First Settlement



Wahunsonacock, King of the Powhatan

Jamestown, the first permanent European colony in what was to be the United States, was located in the territory of the Great Powhatan Confederacy. The Jamestown settlers came to this hemisphere on business, their chief aim financial profit. They wanted to trade, but first they had to survive.

They survived those first years thanks to the indigenous population. Captain John Smith wrote that they were given “corn and bread ready made.” In the winter of 1608-1609, the colonists traded “10 quarters of corn for a copper kettle.” Later they got from the indigenous one bushel of corn for every inch of copper. Still later, when the Powhatan were the ones starving instead of the English, the colonists traded four hundred bushels of corn for a “mortgage on their whole countries.”

Wahunsonacock, (called King Powhatan by the English) tried for peace at all costs. He resolved many incidents without war, including the kidnapping of his own daughter Pocahontas. When Wahunsonacock died, his brother Opechancanough became chief.

The colonists provoked many conflicts. For example, English livestock, especially pigs, would get loose and damage the unfenced gardens of the Powhatan. But if the Powhatan damaged the pig, the English retaliated against the Powhatans until the conflict escalated to the point that the English burned a Powhatan village and killed a dozen people.

Opechancanough had a pessimistic view of what the colonists had in mind for the land and the Powhatan. History has proved him right. When his nation was already suffering terrible losses from European diseases, on March 22, 1622, he led an attack by the confederacy, killing 347 colonists. The response by the colonists was to articulate an ideology that totally dehumanized the native population, equating them with savages and therefore justifying their extermination.

-See Chronicles of American Indian Protest, 1-6


See additional sources at:

Powhatan (Native American leader)

© 2023 Charter for Compassion. All rights reserved.