The Third Anglo-Powhatan War

1644–1646

The Third Anglo-Powhatan War (1644–1646) was fought between Jamestown and the Powhatan Confederacy in the area known to the Powhatans as Tsenacomoco and Virginia to the colonists. Virginia won the war and brought an end to the once-powerful Powhatan Confederacy.

Governor William Berkeley, Virginia

Governor William Berkeley. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Third Anglo-Powhatan War Summary

The Third Anglo-Powhatan War — also known as the Virginia-Indian War of 1644–1646 — took place from March 18, 1644 to October 1646. The conflict started when tribes from the Powhatan Confederacy launched a surprise attack on Virginia settlements, killing roughly 10 percent of the colonial population. The Virginians responded in force, destroying villages and crops. In 1646, the leader of the Powhatans, Opechancanough, was captured and killed. Soon after, the Powhatan Confederacy agreed to a peace treaty that subjugated them to the Virginians and forced them to pay an annual fee to live on reservations.

Indian Massacre of 1622, King, Painting
This painting depicts Powhatans attacking Virginia colonists. Image Source: National Park Service.

Third Anglo-Powhatan War Facts

  1. The Third Anglo-Powhatan War took place from 1644 to 1646.
  2. It was fought between English colonists living in Jamestown and other settlements in Virginia and the Powhatan Confederacy.
  3. It followed the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609–1614) and the Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622–1632).
  4. In the aftermath of both wars, Virginia colonists expanded their presence throughout the region, establishing new settlements and expanding tobacco fields.
  5. The elderly leader of the Powhatan Confederacy, Opechancanough, resented the expansion into Indian territory and organized an attack on the colonists.
  6. The attack was carried out on March 18, 1644, and led to the death of roughly 8 percent of the colonists.
  7. For the next two years, the two sides conducted raids but the colonists gained the upper hand.
  8. In 1646, Opechancanough was captured and taken to Jamestown where a guard shot and killed him.
  9. Opechancanough was replaced by Necotowance, who signed a treaty with Virginia.
  10. The Powhatans were forced to live on reservations and pay an annual fee of 20 fur hides to Virginia.

Third Anglo-Powhatan War History

On March 18, 1644, the Third Anglo-Powhatan War started. Unlike the earlier wars, it was short, lasting just over two years and ending in October 1646. It was the last significant conflict between English colonists and the Native American Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy in Virginia. The outcome of the war led to the end of the Powhatan Confederacy and helped the colonists establish dominance over the region, which the Powhatan called Tsenacomoco.

Jamestown, Trading with Indians, Painting, King
This illustration depicts the Jamestown colonists trading with Native American Indians. Image Source: National Park Service.

Aftermath of the Second Anglo-Powhatan War

Following their success in the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609–1614) and the Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622–1632), the colonists in Virginia expanded their settlements due to the steady increase of immigration and the expansion of tobacco fields. Both required more land and the Virginians encroached further into Powhatan territory. Eventually, the settlements extended along the York River, the Rappahannock River, and the Potomac River. 

By 1640, it was estimated that 8,000 people were living in the colony of Virginia. The leader of the Powhatans, Opechancanough, is believed to have been nearly 100 years old. Over the years, he lived through two wars with Virginia, only to see the population of his people and their land gradually diminish. In one final effort to stop colonial expansion and likely save the Powhatan people, Opechancanough decided to go to war.

With England involved in Civil War, Opechancanough believed the Virginians would not be able to muster additional military support. Further, he thought it was possible the Powhatans could forge an alliance with the Catholic population of the Maryland Colony. He also created alliances with Indian tribes living along the Rappahannock River, who were upset with encroachment into their territory.

The Great Assault of 1644

On March 18, 1644, the Powhatans and their allies launched a coordinated attack, similar to the Indian Massacre of 1622, which started the Second Anglo-Powhatan War. Despite his age, Opechancanough led the attack on the settlements near Jamestown. Unable to walk, he was carried by his men on a litter.

Meanwhile, contingents of Indians targeted settlers residing in the upper regions of the York River and Rappahannock River. The surprise attack caught the colonists off guard, killing approximately 400-500 Virginians. Many colonists fled from their farms and sought refuge in blockhouses and forts. 

Although the Powhatans inflicted a more significant number of casualties compared to their attack in 1622, the overall impact of the attack was less significant. The 1622 attack claimed the lives of 25-33 percent of the English colonists, and the 1644 attack resulted in the deaths of less than 10 percent.

Virginia Relaliates

Similar to the 1622 attack, the Powhatans withdrew to their villages. However, the colonists quickly retaliated and launched raids on the villages where they burned buildings, destroyed crops, and killed as many people as they could. In roughly six months, the Virginians reclaimed their plantations and drove the Powhatans back to the western regions of their territory.

Death of Opechancanough, Illustration
This illustration by William de la Montagne Cary depicts Opechancanough imprisoned in Jamestown. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Opechancanough Captured and Murdered

Fighting continued on to the summer of 1646 until Opechancanough was captured and carried as a prisoner to Jamestown. While he was being held captive, one of the guards shot him in the back, mortally wounding him. 

Opechancanough is remembered by many as the first man who actively led his people to resist the expansion of English settlements in America. When he died, his successor, Necotowance, signed a treaty with Virginia in October 1646, ending the Powhatan Confederacy’s resistance to the expansion of Virginia.

As part of the treaty, the Powhatans were confined to small areas — reservations — and each tribe was required to pay an annual tribute — a fee — of 20 fur pelts. The Powhatans also agreed to return any weapons, prisoners, and runaway slaves and servants.

Nottoway Tribe Paying Tribute, Colonial Virginia, Painting
This painting depicts the Nottoway Tribe paying tribute in Jamestown in 1690. Image Source: National Park Service.

Third Anglo-Powhatan War Significance

The Third Anglo-Powhatan War is important to United States history because it essentially subjugated the Powhatan Confederacy by forcing the tribes to pay Virginia to live on their lands. From then on, the tribes were diminished and Virginia colonists continued to spread throughout the region.

Third Anglo-Powhatan War Video — From 1622 to the End of the War

This video from Native American History explains the events that shaped the Second Anglo-Powhatan War and the Third Anglo-Powhatan War.

Pictures of Jamestown During the Time of the Third Anglo-Powhatan War

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title The Third Anglo-Powhatan War
  • Date 1644–1646
  • Author
  • Keywords Third Anglo-Powhatan War, Jamestown, Powhatan Confederacy, Opechancanough, William Berkeley
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date February 28, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 11, 2023

The Third Anglo-Powhatan War is Part of the Following on AHC