Powhatan Uprising 1622


In 1607, a group of English colonists arrived in North America. They established a settlement which was named Jamestown. This settlement soon grew in size and became the heart of the Colony of Virginia. Jamestown was the first successful English settlement in America.

The colonists faced many problems in their early years but were able to survive, thanks in part of their allies, the Powhatan tribe. They traded with the Powhatan tribe and food supplies and other necessities from them. Initially, the relationship between the English and Powhatan was friendly. But soon, resentment grew among Powhatan against the British.

Conflict between Powhatan and Colonists

The relationship between Powhatan and the English colonists remained friendly for some time. This was largely in part due to the famous Pocahontas, the daughter of the Powhatan chief, who later married the English colonist John Rolfe. After Pocahontas’ father died, the leadership of the tribe passed on to other chiefs who didn’t want peace. They resented the expansion of the colony and the fact that the colonists were taking over their ancestral lands. They also resented the attempts of the British to subdue the Native Americans. This led to a decision by the Powhatan to attack the white settlers.

The Uprising and the Attack

In early 1622, the Powhatan tribe decided to attack the Jamestown settlement. The settlement comprised of several smaller settlements which spread beyond the immediate safety of Jamestown. Some of these were frontier settlements, barely protected and inhabited by small groups of colonists. The Powhatan carefully planned the attack so that the colonists had no idea of their intentions. They continued peaceful trade until the last moment so that the English many not suspect them. Then on April 1, 1622, they attacked the settlement.

The Massacre at Jamestown

A large number of Powhatan warriors launched a surprise attack on Jamestown. They attacked the smaller settlements situated around Jamestown. Many of these were looted and burned to the ground, with their inhabitants killed or taken captive. Jamestown was also attacked but it was better guarded and was able to fend off the Indian warriors. In all, the Powhatan warriors killed nearly 347 colonists, almost one-quarter of the colony’s entire population. Another 20 women were taken captive by the attackers. The attack lasted only one day but almost destroyed the Jamestown settlement.

The Result and Aftermath

The Powhatan Indians expected that the English colonists will probably leave the settlement and go back to Britain after the attack. They hoped that the shock will be enough to discourage the colonists. However, the Jamestown settlers soon recovered from the shock. They reduced the number of settlements so that they could be guarded more securely.

Once they had recovered, the English colonists went on the offensive against the Powhatan. They gradually seized the Powhatan lands, burned down villages and crops, and killed them in surprise attacks. The attack ended peaceful relationships between the English and the Powhatan. It also led the colonists to focus more seriously on establishing better defenses and being prepared for surprise attacks.