"When the swift savage axe Flashed in the fire-light, treacherous, and fell, And all the far plantations shook with death."
As previously noted, the death of Powhatan in 1618 had left as successor to his throne, after short interregnum, the treacherous and vindictive Opechancanough, a deadly secret enemy of the colonists. Protesting love and affection for them, for four years he plotted their destruction, while with crafty and unrelenting deliberation he sought and secured the promise of co-operation from the sub-chiefs and tribes who either acknowledged his overlordship . or came within the sphere of his influence.
The marriage of Rolfe and Pocahontas, while staying the hand of Powhatan and causing him faithfully to observe the treaty of peace, then entered into, had not produced the lasting effect nor good-will and understanding among the two races as had at first seemed fully consummated. The Indians were deeply offended that the English refused to follow the example of Rolfe and continue intermarriage with the women of their tribes. Not only did the settlers decline these advances, but sent to England for their wives.
Unfortunately, the colonists, not yet understanding the true traits of Indian character, were unaware of having thus instilled into the hearts of their savage neighbors, a feeling of offended pride and' mortification. Little did they then realize an Indian never forgets nor forgives an affront and that this was an additional offense added to other grievences. Yet, they had not been neglected by the colonists. Attempts at conversion had been made, trade had been established and many were employed by individual planters to assist in the various vocations of the time.
Encouraged in the cultivation of friendly intercourse they were welcomed guests at the planters' tables and admitted into their homes and habitations. Though accepting the tender of hospitality, encouraged by their wily chieftain, the spirit of hate was ever cultivated and revenge found lodgment in the secret recesses of their savage breasts. It was during this unguarded intercourse with the whites that the Indians formulated their plan for a general massacre-the indiscriminate slaghter of every' man, woman and child in the colony.
Opechancanough, distinguished for fearlessness and rancorous hate, renewed the treaty that his more humane brother, Powhatan, had entered into and faithfully guarded. Availing himself of the feeling of security this act produced among the whites, he prepared his followers for the final act in the great tragedy he had projected with such consummate skill.
Each tribe, except those on the Eastern Shore, who were without the sphere of his influence, he carefully plepared, for the day of massacre, with that single mindness of purpose characteristic of Indian revenge.
A writer of that period asserts that, "notwithstanding the long interval that elapsed between the formation and execution of their present enterprise, and the perpetual intercourse that subsisted between them and the white people, the most impenetrable secrecy was preserved; and so consummate and fearless was their dissimulation, they were accustomed to borrow boats, from the English to cross the river, in order to concert and communicate the progress of their designs."
The death of Nemattanow, one of their celebrated sub-chiefs, seems to have furnished Opechancanough the final argument to sharpen the ferocity of the waiting Indians and give them sense of ample provocation.
The Indian, Nemattanow, (Jack of the feather) by courage, craft and good fortune, had obtained great repute among his countrymen. In skirmishes and engagements with other Indian tribes, and in former hostile clashes with the English, he had exposed his person with a bravery that so surprised his savage companions and so instilled them with awe and astonishment that to them his body was apparently invulnerable; therefore, his person had been invested with the character of sanctity.
Emboldened by his continued successful achievements, Nemattanow treacherously murdered a planter named Morgan, and fell, in turn, a victim to revengeful fury of the farmer's sons. Finding the pangs of death fast approaching he entreated his captives to conceal his fate and grave, that the secret of his mortality might never be revealed. The young men acceded to the request, but the secret was discovered, and amidst the lamentations of his tribesmen, Opechancanough issued his secret call to arms.
The colonists, unsuspicious of the treachery of their friends (?), not only continued instructing them in the handling of firearms, but furnished them with rifles, powder and ball to assist in hunting and in defense against their enemies. God pity the innocence of these confiding Englishmen.
Differing from the colonists in New England and New Amsterdam, who mostly seated themselves in towns and fortified stockades, the liberty loving Virginians disbursed themselves along the rivers and lowlands of the Tidewater section, each intent to found a home in which he and family could enjoy the blessings of peace, undisturbed by an over-abundance of neighbors. The land was fertile, the climate ideal, the arrangement a happy readjustment of conditions left behind them in the mother country, now far removed. Again, were nor the Indians their goods friends upon whom they could call for assistance in any emergency which might befall?
This condition, of course, did much toward making the ask, upon which Opechancanough had set his subchiefs to work, a comparatively easy one. The Indians, instructed to be more friendly- than ever before, brought fish and game as daily presents to the planters' doorsteps. Assistance was given in the preparation of crops and guides furnished in hunting and exploration. Seated as guests at the planter's table, they partook of the food and hospitality of the unsuspecting host and his happy wife, fondled their little ones and listened to their infant prattle as the inquisitive children climbed upon their laps and played with the bright colored beads that dangled from their necks.
Good Friday, March 22, 1622, dawned bright and clear. Young mothers, humming homeland nursery songs, cuddled cooing offsprings to their breasts and smiled in day dreams of the happy years to come. Housewives hastened preparations for the morning meal that husband and his Indian guests might eat their fill and smoke their Peace Pipe at the door. We picture Superintendent Thorpe. lately arrived from England, pointing out the foundation of the university building the workmen had just commenced to lay; explaining to his new acquaintances the wonderful benefit it would prove to the Indian boys and girls; John Rolfe, reading aloud the last letter from his young son in England and exhibiting the handwriting that appeared so unintelligible to his Indian guests. How proud, he thought, they must be of this child of Pocahontas, their beloved and lamented Princess.
Was their no soul-piercing eye to read their thought; no mighty arm to stay their savage breasts? No Pocahontas hearted youth or maid to give them \varniag of their pending fate? No Nantaquas? Aye! One, and only one, found pity in his heart. Chanco, a converted youth, working for his patron and godfather, Richard Pace, first learned the story of the plot on the night before the massacre. His brother, spending the night with him, gave orders from the Indian chief that he should strike his patron down, when came the hour of noon, next day. Chanco, dissembling, drew forth the story- in the full, then, as his brother sped away to join his band, made haste to awaken the sleeping Pace and give him notice of the plot. Pace succeeded in warning Jamestown and the adjacent planters, but those more distant could not be reached in time.
At mid-day, the hour arranged, the Indian war hoop signaled throughout the settlements; each savage swooping down upon the victim selected for his scalping knife. Surprised, defenseless, there fell within the hour, mid every brutal outrage familiar to the savage race, 347 souls. Neither age nor sex found mercy given them. Defenseless children, babes at breast, mere added numbers to the slain.
Six members of the Council, Superintendent Thorpe, John Rolfe, and many of the colonists, most influential citizens, met death that day. No quarter was shown to anyone who could not save his life by stout defense.
Henricopolis, destroyed, was never built again. The first university projected in America was forever to be abandoned.
On the morning of Good Friday, March 22, 1622, there were 1,240 people in the colony; that afternoon only 893 survived and many of these would have fallen victims of the massacre had not Chanco, the converted Indian, given warning.
The disastrous tragedy came very near proving fatal to the young colony. It had struggled through may adversities for fifteen years, and at last was justified in feeling it had established permanent settlements on the shores of the Chesapeake and James.
To the planters, happy in the thought that not only were they seated upon fertile acres of their own, crops justifying the labor they placed' upon them and with presuming their neighbors, the Indians, to be apparently friendly-, the massacre came as a flash of lightning from a clear sky. The colony seemed doomed. The months from 'March until December gave the crucial test as to whether the settlement should prove a failure, or, arising from its ashes, should push forward with more determination than ever. Had it been a decision to be debated by the colonists alone, a satisfactory solution could have been made by the survivors, but there were powers beyond the sea, intrigue, deceit and every other discouragement brought to bear upon them before the Virginians could again find security in the rebuilding of their shattered estates.
Such was the dread produced by this terrible massacre, in which more than one-fourth of the entire colony had been slain, host of the survivors left their plantations and hastened to Jamestown for protection. Huddled together in unwholesome quarters, they awaited in fear a repitition of attempted annihilation. Many, panic-stricken, secured passage in vessels returning to England, and not one in ten of the plantations could muster an inhabitant.
Hawthorne, the historian, asserts that 2,000 settlers left the colony, but this error is evident, as there were only 893 survivors. The colony- was not abandoned. Concentration, at the more easily- defended plantations, was decided upon. The suggestion that Jamestown be abandoned and the colonists retire to Eastern Shore, where they could the better defend themselves, was rejected.
The points of concentration selected were Sherley Hundred, Flower dieu Hundred, Passapahey, Kicquotan and Southampton Hundred. Samuel Jordan, of Jordan's Point, and Mr. Gookin, with his Irish settlers at Newport News (New Porte Neuce) refused to obey the order of the Governor and remained to defend themselves against all assaults. One heroic woman, Mrs. Proctor, a proper, civil and modest gentlewoman, defended her estate for a month, till she, with all with her, were obliged by the English officers to go with them, and to leave their substance to the havoc and spoil of the enemy. Edward Hill, also, at Elizabeth City, "altho' much mischief was done to his cattle, yet did himself alone defend his house, whilst all his men were sick and unable to give him any assistance." (Stith) Preparations for various manufactures were abandoned. The people were so terrified they feared to work; in the fields, and crops were neglected. A winter of famine was the grim prospect.
Henricopolis was destroyed never to be rebuilt, and the projected university abandoned; John Berkeley and the twenty skilled workmen at the iron works, erected at Falling Creek, had been among the slain; the first iron mine and foundry in the colony would never be reopened.<a href="#1" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 1
It was used in time of Wm. Byrd, for awhile, but the iron was brought from elsewhere. Ingots from this foundry have lately been located."> Maurice Berkeley, son of John, was temporarily assisting in erecting glass and salt works on Eastern Shore, therefore, escaped the fate of his Falling Creek companions. Experiments in mining and forging had also been made, near Providence Forge. Deposits of good ore have lately been found in that vicinity.)
(Before closing this chapter relating to the massacre, let us consider the tragedy of Northern Neck, which also occurred in 1692. This time we find the Indians the victims, under somewhat similar circumstances, and the English the aggressors.)
There were bad Indians but just as truly there were intolerant enemies of the red race among those who had taken possession of their lands. Let us for example, consider an episode in which the cowardly and intriguing Captain Isaac Maddison descended upon the unsuspecting and friendly Potowmacks<a href="#2" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 2
Original spelling—Patawomeck. See p. 19."> in 1622. I again quote the language of Stith, "Captain Crowshaw had been living at peace with the Indians with only one white attendant. * * * * * Under pretense of business (Captain Maddison who had built within the enclosure occupied by Crowshaw) sent for the King to his stronghouse; where, having locked him and his son, and four others up, and set a guard of five Englishmen upon the house, he fell on the town (surrounding the enclosure) with the rest of his company and slew thirty or forty men, women and childen. The poor King being surprised at such an unexpected assault called out, and begged him to cease from so undeserved cruelty, but he gave not. over the execution till he had slain or put to flight all the town. Then he returned and taxed the King of treachery who denied it bitterly, and told him it was some contrivance of those who wished his destruction for being a friend of the Indians."<a href="#3" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 3
The Indian King was—Japazaws.">
"After this Maddison led him, his son and two others to his ship, promising to set them at liberty as soon as his men were all safely aboard; and the King, very readily and effectively, ordered his subjects not to shoot at nor annoy the English whilst they were going on board. But not withstanding this, Maddison, contrary to all good faith carried them prisoners to Jamestown; where they lay till the October following." These prisoners after having been confined four months were released by the payment of ransom demanded of their people.
Maddison had been sent to the Potowmacks with thirty men commissioned by the Governor to defend these friends of the English against the common enemy. We see the result.
This is one of the many recorded instances that caused the Indians of both Virginia and New England to look with hate and suspicion upon the white race; a condition wisely avoided by Penn and his Quaker followers.
With the desire to do justice to a race that has received little sympathy at the hands of many of our historians. yet saddened with the thought that so many innocent men, women and children, struggling bravely to find homes in a new land, had to pay the penalty of the folly of others, I pay this tribute to the Virginia Indians.
So little do we understand them even to this day- that many express astonishment even doubt that Pocahontas, an Indian, could find it in her heart to prove such a true friend to an alien race. It is even claimed by some that she was of part English blood. Virginia Dare, some say, may have been her mother or grandmother. As a matter of fact, Virginia Dare was only about 8 years older than Pocahontas, and the Indian Princess was not ashamed of her pure Indian blood.