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Early Jamestown: Why Did So Many Colonists Die?
Transcript of Early Jamestown: Why Did So Many Colonists Die?
By: Kelly H.
On May 1607, the population of colonial Jamestown, Virginia had a population of 110 Englishmen. By December 1607, about seven months later, only 40 Englishmen were left to survive the extreme lifestyle. Nearly two thirds of the total population died by a variety of different causes. We shall discuss these causes in the following essay.
Starvation And Disease: According to Document A, it stated that "Because the adjacent river and creeks became brackish as water levels rose, reliable sources of fresh water would have been scarce by the seventeenth century...English colonists dug shallow wells to supply themselves with sources of drinking water, but these were vulnerable to drought and salt water intrusion." There was already a scarce supply of freshwater but adding to that, that supply of water was usually contaminated and undrinkable. Ingesting dirty water can cause diseases and these diseases can spread, killing and killing more and more colonists. Also, because the land in these regions were infertile, agriculture wasn't really the best option so hunting and fishing was what kept the colonists' stomachs full but according to Document A, it states that "Fish are
present in local streams, but only in the spring and early summer are they in impressive abundance." This means that even though there were food sources, by winter, it was difficult to actually catch and get food to survive. Document A also mentioned how human waste got dumped into bodies of water as well and this can trigger waterborne diseases and consumption led to death. Not to mention, aquatic life that dwell in these areas died too as a result. Document B shows a graph of the rainfall during the years of 1560 to 1650. From 1605 to 1615, the graphed showed a significant decrease in the rainfall. In the winter of 1609 to 1610, the colonists experienced a period called "Starving Time." Because of the decrease in the rainfall, plants and animals died meaning, the settlers couldn't find food to eat, therefore, they died of starvation and, of course, environmental
factors as well. In Document D, it stated that "So it was that Francis West by the persuasion or rather by the enforcement of his company hoisted up Sayles and headed out into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving the colonists to the Indians and to God. There was a lot of selfish deeds and unfair trade happening during the colonial times. Food was indeed scarce and of course people would want that source all to themselves. This led to starvation in Jamestown because the people would starve due to lack of nutrition and the document also mentioned that even with all of this food the men traded, it wouldn't be enough to last a winter. So basically, everyone was starving for the whole winter where food was not easily accessed and sadly, these colonists probably will never know what happened to their food! Their meal must rely on a group of doubtful people! That might be quite upsetting. Lastly, in Document E, after calculations using the information in the
settlers. This is a very big deal because traditionally, women were the people who did the basic necessities such as cooking and cleaning. Men didn't do any of that stuff back in those times so, it was very hard to survive because men were so used to relying on females to cook and do basic household stuff for them. The men barely knew how to cook and that is also a big reason why the population of colonial Jamestown declined so rapidly. Because there was a constant decline in settlers, the population went down as a result of less and less people to rely on. You can't survive in a foreign land filled with Indian attacks and scarce water by yourself, right?
The Wrong People: Most of the original settlers were "gentlemen", according to the list from Document C. Gentlemen were wealthy people who probably never worked with their hands. Because, most of the arrivals to colonial Jamestown were gentlemen, (there were 47 of them) it was hard to survive as a group because of the gentlemen's lack of knowledge on basic household chores since they were too pampered to actually do any of that stuff in Europe. The colonists needed people who actually have experience in useful skills to successfully survive in colonial Jamestown! Because of the gentlemen's lack of needed skills, there was a significant decrease in the number of gentlemen on the ship for the 1st resupply in January 1608. Last but not least, there were no women
list of events provided, a total of 238 colonists died from disease or starvation from May 1607 to May 1610. 238 deaths occurred in just three years. All of this is due to something that they can't control. They are humans, therefore they must eat to live. Because of the lack of information of the spread of diseases and proper bathing and waste disposal methods, there was no way that these improperly educated people can control the spreading of diseases and how to avoid them.
Native American Attacks: Imagine, you own your house. Suddenly, these weird looking people walk up to your front lawn, build a house to live in, and then build a massive fort to spy on you in your own land! You would be angry, wouldn't you? This is exactly how the Native Americans felt when the colonists suddenly went on their land and did all of this stuff to them, except they had weapons and they used them. The Native Americans felt invaded and uncomfortable about the settlers who settled on their land. Of course, if one felt threatened, they would fight back to maintain safe and secured. Forced trading and brutalism between the Natives and the colonist
didn't improve relations either. This tension between the two groups caused the Native Americans to ambush the settlers, forcing a decline in the total colonist population. From May 1607 to May 1610, a total of 155 settlers died due to Native American attacks according to document E. This of course caused even more tension and a war as well (The French And Indian War). You can't really blame the Natives though. They felt uneasy and their first instinct is to attack. They are human after all.
Many other minor causes also killed off some settlers such as mutiny and boating accidents, but what I discussed in the paragraphs were the main causes of such unfortunate deaths. So during the early Jamestown period, why did so many colonists die? Many colonists died during the early Jamestown period because of the combination of starvation and disease, the wrong people, and Native American attacks. I believe so because all of my evidence and information came from my documents.