Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Jesuits Land in Virginia: A Spanish Mission

You might remember several years ago the news about graves found in the ruins of the Church of England chapel in the Jamestown Colony: there were indications that one of the men buried there, Captain Gabriel Archer, might have have been a secret Catholic or a crypto-Catholic, as he had what researchers thought was a reliquary. I haven't seen any update to this story or new information about the provenance of that object.

But here's another story about Catholics in Virginia: today is the anniversary of the landing of Jesuit missionaries in the lower Chesapeake Peninsulas to establish the Ajacan Mission in 1570--37 years before the English colony at Jamestown. According to this website the mission was:

Located possibly on the Rappahannock or the Potomac River but more likely between the King and the Queen Creeks where they empty into the York River, this mission was the result of a second attempt by Spain to extend its domination of North America into the Chesapeake Bay, or as they called it, Bahía de Santa María, or Bahía de Madre de Dios.

The first attempt had been made in August 1566, when two Dominican friars and thirty-seven Spanish and Portuguese soldiers sailed to that area, called Ajacán by their guide and interpreter, Don Luis de Velasco, a converted, hispaniolized Algon­quian Indian who had been taken from the area on an earlier voyage in 1561. While searching for a landing site, Don Luis claimed to not recognize the sur­round­ings, and after a strong storm arrived, this first attempt was abandoned.

On 10 September 1570, the members of the second colonizing expedition, after making their first landfall probably at either Cape Henry, Point Comfort, or the southeastern tip of present-day Newport News, decided to disembark at what may have been College Creek, just east of James­town, and travel by smaller boat and foot to their preferred site on the York River. The colonists consisted of two Jesuit priests, including Father Juan Baptista de Segura as leader, one other priest, three Jesuit brothers, three lay catechists, the young son of a Spanish colonist from Santa Elena (present-day Parris Island, South Carolina), and Don Luis de Velasco, once again as guide and interpreter. They arrived at an inopportune time in that the Indians whose territory they chose to settle were experiencing a drought, and food was in short supply. Having to rely on the local inhabitants for sustenance, many of whom had left the area to search for food elsewhere, the Jesuits soon became more of an irritant than an inspiration, especially to Don Luis.

Except for the young son of a Spanish colonist, Alonso de Olmos, the rest of the party was murdered either by Don Luis or the nearby Native American Indians on February 9, 1571. A later Spanish military expedition rescued de Olmos, tried to find Don Luis, and tried & execution some of the Indians for the murder of Jesuits.

After receiving a report from Father Juan Rogel in 1572 about the situation, Jesuit Superior General, Saint Francis Borgia determined not to pursue missions in the area since the Spanish military didn't intend to colonize the region either. That had been an issue when Father de Segura at first wanted to go to Virginia, according to this website, because he did not the military presence to force the Indians to become Catholic (influenced by example of Bartolomé de las Casas):

Segura insisted, against the advice of Florida governor Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, that the Jesuits did not need military protection on their mission. He instead placed his faith in Don Luís, who promised that the land he called Ajacán would be rich in potential converts and natural resources.

The Cause for Beatification and Canonization for the eight martyrs--Fathers Juan Bautista de Segura, Jesuit vice provincial of Havana, Cuba, and Luis de Quiros, former head of the Jesuit college among the Moors in Spain, three were Jesuit brothers and three novices--was opened in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Virginia in 2003. 

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