Why did the English and Powhatan go to war in 1622?

1622 Indian uprising, Theodor de Bry, 1634

1622 Indian uprising, Theodor de Bry, 1634

By 1622, Powhatan and Pocahontas were dead, and the English had spread deep into Powhatan territory. The English forced the Indians to move inland away from their traditional river valley homes. Native leaders under Opechancanough, Powhatan’s half-brother and successor, had privately adopted a more militant attitude toward the English.

On March 22, 1622, Opechancanough led a coordinated attack on several English plantations, killing more than 300 of the 1,200 colonists. Jamestown was warned and escaped destruction. Colonists from outlying areas were ordered into fortified settlements, where severe food shortages occurred and contagious diseases spread. The settlers retaliated, burning Indian villages, taking their corn in “feed fights”, and killing the inhabitants.

The 1622 attack was followed by a decade of open warfare with intermittent raids, kidnappings and ambushes by both sides. A treaty in 1632 created a decade of tenuous peace. However, all Indians were barred from traveling on the lower James-York peninsula.