On This Day in History — Jamestown Massacre

The Great Massacre, illustration from page 237 of An illustrated history of the New world: containing a general history of all the various nations, states, and republics of the western continent … and a complete history of the United States to the present time by John L. Denison, Norwich, Conn., 1868. World History Encyclopedia.

March 22nd is the anniversary of an event that helped shaped the United States but has largely been forgotten.

On March 22, 1622 Native Americans of the tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy attacked settlements of the Virginia Colony. This was actually the second of three Powhatan Wars, and was triggered by colonists taking more land from the Confederacy, stealing food, and allowing colonial livestock to destroy crops and desecrate sacred sites.

The attack was carefully planned and executed so well that only Jamestown had advance warning. Out of about 1,250 colonists, 347 died on 22 March 1622, and hundreds more expired in the following months from starvation and disease due to crop destruction, plus follow-on battles.

The native uprising had three purposes:

  • Demonstrate the strength of the Powhatan Confederacy
  • Demoralize the colonists
  • Encourage the colonists to return to England

The first two purposes were accomplished, but the third was a complete failure. Instead of leaving, the colonists fought back and were reinforced in enough numbers to ultimately win what’s now known as the Second Powhatan War (1622-1626).

If the third purpose had been accomplished and the colonists had given up, our history would’ve been completely different.

For the complete story, see “Indian Massacre of 1622” by Joshua J. Mark at the World History Encyclopedia website (https://www.worldhistory.org/Indian_Massacre_of_1622/).

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