The massacre of the settlers in 1622
The printer and engraver Matthaeus Merian was, by marriage, the third generation of the de Bry workshop. This copper-plate engraving appeared in the final volume of the de Bry America series in 1628, six years after the events it depicts took place. The composition is swarming with activity; within the picture are about fifteen smaller scenes. The design emphasizes the poised weapons of the attackers and the helplessness of the victims.
Merian's picture was not intended to be realistic but to illustrate in a single image the series of coordinated killings that happened in many isolated places. Even with that understanding, however, there are numerous inaccuracies. Merian did borrow from earlier de Bry pictures for the appearance of the Indians, which is thus fairly realistic, but it is doubtful that the Indians used the large knives they are shown wielding. Early colonial life was far cruder than represented; there were no milled-lumber houses, proper tables with cloth and plateware, or, as seen in the distance, moated and walled cities. The Indians knew better than to make an assault in crowded canoes in the face of the colonists' firearms.
What the image does effectively convey is the surprise and horror of the colonists. The print helped to crystallize a sense of outrage that served to justify subsequent campaigns of extermination against the Indians. The historical importance of this image is not as a document of the 1622 Powhatan uprising, which it at most only symbolizes, but as an expression of the European understanding of that event that influenced Indian policy. Modern publications that reproduce the engraving usually fail to distinguish between its historical value as a document of fact, which is small, and its significance as an influence on the colonizers' attitudes, which is large.