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Second Tidewater War / Third Powhatan War - 1644-1646

The Native Americans who occupied the Potomac in the early 1600s were a tribe known to history as the Doegs or Tauxenents. John Smith's map shows a village called Pamacocack along the Potomac between Quantico and Chopawamsic creeks, under the built-up center of the Marine Corps Base. According to later English authors, this village was within the territory of the Doegs. The Doegs spoke an Algonquian language but were not members of the Powhatan Confederacy Smith placed the houses of the werowanc or chief of the Doegs along the north shore of the Occoquan River, but by 1650 their capital was on Mason Neck. They seem to have lived on both sides of the Potomac, and their territory may have extended westward to the mountains. The English considered the Doegs their enemies, the very definition of bad Indians, and never even pretended to treat them fairly.

The Doegs' territory in northern Virginia was well beyond the area of early English settlement, which was mostly limited to lands along the lower James and York rivers. The English population of Virginia expanded slowly throughout the 1620s and 1630s, until the alarmed Powhatans launched an attack on them in 1644.

In 1644 Opechancanough, now nearly a hundred years old, directed another surprise attack reminiscent of 1622. His warriors killed nearly 500 colonists during the first morning, more than had fallen on Good Friday in 1622, but the effect was not as devastating. Instead of striking a feeble outpost as they had two decades before, the Indians now attacked a rapidly maturing society of some 8,000 settlers with a much greater ability to defend itself. In the Second Tidewater War, which lasted only two years, the Indians suffered a decisive defeat as colonists pursued their previous strategy of destroying the foundations of Indian society. Colonists captured Opechancanough and after he spent a short period in captivity, a soldier shot him. His death symbolized the demise of any future resistance to white expansion in the Tidewater area.

What the English called the Second Tidewater War ended with an English victory in 1646, and almost immediately the colonists began to expand their settlements. They quickly spread up the Potomac and west into the Piedmont, ignoring the claims of the Doegs who lived along the upper Potomac. The 1650s saw a frenzy of land speculation in which the wealthy and well-connected patented thousands of acres of land, and by 1670, all the land on the navigable parts of the Potomac and its tributaries had been claimed.

The importance of the Tidewater Wars transcends the fact of ultimate Indian defeat. Equally significant is the resultant attitude toward the natives. When Englishmen settled in America, they had a dual image of Indians. Viewing the natives as noble savages, some settlers felt a sense of mission to convert them to Christianity and bring them the blessings of civilization. But other settlers considered the Indians ignoble savages, brutal heathens prone to treachery and violence. Although some people continued to advocate moderate treatment of the Indians, the 1622 attack, seemingly without provocation, confirmed the ignoble-savage image in the minds of most settlers, ensuring that the predominant attitude toward Indians would be hatred, mingled with fear and contempt. It also released white inhibitions in waging war.

Facing what they perceived as an inhuman enemy, Englishmen responded with extreme measures. Many spoke of exterminating the natives. For example, the Virginia Company urged "a sharp revenge upon the bloody miscreantes, even to the measure that they intended against us, the rooting them out from being longer a people uppon the face of the Earth." At the least, settlers wanted to subjugate the Indians completely, since, as the Virginia Assembly repeatedly declared during the war, relations between whites and Indians were irreconcilable and the natives were perpetual enemies.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 18:29:42 ZULU