tribal group are a small part of the original bands. The Powhatan Renape Nation adopted its original flag in 1982, after receiving recognition from the State of New Jersey. However, this flag (above) was adopted in 1990. The circular bands of color represent a rainbow. At the base is the turtle with the Sacred Tree growing out of its back. At the top is a white ghost eagle rising from the tree. The eagle's wings arch upward to encircle a yellow-orange sun on a red background.

"The circle symbolizes life, the cycle of life, and the shapes of all living things," as explained by Chief Roy Crazy Horse. The circle also appears in the rainbow, the eagle's eye, nostrils, and on the scales and body of the turtle. The number four symbolizes the four sacred directions, the four times of day, and the four ages of mankind. This is represented in the four entities of the turtle, the sacred tree, the white eagle anf the sun.

The turtle represents Turtle Island (North America).

Don Luis de Valasco, Pocahontas' Grandfather(?):

There are many who have written about Don Luis de Valasco or Paquinquineo (his native name). Paquinquineo was a youth in 1559/1560 (age 9?) when he was captured in the Carolina Sounds. He was named after the Spanish viceroy in Mexico (after his baptism into Christianity). The Spanish liked young children to learn Spanish. In 1525, a Spaniard, named Esteban Gomez, arrived on Powhatan soil to claim land for Spain (Thwaites, 251-52). Don Luis de Valasco, thought to be the son of a werowance or chief, was captured in the 1560's by the Spanish and educated in Mexico, Madrid, and Havana, Cuba. He was taken to meet King Philip II of Spain, and lived the life of a Spanish grandee (Woodward, 430). Powhatan "Don Luis" was a Kiskiack of Virginia, and a member of the family that ruled over the native towns of that area. In 1570, with eight missionaries and Father Juan Baptista de Segura, the native they now called Don Luis de Valasco, was brought back to his homeland. Upon his return, he took back his position as head of an eminent family and chief of his tribe, which he inherited from his father. He took several wives, which outraged the priests. They shamed him with verbal attacks and he (Don Luis) wiped out the mission. Only one boy survived (Alonzo de Olmos).

"After they arrived her, Don Luis abandoned them ... he was living with his brothers [his tribe] a journey of a day and a half away".

This quote was from a letter written by Juan Rogel to Francis Borgia from the Bay of the Mother of God on AUGUST 28, 1572, to Rome, Italy.


Spain's COA

Francis Borgia was born on October 28, 1510, near Valencia, Spain, as Francisco de Borgia y Aragon. He was the son of Juan Borgia, the 3rd Duke of Gandía and Joana of Aragon, daughter of Alfonso de Aragon, Archbishop of Zaragoza. His father was the illegitimate son of Ferdinand the Catholic (later Ferdinand II of Aragon) and his mistress Aldonza Ruiz. Francis was also the paternal great-grandson of Pope Alexander VI. So we can see that he had many family members that were well regarded in the Catholic Church.

Francis Borgia was a counsellor of Charles V for ten years and then became Viceroy of Catalonia. However, his real ambition was to be a part of the church. You could say that he was the white sheep of his family.


His grandfather Pope Alexander VI (b. 1431) was considered them most corrupt pope that ever lived. He was born as Rodrigo Borgia. He received his rise to power, in the Catholic Church, via nepotism. His uncle was Alfonso de Borgia (Later Pope Calixtus III). Pope Alexander VI was in office from 1492-1503. Rodrigo Borgia's daughter was infamous, Lucretia Borgia.

Frances married a Portuguese noblewoman. She was Eleanor de Castro Melo e Menezes. They were married in Madrid on July 1529. They had eight children: Carlos, Isabel, João, Alvaro, Fernando, Afonso, Joana, and Doroteia Borgia.

When France's father died, he was to be the new 4th Duke of Gandía. He then retired, with his family, to a life of religious devotion. When his wife Eleanor died, in 1546, Francis was determined to enter the newly formed Society of Jesus (The Jesuits), but first he had to be sure that his children were old enough to care for themselves. One interesting fact is that Francis Borgia had a semicircle cut from his dining room table to accomodate his over-sized girth(Koenig-Bricker). It was only after he was ordinated that he lost most of his weight, but he was never a lean ascetic.

In 1554, St. Ignatius established the Order, which was first known as the Society of Jesus. Francis Borgia then renounced his titles, which he gave to his eldest son, Carlos. After becoming a Jesuit, he was offered the cardinal's hat, but refused. Later on, his friends persuaded him to accept some leadership roles. Therefore, in 1554, he became the Jesuits' commissary-general in Spain, by appointment of St Ignatius Loyola; and, in 1565, Francis was the Father General of the entire order of the Jesuits. By 1565, missions were developed in the Far East and America,

Francis founded the Collegium Romanum, which was to be a Gregorian University. Francis Borgia sent missionaries all over the world, which is how Don Luis finally returned to his homeland.

Francis still led a humble life, and he died in 1572, in Rome. He was canonized as Saint Francis, in 1671. His feast day is October 10th. St. Francis is the patron saint of Spain and Portugal.

The letter, from Juan Rogel, goes on to say that Father Master Baptista of the Jesuits, sent a message to Don Luis, but the Don refused to come back. The letter pleaded that they were abandoned and had no way to communicate with the natives, without Don Luis. The only thing they could do was barter their possessions for food. (Gleach, 91).

Since Don Luis did not answer their pleas, Father Baptista sent Father Quiros with two other brothers to bring back Don Luis. The Native was now back with his family, and sent the Jesuits back saying he would follow later. Don Luis came back on Sunday, during the Feast of the Purification, and killed all the priests with arrows (Rogel, 110). Each account is slightly different but all agree on the main points.

This legend was well-known among the natives. Later on, when a supply ship came from Spain, they discovered the death of their priest, so they sailed into Chesapeake Bay and killed thirty [30] tribesmen. However, since Don Luis had learned from the Spanish, he made sure that most of his braves escaped before the ship landed, as they saw it off on the horizon well before it could land.

Chief Powhatan was about twenty-five(25)years of age when this incident occured, in 1570. Tribal oral history, of the time, says that Don Luis was well-known to the Powhatan people. Chief Powhatan knew about the white man from neighboring branches of their confederacy. It was then that Chief Powhatan decided to protect his people from further invasions from the sea. He filled his warehouses with corn, venison, precious shells, pearls, and furs.

Chief Powhatan had many wives and they bore him twenty [20] sons and ten [10] daughters. His favorite daughter was wise beyond her years and she also knew of the world across the sea. It is thought that Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan's favorite wife who died giving birth. Pocahontas was thought to have reminded her of her mother.

The Spanish made the mistake of thinking that because Don Luis was educated in Spanish society, that he would remain loyal to them, but even though it was interesting to learn about Europe, Don Luis was first and foremost loyal to his own people.

When the first English colonists came in 1607, the natives were well aware of the ways of white men.

Many Kiskiasks were hung by the whites for minor crimes, which reminded the Natives of why they distained them. It is actually a miracle that they allowed them to land on shore at all. Remember other Native American Indians had been taken to Europe, not just Don Luis.

It is possible that Don Luis was Chief Powhatan's father or Don Luis' sister was Powhatan's mother, or that he was Powhatan's half-brother, Opechancanough. Mainly this is because the name, Openchancanough meant "he whose soul is white" in the Algonkian tongue. In 1622, fifty years after Mendendez hung the Kiskiacks, the aged Opechancanough almost wiped out the white men's colony at Jamestown, Virginia. Powhatan's half-brother, Opechancanough, was said to be 99 years old when he was shot in 1644, and some claim he was even older.(Ballantine, Betty and Ian, The Native Americans. Atlanta: Turner Publising, Inc., 1993, 182).

Wahunsonacock (Chief Powhatan), Pocahontas' Father:

Powhatan was named after his birth village, so Powhatan meant "shaman's village." One of his main residences was called Matchet. Tidewater, Virginia, was the home of the Algonquian nation. Wahunsonacock was his real name, but the English could not pronounce it, so they called him Powhatan. He was a mamanotowick or "great chief." Another home village was Werowocomoca, meaning "chief's town." Powhatan ruled about 15,000 people from thirty [30] tribes. This fact made many people wonder why the Powhatan Confederacy did not kill all of the colonists from day one. Wahunsonacock became a prominent warrior and local chieftain in the late 1500's. He defeated 30 local chiefs and took control of their people. The Powhatan Confederacy was founded on conquest and despotic personal authority. The large territory was called Tsenacommacah meaning "densely inhabited land." Each village of Tsenacommacah had its own werowance, who met the approval of Powhatan.

Powhatan had twenty sons and daughters. His most famous daughter was Pocahontas. To gain support for their settlement at Jamestown, the English placed a gold crown on his head and declared him "King Powhatan." Like native leaders elsewhere, on the eastern coast, he made every effort to help the newcomers survive the first winter with gifts of food. However, the gratitude of the colonists was short lived and they wanted more of everything, and used swords and guns to achieve that end.

Powhatan had three brothers and two sisters. Powhatan's war chief was his brother Opechancanough. Ketataugh and Itoyatan were his other brothers. Cockacoeske was his sister. She ruled from 1656 - 1686. Her son was Captain John West, after his English father, Colonel John West.

Powhatan's Words:

"Why should you take by force that from us that which you can have by Love?

Why should you destroy us, who have provided you with food

What can you get by war?

I am not so simple as to not know it is better to eat good meat, lie well, and sleep quietly with my women and children; to laugh and be merry with the English; and being their friend, to have copper, hatchets, and whatever else I want, than to fly from all, to lie cold in the woods, and to be so hunted, that I cannot rest, eat, or sleep."

The Indians thought evil cannot come out of good, that no friend would injure a friend. Therfore whoever wrongs or does wrong to another is his enemy. If they committ murder, encroach on their lands, take game, ron and steal, commit rape, or any unjust aggression, they are enemies and deserve to be punished. There was very little rape among the Powhatans since the punishment was extremely harsh. Manotee was a cheif and grandson of Powhatans. It is thought that another grandson was his daughter Pocahontas' child by her first native husband. He is called "Little Powhatan" since no one has ever recorded his name in wrting.

Wahunsonacock (Powhatan), 1609

See my other pages on early British colonies in the Americas: The Jamestown Colony and The Roanoke Colony from a Native American Indians point of view.

Learn the truth about John Smith and Pocahontas

Pocahontas' English Family:

|Bolling Family| John Rolfe|Pocahontas|Pocahontas|Rankokus Indian Reservation (Powhatan Renape Nation)|The Plymouth Colony Archive ProjectNew Official website of the Amonsoquath there old domain is for sale|Wicocomico Tapico Indian Nation|

Books on the Powhatans:

  • Big Chief Elizabeth - Giles Milton. New York: Farrah, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
  • History of the Thirteen Colonies - New York: American Heritage Publishing Company, Inc., 1967, 44.
  • The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents 1612-1614, Vol. II - Rueben Gold Thwaites. Cleveland: Burrows Brothers, 1896.
  • 365 Saints: Your Daily Guide to the Wisdom and Wonder of Their Lives by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker. Harper San Francisco, 1995.
  • Pocahontas - Grace Steele Woodward. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969.
  • Pocahontas, Powhatan and Opechancanough: three Indian lives changed by Jamestown - Helen C. Rountree. Charlotteville: University of Virginia Press, 2005.
  • Powhatan's Mantle - Peter W. Wood, editor. Lincoln: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.
  • Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures - Frederic W. Gleach. The University of Nebraska Press, 1997.
  • The Spanish Jesuit Mission in Virginia, 1560-1572 - Clifford M. Lewis, S.J. and Albert J. Looomis, S.J. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1953, 15-55.

For more books on this subject, CLICK HERE. Look under Early Virginian Colonies.

Jamestown, Virginia:

Jamestown Timeline Virginia Indians Past and Present

Bear Clan - Table of Contents

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