OPECHANCANOUGH Biography - Royalty, Rulers & leaders


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Name: Opchanacanough                                                                   
Born: 1554                                                                             
Died: 1644                                                                             
Opechancanough or Opchanacanough (1554?-1644) was a tribal chief of the Powhatan       
Confederacy of what is now Virginia in the United States, and its leader from           
1618 until his death in 1644. His name meant "He whose Soul is White" in the           
Algonquian language.                                                                   
The Powhatan Confederacy was established in the late 16th and early 17th century       
under the leadership of Chief Wahunsonacock (who was more commonly known as             
Chief Powhatan, named for the tribe he originally led which was based near             
present-day Richmond, Virginia). Over a period of years, through negotiation and/or     
coercion, Chief Powhatan united most of the Native American tribal groups in the       
Tidewater region of what is now the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United             
States, essentially the southeastern portion of the state.                             
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,                   
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 massacre 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 a Good 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, forces under Royal Governor William Berkeley               
captured Opechancanough, thought to then have been between 90 and 100 years old.       
While a prisoner, Opechancanough was killed by a soldier (shot in the back)             
assigned to guard him. He was succeeded as Weroance by Nectowance and then by           
Totopotomoi and later by his daughter Cockacoeske. Cockacoeske had a concubine         
relationship with Colonel John West, who was the son of the Governor of Virginia.