On this day in 1644, Opechancanough and a force of Powhatan Indians launched a second great assault against the English colonists, initiating the Third Anglo-Powhatan War. As many as 400 colonists were killed, but rather than press the attack, the Indians retired.
Why? The historian Karen Kupperman writes that “American war”—which is to say, war waged by the Indians—”was premised on the assumption that a defeated enemy would withdraw. Earlier in Virginia Henry Spelman had seen a battle between the Patawomecks and the Massawomecks that ended as soon as the Massawomecks had shot all their arrows without much result. [Roger] Williams said that battles usually ended as soon as some were wounded.”
Imagine that: when you lose, you quit! Is that still an “American” value? Discuss.
Oh, and what about the first great assault? It happened in 1622, and you can read an English description of the day’s events here (with some more context here). As for Henry Spelman, his description of the Indian battle, is here (although be ‘ware that Spelman was a pore spelar, even by the irregular standards of his day):
In the time that I was ther I sawe a Battell fought betwene the Patomeck and the Masomeck, ther place wher they fought was a marish ground full of Reede. Beinge in the cuntry of the Patomecke the peopel of of Masomeck weare brought thether in Canoes which is a kind of Boate they have made in the forme of an Hoggs trowgh But sumwhat more hollowed in, On Both sids they scatter themselves sum litle distant one from the other, then take they ther bowes and arrows and having made ridie to shoot they softly steale toward ther enimies, Sumtime squattinge doune and priinge if they can spie any to shoot at whom if at any time he so Hurteth that he can not flee they make hast to him to knock him on the heade, And they that kill most of ther enimies are heald the cheafest men amonge them; Drum and Trumpetts they have none, but when they will gather themselves togither they have a kind of Howlinge or Howbabub so differinge in sounde one from the other as both part may very aesely be distinguished. Ther was no great slawter of neither side But the massomecks having shott away most of ther arrows and wantinge Vitall weare glad to retier;
On this day in 1644, then, one can assume that there was the mother of all Howlinges and Howbabubs.
A version of this post was originally published on April 18, 2012.
IMAGE: Hand-colored engraving Virginia Indians and English settlers, with Dutch Gothic letterpress, by Reys van Martin Pringe, ca. 1625 (Virginia Historical Society)