DEATH STALKS THE JAMESTOWN COLONY
The English Colony at Jamestown was a failure. Unlike the Plymouth Colony, which was founded thirteen years later, Jamestown (1607) was not a refuge for people fleeing religious persecution or pioneers searching for a new home land. It was an economic venture that was focused on making a profit. Over the 16 or so years of its existence, it was plagued by every kind of difficulty imaginable; and five thousand of the total six thousand settlers died there. They came in several stages but each succeeding group barely lasted 24 months. Textbooks tell us that in spite of great adversity, the settlers persevered, but they did not.
In 1610, three years into the Jamestown venture, a disastrous winter struck the colony. Only 60 of the 500 colonists survived the FAMINE, now known as “the starving time.” Climactic records also indicate that the area was in the midst of worst drought in 800 years. Tree-ring analysis indicates that the native population was already suffering a serious crop shortage due to drought before the first settlers stepped ashore. The additional task of helping to feed the “helpless” colonists during hard times put a strain on both cultures.
From the beginning, the Jamestown settlers were besieged by INDIAN ATTACKS from the Powhatans, a tribe of the Algonquian Nation. In the early days of the colony, John Smith and Pocahontas were able to maintain an uneasy peace, but Smith sailed for England in 1609 and never returned. Later problems with the Powhatans began to grow over two issues. First, the only cash crop developed by the colony was tobacco, which needed a lot of land to be raised profitably; and Jamestown was a commercial venture. More and more Indian land was usurped by the settlers. Periodic Indian attacks were a demonstration of Indian power as they tried to contain the colony. In 1610, the Indian attacks caused the settlers to abandon their small town and retreat into the Jamestown Fort. Second, the Powhatans saw the English attempts to Christianize and civilize them as a threat to their way of life. Their silence in the earlier years was interpreted by the English as subservience.
In 1622, it was apparent to the Indians that the English intended to expand again. The Powhatan Nation unleashed a massive attack upon the Jamestown colony. They killed families in the plantation houses and servants and workers in the fields. Almost four hundred settlers were left dead. The harsh treatment of the bodies was symbolic of their contempt for the English. In addition to the loss of life, the settlers also lost the valuable crops and supplies that they dearly needed to survive the next winter. Another 400 settlers died as a result.
Whatever the cause, or causes, the Jamestown settlement seems to have been doomed from the beginning. Eighty percent of the settlers who ever lived in the early Jamestown colony died in some horrible manner - starvation, disease, poisoning, Indian attacks, their own incompetence, and suicide.