This Day (A Real Hatchet Job Edition)

Published:August 28, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1572, a Spanish Jesuit named Juan Rogel wrote a letter to the order’s father general, Francis Borgia, providing an update on an important investigation then taking place in the Chesapeake Bay. The previous autumn, Borgia had dispatched a group of missionaries to what later became Virginia, guided by a local Indian who had joined the Spanish nine years earlier and been baptized Don Luís de Velasco. Don Luís was going to help the Jesuits convert the tribes to Christianity and so finally give Spain a foothold north of Florida. Problem was—poof—the Jesuits disappeared, and Rogel was there to figure out what happened to them.

In his travels, Rogel found a lone survivor from the mission, an altar boy called Alonso de Olmos. The story he told, well, it’s pretty gruesome. A thumbnail version would read like this: Upon arriving back home, Don Luís immediately rejoined his family, and at one point tried to trade some hatchets to the Jesuits, who refused. “Don Luis himself was the first to draw blood,” Rogel explained, “with one of those hatchets.” The emphasis is added because, according to our contributor Seth Mallios, this is an example of symbolic violence and helps to explain why Don Luís did what he did. You can read for yourself Mallios’s entry on gift exchange among the Indians. (N.B.—Father Borgia expired before he received Father Rogel’s missive, making this a dead letter in more than one sense.)

Anyway, also on this day, 150 years ago, Confederate general Richard S. Ewell was wounded during the Second Manassas Campaign. He lost his leg, but lucky for him, he had an attractive cousin to nurse him back to health. She was “a lady of more than ordinary intellectual powers,” apparently, and not just because, when they married, she demanded a pre-nup. You can read about all that here.

IMAGES: The Killing of Father Segura and His Companions, ca. 1675, by Melchior Küsell (University of North Carolina Press); Richard S. Ewell (Library of Congress)


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