Opchanacanough biography ~ Powhatan Tribe

Published on March 8, 2011 by Alice

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Opechancanough or Opchanacanough (1554?-1646) was a tribal chief of the Powhatan Confederacy of what is now Virginia in the United States, and its leader from sometime after 1618 until his death in 1646. His name meant “He whose Soul is White” in the Algonquian language.

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It is speculated by some historians, including Carl Bridenbaugh but not known with certainty, that Opechancanough was the same Native American youth who was the son of a chief and is known to have been transported voluntarily from the village of Kiskiack in Virginia to Spain in the 16th century at the age of 17 and educated. Murrin, however, suggests that Opechancanough was probably the nephew or cousin of Don Luis. (Ibid.)

Rechristened as “Don Luis”, the young man returned to his homeland in what is now the Virginia Peninsula subregion of the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, where Jesuit priests established their ill-fated Ajacan Mission in September of 1570. However, shortly thereafter, Don Luis is believed to have returned to life with the Powhatan Confederacy, and turned against the Europeans. The mission failed during the winter of 1571 when the Jesuits were killed by the Native Americans, ending Spanish efforts to colonize the area.

There is also other speculation that Don Luis may have been the individual who became the father of both chiefs Wahunsunacock, who died in 1618, and Opechancanough, who died in 1646.

From various contemporary reports, Marsteller (1988) concludes that Opchanacanough may have suffered from myasthenia gravis. These reports include weakness which improved with resting and drooping of the eyelids.


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