Powhatan Wars

Powhatan Wars




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Powhatan Wars


Chief Powhatan was the leader of over 200 villages and 30 tribal bands in the area we now call Virginia. Eventually, the bands that were under his direction became known as the Powhatan Confederacy. The Puritan settlers had a difficult time pronouncing his real name which was Wahunsonakok. Chief Powhatan was the father of Pocahontas, who is the most famous of all Native American women. From the time that the British first landed in the New World there had been skirmishes between the Powhatan Confederacy and the Jamestown settlers.

The first Powhatan War started in 1610. According to legend, John Smith, the leader of the Jamestown settlers, was taken captive by Chief Powhatan. Then just as the chief was about to cut off John Smith's head Pocahontas intervened. She had saved his life. Then, just three years later, Pocahontas was kidnapped and taken to Jamestown. In Jamestown she converted to Christianity and married the Englishman John Rolfe. At this time, in honor of the marriage, both sides agreed to end the war in what would be known as the Peace of Pocahontas.

In 1618, the aging Chief Powhatan was replaced by his brother Opechancanough who was not as friendly. Tobacco, a native product of North America, had become a cash crop that was fueled by an ever increasing demand in Europe. The problem was that it quickly depleted the soil. Every few years a field would have to be abandoned, necessitating new fields. Boatloads of settlers were arriving in Chesapeake Bay wanting to cultivate it. This meant that enormous amounts of land was being cleared, and much of that land had once been native hunting grounds. Now much of the wild game was gone, and Opechancanough wanted to stop them from taking more land.

The 2rd Powhatan War occurred after a warrior named Nematanou was arrested and executed for the murder of a white settler. Opechancanough decided to attack on March 22, 1622. Without warning, hundreds of warriors swept down on the tobacco farms killing 347 men, women, and children. The English responded by burning the Indians homes and crops. Eventually, Opechancanough agreed to a peace council. However, they were poisoned after they arrived and then attacked. Miraculously, Opechancanough escaped.

The raids would continue from both sides for the next 10 years, until they signed a treaty in 1632. However, in 1644, at the age of 100, Opechancanough would order the 3rd Powhatan War, and another major attack on the colonists. This time they surprised the colonists killing 500 people. Opechancanough would not be captured until two years later. Governor Berkeley and his Virginia militia carried Opechancanough on a litter back to Jamestown where he was met by an angry crowd. Shortly after they arrived shots range out and Opechancanough was killed by his guard. His tribe received harsh treatment and they were forced out of Virginia. Afterward, over the centuries, their numbers dwindled dramatically. Today, there are still some Powhatan living in the state of Virginia.