by Carl Bridenbaugh
New York: Oxford University Press, 1980
Reviewed by Roy W. Johnson
First some background: The story of the 1922 Jamestown massacre is familiar to those acquainted with Pace family history, but for newcomers, it is worth recounting here. The following is courtesy of Steve McWhorter of southwest Georgia, submitted by him in December, 1997:
Subj: PACE Family History Date: 97-12-26 12:53:24 EST From: email@example.com (Steven McWHORTER)
Massacre of 1622
"Chanco, an Indian boy who had been adopted by an Englishman named RICHARD PACE revealed the entire plot to his master. The man secured his house, and rowed away before dawn in desperate haste to Jamestown, to give warning to the Governor."
There is a Historical Marker, placed by the Virginia Conservation Service, now located on the south side of the James River, on State Highway 10, four(4) miles west of Surry, Virginia, on the road to Richmond, with the following inscribed thereon:
This place, seven miles north, was settled by RICHARD PACE in 1620. On the night before the Indian massacre on March 22, 1622, an Indian, Chanco, revealed the plot to PACE, who reached Jamestown in time to save the settlers in that vicinity.
"The slaughter would have been universal if God had not put it into the heart of an Indian boy, Chanco, lying in the house of one RICHARD PACE, to reveal to PACE the plan and time of the massacre, and had not RICHARD PACE rushed off to Jamestown and notified the Governor."
"Slain were 347, mainly outside of Jamestown. The population was 1,700 and the lives of the remainder were saved through the efforts of Chanco and RICHARD PACE."
Carl Bridenbaugh is one of the foremost authorities on America's colonial period. In this short book he gives a different and interesting perspective on the Massacre of 1622 and the results of Richard Pace's quick action to save the colony. Certain aspects of this incident have long puzzled historians. . On March 22, 1622, following a period of general peace and good will between whites and native Americans, suddenly and without warning, Indians of several tribes attacked the English and killed 347 men, women, and children, including even those who had treated the natives well. Richard Pace's Pamunkey servant Chanco warned his master, stating that he would not be silent and allow Pace to be killed because he had "used him as a sonne". In the middle of the night, Richard rowed the three miles across the James River to warn the colony. Had it not been for his warning, the colony would have been exterminated. Most Pace descendents know this part of the story well.
Historians have been at a loss to explain the suddenness, savagery, and coordination of the attack. Indian raids were usually hit-and-run affairs. Careful planning, long-range strategy, and large-scale cooperation among tribes was uncharacteristic, as was the scope of the attack, which took place simul-taneously throughout the colony on scattered plantations for more than a hundred miles up and down the James River.
Bridenbaugh challenges the accepted belief that Powhatan (father of Pocahontas) was the foremost native leader in 17th century Virginia and focuses instead on Powhatan's older brother, the European educated Opechancanough, whom he believes was the "power behind the throne" even before Powhatan's death in 1618. Opechancanough saw at first hand (in Spain) both the numbers and the great power of the Europeans and, in Mexico, observed the Spanish takeover of Indian lands. Fearing realistically that the same thing might happen to his people, he played his cards cautiously to gradually make the other native Americans aware of the danger and unite them, waiting for just the right moment to strike and drive the "aliens" from his land. Had it not been for Chanco and Richard Pace, he might have succeeded.
Opechancanough's story begins when he was taken to Spain after a Spanish ship landed in Chesapeake bay in 1561.He spent five years there and received a thorough education from the priests. He was a keen observer of Spanish life and customs and learned the art of patience, diplomacy, and planning from the Dominicans and, later, the Jesuits.
Desiring to return to his people, he was placed on a ship to Mexico, but the Spanish governor refused to allow him to leave for the north. He spent three years in Mexico and undoubtedly observed that even those native Americans who were friendly to the Europeans were losing their culture and becoming second class citizens in their own former land. He then returned to Spain and furthered his education with the Jesuits for another three years. Eventually, he returned to his own land as a missionary and interpreter. However, he reverted to some Indian ways (such as multiple wives) and was severely reprimanded and humiliated by the accompanying Jesuit priests. He eventually denounced Christianity, led a raid, and killed his tormentors. After that, he terminated all contacts with Europeans and Christianity.
Opechancanough was, of course, correct in his belief that the English planned to seize Indian land. This was the whole purpose of the Virginia Company. Among the whites, there were two general groups. Most of the common men of the colony and some of the leaders had only contempt for the natives and saw them as an impediment to be destroyed. Other leaders, most of whom were Puritans, wanted to be kind to the Indians, "Christianize" them (which meant also teaching them English ways), and make them "loyal subjects" to their English overlords. Either way, their culture would be destroyed and they would lose control over lands their ancestors had ruled for centuries.
By 1613, Bridenbaugh believes, Opechancanough had concluded that the English colony was intended to be permanent and expand. His brother was the ruler, the tribes were not united and the other natives had to be convinced of the danger, so he had to work carefully. Opechancanough used every means to make the whites feel safe and secure while he was uniting the tribes, blending European and native American methods of diplomacy. In one instance, a neighboring tribe was reluctant to join his alliance. He encouraged the tribe to attack the whites , then warned the English of the attack, which therefore failed. The English thus thought of him as a friend, and the Indians became convinced that they could not go it alone. He attended the wedding of Pocahontas and John Rolfe and gave the bride away, possibly seeing the marriage as an additional way to buy time.
After Powhatan's death, there was a brief period of uncertainty, then Opechancanough himself became Paramount Chief, taking over the "empire" of tribes that he had masterminded under Powhatan. By 1622, the influx of English was becoming alarming. He apparently believed the English to be so strong that only a telling and total blow would suffice to drive them away. Those who want to know the details will have to read the book--there simply isn't space to cover them in a review. Here is Bridenbaugh's assessment of the attack from a military standpoint:
"The deliberate, admirably timed attempt to exterminate the white invaders was, no doubt, thought of by Opechancanough and his followers as a stroke for Indian freedom. We have seen that since 1613 he had been planning an all-out attack. By means of diplomacy of which any European could have been proud, this chieftain united the Powhatans, their "auxiliaries", and the Chickahominies, worked out tactics with consummate skill, and decided upon the day and hour when, simultaneously, the natives were to fall upon all of the whites.
"The preservation of secrecy throughout the entire undertaking was miraculous. Employing both Indian and European methods of deception and surprise, he won a victory that elicited reluctant praise from many leaders across the sea.....All things considered, the "massacre" of1622 was probably the most brilliantly conceived, planned, and executed uprising against white aggression in the history of the American Indians." (End of Bridenbaugh quotation)
But his "victory" was not complete and was short-lived. The reaction of the English after the attack was swift, grim, and relentless. They began a systematic destruction of Indian crops and villages and a slaughter of men, women, and children which continued for ten years. By 1632, the peninsula between the James and York rivers was cleared of natives, the first "Indian removal" in the history of North America. One wonders what Chanco, a hero among the English, thought as he watched the extermination of his people. His prevention of one massacre had only brought on another.
As for Opechancanough, he was shot in the back by an English soldier in the streetsof Jamestown in 1644, at the approximate age of 100. His executioners remained unaware that their prisoner was a literate and well traveled man. Opechancanough never revealed his past to the English. It was only much later that historians learned of it from Spanish records and pieced the account together. Bridenbaugh makes use of these records and others, including Indian stories and legends, to put together a plausible explanation of a puzzling event. Not all of his conclusions can be proven, but his account makes sense of events that otherwise have no explanation.
Bridenbaugh covers other topics as well. The religious makeup of the colony is interesting, as is his account of the Bacon uprising later in the century. These topics are of less direct interest to Pace discontents, so they have not been covered in this review. His book is well worth reading.
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