· The Indian Massacre of 1622 occurred in the Colony of Virginia, in what is now United States of America, on Friday, March 22, 1622. Though he had not been in Virginia since 1609 and was thus not a firsthand eyewitness, Captain John Smith related in his History of Virginia that the Indians "came unarmed into our houses with deer, turkeys, fish, fruits, and other provisions to sell us". Suddenly the Indians grabbed any tools or weapons available to them and killed any English settlers that 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 was the site of the first successful English settlement in North America in 1607, and was then the capital of the Colony of Virginia. 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.
- 1 Background
- 2 Jamestown forewarned
- 3 Destruction of other settlements
- 4 Date of the Attack
- 4.1 Julian Calendar Dates
- 4.2 The "Good Friday" fallacy
- 5 Aftermath
- 6 Indian poisoning
- 7 Indian decline and defeat
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
BackgroundAt first, the natives had been more than happy to trade provisions to the colonists for metal tools, but by 1608, the colonists had earned a bad reputation among the Indians. They isolated the Indians, burned down houses, and destroyed their food supplies. The English violence against natives resulted in a lack of food for the colony, as the number of natives willing to trade with them quickly decreased.
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 Indians. The Indians 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. John Smith, Thomas Dale, Thomas Gates, and other early leaders of Virginia acted on a different notion because they were military men and saw the Indians as essentially a "military problem”.
The Powhatan had soon realized that the Englishmen did not settle in Jamestown to trade with the Indians. The English wanted more; they wanted control over the land. As Powhatan said,
“Your coming is not for trade, but to invade my people and possess my country.” 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”.
In 1610 the London Company in 1610 instructed Gates, the newly appointed colonial governor, to Christianize the Indians and absorb them into the colony. As for 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 Kinge 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 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 Indians 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 Indians, 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. 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 the destruction and expulsion of the English. 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 forewarnedJamestown was saved by the warning of Chanco, an Indian youth assigned to slay his employer, Richard Pace. He 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. Outlying settlements, however, had no warning.
Destruction of other settlementsDuring the one-day surprise attack, the Powhatan tribes attacked many of the smaller communities, including Henricus and its fledgling college for children of Indians 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. They 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 AttackJulian Calendar DatesUnder 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" fallacyRecent 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.
AftermathOpechancanough 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 Indians. 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”.
Indian poisoningColonists 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 Indian 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 Indians' share of the liquor for the parley's ceremonial toast. The poison killed about 200 Indians and the settlers attacked and killed another 50 by hand. Chief Opechancanough escaped.
Indian decline and defeatIn 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 their 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 death 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.