Breaking the House of Pamunkey

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The Fall of an American Indian Empire


April 18, 1644 was a day that lived in infamy among Virginian colonists for generations. It was the day Opechancanough, the aging uncle of Pocahontas, executed his secret plan to rid the land of the European invaders and reestablish his people’s place of power. On his signal, warriors from the Powhatan towns on the James and York rivers attacked the settlements of the frontier, sending survivors into a panicked retreat into isolated garrisons, and ultimately killing about 500 people. It was among the most successful assaults ever carried out by an indigenous group against a European target.

Virginia was taken by complete surprise. The attack was timed perfectly. Civil War was raging between the King and Parliament’s armies on the land and sea, and no help could be had from the motherland. Virginia was on its own. Living in squalor with almost no ammunition or communication, Virginians had to make do with what they had. The counter-attacks they launched were brutal and effective, though chronic shortages of ammunition severely limited their ability to respond. It was not until they accepted help from Parliament supply ships (enemies of their king) that they were able to truly turn the tide.

The Third, and Final, Anglo-Powhatan War was a war that finally determined the fate of the Virginian landscape. The Powhatans, who had kept the English boxed in to the coast for decades, finally lost their place of power. The Powhatan people survived and proudly continue their fight for national sovereignty, but the empire they had created finally fell. In the world’s first book-length study on this little known conflict, award winning historian Lars C. Adams tells a vivid tale of massacres, battles, amphibious assaults, burnings, skirmishes, forts and ambushes. It involved some of the longest range voyages taken against specific Indigenous targets, spilling over into the wilderness of what is now North Carolina, and erecting forts deep into the frontier. Towns were burned, crops were slashed, and many people suffered. This is a story of human survival.

Breaking the House of Pamunkey: The Final Powhatan War and the Fall of an American Indian Empire

"a well-woven tapestry that makes a vivid story.  I hope that readers will enjoy this book as much as I did."


               -- Dr. Helen C. Rountree

            Professor Emeritus, College of William and Mary

            Author of "Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries"