The Massacre of 1622

It has been called the Good Friday Massacre, but the strategic actions – to push the English out of Virginia by Native Americans on March 22, 1622 – took place a month before Good Friday. It was a myth perpetrated to anger the population back in England.

Chief Opechancanough, Chief Powhatan’s brother (Powhatan died in 1618) and his men attacked settlements from Falling Creek, Osbornes and Henricus on the James to Jamestowne after fear, begun with Powhatan, had continued to spread through the Powhatan Indian nation. According to an article in the William and Mary Quarterly, Chief Powhatan said a number of years before the movement against the English settlers, “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.”

Opechancanough and his warriors killed about 400 colonists but 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,” according to John Smith’s 1624 Generall Historie.

Colonists 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. A peace negotiation was arranged with the Powhatan, according to William S. Powell’s Aftermath of the Massacre, 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. The Indians succumbed to the pressure and arranged a peace that last until 1644.

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