The Jamestown Massacre of March 22, 1621/22

Unied States - Scott #328 (1907)
Unied States – Scott #328 (1907)

On Friday, March 22, 1622, Algonquians attacked and killed English settlers around Jamestown, in the English Colony of Virginia, during the Second Anglo-Powhatan War. John Smith, though he had not been in Virginia since 1609 and was not a first hand eyewitness, related in his History of Virginia that braves of the Powhatan “came unarmed into our houses with deer, turkeys, fish, fruits, and other provisions to sell us”. The Powhatan grabbed any tools or weapons available and killed all English settlers they found, including men, women, and children of all ages. Chief Opechancanough led a coordinated series of surprise attacks by the Powhatan Confederacy that killed 347 people, a quarter of the English population of the Virginia colony.

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.

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.  It was located on the east bank of the Powhatan (James) River about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) southwest of the center of modern Williamsburg. William Kelso writes that Jamestown “is where the British Empire began”. It was established by the Virginia Company of London as James Fort on May 4, 1607 (O.S.; May 14, 1607 N.S.), and was considered permanent after brief abandonment in 1610. It followed several failed attempts, including the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Jamestown served as the capital of the colony of Virginia for 83 years, from 1616 until 1699.

The settlement was located within the country of Tsenacommacah, which was ruled by the Powhatan Confederacy, and specifically in that of the Paspahegh tribe. The natives initially welcomed and provided crucial provisions and support for the colonists, who were not agriculturally inclined. Relations soured fairly early on, however, leading to the total annihilation of the Paspahegh in warfare within three years. Mortality was very high at Jamestown itself due to disease and starvation, with over 80-percent of the colonists perishing in 1609–10 in what became known as the “Starving Time”. Its tobacco economy led to constant expansion and seizure of Powhatan lands, which ultimately provoked a violent reaction.

At first, the natives were glad 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 alienated the natives further and they laid siege to the Jamestown fort for several months. Unable to secure more food supplies, many colonists died during the “starving time” in 1609–1610.

The London Company’s primary concern was the survival of the colony. In England’s best interest, the colonists would have to maintain civil relations 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 based their actions on different thinking, as 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…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 instructed Gates, the newly appointed colonial governor, to convert the natives to Christianity 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, 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 Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr. 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 people. “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, and she learned about English customs 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 Opitchapam, a lame and quite old man, became paramount chief of the confederacy. Their youngest brother, Opchanacanough, was probably the effective leader, with his friend, war-chief and advisor Nemattanew, and both of them did not believe peaceful relations with the colonists could be maintained. Perhaps in 1620-1621 Opitchapam retired or he was deposed (but possibly he died in 1630) and he was succeeded by his youngest brother, and Opchanacanough and Nemattanew began to predispose plans for the unavoidable war. Having recovered from their defeat commanding Pamunkey warriors during the First Anglo-Powhatan War, they 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, Opchanacanough 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 appon the day of Massacre, saued theire lives…” “Chauco” may be the same person as “Chacrow”, an Indian mentioned in a court record of October 25, 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.

A 1628 woodcut by Matthaeus Merian published along with Theodore de Bry's earlier engravings in 1628 book on the New World. The engraving shows the March 22, 1622 massacre when Powhatan Indians attacked Jamestown and outlying Virginia settlements. Merian relied on de Bry's earlier depictions of the Indians, but the image is largely considered conjecture.
A 1628 woodcut by Matthaeus Merian published along with Theodore de Bry’s earlier engravings in 1628 book on the New World. The engraving shows the March 22, 1622 massacre when Powhatan Indians attacked Jamestown and outlying Virginia settlements. Merian relied on de Bry’s earlier depictions of the Indians, but the image is largely considered conjecture.

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.

Opechancanough 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 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.” 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”,[18] 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.

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 natives 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, 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. 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.

The Jamestown Exposition, held from April 26 to December 1, 1907, at Hampton Roads (near Norfolk, Virginia) commemorated the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown settlement. Three single-color stamps bearing the inscription COMMEMORATIVE SERIES 1907 were issued on April 25, 1907, in conjunction with the Jamestown Exposition (Scott #328-330). The 2-cent denomination shows the landing of the English colonists in an illustration titled “Founding of Jamestown, 1607.” Two of the most recognized figures associated with the settlement are depicted on the other two stamps: Captain John Smith, who promoted the settlement and is credited with its success, is portrayed on the 1-cent stamp; Pocahontas, who purportedly intervened to save the life of Captain Smith, is portrayed on the 5-cent stamp.

Early in 1903, the Virginia Historical Society had petitioned the United States Post Office Department to issue stamps commemorating the tercentenary of the founding to Jamestown, to be held in 1907. The Society’s request was rather broad, as it asked for a set in denominations ranging from one cent to one dollar with subjects including King James of England, for whom the colony was named. In approving the Jamestown issue, it was decided to released just three stamps in the low denominations of one, two and five cents. The USPOD also supplied the Norfolk, Virginia, post office with a slogan cancellation quite some time prior to the start of the Jamestown Exposition.

The stamps were designed by C.A. Huston of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. They were printed in sheets of 200 subjects which were divided into panes of 50 by horizontal and vertical guide lines terminating in arrows. The sheets were cut into panes of 100 along the horizontal guide line and so issued to the public. There were four imprints and plate numbers to each sheet. At the top of the sheet, the imprint appeared over the third and eighth stamps of the upper row followed by the plate numbers over the fourth and ninth stamps. The imprints and numbers were in similar positions below the last row at the bottom of the plate. Being cut horizontally, complete arrows were obtainable at top and bottom. The left and right arrows, as well as the center line block were cut, which resulted in these positions being straight-edged at either top or bottom. Perforated guide lines at the top or bottom of the stamp may therefore be easily recognized as having been reperforated.

Captain John Smith, engraved by Simon Pass after a drawing by Robert Clarke. From the sixth state of the map in the 1627 edition of Generall Historie by Captain John Smith.
Captain John Smith, engraved by Simon Pass after a drawing by Robert Clarke. From the sixth state of the map in the 1627 edition of Generall Historie by Captain John Smith.

Scott #328, the one-cent green stamp of the Jamestown 300th anniversary set, bears a portrait of Captain John Smith with the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and FOUNDING OF JAMESTOWN 1607 in two lines forming an arched panel over the vignette. The lower ends of this panel are covered by two shields containing the numerals of value. In the upper corners of the stamp are replica bas reliefs of Pocahontas and Powhatan. COMMEMORATIVE SERIES 1907 appears across the top of the stamp and two horizontal panels at the bottom contain the title 1580 – CAPT. JOHN SMITH – 1631 and POSTAGE ONE CENT.

The vignette on this stamp is a portrait of Smith from an engraving by Simon Pass after a drawing by Robert Clark which was part of a map of New England drawn by Captain John Smith in 1614. This map was first printed in connection with Smith’s book A Description of New England published in 1616. The map was reprinted nine times from the same plate but through frequent usages, the plate had to be recut frequently. The portrait of Captain Smith which was used on the 1907 stamp is identical to that which appeared on the fifth and sixth state of the map. The vignette was engraved by M.W. Baldwin and the rest of the design was executed by G. Rose and E. Hall of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The BEP used the flat plate method to print a total of 77,728,794 copies of Scott #328 which bore a double-line USPOD  watermark and were perforated 12. Plates used were numbers 3538, 3539, 3540, 3541, 3542, 3543, 3544, 3545, 3546, and 3799.

Covers bearing the one- and two-cent stamps of the Jamestown issue are rather common, although those bearing the exposition cancellation are much more desirable. The five-cent value is extremely scarce and it has been said that it is the rarest commemorative item on cover, used at the proper time, among early 20th century non-error varieties.

United States flag (1896 July 4-1908 July 3) - 45 stars

Coat of Arms of the Colony of Virginia

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