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Powhatan Records


Character of an Indian Chief
The Centinel (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) October 30 1811
History presents few instances of greater valor and magnanimity, than are displayed in the character of Opechanchanaugh, an Indian Chief. Bold, artful, insinuating, skilled in dissimulation and intrigue, he for many years kept the early settlers of Virginia in a state of continual alarm and more than once menaced them with destruction.
Although so decrepit by age as to be unable to walk, he commanded in person and directed from the litter on which he was borne, the onset and retreat of his warriors at the massacre of 1641, which almost exterminated the Colonists.
The excessive fatigues of this campaign completed the wreck of his constitution, his flesh wasted away and his sinews lost their elasticity; so that his eye lids hung over the balls and obscured their sight. In this forlorn condition, bending under the weight of years and worn out by the hardships of war, he was surprised, taken captive and carried to James Town, where he was basely shot by one of the soldiers appointed to guard him.
To the last moment his courage remained unbroken. Like the staff of Moses, it supported him in adversity and prosperity, in sickness and in death. Just before he expired, “He heard,” says the historian “unusual bustle in his prison. Having ordered his attendants to lift up his eye lids, he discovered a number of persons crowding round him for the purpose of gratifying an unreasonable and cruel curiosity. The dying chief felt this indignity with a keenness of sensibility the more violent and unforeseen. It was a burst of passion, a momentary ascendency of nature over the habits of education, and its exhibition and effect must be acknowledged to correspond with the greatness of the occasion.
Without deigning to notice the intruders, he raised himself from the earth and with a voice and tone of authority commanded that the governor should be immediately called in. When he made his appearance, Opechanchanaugh scornfully told him, “had it been his fortune to have taken Sir William Berkeley prisoner, he would not meanly have exposed him as a show to his people.”
What nobleness of spirit! What matchless heroism! At the age of an hundred years; blind, unable to stand; wounded and a captive, his courage was unsubdued. The prospect of power and incentive of example are the usual sources of splendid actions. It remains for the great soul to preserve its equanimity in the gloom of dungeons and embrace of death.
The exploits of this extraordinary man in the vigor of life are unknown to us. We saw him only for a short time on the edge of the horizon; but from the luster of his departing beams, we may easily conceive what he was in his meridian blaze.


Biography: Opchanacanough
Source: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Opchanacanough (1554?-1646) was a tribal chief of the Powhatan Confederacy of what is now Virginia in the United States, and its leader from sometime after 1618 until his death in 1646. His name meant "He whose Soul is White" in the Algonquian language. At the time of the English settlement at Jamestown which was established in May of 1607, Opechancanough was a much-feared warrior and a charismatic leader of the Powhatans. As Chief Powhatan's younger brother (or possibly half-brother), he headed a tribe situated along the Pamunkey River near the present-day Town of West Point. Known to be strongly opposed to the European settlers, he captured John Smith of Jamestown along the Chickahominy River and brought him before Chief Powhatan at Werowocomoco, one the two capital villages of the Powhatans. Located along the northern shore of the present-day York River, Werowocomoco is the site where the famous incident with Powhatan's young daughter Pocahontas intervening on Smith's behalf during a ceremony is thought to have occurred, based upon Smith's account.
Written accounts by other colonists confirm that Pocahontas subsequently did serve as an intermediary between the natives and the colonists, and helped deliver crucial food during the winter of 1607-08, when the colonist's fort at Jamestown Island burned in an accidental fire in January 1608. A later marriage of Pocahontas and colonist John Rolfe in 1614 brought a period of peace, which ended not long after her death while on a trip to England and the death of her father, Wahunsonacock, in 1618. A short time later, after a brief succession of the chiefdom by Opitchipam, Opechancanough became chief of the Powhatan Confederacy. The natives and the colonists came into increasingly irreconcilable conflicts as the land-hungry export tobacco which had been first developed by Rolfe became the cash crop of the colony. The relationship became even more tense as ever increasing numbers of Europeans arrived, and began establishing "hundreds" and plantations along the navigable rivers.
Beginning with the Indian Attack of 1622, Chief Opechancanough gave up on diplomacy with the English settlers of the Virginia Colony and tried to force them to abandon the region. On the morning of Friday, March 22, 1622, approximately a third of the settlers were killed during a series of coordinated attacks along both shores of the James River, extending from Newport News Point near the mouth all the way west to Falling Creek, near the fall line at the head of navigation. However, the colony rebounded, and hundreds of natives were killed in retaliation, many poisoned by Dr. John Potts at Jamestown. Chief Opechancanough launched one more major effort to get rid of the colonists in April 18, 1644. However, in 1646 forces under Royal Governor William Berkeley captured Opechancanough, thought to then have been between 90 or 100 years old. While a prisoner, Opechancanough was killed by a soldier (shot in the back) assigned to guard him.



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