Sunday, October 04, 2009


In the early to late 1500's , a tribe of Indians in Virginia consolidated themselves into a rather large Confederacy. They were the Powhatan, a name taken after their title for their supreme leader. These tidewater Indians numbered about 20,000 souls, grouped in about 30 affiliated tribes, each headed by Weromances, or chiefs.

The English settled Jamestown in 1609. The colony survived by the skin of their teeth- having to fight three conflicts with the local Algonquin Powhatan Indians. (The first Anglo-Powhatan war(1610-1614) was a back and forth conflict that ended with the whites acquiring more riverfront territory from the Powhatan...the marriage of Pocahontas and Captain John Rolfe signalled the end of the war. Many of todays leading Virginia families can trace their lineage back to the child of Pocahontas and Rolfe, making these Virginians part Indian).

The second war: Opechancanough ("he who has a white soul" ) became the second leader to deal with the invaders...In 1622, he launched a broad offensive along the entire length of outer edge of the English settlements...347 whites were killed. A surprise attack on Jamestown itself was narrowly averted when a friendly Indian alerted his friends. There were several instances where this same type of warning was given, so Indians who were friends with individual white families saved dozens of lives (these Indians were not later considered to be traitors, though).

Opechancanough had killed about 1/3 of all the colonists. But he then did what flawed generals do- he didnt follow through on his success. Eventual white reprisals wiped out enough of the Indians summer and fall food crops that Opechancanough decided to come to the parley table. He showed up with his retinue, and the colonists promptly poisoned to death about 200 peace seeking Indians. Opechancanough was poisoned too, but fled and escaped, as bullets fell all about him...

20 years of "peace" ensued. Opechancanough was the first Indian to realize the totality of the situation- his predecessor thought he could contain the strangers, use them for trade, and maybe allies against the enemy Shawnee to the west. But Opechancanough saw that the whites were coming to his land in large numbers almost every day. He knew that the entire land would soon fill up with these strange invaders and they would drive out or kill all the Indians. In 1644, Opechancanough went on the warpath again- over 500 settlers were wiped out, but by this time, this was a much smaller percent of the total amount of settlers, so the colonists quickly retaliated and recovered. The rebellion was put down.
Two years later Opechancanough was captured and brought in chains to Jamestown, and was paraded and dragged around in front of the Governor and other settlers. Opechancanough allegedly spoke to the Governor and said "If things were reversed, If I had captured you, I would not have treated you the way you are treating me. I would have shown you respect."

Soon thereafter, an angry jailer shot Opechancanough in the back. Opechancanough was thought to be 90 or 100 years old.

( Opechancanough is also thought to be 'Don Luis..' The Spanish Jesuits tried to settle Virginia around 1570....they took a voluntary guest back to Spain...Opechancanough received some education there and was christened Don luis by his hosts...He returned to Virginia, the Jesuit colony failed soon thereafter, and Opechancanough eventually turned against all white colonists ).

After the Powhatan were subdued by the colonists, they told them that they were induced to go on the warpath by a spirit they called Okewas. The Indians said Okewas made them fight-Okewas had to be placated with sacrifices of blankets, corn, and copper...He was a trickster-god
and was a lesser God compared to the Powhatan ruler of the universe- Ahune.


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