Why did the Powhatan go to war?
“When they intend any warres, the Werowances [chiefs] usually have the advice of their Priests and Conjurors, and their Allies and ancient friends… They seldom make warre for lands or goods, but for women and children, and principally for revenge,” John Smith noted in 1612.
The Powhatan people went to war to defend their territory, to seek revenge or to capture women and children for adoption into the tribe, increasing the population and workforce. Warfare provided men with an opportunity to gain honor and prestige. Battle trophies such as scalps were worn as signs of bravery. Enemy warriors were killed in combat or captured and tortured.
Most battles were small surprise attacks fought from behind trees or tall grass. This is the tactic used when local Indians such as the Paspehegh attacked James Fort. Occasionally, the people used half-moon or square formations, attacking in ordered ranks and fighting in hand-to-hand combat. Bows, arrows, and clubs were the weapons of war. Large numbers of arrow points were found by APVA-Preservation Virginia archaeologists in excavations at James Fort. Powhatan warriors also used stone knives, wooden swords, and shields made of bark.