March 22nd 1622: Jamestown massacre

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1628 woodcut showing the massacre

 

On this day in 1622, the Jamestown massacre occurred in colonial Virginia. Jamestown was the first successful English settlement in North America; this followed the failure of previous attempts to colonise North America, most notoriously the lost colony of Roanoke. On March 22nd, fighters of the Powhatan confederation of Indian tribes (also known as Algonquian Indians) came into the houses of the settlers in the area, grabbed their weapons, and attacked them. 347 people died in the incident, which made up a quarter of the English population at Jamestown.

 

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The colony of Jamestown, Virginia

 

The massacre was in response to the colonists’ mistreatment of Native Americans – burning down their homes, destroying food supplies and threatening expansion into their land. In retaliation the Natives launched a surprise attack on the area, however Jamestown itself was spared as it was forewarned.

 

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Powhatan chief Opechancanough

 

The incident is one of many conflicts between Native Americans and English settlers in the early days of the colonial venture. The English settlers increasingly desired to expand further into Indian lands, and this often resulted in bloodshed. The colonies, especially those on the frontier, were racked with sporadic warfare. Perhaps the most famous of these wars was King Philip’s War in the 1670s, which is often considered a cause of the heightened fears and tensions that resulted in a burst of witchcraft accusations in the 1690s. Colonial relations with Native Americans did not improve with the coming of the Revolution, and Native communities especially suffered under the United States’s expansionist doctrine of Manifest Destiny. This can be seen most tragically in President Andrew Jackson’s ruthless policy of Indian Removal, which intended to clear the way for Westward expansion. In this context, we can see how the Jamestown massacre was sadly not the end of conflict between the settlers and the Native population.

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