Indian massacre of 1622

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1622 Massacre
1622 massacre jamestown de Bry.jpg
Indian massacre of 1622, depicted as a woodcut by Matthäus Merian, 1628.
LocationColony of Virginia
Date1 April 1622 (1622-04-01)
TargetEnglish settlers in the Virginia colony
Attack type

The Indian massacre of 1622 took place in the English Colony of Virginia, in what is now the United States, on Friday, 22 March 1622. John Smith, though he had not been in Virginia since 1609 and was not an eyewitness, related in his History of Virginia that Powhatan braves "came unarmed into our houses with deer, turkeys, fish, fruits, and other provisions to sell us."[1] It was a ruse, however, and the warriors grabbed any tools or weapons they saw and killed all the English settlers they found, including men, women, and children of all ages. Chief Opechancanough then led the Powhatan Confederacy in a coordinated series of surprise attacks, killing 347 people, a quarter of the population of the Virginia Colony.

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 into Powhatan lands, which ultimately provoked the violent reaction.[2]


At first, the Native Americans were eager to trade provisions to the colonists for metal tools, but by 1609 the English governor, John Smith, had begun to send raiding parties to demand food. This angered the Native Americans and precipitated the conflict.[3] They burned down Indian houses and stole their food supplies.[4] The Native Americans laid siege to the Jamestown fort for several months. Unable to secure sufficient food supplies, many colonists died during the "Starving Time" in 1609–10.[5]

The London Company's primary concern was the survival of its colony. Both the Powhatan and the English settlers realized they could benefit from each other through trade if peace were restored. The chief asked the colonists to provide him with metal hatchets and copper in return for food.[6] Unlike John Smith, however, other early leaders of Virginia such as Thomas Dale and Thomas Gates were military men and saw the Powhatan as essentially a "military problem."[7]

The Powhatan soon realized the newcomers had not come simply to trade with them. They wanted control over the land. Chief Powhatan said:

Your coming is not for trade, but to invade my people and possess my country… Having seen the death of all my people thrice… I know the difference of peace and war better than any other Country. [If he fought the English, Powhatan predicted], he would be so haunted by Smith that he can neither rest eat nor sleep, but his tired men must watch, and if a twig but break, every one cry, there comes Captain John Smith; then he must fly he know not whether, and thus with miserable fear end his miserable life[8]

First Anglo-Powhatan War[edit]

In 1610 the London Company instructed Thomas Gates, the newly appointed colonial governor, to christianise the natives and absorb them into the colony.[9] As for Chief Powhatan, Gates was instructed, "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".[8]

When Gates arrived at Jamestown, he decided to evacuate the settlement because he thought the government's plan was not feasible. The colonists actually were about to leave the area and head out into the open sea, when they encountered the incoming fleet of Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr. Taking over as governor, De la Warre ordered the fort reoccupied. He then plotted the conquest of the surrounding tribes.[8]

In July 1610 De La Warr sent Gates to attack the Kecoughtan people. "Gates lured the Indians into the open by means of music-and-dance act by his drummer, and then slaughtered them".[8] This began the First Anglo-Powhatan War. Englishmen 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".

While Pocahontas was held by the English, she met John Rolfe, whom she would later marry. While a captive, Pocahontas was taught the English language, and she learned English customs and their religion. She was baptized as a Christian and chose 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."[8] After they married, 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.[10]

New Governance[edit]

In 1618, after the death of Powhatan, his brother Opitchapam, became paramount chief of the confederacy. His youngest brother, Opchanacanough, was probably the actual leader, with his friend, war-chief and advisor Nemattanew; neither of them believed that peaceful relations with the English could be long lasting. About 1620 or1621, Opitchapam either retired or was deposed and he succeeded by Opchanacanough. He and Nemattanew began to plans for the war they felt was inevitable. Having recovered from their defeat during the First Anglo-Powhatan War, they planned to destroy the English with a ferocious attack that would leave them with only a small trading post.[11] In the spring of 1622, an English settler murdered Nemattanew. Opchanacanough immediately launched a series of surprise attacks on at least 31 separate English settlements and plantations, mostly along the James River and extending as far as Henricus.

Jamestown forewarned[edit]

Jamestown itself was saved thanks to the warning of an Indian youth living in the home of an Englishman named Richard Pace, who lived across the river from the settlement. Wanting to save Pace and his family, he awakened them before sunrise and told them of the impending attack. Pace and his family rowed to Jamestown and spread the alarm.

The young man Indian who warned Pace is not named in contemporary accounts, though legend says he was Chanco. An Native American named "Chauco" is mentioned in a letter from the Virginia Council to the Virginia Company of London dated April 4, 1623. He is described as "one...who had lived much amongst the English, and by revealinge yt pl[ot] To divers appon the day of Massacre, saved theire lives..."[12] This "Chauco" may be the same person as "Chacrow", who is mentioned in a court record of 25 October 1624 as living with Lieutenant Sharpe, Capt. William Powell, and Capt. William Peirce "in the tyme of Sir Thos Dale's government," which is years before the attack.[13] The older man, Chauco, and the young man who warned Richard Pace may have been confused.[14]

Destruction of other settlements[edit]

During the surprise attacks, the Powhatan tribes attacked many of the smaller communities, including Henricus and its fledgling college for children of natives and settlers. 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 nearly four hundred colonists (a third of the Englsih population) and took 20 women captive. The prisoners lived and as Powhatan Indians until they either died or were ransomed. Thereafter, the settlers abandoned the Falling Creek Ironworks, the town of Henricus and Smith's Hundred.

Date of the attack[edit]

Julian Calendar dates[edit]

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 dual dating 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.

Under the retroactively-applied modern Gregorian calendar, the date of the attack was April 1, 1622.


Opechancanough withdrew his warriors, believing that the English would behave as Native Americans usually did when defeated: either pack up and leave, or at least respect the power of the Powhatan.[15] Opechancanough told the Patawomeck, 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."[16] He misunderstood the English newcomers and their backers at home.

The surviving English settlers were shocked by the attacks. As they recovered, 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.[17] 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".[18]

John Smith, in England when the massacre happened, believed the settlers would not abandon their plantations to defend the colony. He planned to return with soldiers, sailors, and ammunition, to establish a "running Army" able to fight against the Powhatan. Smith's intention 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".[18] In reality, Smith never would return to Virginia.

The English settlers took revenge 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".[18]

The 1622 massacre was used as a justification for ongoing seizure of Powhatan land by the settlers for the next ten years. Historian Betty Wood wrote:

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.[19]

Wood quoted 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.[20]

Indian decline and defeat[edit]

In 1624 Virginia was made a royal colony of England. This meant that the Crown took direct authority rather than allowing guidance by the London Company. 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 Native Americans when no longer in the colony's interest. The tribes had increasing frustration with the settlers.

The next major confrontation with the Powhatan, the Third Anglo-Powhatan War, took place in 1644 and resulted 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.[21]

Opechancanough's death marked the beginning of the increasingly precipitous decline of the once-powerful Powhatan mation. Its member tribes eventually left the area entirely, living among the colonists or on one of the few reservations established in Virginia. Most of the reservation would also be subject to settlement or seizure by the ever-expanding English population.

In modern times, seven tribes of the original Powhatan Confederacy are recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Pamunkey and Mattaponi still maintain their reservations established in the 17th century, each between the rivers of the same names within King William County.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ James Mooney, "The Powhatan Confederacy, Past and Present," American Anthropologist 9, no. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 1907), 129–52.
  2. ^ 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."
  3. ^ Fausz, An Abundance of Blood Shed on Both Sides (1990) p. 20
  4. ^ Fausz, An Abundance of Blood Shed on Both Sides (1990) pp. 6, 22.
  5. ^ Fausz, An Abundance of Blood Shed on Both Sides (1990) p. 54.
  6. ^ Jay B. Hubbell, "The Smith-Pocahontas Story in Literature," The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 65, no. 3 (Jul., 1957), 275–300.
  7. ^ Glenn, Captain John Smith and the Indians, 228–48.
  8. ^ a b c d e 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.
  9. ^ Helen Rountree, Pocahontas's People, p. 54.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "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
  13. ^ Minutes of the Council and General court of colonial Virginia, 1622–1632, ed. McIlwaine, p.28
  14. ^ Fausz, J. Frederick. "Chauco (fl. 1622–1623)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  15. ^ Helen C. Rountree and E. Randolph Turner III, Before and After Jamestown: Virginia's Powhatans and Their Predecessors
  16. ^ Helen Rountree, Pocahontas's People p. 75, citing John Smith's 1624 Generall Historie.
  17. ^ ""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" Archived July 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, APVA Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, July 2000
  18. ^ a b c 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
  19. ^ Wood, Origins of American Slavery (1997), p. 72.
  20. ^ Wood, Origins of American Slavery (1997), p. 73.
  21. ^ Spencer C. Tucker; James R. Arnold; Roberta Wiener (30 September 2011). The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607–1890: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. pp. 17–19. ISBN 978-1-85109-697-8. Retrieved 30 March 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.