Starving Time

The Starving Time at Jamestown in the Colony of Virginia was a period of starvation during the winter of 1609–1610 in which all but 60 of 500 colonists died.

The colonists, the first group of whom had originally arrived at Jamestown on May 14, 1607, had never planned to grow all of their own food. Their plans depended upon trade with the local Powhatan to supply them with food between the arrivals of periodic supply ships from England.

Lack of access to water and a relatively dry rain season crippled the agricultural production of the colonists. Also, the water that the colonists drank was brackish and potable for only half of the year. A fleet from England, damaged by a hurricane, arrived months behind schedule with new colonists, but without expected food supplies.

On June 7, 1610 the survivors boarded ships, abandoned the colony site, and sailed towards the Chesapeake Bay, where another supply convoy with new supplies and headed by a newly appointed governor, Thomas West, Baron De La Warr, intercepted them on the lower James River and returned them to Jamestown. Within a few years, the commercialization of tobacco by John Rolfe secured the settlement's long-term economic prosperity.

There is scientific evidence that the settlers at Jamestown had turned to cannibalism during the starving time.

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