What Really Happened
Image at right: Richard Schlect's vivid painting of Wolstenholme Towne as it might have appeared on the day of the 1622 attack, based upon Hume's excavations for National Geographic.
(Note: if your name is Richard Schlect and you're mad as hell with me, please e-mail me and I will happily remove the images from this page!)
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It is a frigid March morning on the James River, 1622. Over the past
15 years the English have slowly planted themselves here in their New
World, and now have settlements up and down this stream as far up as
the Falls at Richmond, some gotten with great trials and bloodshed,
others with relatively little trouble. There is no Potosi here, no
seven cities of Cebu, no rich sugar plantations or brazilwood groves,
but there is land, plenty of it, in
fertile, warm estate for most of the year, and fit for planting the
tobacco, a lucrative commodity indeed; and although the malaria and
flux is killing, yet new English - indentured servants, free husbandmen
cadet gentry alike - do keep arriving with each ship for this kingly
The proud Powhatan Indians who once inhabited here, now "live not in great numbers together, but dispersed, and in small companies; and where most together, not above two hundred, and that very rare, in other places fifty or forty, or thereabouts" (Kingsbury III: 554-555). The last war, wherein Lord de la Warre, Sir Thomas Gates, Sir Thomas Dale and the rest had wrought such execution and plunder, that the English might eat without work, very nearly ruined Powhatan's empire, and displaced his people from many of their towns. Now under his son Opechancanough, they bow submissively, and any Englishman may travel and inhabit freely among them and trade with them without escort or ambassador. The old forts by the riverbanks lie largely vacant as the new settlers, no longer idle soldiers but now farmers and husbandmen truly, some with their women and children, have dispersed about the land to farm the tobacco weed and truck in peace and lordly isolation, rather to benefit from than to fear intercourse with the Indians. A few have even thought it safe to begin the ostensible mission of this colony, to convert and civilize the Powhatan, though only a few are so diligent.
"On the Friday morning (the fatal day) the 22 of March," so the report of the Colony's secretary Edward Waterhouse to London began, the routine began as though it were any other. Some of the English went about the work of hoeing up the soil for Spring planting, others were at hewing wood and making bricks for fences, sheds and new habitations; some milking cows and goats and tending vegetable gardens, others merely at their breakfast tables entertaining the Indian guests who have been coming daily to help in the work, with "Deere, Turkies, Fish, Furres, and other provisions, to sell, and trucke with us, for glasse, beades, and other trifles," or else to read scripture or merely to share the latest from the lodges [Kingsbury III: 551].
"[Y]et were the hearts of the English ever stupid," Waterhouse bitterly lamented later (Kingsbury III: 553), for today the visitors had an altogether darker purpose in mind. Coming in amongst the English unarmed as ever,
"...immediately with their owne tooles and weapons, eyther laid downe, or standing in their houses, they basely and barbarously murthered, not sparing eyther age or sexe, man woman or childe; so sodaine in their cruell execution, that few or none discerned the weapon or blow that brought them to destruction… they well knowing in what places and quarters each of our men were, in regard of their daily familiarity, and resort to us for trading and other negotiations, which the more willingly was by us continued and cherished for the desire we had of effecting that great master-peece of workes, their conversion. And by this meanes that fatall Friday morning, there fell under the bloudy and barbarous hands of that perfidious and inhumane people, contrary to all lawes of God and men, of Nature & Nations, three hundred forty seven men, women, and children, most by their owne weapons..." (Kingsbury III: 551).
It was an astonishing feat of surprise and planning for such a supposedly broken empire as Opechancanough's to pull off, happening simultaneously 140 miles up and down both banks of the James. Even more shocking to the survivors was the macabre spectacles their former friends and neighbors had made of the English dead that greeted them when they came to learn what had happened.
"...not being content with taking away life alone, they fell
upon the dead, making as well as they could, a fresh murder, defacing,
and mangling the dead carkasses into many pieces, and carrying some
away in derision, with base and bruitish triumph" (Kingsbury III,
It seems truly, the latent anger of fifteen years of gunpoint bargaining, bloody war, tribute and subservience, crops ruined by wandering English livestock, land lost to armed squatters, and the depredations of unpunished criminals had at last brought Opechancanough, for years the witness of his father's slow humiliation at English hands, to extract his most bitter revenge.
Now, Wolstenholme Towne was the central settlement of Martin's Hundred, the plantation that suffered the highest toll from the Massacre, with perhaps 58 colonists dead and as many as 20 women and children carried off as captives by the war party of 22 March out of the plantation's original population of 140 (Hume 258).
This scenario reenacts the panic of those moments after the alarm had been raised and the settlers ran for the fort, to hold out, besieged, for the rest of the day until the Indians had finished their looting, with the possibility of sorties to rescue those in danger nearby. Though Martin's Hundred did suffer the highest losses, most of the real massacre has been assumed to have happened on the isolated outlying plantations - by their concentration and proximity to the stockade the 30- to 40-odd colonists at Wolstenholme Towne proper at least had a chance.
I have written the scenario for my own miniatures rules Why Must We Fight Tribe Against Tribe? because I understand that system best (having written it), but in truth this fight would work as well using Jon Lundberg's Matchlocks on the Warpath, or some modification of Chris Feree and Patrick Wilson's B'hoys!, the latter on account of the scarcity of weapons.
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It's an early morning in March, in the so-called "Little Ice Age" too, so the scene is generally still a little frigid with patches of snow or frost here and there, the surrounding trees bare of leaves and the tobacco, corn, and pease fields no more than furrowed soil awaiting sowing.
At Wolstenholme Towne, there was a palisaded fort enclosing the house of the governor of Martin's Hundred plantation, with a firing step and two flanking angles, though probably they were not large enough to mount ordnance, and outside it a company storehouse and workshop building, a church, a barn, and probably five houses, all the buildings being of a thatched half-timbered construction.
(Image above - the part of Richard Schlect's painting of Wolstenholme Towne showing the fort. Taken from Ivor Noël Hume's book Martin's Hundred.)
The Fort consisted of a palisade 7 feet 6 inches high with an earth parapet all around the inside, 2 ft. 9 in. wide, the floor of which would haven been 2 ft. 10 in. above ground level, held up to the height of the parapet on the inside by a strong fence of split pales and horizontal rails. Diagonal wooden beams on the inside provided additional supports about every 8 feet. There were two small flanking angles, the landward one of which formed the base for a watch tower, which may have been roofed with thatch (Hume 220-224).
For Why Must We Fight Tribe Against Tribe? I should consider the palisades a high wall, hard cover for shooting purposes, and crossable at a cost of 10 inches of movement prior to melee contact, during which the defenders may shoot at will at them for however many turns it takes.
Inside the walls was a large irregular half-timbered thatched house roughly 40 ft. x 15 ft., with a light shed of some sort attatched about 10 ft. x 25 ft., two other smaller outbuildings, and a well (Hume 220-221). Hume's team called this tentatively the "governor's house," though it seems likely the plantation's governor William Harwood was in Jamestown until after the massacre.
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English Civil War Militia and civilians or "Three Musketeers"-era peasants or town mob would probably be best for most of the English, especially the refugees. Old Glory and Redoubt make a good selection of these. For the guards and other figures once armed, I use Essex 80 Years War Dutch and Foundry Thirty Years War generic musketeers, though English Civil War figures and some raggedy Elizabethan calivermen in floppy hats or helmets would work just as well.
The Eureka Miniatures Powhatans are probably your best bet for this in 25mm, but the old "Dogs of the Hot Moon" line for the Minnesota Sioux Uprising in the same scale once made by J & T Miniatures included some very interesting Indian figures with farm tools looting which might make good conversion-fodder for an ambitious modeller who can find them.
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The English count as Indians with non-steel melee weapons with the additional ability to fire muskets if they can find them; the women likewise but unarmed to begin, unable to shoot even with a musket (though they may load), and with a close-combat penalty; and the children as completely helpless noncombatants. Bear with me: it sounds gamy, but under these conditions, I think either side would have behaved much the same.
Proposed starting totals for the scenario:
Why these numbers?
|Men and boys:||
|Women and girls:||
These English are "deployed" first, by the Games Master, in a sort of pastoral diorama, most of the men out tending to animals and mending fences, ploughing or hoeing up the thawed ground for the Spring maize crop, the women in their houses or yards milking the cows and doing the washing, a few men bartering furs with Indians in front of their houses and six guards on the fort's walls, armed and ready with muskets watching the proceedings. In general, the English should be generally dispersed and carrying on "business as usual."
From their 3rd turn onward, the English roll two 6-sided dice of differing colours each movement phase for random refugees streaming to the table from outlying farms. One die is for determining the entry zone, the other for how many appear. Do this three times per movement phase. Thus:
|1 = Entry Zone A
2 = Entry Zone B
3 = Entry Zone C
4 = Entry Zone D
5 = Entry Zone E
6 = roll again
|pips = refugees in the party.
Roll a "6" and two of the figures have muskets and swords
Then roll again - on a "5" or "6" one of the musketeers is a subsidiary leader (chief)
Roll a "4" and one of the figures has a musket, two a sword each
Children or men with improvised weapons (count as non-steel)
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Having the advantage of surprise, the Powhatan may deploy second. I suggest giving them a small war party of 30 braves and 3 subisidiary chiefs at Wolstenholme Towne - 1 Bold, 2 Poor. Another Bold principal chief with 20 braves will appear later as reinforcements from Entry Zone A to join the same war party.
Most of the 33 Indians at the beginning must start from Entry Zones A and D, with a minimum of at least six figures needing start from Zone A. All these are armed in the usual fashion with bows, monocock wooden swords, etc. Why these Numbers?
The rest are infiltrators of a number determined by each chief rolling a six-sided die, halved and rounded up. These braves may start deployed singly or in groups of any size in any of the buildings they like except the Church and the fort, with the restrictions (a) that there must also be one adult Englishmen present within 2 inches of each infiltrator or group of infiltrators together, and (b) that none of them may have bows.
At least of one of each party of the infiltrators must be at the outset locked in melee with their English "escort" in the first turn, both sides counting as having only melee weapons, with any free braves being able to either join the combat or do something else as command and control dice dictate.
On their 6th turn the Indian players receive a reinforcement of 19 braves and a Bold Principal chief, armed with improvised hand-to-hand weapons and fresh from the killings on the outlying farms. These enter from Entry Zone A.
Why so few Powhatan?
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In many ways this is something of a Turkey shoot for the Indians - a massacre, after all. Seen this way the Indian's goal is to destroy all they can before casualties oblige them to retire. However, there are two restrictions: the Indians must avoid losses, and try to capture enemies rather than kill them when possible.
To win, the Indians have to gain 50 points. Whenever they do, they
may retire and it's their game. If they cannot, or retire because of
casualties before then, they lose.
Powhatan Victory Points:
|Each Englishman killed:||+1|
|Each English woman or child killed:||-3|
|Each Indian killed:||-5|
|Each Englishman killed and his scalp taken:||+2|
|Each Englishman killed and his corpse mangled:||+3|
|Each English captive taken:||+4|
|Lieutenant Kean captured:||+10|
|Master John or Master Thomas captured:||+5|
|The fort stormed and burnt:||+10|
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Captives and Noncombatants:
All adults on the table are considered armed with improvised weapons unless they have picked up something better (although Englishwomen have a -1 in close combat, no matter what); the children are always unarmed.
Captured Englishmen move at the same speed as Indians, but the women and kids only as fast as European Regulars in Close Order.
The English players, once they have armed enough men, may attempt to take back (recapture) prisoners being dragged away by the Powhatan.
(Image above: Powhatan braves dragging off English captives from Martin’s Hundred, from Schlect’s painting)
To capture or recapture an unarmed figure, assuming no opposition from enemy warriors, a warrior need merely walk up to within 4” it without fighting or shooting, becoming its guard next turn.
To capture an armed figure, one of these two circumstances must
1. The figure is beaten by 4 or more in a close combat roll.
2. A group is completely surrounded and fails its morale check
A guard must be within 4” of the captives to control them. Each can handle at most 24, treating young men and captured warriors as six ordinary figures. He may not fight or fire his weapon.
If on any turn there are more captives than the guards can handle and there is any chance at all of them getting away, the captive figures farthest from the guard beyond his maximum each roll a die at the beginning of the movement phase to see if they can escape. On a 5 or 6 they do, and may be moved by the nearest enemy player for the rest of the game or until recaptured, using his command dice. Otherwise they do as the other captives in the group. If there is no guard, the prisoners all escape for free.
Only English adult men captured by the Powhatan may be executed, though he need not really take them at all to win. To execute prisoners takes a number of figures equal to the number of prisoners a melee phase in base to base contact with them. No need to roll.
All of the English weapons not in use by the guards, who have 6 muskets, are stored in the buildings as follows:
|In the Governor's
house within the fort
|In the main storehouse
on the Company plot
|In each cottage||
(Note: Only Englishmen may fire muskets, women, children, and Indians not knowing how. Anybody but children may use a sword. Without a sword, English and Indian figures have a "-1" in melee combat, as though "Indians fighting only with stone, wooden, and bone weapons.")
Figures who kill an opponent in melee may scalp them by remaining by the body for an entire turn and doing nothing besides defending themselves if attacked. If they are not killed or driven off they have taken the scalp of the dead figure. This is faster and gives victory points to the Indians, but does not cause the English a morale check.
In the real massacre, Waterhouse recorded,
not being content with taking away life alone, they fell after againe upon the dead, making as well as they could, a fresh murder, defacing, dragging, and mangling the dead carkasses into many pieces, and carrying some parts away in derision, with base and bruitish triumph (Kingsbury III, p. 551).
And indeed, Ivor Noël Hume's archaeological team did find some suggestions of this at Martin's Hundred, including a buried English corpse lashed to a post fully clothed without a coffin (Hume 241), and another skull showing what might be evidence of scalping (Hume 285).
To ritually disembowel a dead figure, have two warriors (one to hold the body, one to do the hacking) in base-to-base contact with the dead Englishman for 1D6 -1 turns, for a minimum of one turn. If the disemboweled figure is a leader, any English who can see the act performed have to take a morale check at the end of it, bolting on a “6” on a figure-by-figure basis. If the disemboweled figure is not a leader, this only applies within 6 inches.
Generally however, women and children were not killed but rather carried off as captives or slaves by the Powhatan.
- All figures, Indians or English, count as having non-steel weapons unless they have found a sword. Women start as completely unarmed, although one may take up a sword or improvised weapon. (Figures with non-steel weapons fighting those with steel ones in the regular rules have a modifier of -1 in melee resolution.)
- Women are also penalized when armed with a -1 modifier additionally.
- Unarmed figures are treated under the "Captives and Noncombatants" rules above.
- English leaders act as though Indian chiefs.
- Figures inside the fort defending the parapet count as defending an obstacle once the attackers close.
- Nobody counts as armored for gameplay's sake and because the English at Martin's Hundred appear not to have had time to harness themselves in the event.
As normal for Indians, save that routing figures will not flee the table but head for the nearest cover and "hide" (see Hiding rules under Visibility in Why Must We Fight Tribe Against Tribe?) not to get up until a leader has rallied them.
As normal, but when calculating the 50% Break Rule, calculate as though the war party started with 53 instead of 33, for the reinforcements count as part of the same band; that is to say, 27 casualties breaks the war party and ends the game.
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What Really Happened:
There is no gentle way to say it -- Martin's Hundred took it in the teeth. Seventy-eight colonists were reported dead; lost at any rate for rumors kept reaching the Plantation for a year afterwards that they were being held prisoner somewhere, but they were not found. Lieutenant Kean and the Masters Boise had bought it, and the buildings were in ashes, only two dwellings and part of the settlement's church left standing. The 62 survivors shortly after abandoned the settlement and sought shelter at Jamestown, only 20 returning to try again the next year, the rest shipping home. With disease hitting hard and scant interest left in the burnt-out plantation, the colonists at Martin's Hundred still numbered only 30 by 1625, even with Governor Harwood's return with his household (Hume 66). The Martin's Hundred Society's acrage remained in occupation throughout the 17th century as Martin's Hundred and later Merchant's Hundred Parish, but little documentation survives of the extinct parish beyond a few land deeds, until the next major colonial development on the site, the Carter's Grove Mansion was built in 1755 (Hume 251).
Meanwhile, for the
remainder of 1622, with most of the
wares pillaged and the year's crop spoilt, the colony and the
plantation once again faced famine. Richard Frethorne, an indentured
servant who arrived at Martin's Hundred
a year after the massacre, described the bleak scene he found in a
to a London friend for succor:
…those servants that were there before us were allmost Pined, and then they fell to feedinge soe hard of our provision that itt killed them that were ould Virginians as fast, as the scurvie & bloody fluxe did kill us new Virginians: for they were in such a Case by reason of the murder done all over the land that they Could not plant anythinge att all, and att everie Plantacion all of them for the most part were slaine and theyr howses & goods burnt. some, the Indians kept alive and tooke them awaie with them, and nowe theise two Indians that they have taken doe tell us that the Indians have 15 alive with them… thus through theyr Roguery the land is ruinated and spoyled, and itt will not bee soe stronge againe not this 12 yeares, for att our Plantacion of seavenscore, there was butt 22 lefte alive, and of all theyr houses there is butt 2 lefte and a peece of a Church, and our master doth saye that 3000 pounds will not make good our Plantacion againe, And the Marchaunts lost by itt the last yeare...
- Richard Frethorne, "Letter to Mr. Bateman" March 6, 1622/23 (Kingsbury IV, 41).
(Image above: a fanciful engraving of the 1622 Massacre at Jamestown, which settlement in fact escaped the slaughter, from Theodor de Bry's Historiae Americanae . )
Nevertheless, whatever the young servant's despair, the massacre
would not result in the complete expulsion of the English that
had hoped for, though by 1625 the repercussions of the scandal would
the dissolution of the Virginia Company and the reversion of the
administration to the Crown. James Fort remained intact, the massacre
not been complete, and the ships kept coming. The English, far from
up, now put away Paul's Epistles on converting the heathen and took up
Joshua and Kings, now ready finally to return to the brutality of
law and the feedfight that had so crippled the Powhatan in 1609-14.
time there would be no John Rolfe and Pocohantas to marry the problem
and for Opechancanough's people, all that lay in store was ten more
of merciless war, pushing his people ever closer to their final
Virginia would yet flourish, but without the Powhatan.
But this is Certaine I never felt the want of ffather and mother till now, but now deare ffrende full well I knowe and rue it although it were too late befere before I knew it.
- Richard Frethorne, "Letter to his Father and Mother," March 20, Apr. 2 and 3, 1623.
(Kingsbury IV: 62)
Persons slaine at Martins-Hundred some seaven miles from
[includes also those taken captive]
Lieutenant Rich: Kean. Edward How, his Wife, his
Master Tho: Boise, & Mistris Childe.
Boise his wife, & a sucking A child of John Jacksons.
Childe. 4 Men-seruants.
4 of his men. Josua Dary, his Wife, A Man.
A Maide. Ralphe Digginson, his Wife.
2 Children. Richard Cholfer.
Nathanael Jefferies wife. George Jones.
Margaret Davies. Cisly Cooke, his Wife.
Richard Staples, his wife, and David Bons,
Childe. John Bennet.
2 Maides. John Mason.
6 Men and Boyes. William Pawmet.
Walter Davies, & his brother. Thomas Bats.
Christopher Guillam. Peter Lighborrow.
Thomas Combar. James Thorley.
3. Seruants. Robert Walden.
Master John Boise his Thomas Tolling.
Wife. John Butler.
A Maide. Edward Rogers.
4 Men-seruants. Maximilian Russel.
Laurence Wats, his Wife. Henry a Welchman.
Timothy Moise, his Man.
Henry Bromage, his Wife, his
Daughter, his Man.
(Waterhouse, in Kingsbury III, p. 570).
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Horn, James. Adapting to a New World: English Society in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.
“Jamestown 1624/5 Muster Records.” Virtual Jamestown. 2000. Ed. Crandall Shifflett. Virginia Center for Digital History, University of Virginia. 17 October 2004 <http://www.virtualjamestown.org/Muster/introduction.html>.
Kingsbury, Susan Myra, ed. The Records of the Virginia Company of London . 4 vols. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1906.
Hume, Ivor Noël. Martin’s Hundred: A firsthand account of one of the most important excavations in American historical archeology: the discovery of a lost plantation – and the most extensive evidence we have of English colonial life in early seventeenth-century Virginia. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982.
Smith, John. A Generall Historie of Virginia: The Fourth Booke. London: 1624. Rep. in Narratives of Early Virginia 1606-25. Ed. Lyon Gardiner Tyler. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907. 294-407.
---. A Map of Virginia. Oxford: Joseph Barnes, 1612. Rep. in Narratives of Early Virginia 1606-25. Ed. Lyon Gardiner Tyler. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907. 76-204.
Strachey, William. The Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia: Expressing the Cosmographie and Commodities of the Country, togither with the Manners and Customes of the People. 1612. Ed. R. H. Major. London: Printed for the Hakluyt Society, 1849.
Tisdale, D.A. Soldiers of the Virginia Colony 1607-1699. Richmond, Virginia: Deitz, 2000.
Tyler, Lyon Gardiner, ed. Narratives of Early Virginia 1606-25. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907. 76-204
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