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Maternal Generation I: Elizabeth Hill married William Pinley

1622 Massacre: Natives vs Immigrants

1622 Massacre:  Natives vs Immigrants

On Friday, March 22, 1621/2, in homes, fields and barns throughout the Virginia colony, Indians dropped by for friendly visits as the colonists planted their crops, chopped trees, and made bricks. At the designated moment, Indians throughout the Virginia colony rose up and slaughtered their nearest Englishman simultaneously, using any handy tool as the murder weapon. The casualties would have been far greater if not for an early warning given to Richard Pace by an Indian boy Chanco. On this devastating day, 347 Englishmen were murdered within an hour at settlements all up and down the James River, only 893 colonists survived the day. In the days of starvation, famine and disease that followed, another 500 Virginians perished.

Our Edward and Hannah Hill survived the March 22 Massacre; their only child, our Elizabeth Hill, was born in either 1621 or 1622, as she too is a survivor listed on the February 16, 1623/4 census. The town center area of Elizabeth City, still called Kecoughtan, was spared on March 22, either because of early warning, the forts, or its location buffered by waterways on three sides. Nevertheless, there were 101 listed as “Dead at Elizabeth City” on the 1623/4 List of the Living and the Dead from the outlying plantations included within the corporation’s boundaries. The Virginians were ordered to abandon all the far settlements to converge on eight settlements that could be best defended, one of which was Kecoughtan. Survivors and wounded colonists were carried to safety at Kecoughtan from the remote plantations. Hunger and disease were the greatest factors in the later deaths. The time of the attack was perfectly orchestrated just as winter rations of food were nearly gone, and before crops could be planted for the summer.

According to The Travels of Captaine John Smith, Governor Yeardley inspected conditions at Elizabeth City in June. The Governor commanded his soldiers to harvest green corn from the fields to feed themselves. Smith had little respect for Yeardley, but heaped praise on the popular commander of Elizabeth City, Captain Thomas Nuse (Nuce, News).

So long as Captaine Nuse had any thing we had part; but now all being spent, and the people forced to live upon Oisters and Crabs, they became so faint no worke could be done;...all the time I have lived in Virginia, I have not seene nor heard that any Commander hath taken such continuall paines for the publike, or done so little good for himselfe, and his vertuous wife was no lesse charitable and compassionate.

(Travels of Captaine John Smith Volume I - Pages 295-330

Thomas Niccolls, in a letter home wrote: “Capt. Nuce his people dying in such nombers that it is thought it was the breaking of his hart &c”.

Although spared in the March 22 Massacre, Indians attacked Edward and Hannah’s homestead on September 9, 1622. Many sources attribute Edward Hill’s heroism in this attack to the day of the Friday Massacre. But Captain Smith’s description clearly indicates the date.

“ The 9. of September, we had an alarum, and two men at their labours slaine; the Captaine [Nuse], though extreme sicke, sallied forth, but the Salvages lay hid in the Corne fields all night, where they destroyed all they could, and killed two men more, much mischiefe they did to Master Edward Hills cattle, yet he [Edward Hill] alone defended his house though his men were sicke and could doe nothing, and this was our first assault since the Massacre.”

Captain Nuse died shortly after this battle. Thomas Niccolls wrote: “Capt. Nuce his people dying in such nombers that it is thought it was the breaking of his hart &c”

Another source cites Edward Hill’s courage at Elizabeth City, "altho' much mischief was done to his cattle, yet did himself alone defend his house, whilst all his men were sick and unable to give him any assistance." 8

Later Smith wrote again about the misery at Elizabeth City: “All this time we have forgot Captaine Nuse, where we left him but newly acquainted with the Massacre, calling all his next adjoyning dispersed neighbours together, he regarded not the pestring his owne house, nor any thing to releeve them, and with all speed entrenched himselfe, mounted three peece of Ordnance, so that within 14. daies, he was strong enough to defend himselfe from all the Salvages.”

Edward and Hannah Hill, our baby Elizabeth Hill, Mountney and Spelman may have been “adjoyning dispersed neighbors” huddled at Captain Nuse’s home. In the September 9 attack, Smith says the Captain “sallied forth” but Edward Hill saved the day.

Captain Nuse was given 600 acres in Elizabeth City. The home referred to by Smith may have been on land south of Spelman and Lupo, 300 acres previously owned by John Bush, or perhaps closer to the town center or two forts. John Bush (seated on the plantation south of Albion Lupo, Lupo was Spelman’s neighbor) wrote letters of protest to the king about losing his two houses to Captain Nuce. “Captain Nuce and his men have arrived safely at Elizabeth City, whither Yeardley has gone to help them to settle and persuade the resident settlers to vacate their houses and build on the land allotted to them”
(Sir George Yeardley. Letter to {Sir Edward Magdalene College, [1619] page 1 of 2 Survey Report No. C.91 CLASS Ferrar papers Box XII No. 1249 Title Sir George Yeardley. Letter to [Sir Edward Sandys].

The popular Irish commander at Elizabeth City was very ill, and died shortly after the September 9 attack. Some sources indicate that the News was added to the city name of Newport in his honor.

On December 20, 1623, the long awaited supply ship, The Abigail arrived from England with a cruel hoax. Instead of bringing food, the ship was loaded with starved and diseased new settlers, poisoned by tainted drinking supplies on board their ship. The greedy Virginia Company had not even packed enough food to last the passengers for the trip’s duration, and none of the promised food whatsoever to feed those already starving in Virginia. The servants had been crammed so tightly on the ship they had hardly been able to move until the weakest began to die.

Starving passengers had to be carried off the ship, the dead found on board tossed into the water. The supplies so direly needed were supposedly on the next ship, but The Seaflower suffered an explosion in Bermuda and never arrived in Virginia.9 Sailors reported: “This voyage som passengers out of The Abigail have died in the streets, at James towne, and so little cared for that they have lien until the hogs have eaten theyr Corps, and in generall litle care of ought but extortinge upon the people.” (Kingsbury, Vol. 4, page 94)

History books often refer to the Massacre of 1622 as a singular event taking place on March 22 of that year. John Smith described the year following the uprising as a series of “crosses and losses”. The Natives made repeated strikes against the colonists, destroying their crops and livestock, killing men, women and children. The Virginians burned Native crops in retaliation, and killed every Indian within their reach. Virginians and Natives alike made every effort to eradicate each other in brutal endeavors of genocide.

The ensuing years of starvation and disease did not bring out the best in human behavior. The John Smith description states: so that as we are I cannot perceive but the next yeere will be worse, being still tormented with pride and flattery, idlenesse and covetousnesse, as though they had vowed heere to keepe their Court with all the pestilent vices in the world for their attendants, inchanted with a conceited statelinesse, even in the very bottome of miserable senselesnesse. “(Smith, page 301)

Tragically, the ruling council of the Virginia Company often seemed more concerned about placement of blame and counting their money than relieving the mass starvation, which they often chose to ignore. Their callous arrogance to the suffering of the common Virginian is in there reply to Captain Butler’s report on conditions. In response to people dead in the streets, the council responded:


“And for any dyinge... and lying unburied, wee are altogether ignorant, yett that many dy suddenly by the hand of God, ..... even in this flourishinge and plentifull Citty.... As for dyinge under hedges there is no hedge in all Virginia.”


They apologized for the poor profits, blamed on the lack of servants surviving, lamenting the financial loss but not the malnutrition that had killed them.

Colonists reported that the scarce food shipped from England that actually made it to the common Virginian was sold to the highest bidder, servants and those without cash did die in the streets. Those in power fed themselves and their armed guards first, and threw their leftovers on the auction block for the commoners to haggle. Realistically, the powerful may not have known about the dead lying in the streets; the well fed were probably became hermits, terrified of mixing with the lower class starving masses.

Of supreme value to his descendants, quoted later in this document, our own Edward Hill left for us his poignant first hand account of the aftermath of the Massacre in letters he wrote on April 14, 1624 to his brother and Hannah’s father in England. There are many letters similar to Hill’s found in The Records of the Virginia Company. They wrote of their utter despair, starvation, fear, and begged for food from their families. Their letters survive today because they were used to support evidence of gross negligence in Virginia, which provided the justification for revoking the charter of the Virginia Company. The letters from Edward Hill and others arrived in London on the same boat as this letter, written shortly after April 4, 1623, from the ruling council in Jamestown:

Wee have by a succesfull stratageme, not onely regayned our People, but cutt of some kings....The forte goeth Cheerfullie on, for the number of our people, and the many services they are to be ymployde ...



The Colonie (God be thanked) hath recovered health, and wante nothinge more, then sudden and great Supplies of people, well furnished to givve perfectione, to this noble Accione, wch wee beeseech thee Allmightie to p’sper, both you’ and our endevors. Thus wee humbly take our leaves and remaine



At you’ Comandes
Francis Wyatt, George Yardley,
George Sandys, Christopher Davison,
John Pott, Roger Smith, John Pountis


Reading the letters from the colonists and then the letter from the ruling council in Jamestown, causes wonder if they were on the same planet. They stated that the colony had recovered its health, the colonists were cheerful, and that they needed nothing except more people transported. Fearful that too much talk about starvation might deter new settlers, they asked for no food for the starving commoners.



The Natives killed 347 in the Massacre, another 500 colonists were slain in the aftermath by the grotesquely arrogant greed of the stockholders and the executives they sent to Virginia.

They may just as well have said: the servants left here are not worth saving, just send more victims to serve us. The seven men who signed the above letter, and their cohorts in London to whom they secretly wrote even more arrogant but more truthful letters, should have been prosecuted for murder.