In part two of our series on post-establishment Jamestown, we discussed many of the events preceding an attack by the Powhatan Confederacy — the English continued to infringe upon the Native American land as new settlers arrived. These settlers were mostly not English, nor were they wealthy, and were placed into indentured servitude as a result. Voting rights were implemented, as were standardized laws. The first African slaves were introduced into the colony.
Only three years later, the Powhatan Confederacy decided to end the peace. They invaded Jamestown in force in the early hours of March 22, 1622. This would be the single most important event from 1610 to 1624 and would eventually be labeled the Indian Massacre of 1622. It was an effort to completely eliminate the English presence in the New World.
Almost immediately, hundreds of settlers were slaughtered as the Native American warriors swarmed through the outermost plantations and newly built communities — ensuring that many indentured servants would never survive long enough to repay their debts.
Jamestown itself fared better because a native employee sounded the alarm before the attackers arrived. By this day, only 3,400 of the 6,000 settlers who had arrived by ship during the years 1608 to 1624 still survived.
John Smith had gone back home after an accident, so he was not in Virginia during the attack. Even so, he decided to record the History of Virginia, and described what he knew as if he had been there: “[The Powhatan] came unarmed into our houses with deer, turkeys, fish, fruits, and other provisions to sell us.” And so the story goes, they used tools procured in those very same houses to murder their inhabitants, including women and children.
The warrior Opechancanough withdrew, expecting the English settlers to do the same — and go home. Although the English failed to mount a retaliatory strike, they used the massacre as an excuse to continue to steal land from the Native Americans.