In 1606, King James gave permission to a group of wealthy men to start a colony in North America. The group sent settlers to Virginia hoping to make money for the colony.
In April 1607, 105 settlers arrived in Virginia. Most of them hoped to become wealthy by finding natural riches like gold. They picked a spot near a wide river and built a settlement. In honor of King James, they called it Jamestown.
Unfortunately, the settlers built Jamestown on a marsh. A marsh is a low lying area of wet land that is sometimes unhealthful for people. The water around Jamestown was dirty and salty. The land was not good for farming. And mosquitoes carried a deadly disease called malaria.
Within 8 months, disease killed most of the settlers. By January 1608, only 38 of them were still alive.
In late 1607, one of the settlers, Captain John Smith, was captured by some Native Americans. They took Smith to their chief, a man named Powhatan. Powhatan ordered Smith to kneel and lay his head between two stones. Several men raised their clubs in the air. Smith believed that he was about to be killed.
At that moment, Powhatan's young daughter, Pocahontas, laid her head on Smith's. Smith believed that she saved his life. Historians, though think Smith may have misunderstood the Native American ritual.
Later, Pocahontas visited Jamestown several times, bringing food to the settlers. Powhatan's people also taught the settlers to hunt, plant crops and fish. Meanwhile, more settlers kept arriving from England.
In 1608, John Smith was elected President of the colony. Many of the settlers were "gentlemen" who were used to having servants do all the work. Smith knew that the settlement needed everyone's help in order to survive. He said firmly that any man who would not work would not eat. Smith's leadership helped to save the colony. That winter, only 18 colonists died.
The next year, Smith returned to England after being badly burnt by an explosion of gunpowder. The colonists had lost a strong leader, and Powhatan was no longer helping them. The winter of 1609-1610 was known as the "Starving Time". Many settlers had to eat horses and dogs. Hundreds of them died. Only about 60 settlers survived.
The Jamestown settlers never found any gold. They needed a way to support their colony in order to stay in America. Then, a man named John Rolfe found a way to grow a sweet tasting kind of tobacco. People in England loved the new Virginia tobacco. Now the settlers had something that they could trade for money and supplies. Tobacco became Virginia's "gold”.
Documents Document A: John Smith's Description of the Powhatans, 1612. (Primary Source)
[Original version] Each household knoweth their owne lands and gardens, and most live of their owne labours.
For their apparell, they are some time coveredwith the skinnes of wilde beasts, which in winter are dressed with the haire, but in sommer without. The better sort use large mantels of deare skins not much differing in fashion from the Irish mantels...
Their buidings and habitations are for the most part by the rivers or not farre or distant from some fresh spring. Their houses are built like our Arbors of small young springs (saplings?) bowed and tyed, and so close covered with mats or the barkes of trees very handsomely, that not withstanding either winde raine or weather, they are as warme as stooves, but very smoaky; yet at the toppe of the house their is a hole made for the smoake to goe into right over the fire...
Their houses are in the midst of their fileds or gardens; which are smal plots ofground, some 20 (acres?), some 40, some 100. some 200. some more, some lesse. Some times 2 to 100 of these houses (are) togither, or but a little separated by groves of trees. Neare their habitations is (a) little small wood, or old trees on the ground, by reason of their burning of them for fire...
Men women and children have their severall names according to the severall humour(s) of their parents. Their women (they say) are easilie delivered of childe, yet doe they love children verie dearly. To make them hardy, in the coldest morning they wash them in the rivers, and by painting and ointments so tanne their skins that after (a) year or two, no weather will hurt them.
The men bestow their times fishing, hunting, wars, and such manlike exercises, scorning to be seen in any woman like exercise; which is the cause that the woman be verie painfull and the men often idle. The women and children do the rest of the worke. They make mats, baskets, pots, morters; pound their corne, make their bread, preapare their victuals, plant their corne, gather their corne, beare al kind of burdens, and such like...
Their fishing is much in Boats. These they make of one tree by bowing (i.e., burning) and scratching away the coles with ston(e)s and shels till they have made it in (the) form of a Trough. Some of them are an elne (i.e., an all, a unit of measure equal to 45 inches) deepe, and 40 or 50 foot in length, and some will beare 40 men; but the most ordinary are smaller, and will beare 10, 20, or 30. according to their bignes. Insteed of oares, they use paddles and sticks, with which they will row faster then our Barges...
There is yet in Virginia no place discovered to bee so Savage in which the Savages have not a religion, Deare, and Bow and Arrowes. All thinges that were able to do them hurt beyond their prevention, they adore with their kinde of divine worship; as the fire, lightening, thunder, our ordinance peeces (i.e., ordinance pieces, large guns), horses, etc.
Although the countrie people be very barbarous; yet have they amongst them such government, as that their government, as the their Magistrats for good commanding, and their people for du(e) subjection and obeying, excell many places that would be counted very civill.
The forme of their Common wealth is a monarchicall governement.
[Modern Version] Each family has its own land and gardens. They do their own work. For clothes they wear animal skins. In winter they wear skins with the fur and hair left on, but in summer they wear leather. More important people wear cloaks made of deer skins that look like the cloaks the Irish wear...They build their homes near rivers or springs. They tie long slender branches together in bundles and weave them into a frame for the house, like a giant basket. Then they lay mats or bark over this frame. The houses are warm and snug, but very smokey, even though they leave a hole above their fireplaces for smoke...Their houses are surrounded by their own fields and gardens. This farmland can be a small plot or large fields. Sometimes these houses are grouped together, separated only by groves of trees. Near their homes are piles of wood for burning in their home fires...Parents give children several names. Women have babies easily, and love them very much. To make babies strong, on the coldest mornings they wash them in rivers. They also put oils and lotions on the skin of babies to protect them against the weather. Men fish, hunt, and go to war. Women often work while the men are idle. Women and children do all the work. They make mats, baskets, pots, and grinding tools, grind corn into flour, bake bread, and do all the cooking. They also do the farming, planting, raising, and gathering of corn. Women do the hauling and all the other heavy work...
They use boats for fishing. The boats are made by burning out the center of the tree. They scrape away the burned coals with stones and shells to form a long hollow trough. These boats can be almost four feet deep and 40 or 50 feet long. Some will hold 400 men, but most are smaller, holding 10 to 30 men. They use paddles instead of oars and can travel quickly...
John Smith, A Map of Virginia. With a Description of the Countrey, the Commodities, People, Government and Religion...(Oxford, 1612).
Document B: Watercolor Drawing of Indian Village of Pomeiooc (1585-6)
Document D: Reprinted from Travels and Works of Captain John Smith, President of Virginia, and Admiral of New England, 1610. (Primary Source)
[Original version] What by their crueltie, our Governours indiscretion, and the losse of our ships, of five hundred within six moneths after Captain Smiths departure (October 1609-March 1610), there remained not past sixtie, men, women and children.
This was the time, which still to this day (1624) we call this the starving time; if it were too vile to say, and scarce to be believed, what we endured; but the occasion our owne, for want of providence industrie and government, and not the barrennesse and defect of the Countrie, as is generously supposed;"
[Modern Version] Six months after Captain Smith left, the cruelty of the [Powhatans], the stupidity of our leaders, and the loss of our ships [when they sailed away] caused 440 of the 500 people in Jamestown to die ...
We still call this time the "Starving Time." What we suffered was too terrible to talk about and too hard to believe. But the fault was our own. We starved because we did not plan well, work hard, or have good government. Our problems were not because the land was bad, as most people believe.
Excerpted from Travels and Works of Captain John Smith. Ed. Edward Arber, F.S.A. Vol. 2. Edinburgh; John Grant, 1910.
Document E: Excerpted from The Proceedings of the English Colonie in Virginia Since Their First Beginning. By William Simmonds. Oxford, 1612. (Primary Source) "It was the spaniards good hap to happen upon those parts where were infinite numbers of people, whoe had manured the ground with that providence that it afforded victuall at all times; and time had brought them to that perfection (that) they had the use of gold and silver, and (of) the most of such commodities as their countries affoorded; so that what the Spanaird got was only the spoile and pillage of those countrie people, and not the labours of their owne hands.
But had those fruitfull Countries beene as Salvage (i.e., savage), as barbarous, as ill-peopled, as little planted laboured and manured, as Virginia; their proper labors, it is likely would have produced as small a profit as ours."
Excerpted from The Proceedings of the English Colonie in Virginia Since Their First Beginning. By William Simmonds. Oxford, 1612.
Document F: Reprinted from "George Percy's Account of the Voyage to Virginia and the Colony's First Days", 1607. (Primary Source)
[Original version] It pleased God after awhile, to send those people which were our mortal enemies to releeve us with such victuals, as Bread, Corne, Fish and Flesh in great plenty, which was the setting up of our feeble men, otherwise wee had all perished. Also we were frequented by divers Kings in the countrie, bringing us store of provision to our great comfort.
[Modern Version] Thanks to God, our deadly enemies saved us by bringing food - great amounts of bread, corn, fish, and meat. This food saved all of us weak and starving men. Otherwise we would all have died. Leaders from other tribes also brought us food and supplies which made us comfortable.
Excerpted from "George Percy's Account of the Voyage to Virginia and the Colony's First Days" Jamestown Voyages. Ed. Barbour. Vol. 1.
Document G: Reprinted from Travels and Works of Captain John Smith, President of Virginia, and Admiral of New England, 1610. (Primary Source)
In January, 1609, the colony of Jamestown was starving. The famine forced Captain John Smith to seek the aid of Powhatan and his people. Relying on his fierce will as much as his intelligence and experience, Captain Smith commanded the quarrelsome settlers of Jamestown, England's only colony at the time. Until he had taken charge, Jamestown had teetered on the brink of destruction. Even with his leadership, the colony's problems remained serious.
From their arrival in 1607, the settlers had always depended on the lndians of the region for food. But the unpredictable and often violent behavior of the English had caused Powhatan, the powerful chief of over two dozen tribes, to forbid his people from trading with the settlers. Although Smith desperately needed the lndians' corn, he stood this day before Powhatan not as a beggar but as someone who had been wronged by a friend. After arguing that Jamestown's settlers had been promised food by Powhatan, Smith claimed that the swords and guns the lndians wanted in exchange for food could not be spared. Then Smith ended his speech with a quiet threat, "The weapons I have can keep me from want: yet steal, or wrong you, I will not, nor dissolve that friendship we have mutually promised, unless you force me."
..... After long negotiations and despite Powhatan's doubts, he promised to give the English what food his people could spare. His decision profoundly affected both peoples -white and red.
Document H: List of settlers
Census Data is culled from John Smith, “Proceedings of the English Colony in Virginia” and Generall Historie (Printed with original spelling)