Second Anglo-Powhatan War Summary
The Second Anglo-Powhatan War, also known as the Virginia-Indian War, was an armed conflict between the Native American Indians in the Powhatan Confederacy and English colonists living in and around Jamestown, Virginia. The war started on March 22, 1622, with a surprise attack launched by the Powhatans against the colonists. The motive behind the attack stemmed from Indian concerns over the rise in the population of the colonists and their expanding tobacco plantations, which encroached on Powhatan territory.
Tensions had been building between the two groups since the end of the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609–1614). The English colonists had been exploring, demanding food, and imposing their culture and religion upon the Powhatans, which led to frustration and resentment among the Indians, especially one of their key leaders, Opechancanough.
Following the Indian Massacre of 1622, the colonists regrouped by forming alliances with other Indian tribes and preparing to raid Powhatan villages and fields. For a decade, the two sides engaged in bitter fighting. By 1632, the colonists had the upper hand and a peace treaty was agreed to. In the terms of the treaty, a border was established between the Virginia settlements and the Powhatan territory, which they called Tsenacomoco.
Second Anglo-Powhatan War Facts
- The Second Anglo-Powhatan War took place from 1622 to 1632.
- It was fought between English colonists living in Jamestown and other settlements in Virginia and the Powhatan Confederacy.
- After the English established Jamestown, they often pressured the Powhatans to trade food with them, sometimes through the use of force.
- The First Anglo-Powhatan War was fought from 1619 to 1614 and ended when Pocahontas married John Rolfe.
- English plantations increased due to the expansion of tobacco fields and increased immigration, due to the Headright System.
- The leader of the Powhatan Confederacy, Opechancanough, resented the expansion into Indian territory and organized an attack on the colonists.
- The Indian Massacre of 1622 was carried out on May 22, 1622. In the attacks, nearly one-third of the colonists living in Virginia were killed.
- Over the course of the next decade, the two sides carried out raids on each other.
- A significant battle was fought in 1624, where the colonists destroyed a significant amount of food and inflicted heavy casualties on the Indians.
- A peace treaty was agreed to in 1632, ending the war and establishing a border between Virginia and Tsenacomoco.
Second Anglo-Powhatan War History
The Second Anglo-Powhatan War — also called the Virginia-Indian War — started on March 22, 1622, when the Powhatan Confederacy launched a surprise on the English colonists living near Jamestown, Virginia.
Aftermath of the First Anglo-Powhatan War
Like the First Anglo-Powhatan War, the primary cause of the conflict was the encroachment of the colonists into Powhatan territory and the establishment of new settlements. The first war ended in 1614 with the “Peace of Pocahontas,” which temporarily eased tension between the two factions.
After the death of Chief Powhatan in 1618, his younger brother, Opechancanough, assumed a more prominent role in the leadership of the Powhatan Confederacy. The English continued to explore the region, demand food from the Powhatans, and tried to force them to conform to their cultural and religious practices — all of which upset Opechancanough and other Powhatan leaders.
Colonial Virginia Expansion
However, Opechancanough and others worked to maintain peace and gained the trust of the colonists. From 1614 to 1622, there was a flourishing trade between the English and the Powhatans. The trust was so strong that many plantation owners in the region welcomed the presence of Indians on their plantations and even in their homes.
Thanks to the implementation of the Headright System by the Virginia Company, more colonists arrived in Virginia to work in the tobacco fields, which also contributed to the expansion of fields and the acquisition of more land.
The Powhatans Plan an Attack
While the colonists believed their relationship with the Powhatans was in good standing, Opechancanough was also to unify the Powhatan Tribes, expand the Confederacy, and organize a coordinated attack on the English settlements — including Jamestown.
In 1616, Opechancanough negotiated an alliance with the Chickahominy Tribe, bringing them into the Powhatan Confederacy. In doing so, the Chickahominy broke a treaty they signed with the colonists in 1614.
By 1621, the Powhatan Confederacy was ready to strike at the English settlements. The initial plan was to poison the colonists with water hemlock. However, the colonists found out there was a plot in motion against them and raised their defenses, forcing Opechancanough to delay any action for roughly a year.
The Indian Massacre of 1622
In the spring of 1622, Opechancanough, believing it was time to strike, set the date to attack for May 22. The Indians attacked, killing nearly one-third of the colonists living in the region along the James River. The heaviest casualties were at Wolstenholme Towne in Martin’s Hundred, which was east of Jamestown. Following the attacks, the Indians returned to their villages.
Despite the carnage, Jamestown was spared. According to legend, a Powhatan boy by the name of “Chanco” warned the colonists. A plaque at the reconstructed church at Jamestown tells the story:
“In memory of Chanco. An Indian youth converted to Christianity who resided in the household of Richard Pace across the river from Jamestown and who, on the eve of the Indian Massacre of March 22, 1622, warned Pace of the murderous plot, thus enabling Pace to cross the river in a canoe to alert and save Jamestown Settlement from impending disaster.”
After receiving the warning, guards were posted around Jamestown. When the Indians approached and saw them, they “ranne away,” according to John Smith.
Ten Years of War Begins
Opechancanough had the upper hand, and further attacks may very well have convinced the colonists to board their ships and abandon Jamestown and their plantations. However, the Indians did not return over the next few days. It may have been Opechancanough’s intention to simply confine them to the area around Jamestown and not eliminate them.
Feeling shocked and betrayed, the colonists were unable to retaliate right away and were surprised the Powhatans did not return. Many of them traveled to Jamestown for safety and some, including Governor Francis Wyatt, relocated to the Eastern Shore.
In the aftermath of the Indian Massacre of 1622, the colonists came to the realization that a peaceful co-existence with the Powhatan Confederacy was unlikely. The cultural gap was simply too wide, and neither faction was willing to concede to the other. Some, like Edward Waterhouse came to the conclusion that the attacks gave the colonists the right to wage war:
“Our hands which before were tied with gentlenesse and faire usage, are now set…by right of Warre, and law of Nations, invade their Country…”
The colonists decided their best course of action was to create alliances with the Indian tribes living along the Eastern Shore and the Potomac River. They were successful and in the fall of 1622, they carried out raids on Powhatan villages. The colonists referred to the raids as “feedfights” because they were usually quick attacks where they stole crops from fields and then burned the fields.
In May 1623, the two sides agreed to meet and discuss a peace treaty. After the negotiations were over, they feasted — and the colonists poisoned the wine given to the Indians. As the Indians became sick, the colonists killed some of them but failed to kill Opechancanough.
Virginia Becomes a Royal Colony
In May 1624, after an investigation into the conduct of the colony and the Virginia Company, King James I removed the company’s charter. Virginia became a Royal Colony. The company’s inability to turn a profit or to protect the King’s subjects was its undoing.
The War Escalates and Drags On
The war escalated and a significant battle was fought at a Pamunkey village. Roughly 800 Indians and 60 colonists fought for two days. The English won the battle due to their superior firepower and destroyed fields where enough food was growing to feed “four thousand men for a twelve-month.”
Following the battle, it was the colonists who continued to carry out most of the attacks. They raided fields when the crops were ready and took as much as they could, leaving little to nothing for the Indians. However, what would happen is the Indians would replant their crops the next growing season and the colonists would return and take what they could.
The Second Anglo-Powhatan War Ends
As the war dragged on, the wealthy plantation owners re-opened trade with the Indians. Realizing there was profit to be made, colonial leadership negotiated with Opechancanough. In 1632, the two factions successfully conducted peace negotiations and the Second Anglo-Powhatan War came to an end.
The treaty prohibited the Indians from living on the lower half of the peninsula, from Middle Plantation to present-day Hampton, Virginia. In order to keep Indians from encroaching into Virginia territory, a palisade — a wooden wall — was built across the peninsula. By then, the population of the colonists in Virginia was more than 8,000 people and they outnumbered the Powhatans.
Second Anglo-Powhatan War Significance
The Second Anglo-Powhatan War is important to United States history because of the role it played in the expansion of settlements in the Virginia Colony and the transition to a Royal Colony. Although the war started with a violent attack on colonial settlements, it lasted for a decade. During that time, the colonists asserted their authority, expanded their plantations, and took control of the peninsula between the James River and the York River.
The Second Anglo-Powhatan War was followed by the Third Anglo-Powhatan War.
Second Anglo-Powhatan War Video — From 1622 to the End of the Third Anglo-Powhatan War
This video from Native American History explains the events that shaped the Second Anglo-Powhatan War and the Third Anglo-Powhatan War.