Colonial Indian Wars


Colonial Era Indian Wars

Colonial Era Indian Wars

Colonial Indian Wars, Battles & Massacres:

Powhatan Wars (1610-1646)

Pequot War (1636-1637)

King Philip’s War (1675-1676)

King William’s War (1689-1697)

French and Indian War (1689-1763)

Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763-1768)


Like other relations between European settlers and Native Americans throughout American History, tensions between the indigenous people of the land and the new Americans began almost from the beginning. From the settling of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 to the opening of the 18th century, a number of conflicts would occur for various reasons, including the new settlers’ demands for food and land, cultural differences, and the need of both cultures to defend themselves from the other. Just two years after the colonists settled in Jamestown, the first war began between the Powhatan and the new settlers. It would be followed by numerous others including the Pequot War King Philip’s War, King William’s War, and dozens of other conflicts.

Chief Powhattan

Chief Powhattan

In 1607, when the first English settlement was established at Jamestown, Virginia, relations were mixed between the new settlers and Powhatan tribe, upon whose hunting grounds, they had settled. Though there was no initial violence, the settlers built a fort to protect themselves from any Indian attacks. In June, their leader, Captain Newport left for England to get more supplies for the new settlement. Those who remained; however, were not prepared. Not long after Newport left, the settlers began to die from a variety of diseases, most of which were probably caused by drinking bad water. They were also running short of supplies and were hungry. That first winter, while Captain John Smith was out exploring, he was captured and taken to Werowocomoco where the Powhatan lived. There, he and the Powhatan Chief, Wahunsunacock, conversed and came to an understanding. Smith was released in the spring of 1608 and the Powhatan then began to send gifts of food to help the English. Were it not for their help, the settlement would most likely have failed, as all the English would have died from disease or starvation.

However, the new settlers began to get demanding, feeling as if they could trade tools and Christianity for food. What they failed to understand was that the Powhatan way of life barely provided for themselves, much less, another entire community. By late in 1609, after a drought during the summer, the settlers added pressure on the Indians for more food supplies. As a result, Chief Powhatan, tired of the constant English demands for food, officially told his people not to help them. The relationship deteriorated between the two peoples which resulted in the Powhatan Wars, which would continue off and on until 1646.

Powhatan Wars (1610-1646):

Pocahontas marries John Rolfe,by Joseph Hoover, 1867

Pocahontas marries John Rolfe,by Joseph Hoover, 1867

Fought between English settlers of the Virginia Colony and Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy, this was a series of three intermittent conflicts which lasted from about 1910 through 1646. The first war started in 1609 or 1610, after the the relationship between the Powhatan Indians and the English had soured due to the English demands for food. That winter of 1609-10 is known as the “Starving Time.” During that winter the English were afraid to leave the fort, due to a legitimate fear of being killed by the Powhatan Indians. As a result they ate anything they could: various animals, leather from their shoes and belts, and sometimes fellow settlers who had already died. By early 1610 most of the settlers, 80-90%, had died due to starvation and disease. Peace and improved relations occurred after English settler, John Rolfe, married Pocahontas, the  Powhatan Chief’s daughter, in 1614.

A few years later, in 1617, Pocahontas died and the following year, her father, Chief Wahunsunacock also passed away. His succession was briefly passed on to his younger brother, Opitchapam, and then to his next younger brother Opechancanough. On March 22, 1622, Opechancanough, tired of English expansion, planned a coordinated attack on the English settlements. Because of a young Indian boy’s warning  Jamestown itself was spared.

Many outlying settlements were attacked and of a population of about 1,200 settlers about 350-400 were killed. After the, the Powhatan Indians withdrew, as was their way, to wait for the English to pack up and leave. However, the English did not leave and more conflicts arose and continued on and off for the next ten years, with few decisive victories. The settlers gave up the idea of coexisting with the Indians to begin a policy of extermination. By 1632, the Powhatan were pressured into land concessions in the western area of Chesapeake Bay.

In 1644, the third and last conflict of the Powhatan Wars began. Even though the English population, by this time, had risen to about 8,000, Opechancanough was still upset about the English encroachment on the land and planned another attack. Once again approximately 350-400 English were killed. Two years later, in 1646, Opechancanough, who was about 100, was captured by the English. While in captivity he was shot in the back by an English guard – against orders – and killed. His death began the end of the Powhatan Chiefdom. It also resulted in a boundary being defined between the Indians and English lands that could only be crossed for official business with a special pass. That situation lasted until 1677, when the Treaty of Middle Plantation was negotiated which established Indian reservations following Bacon’s Rebellion.

Pequot War (1636-37):

Pequot War

Pequot War

This armed conflict was fought between the Pequot tribe and an alliance of the Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Saybrook colonies with their American Indian allies — the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes. At this time, the Pequot tribe was centered along the Thames River in present-day southeast Connecticut and as colonists expanded westward, friction began to develop.

The war was the culmination of numerous conflicts between the colonists and the Indians including property disputes, livestock damaging Indian crops, competition over hunting grounds, the selling of alcohol to Indians, and dishonest traders. Tensions came to a head in July 1636 when a dishonest trader named John Oldham, was killed by the Pequot.

As a result, numerous settlers demanded that the Pequot be punished for the killing and Massachusetts Governor John Endicott began to raise a militia. The soldiers allied themselves with the Mohegan and Narragansett tribes, who were rivals with the Pequot.

In late August, the militia launched an expedition against Block Island, part of Rhode Island, killing 14 Indians before they burned the village and crops. A number of skirmishes would follow over the next year, until the colonists attacked a Pequot village on the Mystic River (near present-day New London, Connecticut) in May 1637. Encircling the Indians under the cover of night, the colonists set their dwellings ablaze, then shot them as they fled from their homes. From 400 to 700 Indian men, women and children were killed. Hundreds more were captured and sold into slavery to the West Indies. The Pequot Chief Sassacus was captured by the Mohawk and executed. The battle turned the tide against the once powerful Pequot. The few Pequot who were able to escape the English fled to surrounding Indian tribes and were assimilated. After the War, the colonists outlawed the name “Pequot.”

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