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Colonial Settlement, 1600s-1763
The English Establish a Foothold at Jamestown
The "Starving Time," Winter of 1609-1610

Just as John Smith was leaving Jamestown, the Virginia Company was sending Sir Thomas Gates with another supply. Unfortunately, Gates's ship and several others encountered a storm and shipwrecked at Bermuda (about 120 miles off the coast of Virginia). The time from Smith's departure to the arrival of Gates has come to be called "the starving time." A pamphlet titled A True Declaration of the Estate in Virginia, written in 1610, describes this period. How does the author describe the "starving time"? Where does the author place the blame for this situation?

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A True Declaration of the Estate in Virginia

The ground of all those miseries, was the permissiue prouidence of God, who, in the fore-mentioned violent storme, separated the head from the bodie, all the vitall powers of regiment being exiled with Sir Thomas Gates in those infortunate (yet fortunate) Ilands [Bermuda]. The broken remainder of those supplies made a greater shipwrack in the continent of Virginia, by the tempest of dissention: euery man ouervaluing his own worth, would be a Commander: euery man vnderprising an others value, denied to be commanded. . . .   how much more easily might ambitious discord teare in peeces an infant Colony, where no eminent and respected magistrats had authoritie to punish presumptuous disobedience. . . .

The next fountaine of woes was secure negligence, and improuidence, when euery man sharked for his present bootie, but was altogether carelesse of succeeding penurie. Now, I demand whether Sicilia, or Sardinia (sometimes the barnes of Rome) could hope for increase without manuring? A Colony is therefore denominated, because they should be Coloni, the tillers of the earth, and stewards of fertilitie: our mutinous loiterers would not sow with prouidence, and therefore they reaped the fruits of too deare-bought repentance. An incredible example of their idlenes, is the report of Sir Thomas Gates, who affirmeth, that after his first comming thither, he hath seen some of them eat their fish raw, rather than they would go a stones cast to fetch wood and dresse it. Dij laboribus omnia vendunt, God sels vs all things for our labour, when Adam himselfe might not liue in paridice without dressing the garden.

Vnto idlenesse, you may ioyne treasons, wrought by those vnhallowed creatures that forsooke the Colony, and exposed their desolate brethren to extreame miserie. You shall know that 28. or 30. of the companie, were appointed (in the Ship called the Swallow) to truck for Corne with the Indians, and hauing obtained a great quantitie by trading, the most seditious of them, conspired together, persuaded some, & enforced others, to this barbarous proiect. They stole away the Ship, they made a league amongst themselues to be professed pirates, with dreames of mountaines of gold, and happy robberies: thus at one instant, they wronged the hopes, and subuerted the cares of the Colony, who depending vpon their returne, fore-slowed to looke out for further prouision: they created the Indians our implacable enemies by some violence they had offered: they carried away the best Ship (which should haue been a refuge, in extremites:) they weakned our forces, by substraction of their armes, and succours. These are that scum of men that fayling in their piracy, that beeing pinched with famine and penurie, after their wilde rouing vpon the Sea, when all their lawlesse hopes failed, some remained with other pirates, they met vpon the Sea, the others resolued to return for England, bound themselues by mutuall oath, to agree all in one report, to discredit the land, to deplore the famyne, and to protest that this their comming awaie, proceeded from desperate necessitie: These are they, that roared out the tragicall historie of the man eating of his dead wife in Virginia; when the master of this Ship willingly confessed before 40 witnesses, that at their comming awaie, they left three moneths victuals, and all the cattell liuing in the Fort: sometimes they reported that they saw this horrible action, sometimes that Captaine Dauies sayd so, sometimes that one Beadle the Lieutenant of Captaine Dauies did relate it, varying this report into diuersitie of false colours, which hold no likenesse and proportion: But to cleare all doubts, Sir Thomas Gates thus relateth the tragedie.

There was one of the companie who mortally hated his wife, and therefore secretly killed her, then cut her in pieces and hid her in diuers parts of his house: when the woman was missing, the man suspected, his house searched, and parts of her mangled body were discouered, to excuse himselfe he said that his wife died, that he hid her to satisfie his hunger, and that he fed daily vpon her. Vpon this, his house was againe searched, where they found a good quantitie of meale, oatemeale, beanes and pease. Hee therevpon was araigned, confessed the murder, and was burned for his horrible villany.

Now shall the scandalous reports of a viperous generation, preponderate the testimonies of so worthie leaders? shall their venemous tongues, blast the reputation of an auncient & worthy Peere, who vpon the ocular certainty of future blessings, hath protested in his Letters, that he will sacrifice himselfe for his Countrie in this seruice, if he may be seconded; and if the company doe giue it ouer he will yet lay all his fortunes vpon the prosecution of the plantation? shall sworne lyes, and combined oathes, so far priuiledge trechery, and piracy as to rob vs of our hopes, & to quell our noble resolutions? God forbid: . . . a lyers confidence, is but a blazing diffidence.

Vnto Treasons, you may ioyne couetousnesse in the Mariners, who for their priuate lucre partly imbezled the prouisions, partly preuented our trade with the Indians, making the matches in the night, and forestalling our market in the day: whereby the Virginians were glutted with our trifles, and inhaunced the prices of their Corne and Victuall. That Copper which before would haue prouided a bushell, would not now obtaine so much as a pottle: . . . the consequent of sordid gaine is vntimely wretchednesse.

Ioyne vnto these an other euill: there is great store of Fish in the riuer, especially of Sturgeon; but our men prouided no more of them, then for present necessitie, not barrelling vp any store against that season the Sturgeon returned to the sea. And not to dissemble their folly, they suffered fourteene nets (which was all they had) to rot and spoile, which by orderly drying and mending might haue been preserued: but being lost, all help of fishing perished. Quanto maiora timentur dispendia, tanto promptior debet esse cautela, fundamentall losses that cannot be repealed, ought with the greatest caution to be preuented.

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.

Cast vp this reckoning together: want of gouernment, store of idlenesse, their expectations frustrated by the Traitors, their market spoyled by the Mariners, our nets hroken, the deere chased, our boats lost, our hogs killed, our trade with the Indians forbidden, some of our men fled, some murthered, and most by drinking of the brackish water of Iames fort weakened, and indaungered, famyne and sicknesse by all these meanes increased here at home the monies came in so slowly, that the Lo. Laware could not be dispatched, till the Colony was worne and spent with difficulties: Aboue all, hauing neither Ruler, nor Preacher, they neither feared God nor man, which prouoked the wrath of the Lord of Hosts, and pulled downe his iudgements vpon them. Discite iustitiam moniti. Now, (whether it were that God in mercie to vs would weede out these ranke hemlockes; or whether in iudgement to them he would scourge their impieties; or whether in wisedome he would trie our patience, Vt magna magnè desideremus, that wee may beg great blessings earnestly) our hope is that our Sunne shall not set in a cloude, since this violent storme is dispersed, since all necessarie things are prouided, an absolute and powerfull gouernment is setled, as by this insuing relation shall be described.


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