Read each source carefully and consider how it helps explain the Central Historical Question
After answering the questions for each source, summarize the conclusions you can draw from each source concerning the central historical question on Assignment #2 (Yellow Paper).
Central Historical Question:
Why did so many settlers die in the early Jamestown Colony?
After the “discovery” of the “New World” by Christopher Columbus, many European powers raced to carve out lands of their own, hoping to increase their power and wealth in Europe. Spain and Portugal were the first to heavily exploit the abundant land, conquering South American empires reaping riches in gold, silver, and sugar. The English had explored much of the Eastern coasts of North America, but had not been benefitting from the wealth of this new world like Spain had. Their enemies, the French, were beginning to stake claims in North America too. It was time for England to make its claim!
In the spring of 1607, three English ships carrying more than 100 weary passengers sailed into the mouth of Chesapeake Bay and worked their way up the James River. The first attempt at colonizing the Americas failed on nearby Roanoke Island 20 years before; the colonist had all mysteriously disappeared.
There were many potential dangers that the colonists faced, such as Spanish war ships and barbaric natives, but the dangers that the Americas presented were not enough to dissuade the Virginia Company, the joint stock company that financed the colonists, from supporting another attempt at the colonization of the Americas. The promise of riches was too much to pass up, plus they could potentially find a hidden route to China and the East Indies.
Along the river banks one could see fresh water streams, “faire meddowes and goodly tall trees.” Within those trees though were some 15,000 Powhatan Indians living in small villages located all around the area. A great chief named Wahunsonacock loosely ruled these tribes. His daughter, Pocahontas, would one day marry an Englishman and sail to England.
When the English settlers arrived, they built a fort on a peninsula that would later be named Jamestown. It seemed like an area that could be defended easily from an attack by a Spanish ship from the sea, or from attacks from the natives inland. The area was also surrounded by many fresh water streams seemingly full of fish. However, of the 110 original settlers, only 40 would be alive by the end of December. In January, the arrival of a supply ship saved the colony from collapse, but the difficult times would continue for the next two years. Captain John Smith, who had provided some much needed leadership, was sent back to England in 1609 after suffering a serious injury. The winter of 1609-1610 was especially harsh; two-thirds of the settlers died in what would become known as “The Starving Time.”
Remarkably, the English kept coming. Men, women, and children, mostly young and poor, came hoping that after paying off their debts to the joint stock companies, they could one-day own land of their own. Some would eventually find prosperity by growing tobacco to be shipped to England, but for most there was not a happy ending; by 1611, of the more than 500 settlers who had arrived at Jamestown, 80% would be dead. Even with all of the dangers of settling in a strange new land, the question still remains: Why did so many settlers die in the early Jamestown Colony? 1623
New Netherland founded by Dutch East India Company
First African slaves arrive in Jamestown
Settlers land at Jamestown
Settlers at Roanoke disappear
English defeat the Spanish Armada
Pilgrims arrive in Massachusetts
Source A: James Horn, “A Land as God Made It” 2005. Drawn by Rebecca L. Wren.
Source A Questions
Explain what you can infer about who lived in this area before the arrival of the English?
Source B: Dennis Blanton, “Jamestown’s Environment,” Center for Archeological Research, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, 2000.
“Many people have commented over the last four centuries on the quality of Jamestown’s environment… Because the adjacent river and creeks became brackish as water levels rose, reliable sources of fresh water would have been scarce by the 17th century… English colonists dug shallow wells to supply themselves with sources of drinking water, but these were vulnerable to drought and salt water intrusion. Also, historian Carville Earle attributed … disease in the early years to Jamestown’s position at the salt/fresh water transition, where filth introduced into the river tended to fester rather than flush away.
The island is not situated at a point of great natural food abundance, especially relative to other locations very close by… Fish are present in local streams, but only in the spring and early summer are they there in impressive abundance…”
Source C – Delivered in 1609, this speech was made by Chief Powhatan to Captain John Smith.
I am now grown old and must soon die, and the succession must descend in order, to my brothers, Opitchapam, Opechancanough, and Kekataugh, and then to my two sisters, and their two daughters.
I wish their experience was equal to mine, and that your love to us might not be not be less than ours to you. Why should you take by force that from us which you can have by love? Why should you destroy us who have provided you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions and fly into the woods. And then you must consequently famish by wrongdoing your friends.
What is the cause of your jealousy? You see us unarmed and willing to supply your wants if you come in a friendly manner; not with swords and guns as to invade an enemy. I am not so simple as not to know that it is better to eat good meat, lie well, and sleep quietly with my women and children; to laugh and be merry with the English, and, being their friend, to have copper, hatchets, and whatever else I want, than to fly from all, to lie cold in the woods, feed upon acorns, roots and such trash, and to be so hunted that I cannot rest, eat, or sleep. In such circumstances, my men must watch, and if a twig should but break, all would cry out, "Here comes Captain Smith." And so, in this miserable manner to end my miserable life. And, Captain Smith, this might soon be your fate too through your rashness and unadvisedness.
I, therefore, exhort you to peaceable councils, and above all I insist that the guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy and uneasiness, be removed and sent away.
________________________________________________________________________________________ Source D – Adapted from “The Lost Colony and Jamestown Droughts,” Science, April 24, 1998
Note: This source is from a study that determined amounts of rainfall by examining many tree ring patterns in the Jamestown area. Every year a tree grows, it creates a ring. In times of drought, the rings are smaller than average; in times of abundant rainfall, the tree rings are wider.
1. After 1580, which period of years had the longest unbroken time when there was a drought?
________________________________________________________________________________________ 2. How does this coincide with “The Starving Time”?
________________________________________________________________________________________ 3. Explain why this source could be considered reliable:
________________________________________________________________________________________ 4. Explain how this source could be less reliable:
________________________________________________________________________________________ Source E – Adapted from John Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles, Book III, 1624
How many settlers arrived in May 1607? ________. How many of these had known occupations? ________. How many settlers arrived in May 1608? ________. How many of these had known occupations? _________.
How many of the settlers from either group were female? _________
What is a “gentleman” and why is this important to note?
Source F – Ivor Noel Hume, The Virginia Adventure, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
“In 1609, Francis West and thirty-six men sailed up the Chesapeake Bay to try to trade for corn with the Potawomeke Indians… Although still part of Powhatan’s Confederacy, the tribe had seen less of the English than had those closer at hand and with luck might be more friendly; and so it proved.
Though West was able to load his small ship with grain, the success involved “some harsh and cruel dealing by cutting off two of the Savages heads and other extremities.” The ship and her lifesaving cargo returned to Jamestown… No one doubted that this new supply of grain would help, but it would not be enough to last the winter. On the other hand, decided the ships crew, it was plenty to get them fatly home to England. So it was that Francis West “by the persuasion, or rather the enforcement, of his company, hoisted up sails”, and headed out into the Atlantic, leaving the colonists to the Indians and God.”
________________________________________________________________________________________ 5. How could this account be related to Source C?
________________________________________________________________________________________ Source G: Adapted from J. Frederick Fausz, “An Abundance of Bloodshed on Both Sides: England’s First Indian War 1609-1614,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1990.
What issues could contribute to colonists dying from famine and disease?