What Is The Starving Time?

The name itself should give you an idea of the subject: The Starving Time was a period without food. The New World was a great place for adventurers to explore, but it was also an example of how harsh the force of Mother Nature can be when not respected. The Virginia Company of London helped find enough investors to set off into the unknown, but money can only do so much. There were no maps, no guarantees of success, and no expectations of survival. If you left England, you might never return–and most didn’t.

When you explored the New World, you did so without much help. There were no hospitals and no criminal defense lawyers to make sure you came out on top if you got hurt traveling around what was at the time mostly untamed wilderness. That’s why most people who made the journey were only looking to strike it rich. The especially cruel winter from 1609 to 1610 was known as The Starving Time, and it ended most of those dreams.

It didn’t help that many of the colonists who settled Virginia were so-called gentlemen. These weren’t workers. These were a class of the entitled. They expected that those of lower standing would do all the hard labor themselves and that the wealth would trickle upward, so to speak. It turns out that wealth doesn’t trickle in either direction. Jamestown was founded in a terrible location. Clean water was difficult to find, and hunting was mostly unsuccessful. The area was chosen because of its soil, which was perfect for farming, and its defensible location.

Problems resulted with this location almost immediately because the settlers of Jamestown didn’t have adequate time to sow seeds for a fall harvest. The lack of reliable food for the coming winter was only the start of their problems. With at least half of the population useless, there weren’t enough houses built by the onset of winter, nor was the Native American population a reliable source of resupply. The only real chance settlers had was the hope of resupply ships, but the ships did not come. The Starving Time was upon them.

Rule over Jamestown spiraled out of control quickly. If you opted to abandon the colony, you would be shot down by the Native Americans who had essentially laid siege. If you stayed, you would starve. It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the possibility of cannibalism was discussed in reports out of the colony. Martial law was mandated.

The Starving Time resulted in the deaths of about three-quarters of those who tried to colonize Virginia. When help finally arrived in 1610, it was decided that Jamestown would be abandoned. Almost immediately after their departure, another ship carrying the first governor of Virginia made contact with the settlers and ordered them back to the colony. After this, Jamestown continued to struggle with flatlined morale, and under much harsher rule.