The Starving Time

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picture of jar
apothecary jar used to hold medicines or other herbs - many found at James Fort
The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities
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The winter of 1609 was "the starving time." Archeologists have found evidence that they ate cats, dogs, horses and rats (including the black rat, the carrier of the black plague). One settler was put to death for killing and eating his wife. It was a hard winter and the Algonquians also were short on food. Some burials found at the site for this time were unusual - multiple bodies in graves and signs of hasty preparation. Only 60 of the 214 settlers survived.

Then a bad situation became worse. More settlers and supplies were sent from England, but it was a very stormy crossing. Only 7 of the 9 ships made it, bringing 400 new settlers. The colony now had 400 additional mouths to feed and most of the supplies were lost at sea.

picture of armor
armor fond at James Fort
The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities


William Strachey reported that he found Jamestown almost empty. Nine out of ten settlers had died. Sir Thomas Gates, the new governor of the colony, considered the colony a total loss and ordered a return to England. They dug a pit to hide the cannon and armor when they left. Archeologists discovered a ring with family crest of William Strachey in this pit. Strachey wrote a 25 page letter to a friend telling of his experiences in America. There is speculation that it found its way into the hands of William Shakespeare who may have used Strachey's account of the storm for The Tempest.

picture of ring
William Strachey's ring found at James Fort
The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities

While Strachey and the others were on the way back to England, another ship was crossing to America with new settlers and lots of supplies. They met and Strachey's ship turned around. Lord de la Ware, a relative of Queen Elizabeth, arrived as the new leader of Jamestown.

The drought was over and the settlement now began to cultivate a valuable crop. They grew tobacco and traded it to the Indians who used it for ceremonial purposes. White men quickly became addicted to it and it spread all over Europe. There was a great demand for it, and required little land to be prosperous. The Virginia colony began to thrive.




Part of The Virginia English Colony at Jamestown exhibit

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