A brave and cunning prince The great chief Opechancanough and the war for America

James P. P. Horn

Book - 2021

"In the mid-sixteenth century, Spanish explorers in the Chesapeake region kidnapped an Indian teenager and took him back to Spain, a common occurrence at the time. What was uncommon in this case was that the young man eventually came back. During his time abroad, the boy lived in Madrid, Seville, Havana, and Mexico City, becoming a favorite of King Philip II and converting to Catholicism in the process. In fact, his faith grew so strong, he said, that he felt compelled to help establish a Jesuit mission to save the souls of his people back in Virginia-but shortly after the group arrived in the New World, he abandoned his fellow missionaries, rejoined his family, and soon returned with a small band of warriors to slaughter the Europeans.... In the years that followed, he became the warrior chief known as Opechancanough, and alongside his brother Wahunsonacock (father of Pocahontas), he solidified their people's control of coastal Virginia, making the Powhatans the most powerful Indian chiefdom on the mid-Atlantic seaboard. Under their reign, the region remained free of European settlers until 1607, when English colonists arrived in Jamestown. But this was not so unbalanced an encounter as many have supposed. Because of his time among the Europeans, Opechancanough was acutely aware not only of the English settlers' technological capabilities, but also of the fierce determination with which they would pursue their invasion of his homeland. As time passed, the two chiefs sought to drive the invaders out, and mounted a series of attacks that nearly destroyed the colony at Jamestown. But the English settlers proved more resilient than the Spanish missionaries had been forty years earlier. Additional soldiers, weapons, and provisions arrived from England, forcing Opechancanough to drag his offensive on for decades. He survived to be nearly a hundred years old and died as he lived, fighting the invaders. A Brave and Cunning Prince is the first book to chronicle the life of Opechancanough, exploring his early exposure to European society and his lifelong fight to protect the integrity of his homeland. With engrossing storytelling, deep research, and surprising insights, A Brave and Cunning Prince will be vital reading for anyone seeking to understand the charged early encounters between the indigenous peoples of North America and the settlers who would bring death and destruction." --

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New York : Basic Books 2021.
Main Author
James P. P. Horn (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xxii, 295 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Author's Note
  • Dramatis Personne
  • Prologue: Two Prophecies
  • Part 1. Atlantic Worlds
  • 1. Indian Prince, Spanish Don
  • 2. Mexico City to La Florida
  • 3. The Spanish Mission
  • Part 2. War Chief
  • 4. "King of Pamaunck"
  • 5. Stratagems and Subterfuge
  • 6. Starving Times
  • 7. "An Abundance of Blood"
  • 8. Betrayal
  • Part 3. Prophecy Fulfilled
  • 9. Locust Years
  • 10. World's End
  • 11. "War Without Peace or Truce"
  • 12. The Last Stand
  • Epilogue: A Reckoning
  • Time Line
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Horn (1619), president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, delivers an immersive portrait of Opechancanough (c. 1547--1646), who helped build the powerful Powhatan chiefdom in America. Horn contends that Opechancanough was the same "princely young Indian" known as Paquiquineo who was kidnapped from the Chesapeake Bay region in 1561 and taken to Spain, where he was renamed Don Luís de Valasco. A Catholic convert, Don Luís traveled to Cuba, Florida, and Mexico before returning to the Chesapeake Bay to help establish a Jesuit mission in 1570. Shortly after his arrival, however, he left for his home village, where he organized a war party that killed the priests and destroyed the mission. He then helped his brother Chief Powhatan consolidate Native tribes along the East Coast to counter the European threat, and, in 1622, following a series of devastating raids on Jamestown, came "very close" to driving the English settlers--who knew him as Opechancanough--out of Virginia. Horn recounts Pocahontas's marriage to John Rolfe and other famous events at Jamestown, and vividly describes brutal clashes between Powhatan warriors and English settlers before Opechancanough was captured and killed in 1646. Though Horn's case that Paquiquineo/Don Luís and Opechancanough are the same person requires a good bit of speculation (he would have been close to 100 when killed), he builds a cogent narrative out of documentary fragments. Early American history buffs will be riveted. (Nov.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

A new historical biography of Powhatan Confederacy paramount chief Opechancanough (ca. 1547--1646) and his leadership against the threat posed by English colonization in the Chesapeake Bay (present-day Virginia). Historian Horn (1619: Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy) contends that relations between the Powhatan people, other Indigenous nations, and the English were constantly shifting. This book complicates centuries of mainstream historiography and the narrative that the Powhatan people helped early English colonies survive. In Nathaniel Philbrick's 2006 Mayflower, the relationship between colonists and Indigenous peoples was described as at least somewhat more complex; based on mutual benefit, wariness, and antagonism. Horn argues that Opechancanough recognized the threat posed by English invaders because he had lived through attempts at colonization by the Spanish and the English. By consolidating Indigenous alliances against the English and adeptly leading strategic raids on the near-death Jamestown Colony, Opechancanough came "very close" to driving the English out of Virginia, Horn contends, but his efforts were ultimately thwarted, in part by rival tribes that allied with the colonists. VERDICT A fascinating narrative of intrigue, shifting alliances, and betrayal. Horn's detailed biography properly places Opechancanough in the context of history.--Glen Edward Taul, formerly at Campbellsville Univ., KY

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

An accomplished work of scholarly detection that plays out against the background of the English colonization of Virginia. Opechancanough, the center of Virginia historian Horn's narrative, was abducted from his Chesapeake Bay homeland by Spanish sailors in the 1550s and taken to Mexico and Spain, where he met King Philip II. Recorded in the Spanish annals as Paquiquineo, a name simplified as Don Luis, he converted to Catholicism and promised to help the Spanish establish a colony on Powhatan lands, the site of a tight confederacy of Native nations. After returning there, however, he organized the massacre of Jesuit priests who had established a mission not far from present-day Richmond. The brother of the king, and in the line of royal succession, Opechancanough then mounted a long war of resistance against the English. Horn ventures two potentially controversial suggestions: first, that Don Luis and Opechancanough were one and the same, since some historians have argued that they were not; and second, that Opechancanough and his elite band of warriors were responsible for the disappearance of the Roanoke Colony, long a matter of historical speculation. He provides convincing evidence for both assertions, building on a portrait of Virginia and its neighbors that, at the time of the European arrival, was the site of a sophisticated political and economic network whose participants were well aware of distant events and who coordinated to fight the newcomers. Some familiar figures appear, including John Smith and Pocahontas, on both of whom Horn sheds new light as players in a drama that would unfold over decades. He portrays Opechancanough as a man who, having seen the subjugation of Native peoples and the enslavement of Africans in Mexico, knew exactly what was coming on those English ships and fought to prevent their successful settlement--which, thanks to both the divisions of the English civil war and Opechancanough's fierce fighting, almost didn't happen. Swift-moving prose along a twisting storyline lends this brilliant book the feel of a mystery. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.