The Starving Time

Powaton Indians - Pocahontas saves John Smith

The Starving Time - Pocahontas saves John Smith

This article on the Starving Time endured by the the early colonists of Jamestown, Virginia. Starving Time include:

  • Background information on the Starving Time, the Virginia Company, the planning and the colonists
  • History Timeline of the Starving Time providing facts and information about the events of the 'Starving Time'
  • Badly equipped Colonists and poor location, poor natural resources
  • The Powhatan Confederacy
Captain John Smith
Charter of VirginiaLife in Colonial Times
American Colonies Index

History of the first 13 Colonies and life in the Colonial Period

The Starving Time: The ill-prepared and badly equipped colonists of Jamestown during the early Colonial Period

The Starving Time - Background Info
The Virginia Company of London, a private stock venture, was formed by investors  who included many London merchants and politicians attracted by the possibility of finding gold and trade opportunities in North America.

The Virginia Company choose the location of the colony in the Chesapeake Bay area. The Virginia Company also hope to find a water passage to the Pacific Ocean - there are no maps of North America at that time. The eager Colonists who agree to make the journey are promised 50 acres of land and a share of the profits.

About 50% of the first colonists were out-of-work "gentlemen". None of whom had any experience of hard manual labor. The "gentlemen" expect to do little work believing others will work and feed them. Other colonists include tradesmen (carpenters, a tailor, a blacksmith, a mason, a goldsmith and a barber). Other passengers include two surgeons and some ex-soldiers.


Starving Time

Map of Jamestown Colony  

   Map of Jamestown Colony, Virginia

Starving Time - Location and Natural Resources
The area chosen to establish Jamestown was a small, swampy area that was almost an island and only connected to the mainland only by a narrow sandbar. The natural resources were limited. There was a poor fresh water supply and the land was swampy. The hunting potential on the island was also limited and the colonists quickly exhausted the supply of small game. The mainland, however, consisted of forests and rivers that provided an abundance of plants, fish and animal life. The soil in the forest areas was rich and suitable for farming - Refer to
Colonial Food.

Starving Time - Trade and Defence
The question must be asked - why did the colonists chosen the island for the site of colonization? The island provided a good location in terms of defence. The colonists were not concerned about the Native Indians, but they were very concerned about the possibility of attacks from the Spanish. The colonists were dependent upon trade with the Indians and periodic supply ships from England for their food. 

Starving Time - The Colonists were badly equipped
The colonists were ill prepared and badly equipped for a self-sufficient lifestyle. They had no real farming experience, little experience of physical labor, and farming tools and equipment were in short supply. The colonists had not expected that it might become necessary to feed themselves. The colonists were armed with a sword, a matchlock musket and bandolier. They were also equipped with armor and a helmet.

Starving Time - No time to plant crops
They were prepared to fight and explore not to farm. To add to these difficulties the planting season ended before the colonists had finished building their houses. Unable to plant crops they became very short of food. They failed to make lasting friendships with the Native Indians. There were few supply ships to bring edible provisions. The scene was set for the colonists to endure an infamous period in history that would become known as the 'Starving Time'.

Starving Time - History Timeline
Discover interesting  facts and information about the Starving Time via this fast source of information - a History Timeline of the Starving Time.
History Timeline of the Starving Time
History Timeline of the Starving Time (1609 to 1610)

1580The Powhatan Confederacy was founded by Wahunsonacock who became commonly known as Powhatan. The land in Virginia chosen for colonisation, which would become the Jamestown settlement, was in the Powhatan territories

1607The land of the Powhatan Confederacy reached 16,000 miles and the people of its 30 Indian tribes numbered 15,000. They were a well established and powerful tribe.

1607The first colony was founded at Jamestown - Charter of Virginia. The land was swampy, infested with mosquitoes and lacked sufficient fresh water sources and supplies. The colonists consisting of men and boys, there were no women land at an island that they would come to call Jamestown located on the Powhatan River - which they later rename the James River.

1607The establishment of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia is run by a council of colonists - refer to Colonial America. The Powhatan, who inhabited more than 100 surrounding villages. Within 2 weeks of the English arrival, conflict and deaths had occurred

1607May 26 - The first attack by Native Indians killing two colonists and wounding ten others. The Native Indians retreat due to cannon fire.

1607Fall / Winter : More than half the colonists die from disease and of starvation.  A few Colonist die from wounds caused by Indians.

1607/8Powhatan, intrigued by the new tools and weapons, helps the Jamestown colony survive with food which they traded for blue beads

1607Fall / Winter : More than colonists arrive and build St. George’s Fort

1607December -  Captain John Smith was captured by a Powhatan hunting party and taken before Chief Powhatan. The daughter of Chief Powhatan, Pocahontas (Indian name Matoaka) saves the life of John Smith

1608January -  Captain John Smith is released.

1608July- a fleet of 7 ships arrive in Jamestown with about 450 new colonists

1609Tensions between the Indians and colonists rise when livestock, owned by the colonists, are allowed to wander into the Indian cornfields. This begins the period in Colonial history known as the 'Starving Time'.

1609Winter to mid-May. The Colony experiences its first extreme food crisis, called "the starving time." Jamestown is surrounded. Attempts to leave Jamestown are subjected to a hail of arrows. Those who stay face starvation. There are reports of cannibalism, which are denied by the Virginia Company

1609The Powhatan reduce trade attempting to starve the colonists out and attacks are made on the fort and the First Powhatan War erupts. The period covering the 2 years of history from 1609-1610 would become known as the 'Starving Time'.

1609/10Attempts to leave Jamestown are subjected to a hail of arrows. Those who stay face starvation. There are reports of cannibalism, which are denied by the Virginia Company

1610May: Two make-shift ships, the Patience and the Deliverance, arrived from the original fleet. They find 50 starving survivors of the 'Starving Time'. These are the only colonists who are left out of more than 500

1610Acting governor Sir Thomas Gates establishes martial law to maintain order

1610June 7: The decision is made to abandon the colony and everyone boards the ships

1610June 8: Lord de la Warr, the first governor of Virginia arrives and orders everyone to return to Jamestown having brought a year's supply of food.

1610The July 15, 1610: De la Warr sends Powhatan an ultimatum: peace or all out war

1610August 9, 1610: Powhatan does not respond. An impatient De la Warr orders a force of 40 men, led by George Percy, to conduct an attack. This ends in the massacre of women and children

1610The Powhatan Wars continue, until the defeat of the Powhatan Confederacy in 1646

1611The very survival of the colonists led to the rule of Thomas Dale and Good Order
History Timeline of the Starving Time (1609 to 1610)
History Timeline of the Starving Time

Starving Time
So ends the period in the history of Colonial America referred to as the 'Starving Time'. Of the first 1000 colonists not one hundred lived to tell the tale of those early days. This led to the rule of Thomas Dale and Good Order

Starving Time

  • Interesting Facts and information about Starving Time

  • Starving Time history timeline

  • Fast Facts and info about the Starving Time timeline

  • Starving Time is great history timeline resource for kids

  • Social Studies Homework help for kids on the Starving Time

Starving Time - Jamestown - virginia - Powhatan - Virginia Company - Colonial America - Facts - Natural Resources - Colonists - England - English - Colony - Colonies - Starving Time - History Timeline - History - Timeline - Starving Time - US - Summary - Definition - Starving Time - History - Interesting - Information - Info - Events - Short - Kids - Children - Studies - Taxes - US - United States - America - USA - Social Studies Teaching resource - Social Studies - History - Taxes - Teachers - Kids - Dates - Starving Time - Events - Colonial America - Starving Time