Native Americans launch attack against colonists in 1622

by George "Buddy" Cranford

March madness had occurred long before basketball was invented and the countdown to the final four was in centuries in the future.

In 1622, the English colonists living in Virginia awoke to a peaceful day, went about their normal routine and felt nothing out the ordinary.  On that day their “March madness” became a nightmare.  

If you are a student of history, then you may be familiar with the massacre that occurred on March 22, 1622 though it is suspected that this event may be little known by many.  This is a true story of a massacre in a land that was known for hostile elements and the annihilation of many unsuspecting English settlers.  Their peaceful existence in the New World ended on that blood-spattered day.  

This story is seldom told unless you happen to hear of it at Henricus Park or the Falling Creek Iron Works.  They both tell the story historically, offering a chance look back into history.  
This entire 1622 incident and more will be related this year at Henricus Park on March 22, and this weekend at Falling Creek Ironworks Park, the site of the first iron furnace in the New World. The park will hold its annual Falling Creek Ironworks Day, Saturday, March 15, from noon to 4 p.m. The Ironworks was wiped out during the same American Indian massacre that wiped out settlements up and down the James River.

Those who live in Chesterfield County may be aware of the Falling Creek Ironworks massacre but they may not know of the other settlements that were attacked that fateful day.  Place yourself in the early settler’s scene.  Your day starts out normally and peacefully.  You are doing your ordinary routine activities and then chaos erupts.  All you had known had just come to an abrupt end.  That day would be beyond belief to many of us who now  live in our peaceful enclaves.  Just what did happen on that horrific March day in 1622?

The settlers had, for some time, enjoyed peace with the Indians.  Being complacent had affected all the settlers and they suspected no foul play.  In fact, on that momentous day both the settlers and Indians were friendly towards one another.  The colony had not suspected that the Indians would viciously set upon them.

Leading up to the massacre, there were circumstances that were building to a crescendo. It is common knowledge that Pocahontas, the princess daughter of Chief Powhatan had married John Rolfe and moved to England where she was considered a royal princess.  Even the King of England could not understand why she would marry a commoner like John Rolfe.

Because of that John Rolfe avoided the King while she was at the King’s court.

Her marriage to Rolfe was the catalyst that set in motion years of peace among the Powhatan Indians and settlers.  After her death, events began to change.  Pocahontas did not return to her native country, having died and been buried in England.  Meanwhile, in the colony and even among the Indians, widespread sickness had taken a toll.  Many in both communities had died.

From a Powhatan Indian perspective the illnesses and other problems led up to the Indian massacres in 1622, but mainly it was just too many English to suit them, and a strong hatred of white men by their chief.  

More English colonists had begun to move into the area.  Eventually, this became a huge concern of the Indians and the English encroachment was a bad sign. The English population continued to grow. Then Chief Powhatan died and his adopted brother, Opechecanough, became the new Powhatan Tribal Chief.  He absolutely hated the English. However, the Powhatan Indians were indifferent towards the English.  They continued their trading, as well being friendly to the settlers to the point of being more kind than ever before.   

Tobacco had been exported to England in 1617, and had become the consuming interest to the settlers.  Sir Thomas Dale had set out 100 acres of land near Henrico City (now Henricus) which he called Gatesville. Today, we are not sure the town was ever built.  If any buildings had been built, the Powhatan Indians destroyed them on that fateful day in March. A new town would have most certainly caused some concern among the Powhatan Indians and the English expansion continued to be a problem for them.

John Rolfe returned to Virginia after the death of his wife, Pocahontas and remarried in 1621. The English were having problems as well. John Rolfe had seen that tobacco was causing some problems within the settlement.    

He wanted more carpenters and husbandmen (farmers).  He was not aware of any Indian problems, and he had reported in a letter home that the colony was “in good estate and now enjoying a firmer peace.”   That was soon to change.  

Thus on March 22, 1622, fearful of this English expansion, Chief Opechecanough decided to make war.  On that day, a little before noon, with all the English men and boys at work, he attacked his unsuspecting neighbors. His coordinated attacks on all the settlements west of Jamestown caught the settlers off guard.  Many had invited the Indians into their homes for breakfast and were struck down from behind, losing their lives.

The settlers were not prepared to fight the Indians and many were not armed.  For the most part, the settlements like Henrico City were soon abandoned.  “The History and Present State of Virginia, In Four Parts by R. Parker” written in a circa 1705 book gives a more historic look at the events.

“The very Morning of the Massacre, they came freely and unarm’d among them, eating with them, and behaving themselves with the same Freedom and Friendship as formerly, till the very Minute they were to put their Plot in Execution. Then they fell to Work all at once every where, knocking the English unawares on the Head, some with their Hatchets, which they call Tommahauks, others with the Hows and Axes of  the English themselves, shooting at those who escap’d the Reach of their Hands; sparing neither Age nor Sex, but destroying Man, Woman and Child, according to their cruel Way of leaving none behind to bear Resentment. But whatever was not done by Surprize that Day, was left undone, and many that made early Resistance escaped.”

The Indians destroyed all the towns including Henrico, Coxendale, Arrohatock and Mount Malade.  The first Ironworks in the New World at Falling Creek was also destroyed.   John Berkley had arrived from England a year prior.  Now he and his workers were dead.  The only survivors at the ironworks were two small children who hid in the thickets along the creek.  As an industry, the ironworks never fully recovered, though attempts were made.  

During the massacre, John Rolfe’s large farm at Bermuda Hundred was destroyed and Rolfe may have perished.  The time of his death has never been clear though it is known that he died in 1622. This was certainly not a shining moment for the English on that fateful day and  the attack slowed the English expansion.  Eventually the Indians were pushed further west and south.  For those killed in the colony, a total of 347 men, women, and children (nearly one third of the English population) were killed.

Visit Falling Creek Ironworks Day for a living history on March 15 for a lesson on the massacre, and learn more about the 1619-22 ironworks with activities for the whole family, including demonstrations of candle making, blacksmithing, tin pressing and doll making. Period games for children will be played all day, and the Henricus Militia will participate in militia drills and musket demonstrations. The Press Gang will perform Colonial-era music, and there will be special performances of Native American singing and dancing by the Youghtanund drum group.  Guides will lead tours of the archaeological ruins of both the 1619 ironworks and Archibald Cary’s Colonial grist mill.

Find more information on the massacre at    

For more information on Falling Creek Ironworks Park located at 6907 Jefferson Davis Hwy. call 751-4946, or visit

Visit for information on the 1611 settlement.


returning their land

". . . to abolish all Native American internment and reeducation camps, known today as reservations, and restore to Native American peoples fertile, unfettered lands befitting their respective cultural heritages; . . ."

- excerpted from "A New Declaration of Independence," an open source document (published January 6, 2014):

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