The Real Story of the Massacre of 1622

By Jeannette Holland Austin

Opechancanough, Chief. Since the marriage of Pocahontas and the accession of Opechancanough to the imperial crown, the Englishmen appeared to be lulled into a fatal security as they became more familiar with the Indians, eating, drinking, and sleeping among them. This sort of friendship afford the Indians the wisdom of the strength of the English and the use of our arms. They knew at all times, when and where to find the people; whether at home, or in the woods; in bodies, or dispersed; in condition of defense, or indefensible. Once this knowledge spread throughout the tribe and the weakness of the English was exposed, a plan was hatched to reduce the size of the colony.

When a popular war captain was justly killed, Opechancanough took affront, and commenced laying out the plot for a general massacre of the English. The occasion was this. The war captain mentioned before to have been killed, was called Nemattanow, a great warrior holding much esteem among his tribe; so much, that they believed him to be invulnerable and immortal He had been in very many conflicts and escaped untouched from them all. He was also a very cunning fellow and took great pride in preserving the superstititious concerning him, for which purpose he would adorn himself with feathers and ornaments. This display caused the English to assign him the nickname of "Jack of the feather. " Nemattanow had negotiated privately with Mr. Morgan for several toys and had persuaded Morgan to go to Pamunky to dispose of them. Nemattanow gave him hopes of good bargains at Pamunky and offered him his assistance. At last Morgan yielded to his persuasion but was never heard of again. It was believed that Nemattanow killed him along the way and took away his treasure. Several days later when Nemattanow returned to the same house wearing the cap of Mr. Morgan upon his head, the Indian was met by two sturdy boys who asked for their master. Nemattanow told them he was dead. But they, knowing the cap, suspected that the Indian had killed their master, and would have had him go before a justice of peace. But the Indian refused and very insolently abused them. Whereupon they shot him down, and while they were carrying him to the governor, he died. As he was dying, he earnestly pressed the boys to promise him two things. First, that they would not tell how he was killed; and, secondly, that they would bury him among the English. He imagined, that being buried among the English perhaps might conceal his death from his own Nation and thus preserve his image. He was pleased with his last gasp of breath as the boys promised not to tell.

The massacre was to occur on the 22d of March, 1622, a little before noon, at a time when our men were all at work abroad in their plantations, dispersed and unarmed. The Indians were so familiar with the English that they borrowed their boats and canoes to cross the river when consulting with neighboring Indians on the conspiracy. So well planned was the massacre, that the evening before, they brought presents of deer, turkey, fish and fruits to the English. And during the morning of the massacre, they came freely and unarmed, eating and taking refreshment with the unsuspecting English and were so engaged until the very minute that the plot was executed. Then they commenced knocking the English unawares on the head, with their tomahawks, hoes and axes. Those who escaped were shot. No one was spared, not man, woman or child. A count of three hundred and forty-seven persons was made of the Christians murdered that morning. Source: The History of Virginia, in Four Parts, by Robert Beverley; 1616 letter of Capt. John Smith.

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