The Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622-32) and the Wooden Wall Across the Peninsula

Sidney King painting of 1622 attack
Sidney King painting, "Indian Uprising, 1622"
Source: National Park Service - Sidney King paintings

Opechancanough became the paramount chief sometime after the end of the first Anglo-Powhatan War, perhaps even before Powhatan died. Another brother or cousin, Opitchipan, held the leadership role officially until Powhatan's death in 1629, but it appears that Opechancanough made the key decision to abandon Powhatan's way of dealing with the colonists through negotiations and appeasement.

Powhatan's diplomacy with the colonists failed. After the marriage of Pocahontas to John Rolfe in 1614, the English continued to expand their settlements. They displaced Native Americans from many of their towns on both sides of the James River.

Opechancanough did not want to submit and passively allow English immigrants to occupy the towns and fields cleared by Native Americans within Tsenacommacah. He chose to use military force to get the colonists to abandon Virginia, or at least adjust their relationship with the local tribes.

By 1616, Opechancanough brought the Chickahominy into Powhatan' paramount chiefdom. He peeled them away from an alliance the tribe had signed with the English in 1614. His success in recruiting the Chickahominy indicates how English expansion was perceived as an existential threat. The Chickahominy, though surrounded by tribes controled by Powhatan, had never been part of Tsenacommacah. They had been ruled by a council of chiefs that Powhatan had no role in selecting.

Opechancanough was preparing for war.

Personally, he must have still remembered the time John Smith had embarrassed him in 1609, and Powhatan had chosen to move his capital from Werowoccomoco to Orapakes. Smith brought the Discovery and two barges up the Pamunkey River to obtain corn in 1609. When he reached Opechancanough's town of Menmend, Smith foiled an ambush. He grabbed Opechancanough by the hair and used him as a hostage. The warriors were forced to load the boats with corn, rather than fight.1

In a culture that placed a premium upon personal capacity as a warrior, Opechancanough must have felt his treatment involved a loss of status that needed to be revenged.

In his lifetime, Opechancanough organized two major surprise assaults on the colonial settlements. The attack in 1622 triggered the Second Anglo-Powhatan War, which lasted for a decade.

by 1622, colonists had settled along the James River from the Fall Line to the Atlantic Ocean
by 1622, colonists had settled along the James River from the Fall Line to the Atlantic Ocean
Source: Nell Marion Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers; Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, 1623-1800 (opposite p.224)

A year before the 1622 assault on the colonial homesteads and settlements, Opechancanough coordinated plans with various tribes at the ceremony for the "taking up of Powhatan's bones," when the Algonquian-speaking groups in eastern Virginia had assembled to relocate the great chief's bones to a final place of honor.

A chief on the Eastern Shore alerted the colonists that an uprising was being planned, and Opechancanough was planning to use poison from the water hemlock plant (Cicuta maculata) that was common on the Eastern Shore. Opechancanough realized the English had been alerted in 1621, and delayed his attack until the following Spring when the colonists had relaxed their guard.

Opechancanough had planned in 1621 to poison colonists with water hemlock (above), but his efforts to acquire a stockpile from the Eastern Shore led to revelation of his plan
Opechancanough had planned in 1621 to poison colonists with water hemlock (above), but his efforts to acquire a stockpile from the Eastern Shore led to revelation of his plan
Source: US Forest Service, PLANTS Database Provides Answers for Vegetative Questions

The assault finally came on March 22, 1622. Nearly 347 English settlers, roughly one-third of the colonists, were killed. Wolstenholme Towne in Martin's Hundred, east of Jamestown, suffered the greatest loss of life. Colonists in undefended farmhouses at the greatest distance from Jamestown suffered severely, and the Henricus settlement with its iron furnace at Falling Creek was destroyed.

Not everyone chose to follow Opechancanough's orders. Late on March 21, 1622 at least one Native American revealed the assault plans. In Virginia myth one person named Chanco warned Richard Pace, who lived on the south side of the James River. "Chanco" is apparently a conflation of a person named "Chauco" on the Pamunkey River together with a boy who lived near Pace's plantation, both of whom may have alerted the colonists.

Pace warned the settlement at Jamestown, which was not attacked. As John Smith later described it:2

Pace upon this [warning], securing his house, before day rowed to James Towne, and told the Governor of it, whereby they were prevented, and at such other Plantations as possibly intelligence could be given: and where they saw us upon our guard, at the sight of a peece they ranne away; but the rest were mostly slaine, their houses burnt, such Armes and Munition as they found they tooke away, and some cattell also they destroyed.

the allegiance of the supposed Chanco to the colonists, not to his fellow Native Americans, is honored on the interior of the reconstructed church at Jamestown
the allegiance of the supposed "Chanco" to the colonists, not to his fellow Native Americans, is honored on the interior of the reconstructed church at Jamestown

Opechancanough could not exterminate the colony, but tried instead to reset the balance of power. If Opechancanough had intended to completely expel the English from Virginia, killing all the colonists until they fled in ships, then he would have followed up with further assaults. Instead, there were no attacksfor almost six months, and then only four men were killed.

Obviously there are no written records documenting Opechancanough's war aims. Modern historian Frederick Gleach argues that attempts by the English to subvert the Native American religion was one cause for military action. The timing of the assault near Easter may have been a conscious effort to demonstrate that the English religion was not a source of power. George Thorpe, who was the most active colonists proselytizing personally to Opechancanough at Bermuda Hundred, was killed and his body mutilated.

Based on how Opechancanough directed the attack and then failed to follow up with more efforts to displace the colonists further, Frederick Gleach suggests:3

...it seems clear that the Powhatan's goal was not to remove the English but rather to confine them in a small territory,, put a halt to their local Chiristianization efforts, and demonstrate the Powhatans' superiority over the English

The attack was the death knell for the Virginia Company. It had failed to generate profits for its investors, and now had failed to protect the lives of its indentured servants and other colonists in Virginia. King James I revoked the charter of the Virginia Company in 1624. Virginia became a royal colony, amf the king began to appoint the governor, Governor's Council, and other colonial officials.

The Native Americans lacked the resources to support sustained warfare after the March 22 attack. Opechancanough did not have the resources to besiege Jamestown as Powhatan had done in the first Anglo-Powhatan War of 1609-13, but Governor Francis Wyatt still fled to the Eastern Shore for six weeks.4

engraving of 1622 uprising suggests the violence expressed against the colonists
engraving of 1622 uprising suggests the violence expressed against the colonists
Source: Brown University, John Carter Brown Library, Massacre at Jamestown, Virginia, 1622

The colonists had the capacity for low-level, sustained warfare they described as "feedfights." The English retaliated for 10 years with widespread destruction of Native American towns, stealing and cutting down hard-to-replace crops as well as easy-to-replace thatch buildings. There were intermittent raids in March while food reserves were low before crops were planted, in July when corn fields could be cut down, and in November when the destruction of towns would have the greatest impact.5

There was one unusual battle in 1624, when about 800 Indians battled 60 English soldiers for two days. The mismatch between arrows and guns determined the winner. The Indians suffered heavy casualties, but just 16 of the English were wounded.

After that battle, it was the English who chose to continue the war rather than negotiate a peace. They raided at will, seizing corn when it was ripe. The members of the Governor's Council used that corn to feed their indentured servants, which resulted in more tobacco and more personal wealth for those who led the raids. A Virginia gentry developed, with an more-stratified society than before the Second Anglo-Powhatan War.6

Colonial leaders decided in 1629 to block any Native Americans from living on the eastern end of the Peninsula. In 1630, colonial control of the northeastern edge near the mouth of the York River was increased by offering 50 acres of free land to those willing to settle at Kiskiack (now part of the US Naval Weapons Station near modern Yorktown).7

after the 1622 attack, the English settled Kiskiack (Chiskiack) and planned barricades to exclude Native Americans from the eastern portion of the Peninsula, ultimately leading to the settlement at Middle Plantation in 1634
after the 1622 attack, the English settled Kiskiack (Chiskiack) and planned barricades to exclude Native Americans from the eastern portion of the Peninsula, ultimately leading to the settlement at Middle Plantation in 1634
Source: Virginia Under Charles I and Cromwell, 1625-1660

The feedfights diminished as the gentry began to trade with Native Americans for furs. While some worked with the remaining components of Opechancaough's paramount chiefdon, William Claiborne established a settlement on Kent Island to trade with the Susquehannocks at the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay.

In 1632, the colonists reached a peace agreement with Opechancanough that excluded Native Americans from the lower half of the Peninsula. To control access, the General Assembly approved building a wooden wall between the James and York Rivers and expanded the offer of 50 free acres to those willing to settle near the wall.

Expulsion of the Native Americans from the Peninsula was a purposeful objective right after the 1622 uprising. Governor Wyatt wrote back to the Virginia Company from Jamestown:8

Our first worke is expulsion of the Salvages to gaine the free range of the countrey for encrease of Cattle, swine &c which will more then restore us, for it is infinitely better to have no heathen among us, who at best were but as thornes in our sides, then to be at peace and league with them

Behind the wall, a new community was established on the watershed divide. Middle Plantation (later named Williamsburg) was in the middle on the peninsula between Archers Hope Creek (now known as College Creek) on the James River and Queens Creek on the York River.

Using a wall for defense and defining a boundary was not new. Native American towns used palisades for protection, Jamestown had a fort with wooden walls, and before 1620 wooden barriers had been erected at Henricus and Bermuda Hundred to enclose small peninsulas.

A wall between Martin's Hundred to Kiskiack had been proposed soon after the 1622 attack. Governor Francis Wyatt noted the colony's plans to move inland from the James River near Jamestown, and to plant settlements north across the Peninsula up to Kiskiack (Chesekiacque) on the York (Pawmunka) River:9

Our intent was after the Massacre to have seated the whole Colony, (or most part thereof) upon the Forrest, and having runne a strong Palisado from Martins Hundred to Chesekiacque to Plant Pawmunka river also, and so winne all that large extent of ground to our selve

The location of the barrier was moved further west, before approval in 1633. The extra decade of warfare had allowed the colonists to expand their control over the Peninsula; by 1632, the General Assembly included two representatives elected from the area around Kiskiack.10

a barrier between Martin's Hundred and Kiskiack was proposed in 1624 (red line), but the wall built in 1634 (blue line) enclosed more acres on the Peninsula
a barrier between Martin's Hundred and Kiskiack was proposed in 1624 (red line), but the wall built in 1634 (blue line) enclosed more acres on the Peninsula
Source: location of 1634 palisade from Phillip Levy, A New Look at an Old Wall. Indians, Englishmen, Landscape, and the 1634 Palisade at Middle Plantation
(overlaid on map from ESRI, ArcGIS Online)

Architecturally, the wall across the Peninsula reflected the limited labor and materials available in a colony only 25 years old:11

The builders employed a few different methods depending on the terrain they encountered. Along the flattest stretches of its run, the wall consisted of high, sturdy wooden boards braced by horizontal stringers and vertical poles set directly into the ground. Six-foot-wide ditches flanked the new wall's base, and the dirt from the trenches formed a mound...

Where the wall had to go up and down the sides of ravines, the builders set several smaller posts into the ground to hold short stretches of pales. All along its length, the palisade was a thing of earth and wood, rotting away and silting up from the very moment of its construction...

Archaeological remains indicate that there was no attempt to replace or repair the pales as they rotted away, meaning that the palisade probably lasted not much more than a decade.

approximate route of 1634 pallisade across the Peninsula, cutting through modern-day Williamsburg
approximate route of 1634 palisade across the Peninsula, cutting through modern-day Williamsburg
Source: location of palisade from Phillip Levy, A New Look at an Old Wall. Indians, Englishmen, Landscape, and the 1634 Palisade at Middle Plantation
(overlaid on USGS 7.5 minute topo, 2010)

The First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609-13)

The Third Anglo-Powhatan War (1644-46)

The "War Aims" of Powhatan and the English

Links

References

1. Alfred A. Cave, Lethal Encounters: Englishmen and Indians in Colonial Virginia, ABC-CLIO, 2011, p.68, https://books.google.com/books?id=8NMeAFQnpFwC (last checked June 25, 2017)
2. Helen C. Rountree and E. Randolph Turner III, Before and After Jamestown, University Press of Florida, 2002, p.149; Susan Myra Kingsbury, editor, Records of the Virginia Company, 1606-26, Volume III: Miscellaneous Records, p.556, in "The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 8. Virginia Records Manuscripts. 1606-1737," Library of Congress, Image 588, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mtj.mtjbib026605; Smith, John, The generall historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles, together with The true travels, adventures and observations, and A sea grammar, "Chapter XII. The Arrivall of the third Supply," p.285, memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/lhbcb:@field(DOCID+@lit(lhbcb0262adiv23)) (last checked April 24, 2015)
3. Frederic W. Gleach, Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures, University of Nebraska Press, April 2000, pp.157-158, https://books.google.com/books?id=aYRTlZ4vDCwC; Brendan Wolfe, "George Thorpe (bap. 15761622)," Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, September 15, 2014. https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Thorpe_George_bap_1576-1622 (last checked June 24, 2017)
4. Rice, James Douglas, "Second Anglo-Powhatan War (16221632)," Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, June 26, 2014, http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Anglo-Powhatan_War_Second_1622-1632 (last checked April 23, 2015)
5. Martha W. McCartney, "Narrative History," Chapter 4 in Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, A Study of Virginia Indians and Jamestown: The First Century, National Park Service, December 2005, http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/jame1/moretti-langholtz/chap4.htm; Fred Fausz, "Jamestown at 400: Caught Between a Rock and a Slippery Slope," History News Network, November 1, 2007, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/38375 (last checked June 24, 2017)
6. Collier, Christopher and Collier, James Lincoln, the Paradox of Jamestown, 1585-1700, Marshall Cavendish, New York, 1998, p. 59; Rice, James Douglas, "Second Anglo-Powhatan War (16221632)," Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, June 26, 2014, http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Anglo-Powhatan_War_Second_1622-1632 (last checked June 24, 2017)
7. Wesley Frank Craven, "Indian Policy in Early Virginia," The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Volume 1, Number 1 (January 1944), p.74, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1922473 (last checked April 23, 2015)
8. "Letter of Sir Francis Wyatt, Governor of Virginia, 1621-1626," The William and Mary Quarterly, Volume 6, Number 2 (April, 1926), http://www.jstor.org/stable/1921520 (last checked June 24, 2017)
9. "Letter of Sir Francis Wyatt, Governor of Virginia, 1621-1626," The William and Mary Quarterly, Volume 6, Number 2 (April, 1926), http://www.jstor.org/stable/1921520 (last checked June 24, 2017)
10. "Williamsburg--The Old Colonial Capital," The William and Mary Quarterly, Volume 16, Number 1 (July 1907), pp.1-2, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1916115 (last checked April 23, 2015)
11. Philip Levy, "A New Look at an Old Wall: Indians, Englishmen, Landscape, and the 1634 Palisade at Middle Plantation," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 112, no. 3 (2004)


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