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Colonial Settlement, 1600s-1763
Virginia's Early Relations with Native Americans
Powhatan Takes Advantage of "The Starving Time," 1609-1610

The winter of 1609-1610 became known as "the starving time" in Jamestown. It was probably no accident that the colony reached its low point just after John Smith left the colony. According to the two documents excerpted below, how did Powhatan try to take advantage of Jamestown's desperate situation?

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William Simmons, Doctor of Divinity, 1610

THe day before Captaine Smith returned for England with the ships, Captaine Davis arrived in a small Pinace, with some sixteene proper men more: To these were added a company from James towne, under the command of Captaine John Sickelmore alias Ratliffe, to inhabit Point Comfort. Captaine Martin and Captaine West, having lost their boats and neere halfe their men among the Salvages, were returned to James towne; for the Salvages no sooner understood Smith was gone, but they all revolted, and did spoile and murther all they incountered. Now wee were all constrained to live onely on that Smith had onely for his owne Companie, for the rest had consumed their proportions, and now they had twentie Presidents with all their appurtenances: Master Piercie our new President, was so sicke hee could neither goe nor stand. But ere all was consumed, Captaine West and Captaine Sickelmore, each with a small ship and thirtie or fortie men well appointed, sought abroad to trade. Sickelmore upon the confidence of Powhatan, with about thirtie others as carelesse as himselfe, were all slaine, onely Jeffrey Shortridge escaped, and Pokahontas the Kings daughter saved a boy called Henry Spilman, that lived many yeeres after, by her meanes, amongst the Patawomekes. Powhatan still as he found meanes, cut off their Boats, denied them trade, so that Captaine West set saile for England. Now we all found the losse of Captaine Smith, yea his greatest maligners could now curse his losse: as for corne, provision and contribution from the Salvages, we had nothing but mortall wounds, with clubs and arrowes; as for our Hogs, Hens, Goats, Sheepe, Horse, or what lived, our commanders, officers & Salvages daily consumed them, some small proportions sometimes we tasted, till all was devoured; then swords, armes, pieces, or any thing, wee traded with the Salvages, whose cruell fingers were so oft imbrewed in our blouds, that what by their crueltie, our Governours indiscretion, and the losse of our ships, of five hundred within six moneths after Captaine Smiths departure, there remained not past sixtie men, women and children, most miserable and poore creatures; and those were preserved for the most part, by roots, herbes, acornes, walnuts, berries, now and then a little fish: they that had startch in these extremities, made no small use of it; yea, even the very skinnes of our horses. Nay, so great was our famine, that a Salvage we slew, and buried, the poorer sort tooke him up againe and eat him, and so did divers one another boyled and stewed with roots and herbs.

A True Declaration of the State of the Colony of Virginia, 1610

The state of the Colony, by these accidents began to find a sensible declyning: which Powhatan (as a greedy Vulture) obseruing, and boyling with desire of reuenge, he inuited Captaine Ratclife, and about thirty others to trade for Corne, and under the colour of fairest friendship, he brought them within the compasse of his ambush, whereby they were cruelly murthered, and massacred. For vpon confidence of his fidelitie, they went one and one into seuerall houses, which caused their seuerall destructions, when if but any sixe had remained together, they would haue been a bulwarke for the generall preseruation. After this, Powhatan in the night cut off some of our boats, he draue away all the Deere into the farther part of the Countrie, hee and his people destroyed our Hogs, (to the number of about sixe hundred) he sent none of his Indians to trade with vs, but laied secret ambushes in the woods, that if one or two dropped out of the fort alone, they were indaungered.

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View the original documents by clicking on the links above. Both documents are from The Capital and the Bay. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.