Powhatan Wars

Powaton Indians - Pocahontas saves John Smith

Powhatan Indians - Pocahontas saves John Smith

Powhatan Wars Summary and Definition
Powhatan Wars Summary and Definition: The Powhatan Wars were a series of three wars fought between English settlers of the Virginia Colony, and Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy. The First Powhatan War was fought 1609 to 1614. The Second Powhatan War was fought 1622 to 1632. The Third Powhatan War was fought 1644–1646.

Interesting facts and information about the significance, specific events and famous leaders of the Wars. The combatants of the historic wars were the tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy and the English colonists.

The Indian Wars
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Facts about the Powhatan Wars
Who fought in the Powhatan Wars? When did the wars start and when did the conflict end? What were the causes, what was the significance, and what were the results and effects of the Powhatan Wars? Interesting history and facts about the famous conflicts. For additional facts refer to the Powhatan Tribe and Chief Powhatan.

Note: The colonists are referred to as English up to 1707 when the union between England and Scotland created Great Britain and the term British is then used.

Fast Facts about the Powhatan Wars
Name of Conflict: Powhatan Wars 
Alternative Names: Anglo-Powhatan Wars 
Location: Jamestown, Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, Southern Maryland 
Year Wars started: 1609 
Year Wars ended: 1646 
Combatants of Powhatan Wars: English settlers of the Virginia Colony and the Algonquian-speaking tribes in the Powhatan Confederacy
Result of the Wars: The series of Wars ended in defeat for the Powhatan Confederacy
Famous People and Leaders: Powhatan (Wahunsonacock), Opechancanough, Pocahontas
Captain John Smith, Sir Thomas Dale, John Rolfe, Lord de la Warr, Sir Francis Wyatt, Sir William Berkeley


The Significance and Effects of the Powhatan Wars
The significance and the effects of the Powhatan Wars in history is that:

  • The notion that Indians and whites could not live together peaceably was born, which led to the introduction of the Indian Reservation system in 1677

  • The discovery of tobacco would start the plantation economy in Virginia and create a demand for cheap labor filled at first by poor, white indentured servants and then by black slaves

  • The defeat of the tribes resulted in the languages, culture, religion, beliefs and ceremonies of the conquered people to fall into decline, to the point of extinction

  • The demise of the Powhatan Confederacy of tribes led to the prosperity of the colonists who gained the land, natural resources including tobacco, the wealth of Virginia

History & Causes of the Powhatan Wars - Political Policies and Beliefs
What were the causes of the Powhatan Wars? Some of the history and causes were dictated by political policies and beliefs which shaped the historical background to the causes of the series of conflicts

  • Imperialism: In the early 1600's South America was largely controlled by Spain or Portugal, but North America was mostly unclaimed. England wanted to establish its own empire. The population in England was exploding and the system of enclosure (fencing in the land) meant there was limited land for the poor. Establishing colonies in America provided the opportunity for religious freedom, land and new trading opportunities

  • Colonialism: In the 1600's the Europeans brought with them the system of colonialism, primarily to generate income, which encompassed "the policy and practice of a power in extending control over weaker peoples or areas." A major cause of conflict in the 1600's

  • Culture Clash: Distrust and hostilities grew between the indigenous population of the region and the Europeans as the number of newcomers increased leading to the inevitable culture clash. A major cause of conflict in the 1600's

  • Land: The United States adopted the European practice of expansion and of recognizing only limited land rights of indigenous peoples. A major cause of conflict in the 1600 and 1700's


Specific Causes of the Powhatan Wars
What were the specific causes of the Powhatan Wars? The specific causes of the Powhatan Wars at a local level were:

  • The influx of the white colonists from England and the realization by the Powhatan Indians that although they initially appeared weak, were in fact the stronger in terms of numbers and weapons
  • Culture: Both the Native Indians and the English colonists believed they were superior to the other
  • Land: Disruption of the farming of the Indians followed by disputes over Powhatan Confederacy homelands
  • A series of forts were built to house the English forces during the conflicts, antagonising the indigenous tribes
  • Broken treaties: Promises made were broken on both sides fuelling the desire for revenge
  • Financial - Tobacco became the highly lucrative 'Gold of Virginia' encouraging more colonists to settle in the area
  • Forced relocation to Indian reservations which were restrictive and harsh
Slaves working in a tobacco plantation

African slaves working on a tobacco plantation

Opechancanough Powhatan Chief

Powhatan Chief


History Timeline of the Powhatan Wars
This short History Timeline of the Powhatan Wars provides fast facts and information about the history, years & dates, key events and famous people who fought in the Powhatan Wars.

History Timeline of the Powhatan Wars
History Timeline of the First Powhatan War (1609 to 1614)

1580The Confederacy was founded by Wahunsonacock who became commonly known as Powhatan

1606King James I of England granted a charter to the Virginia Company to establish colonies in Virginia

1607The land of the Powhatan Confederacy reached 16,000 miles and the people of its 30 Indian tribes numbered 15,000

1607May: The establishment of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia run by a council of colonists - refer to Colonial America. The Powhatans inhabited more than 100 surrounding villages. Within 2 weeks of the English arrival, deaths had occurred

1607Fall / Winter : More than half the colonists die from disease and of starvation.  A few Colonist die from wounds caused by Indians.

1607/8Powhatan, intrigued by the new tools and weapons, helps the Jamestown colony survive with food which they traded for blue beads

1607Fall / Winter : More than colonists arrive and build St. George’s Fort

1607December -  Captain John Smith was captured by a native hunting party and taken before Chief Powhatan. The daughter of the Chief, Pocahontas (Indian name Matoaka) saves the life of John Smith

1608January -  Captain John Smith is released

1608September 10, 1608 -  the coronation of Chief Powhatan (see the picture following the History Timeline)

1609May: Lord de la Warr  is appointed as the first governor but does not arrive in Virginia until 1610

1609Tensions between the Indians and colonists rise when livestock, owned by the colonists, are allowed to wander into the Indian cornfields.

16091609 - 1614. The Native Americans reduce trade attempting to starve the colonists out and attacks are made on the fort and the First Powhatan War erupts. The period covering the next 2 years (1609-1610) would become known as the 'Starving Time'.


1610Acting governor Sir Thomas Gates establishes martial law to maintain order

1610Spring: Lord de la Warr, the first governor of Virginia arrives

1610The July 15, 1610: De la Warr sends Powhatan an ultimatum: peace or all out war 

1610August 9, 1610: Powhatan does not respond and an impatient De la Warr orders a force of 40 men, led by George Percy, to conduct an attack against the Paspahegh and Chickahominy. This ends in the massacre of women and children

1611Lord de la Warr becomes ill and leaves Virginia. Sir Thomas Dale and Thomas Gates assume joint governorship

1612The colonists had learned to cultivate tobacco, which was exported to Europe. This was extremely important as tobacco became the gold of Virginia - it built the economy of Virginia on a single item, tobacco

1613Pocahontas is captured by the English during the hostilities 

1614April: Pocahontas marries tobacco planter John Rolfe. Peace returns to the warring factions

1614A Peace Treaty ends the First of the Powhatan Wars 

1610The July 15, 1610: De la Warr sends the tribe an ultimatum: peace or all out war 

1610August 9, 1610: Powhatan does not respond an an impatient De la Warr orders a force of 40 men, led by George Percy, to conduct an attack against the Paspaheghs and Chickahominys. This ends in the massacre of women and children

History Timeline of the Second Powhatan War (1622 to 1632)

1618The death of Chief Powhatan. His younger brother Opechancanough assumed full power

1621Sir Francis Wyatt (1588–1644) is appointed English governor of Virginia. 

1621The highly lucrative tobacco crop leads to further encroachment on the Powhatan territories

1622Chief Opechancanough launches major attacks on the colonists throughout the area, massacring 347 of a total of about 1,200 colonists. This becomes known as the known as the Indian Massacre of 1622 and leads to the outbreak of the Second Powhatan War

1622The English, in retaliation, order that 3 expeditions should be made each year against the Powhatan to prevent them from planting their crops. The English commanders were forbidden to make peace upon any terms

1623Opechancanough sues for peace but, in revenge for the 1622 massacre, the English kill a large number of Indians at the Peace meeting

1628A 'peace' was declared  but it was more like a temporary ceasefire 

1629The hostilities resumed in March 1629 

1632September 30, 1632: A final peace was made ending the Second of the Powhatan Wars. The Indians were effectively banished from the Chesapeake following this stage of the conflicts

History Timeline of the Third Powhatan War (1644 to 1646)

1641Sir William Berkeley replaced Sir Francis Wyatt as Governor of Virginia in 1641. Sir William Berkeley was governor of the colony of Virginia from 1641–1652

1644Opechancanough mounts a terrifying attack, designed to move the colonists from the Powhatan land, killing 500 colonists.

1644Opechancanough does not follow-up the attack which allows the colonists to prepare for the third of the Powhatan Wars

1644The colonists retaliate and march against many of the tribes in the Powhatan Confederacy  

1645An additional 3 forts are built in the region to support the Powhatan Wars 

1645August: Governor William Berkeley stormed Opechancanough's stronghold and captures and imprisons him. All other captives are sold into slavery during the Powhatan Wars.

1645Chief Opechancanough refused to admit defeat or sign a Peace treaty. He was shot in the back by an English guard whilst in captivity. With his death the power of the Powhatan Confederacy came to an end as did the Powhatan Wars in 1646

1646The new Powhatan chief, Necotowance, signed the 1646 Peace Treaty. The result of the Powhatan Wars was a boundary, or racial frontier, between the Indians and English lands that could only be crossed for official business with a special pass.

1646 Treaty Map

1646 Treaty Map

The Red line shows boundary between the Virginia Colony and the
Powhatan Indian tribes, as established by the Treaty of 1646


1646The situation following the Powhatan Wars lasted until 1677 and the Treaty of Middle Plantation which established the first Indian reservations following Bacon's rebellion.
History Timeline of the Powhatan Wars

Coronation of Powhatan

Coronation of Powhatan in 1608 before the start of the Powhatan Wars

Powhatan Wars

  • Significance, causes, summary, dates and history of the Powhatan Wars for kids
  • History timeline of the Powhatan Wars
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  • Cause and Effects of the Powhatan Wars
  • Significance, causes events, summary, dates and history of the Powhatan Wars for kids

Powhatan Wars - Pictures and Videos of Native Americans
Powhatan Wars. Discover the key years, famous people and events of the Powhatan Wars together with the causes and effects of the war, conflict and battle. Pictures have been include wherever possible which show the battlefield, clothing and weapons of the Native Indian tribes and their leaders who fought in the Powhatan Wars. The illustrated text provides a really useful educational resource for kids and children of all ages. We have included pictures and videos to accompany the main topic of this section - The Powhatan Wars. The videos enable fast access to the images, paintings and pictures together with the information and the many facts featured on this subject of the Powhatan Wars.

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