Indian massacre of 1622
The Indian Massacre of 1622 took place in the English Colony of Virginia, in what now belongs to the United States, on Friday, 22 March 1622. Captain John Smith, though he had not been in Virginia since 1609 and was thus not a firsthand eyewitness, related in his History of Virginia that braves of the Powhatan Confederacy "came unarmed into our houses with deer, turkeys, fish, fruits, and other provisions to sell us". Suddenly the Powhatan grabbed any tools or weapons available to them and killed any English settlers who were in sight, including men, women and children of all ages. Chief Opechancanough led a coordinated series of surprise attacks of the Powhatan Confederacy that killed 347 people, a quarter of the English population of Jamestown.
Jamestown, founded in 1607, was the site of the first successful English settlement in North America, and was then the capital of the Colony of Virginia. Its tobacco economy led to constant expansion and seizure of Powhatan lands, which ultimately provoked a violent reaction.
Although Jamestown was spared due to a timely last-minute warning, the Powhatan also attacked and destroyed many smaller settlements along the James River. In addition to killing settlers, the Powhatan burned houses and crops. The English abandoned many of the smaller settlements after the attacks.
At first, the natives had been more than happy to trade provisions to the colonists for metal tools, but by 1609 the English governor, John Smith, had begun to send in raiding parties to demand food. This earned the colonists a bad reputation among the Native Americans and precipitated conflict. They isolated the Native Americans, burned down houses, and stole their food supplies. The English violence merely served to alienate the natives further; besieged within Jamestown fort for several months and unable to secure more food supplies, many colonists died during the "starving time" in 1609-10.
The London Company's primary concern was the survival of the colony. In England's best interest, the colonists would have to remain civil with the Powhatan. The Powhatan and the English realized that they could benefit from each other through trade once peace was restored. In exchange for food, the chief asked the colonists to provide him with metal hatchets and copper. Unlike John Smith, other early leaders of Virginia such as Thomas Dale and Thomas Gates acted on a different notion because they were military men and saw the Powhatan as essentially a "military problem.”
The Powhatan had soon realized that the Englishmen did not settle in Jamestown to trade with them. The English wanted more; they wanted control over the land. As Chief Powhatan said,
“Your coming is not for trade, but to invade my people and possess my country.” Chief Powhatan wanted peace among the English and Indians; he also said, “Having seene the death of all my people thrice… I knowe the difference of peace and ware better than any other Countrie. [If he fought the English, Powhatan predicted], he would be so haunted by Smith that he can neither rest eat nor sleepe, but his tired men must watch, and if a twig but breake, everie one crie, there comes Captain John Smith; then he must flie he knowe not whether, and thus with miserable fear end his miserable life”.[verification needed]
In 1610 the London Company instructed Gates, the newly appointed colonial governor, to Christianize the natives and absorb them into the colony. As for Chief Powhatan, Gates was told “If you finde it not best to make him your prisoner yet you must make him your tributary, and all the other his weroances [subordinate chiefs] about him first to acknowledge no other Lord but King James”. When Gates arrived at Jamestown in 1610, he decided to evacuate the settlement because he thought the government's plan was not feasible. As the colonists were about to leave the Bay and head out into the open sea, they were met by the incoming fleet of Lord de la Warre. Taking command as governor, de la Warre ordered the fort reoccupied. He plotted conquest of the surrounding tribes. In July 1610 he sent Gates against the Kecoughtan. “Gates lured the Indians into the open by means of music-and-dance act by his drummer, and then slaughtered them”.
This was the First Anglo-Powhatan War. The English, led by Samuel Argall captured Pocahontas, daughter of Powhatan, and held her hostage until he would agree to their demands. “English demanded that all Powhatan captives be released, return all English weapons taken by his warriors, and agree upon a lasting peace”. It was while Pocahontas was held by the English that she met John Rolfe, whom she later married. While in captivity, Pocahontas was taught the English language, manners and religion. She was baptized as a Christian and took the name Rebecca. Rolfe wrote that the way to maintain peace between the Powhatan and the English, was to marry Pocahontas, not “with the unbridled desire of carnal affection but for the good of the colony and the glory of God. Such a marriage might bring peace between the warring English and Powhatan, just as it would satisfy Pocahontas’s desire.” After they married, there were more peaceful relations for a time between the English colonists and the Powhatan Confederacy. Edward Waterhouse, secretary of the Virginia Company, wrote,
“[S]uch was the conceit of firme peace and amitie, as that there was seldome or never a sword worne, and a Peece [firearm] seldomer, except for a Deere or Fowle....The Plantations of particular Adventurers and Planters were placed scatteringly and straglingly as a choyce veyne of rich ground invited them, and the further from neighbors held the better. The houses generally set open to the Savages, who were alwaies friendly entertained at the tables of the English, and commonly lodged in their bed-chambers.”
In 1618, after the death of Powhatan, his brother Opechancanough became paramount chief of the confederacy. Opechancanough did not believe peaceful relations with the colonists could be maintained. Having recovered from his defeat commanding Pamunkey warriors during the First Anglo-Powhatan War, he planned to shock the English with an attack that would leave them contained in a small trading outpost, rather than expanding throughout the area with new plantations. In the spring of 1622, after a settler murdered his adviser Nemattanew, Opechancanough launched a campaign of surprise attacks on at least 31 separate English settlements and plantations, mostly along the James River, extending as far as Henricus.
Jamestown was saved by the warning of an Indian youth living in the home of one of the colonists, Richard Pace. The Indian woke Pace and told him of the planned attack. Living across the river from Jamestown, Pace secured his family and rowed to the settlement to spread the alarm. Jamestown increased its defenses.
The name of the Indian who warned Pace is not recorded in any of the contemporary accounts. Although legend has named him "Chanco", this may be a misidentification. An Indian named "Chauco" is mentioned in a letter from the Virginia Council to the Virginia Company of London dated April 4, 1623. He is described not as a youth but as "one...who had lived much amongst the English, and by revealinge yt pl[ot] To divers vppon the day of Massacre, saued theire lives..." "Chauco" may be the same person as "Chacrow", an Indian mentioned in a court record of 25 October 1624 as living with Lt Sharpe, Capt. William Powell, and Capt. William Peirce "in the tyme of Sir Thos Dale's government"—that is, before 1616. It is possible that the older Indian, Chauco, and the youth who warned Richard Pace, have been conflated.
An article in the Encyclopedia Virginia summarizes what is known about Chauco.
Destruction of other settlements
During the one-day surprise attack, the Powhatan tribes attacked many of the smaller communities, including Henricus and its fledgling college for children of natives and settlers alike. At Martin's Hundred, they killed more than half the population of Wolstenholme Towne, where only two houses and a part of a church were left standing. In all, the Powhatan killed about four hundred colonists (a third of the white population) and took 20 women captive. The captives lived and worked as Powhatan Indians until their deaths or ransom. The settlers abandoned the Falling Creek Ironworks, Henricus and Smith's Hundred.
Date of the attack
Julian Calendar dates
Under the Julian Calendar, by which England and its colonies were still operating, New Year's Day fell on March 25 (Lady Day or the Feast of the Annunciation). The attack took place on March 22, 1621 as reckoned by the colonists, three days before New Years Day 1622. Historians, genealogists, and others who work with dates in this era commonly denote Julian calendar dates in the interval between January 1 and March 24 with the 'Old Style' suffix (OS) when presenting these dates with their original year value, or to use a mixed-style date syntax which combines original and adjusted values. For example, the date of the attack on Jamestown can be denoted as March 22, 1621(OS), or March 22, 1621/22. The common practice of showing the date as March 22, 1622 is technically inaccurate, but less confusing for those who are unfamiliar with the differences in calendaring systems.
The "Good Friday" fallacy
Recent accounts of the attack frequently note that it took place on Good Friday. This is incorrect. No contemporary accounts of the attack mention Good Friday, but rather "on the Friday morning (the fatal day) the 22 of March." March 22, 1622 was a Friday. Good Friday that year fell on April 19, nearly a month after the attack. The idea that the attack fell on Good Friday seems to have originated years later, as part of mythmaking, and has been noted so frequently as to be accepted as conventional wisdom. It is demonstrably incorrect.
Opechancanough did not finish off the colony. Instead he withdrew his warriors, believing that the English would behave as Native Americans would when defeated: pack up and leave, or learn their lesson and respect the power of the Powhatan. Following the event, Opechancanough told the Patawomecks, who were not part of the Confederacy and had remained neutral, that he expected "before the end of two Moones there should not be an Englishman in all their Countries." He misunderstood the English colonists and their backers overseas.
The surviving English settlers were in shock after the attacks. As they began to recover, the men worked on a plan of action. “By unanimous decision both the council and planters it was agreed to draw people together into fewer settlements” for better defense. The colony intended to gather men together to plan attack, but this was difficult because of the survivors, “two-thirds were said to have been women and children and men who were unable to work or to go against the Indians”.
In England when the massacre occurred, John Smith believed that the settlers would not leave their plantations to defend the colony. He planned to return with a ship filled with soldiers, sailors, and ammunition, to establish a “running Army” able to fight the Powhatan. Smith’s goal was to “inforce the Salvages to leave their Country, or bring them in the feare of subjection that every man should follow their business securely”, but Smith never returned to Virginia.
The English took revenge against the Powhatan by “the use of force, surprise attacks, famine resulting from the burning of their corn, destroying their boats, canoes, and houses, breaking their fishing weirs and assaulting them in their hunting expedition, pursuing them with horses and using bloodhounds to find them and mastiffs to seaze them, driving them to flee within reach of their enemies among other tribes, and ‘assimilating and abetting their enemies against them”.
The 1622 massacre was used as a justification for ongoing seizure of Powhatan land by the colonists for the next ten years. Historian Betty Wood writes:
What is usually referred to as the "Massacre of 1622," the native American attack that resulted in the death of 347 English settlers and almost wiped out Jamestown, gave the colonists the excuse they needed to take even more of what they wanted from the indigenous population of the Chesapeake. As far as the survivors of the Massacre of 1622 were concerned, by virtue of launching this unprovoked assault native Americans had forfeited any legal and moral rights they might previously have claimed to the ownership of the lands they occupied.
Wood quotes a Virginian settler:
We, who hitherto have had possession of no more ground than their waste and our purchase at a valuable consideration to their own contentment. . . may now by right of war, and law of nations, invade the country, and those who sought to destroy us: whereby we shall enjoy their cultivated places.
Colonists who survived the attacks raided the tribes and particularly their corn crops in the summer and fall of 1622 so successfully that Chief Opechancanough decided to negotiate. Through friendly native intermediaries, a peace parley was arranged between the two groups. Some of the Jamestown leaders, led by Captain William Tucker and Dr. John Potts, poisoned the Powhatans' share of the liquor for the parley's ceremonial toast. The poison incapacitated the Powhatans and about 200 were killed. Chief Opechancanough escaped.
Indian decline and defeat
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In 1624 Virginia was made a royal colony of England. This meant that the Crown took direct authority rather than allowing guidance by the Virginia Company of London. The Crown could exercise its patronage for royal favorites. Settlers continued to encroach on land of the Powhatan tribes, and the colony (and England) tended to change or ignore agreements with the natives when no longer in the colony's interest. The tribes had increasing frustration with the settlers.
The next major confrontation with the Powhatan Confederacy occurred in 1644, resulting in the deaths of about 500 colonists. While similar to the death toll in 1622, the loss a generation later represented less than ten percent of the population, and had far less impact upon the colony. This time, the elder Opechancanough, who was being transported by litter, was captured by the colonists. Imprisoned at Jamestown, he was killed by one of his guards.
His execution marked the beginning of the increasingly precipitous decline of the once powerful Powhatan Confederacy. Its member tribes eventually left the area entirely, gradually lived among the colonists, or lived on one of the few reservations established in Virginia. Most of these were also subject to incursion and seizure of land by the ever-expanding European population.
In modern times, seven tribes of the original Powhatan Confederacy are recognized in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Pamunkey and Mattaponi still have control of their reservations established in the 17th century, each located between the rivers of the same names within the boundaries of present-day King William County.
- James Mooney, "The Powhatan Confederacy, Past and Present," American Anthropologist 9, no. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 1907), 129–52.
- Hoffer, Peter. The Brave New World: A History of Early America. JHU Press. p. 132. ISBN 0-8018-8483-7.
- Wood, Origins of American Slavery (1997), p. 72. "By 1620 the colonists were simply taking the acres they required for their expanding tobacco economy without even the pretense of negotiation or payment. Increasing encroachments on native American lands, and particularly onto their hunting grounds, largely accounted for the deterioration of relations between the English and the indigenous populations of the Tidewater Chesapeake that finally exploded in 1622."
- Anthony S. Parent, Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society, UNC Press Books, 2003, p.15.
- Fausz, An Abundance of Blood Shed on Both Sides (1990) p. 20
- Fausz, An Abundance of Blood Shed on Both Sides (1990) pp. 6, 22.
- Fausz, An Abundance of Blood Shed on Both Sides (1990) p. 54.
- Jay B. Hubbell, "The Smith-Pocahontas Story in Literature," The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 65, no. 3 (Jul., 1957), 275–300.
- Glenn, Captain John Smith and the Indians, 228–48.
- Alden T. Vaughan, "" Expulsion of the Savages": English Policy and the Virginia Massacre of 1622," The William and Mary Quarterly 35, no. 1 (Jan., 1978), 57–84.
- Helen Rountree, Pocahontas's People, p. 54.
- Grizzard, Frank E.; Smith, D. Boyd (2007). Jamestown Colony: a political, social, and cultural history. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 130. ISBN 1-85109-637-X.
- Bailyn, Bernard (2012). The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675. Alfred A. Knopf. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-394-51570-0.
- "CCCXIX. Council in Virginia. Letter to Virginia Company of London, April 4, 1623" Susan Myra Kingsbury, editor. Records of the Virginia Company, 1606-26, Volume IV: Miscellaneous Records, p. 98
- Minutes of the Council and General court of colonial Virginia, 1622-1632, ed. McIlwaine, p.28
- Dictionary of Virginia Biography. (2010, October 26). Chauco (fl. 1622–1623). Retrieved December 8, 2010, from Encyclopedia Virginia
- Susan Myra Kingsbury, ed. "A Relation of the Barbarous Massacre", Records of the Virginia Company, 1606-26, Volume III: Miscellaneous Records, pp. 550-551
- Fred Fausz, "Jamestown at 400: Caught Between a Rock and a Slippery Slope", History News Network, George Mason University, 7 May 2007
- Helen C. Rountree and E. Randolph Turner III, Before and After Jamestown: Virginia's Powhatans and Their Predecessors
- Helen Rountree, Pocahontas's People p. 75, citing John Smith's 1624 Generall Historie.
- "“to quitt many of our Plantacons and to vnite more neerely together in fewer places the better for to Strengthen and Defende ourselve.", Gov. Francis Wyatt, quoted in Seth Mallios, "At the Edge of the Precipice: Frontier Ventures, Jamestown’s Hinterland, and the Archaeology of 44JC802", APVA Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, July 2000
- William S. Powell, "Aftermath of the Massacre: The First Indian War, 1622–1632"], The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 66, no. 1 (Jan., 1958), pp. 44–75
- Wood, Origins of American Slavery (1997), p. 72.
- Wood, Origins of American Slavery (1997), p. 73.
- Anthony S. Parent, Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society, UNC Press Books, 2003, p.18
- Fausz, J. Frederick. "An Abundance of Blood Shed on Both Sides: England's First Indian War, 1609-1614". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 98(1), January 1990.
- Wood, Betty. The Origins of American Slavery. New York: Hill and Wang, 1997. ISBN 978-0-8090-1608-2.
- Fausz, J. Frederick. "The 'Barbarous Massacre' Reconsidered: The Powhatan Uprising of 1622 and the Historians," Explorations in Ethnic Studies, vol 1 (Jan. 1978), 16-36
- Price, David A. (2003). "March 22, 1622: Skyfall". Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of A New Nation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 200–221. ISBN 0-375-41541-6.
- Rajtar, Steve (1999). Indian War Sites. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0710-7.
- The woman who writes about native America Added November 21, 2012.