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Early Jamestown: Why Did So Many Colonists Die?

In early Jamestown, from 1607 to 1610, 452 colonists died even though Jamestown was supplied with 560 colonists. This leaves only 90 colonists left after the May of 1610. On May 14, 1607, colonists set off for Jamestown Island to build a settlement there. They did not know that there were close to 15,000 Powhatan Indians in the forest. Most people who came were from the ages of 17 to 35 years old. Some were servants that needed to pay off debt while others wanted to get profit from the project and would become successful. It did not come without a loss since a near eighty percent of the population died or 452 colonists as mentioned before. The question of this mini-q is “Early Jamestown: Why did so many colonists die?” Many colonists died in early Jamestown because of their relations with the Native Americans, the environment and the settler’s lack of skills.

Many colonists died in early Jamestown because of their horrible relations with the Native Americans. This is shown by document D which shows a trading incident between the Native Americans and the settlers. Francis West and thirty-six men sailed up the Bay to try to trade for corn. Instead, the settlers received grain after “some harsh and crewel dealing by the cut of to us of the salvages heads and other extremities.” This lost all trust between the two groups if there was some before. This also shows the tension between the two groups and the unwillingness to benefit from each other, essentially and mostly on the colonist’s part. Also, according to document E, 144 colonists died at the hands of the Native Americans in the years 1607 to 1610. This again shows the tension between the two groups. Although it is the Native Americans that do the attacking, it may be because of the settler’s treatment in document D, which is the trading incident or the threat the colonists pose.

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It may seem threatening if many strange people you have never seen before appear on your property, making a home with just all men. These men had guns and built walls around their homes and obviously did not trust anybody. Finally, in the Native American’s point of view, the men who came had strange customs. Many colonists died because of the environment. The main reason the environment killed them was because of the contamination of their water, tides and droughts. The contamination of their water happened when they decided to throw their waste in the water. They did this because they believed that the waste would wash away but it “tended to fester rather than flush away” according to document A by Dennis B. Blanton of the William and Mary College. They would later drink the water and would get sick and eventually die from the disease.

The tides also contributed to killing colonists because when it is a high tide, the saltwater would come into their freshwater rivers and creeks, making the water brackish and would make it bad to drink. Drinking too much brackish water is not good for you and can give you disease and kill you. The tides also mixed the water which further contaminated the water. Droughts killed many colonists in the Jamestown drought from 1607 to 1611 shown by document B that shows tree rings which is an evaluation of what happens to the tree. If the ring is thicker, that was a period of wet weather and if the ring is thinner then that was a period of dry weather. The ring was the thinnest and longest under average rainfall from 1607 to 1611 which was mentioned before. A drought is a long period of dry weather, long enough to harm crops. A drought would harm crops and killing them and would leave the colonists with a limited food supply if any. This would lead to the trade with the Native Americans which would not go well going back to the earlier point of their relations with the Native Americans.

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Finally, colonists died because of their lack of skills. The colonists did not have the proper skills suited to the environment. Most people were gentlemen, in a total of 75 and there were 7 governors, who were not used to doing work with their hands. There were only 33 labourers and no farmers to grow food, which left the colonists vulnerable at all times, not just at droughts. This lack of food makes the colonists forced to trade with the Indians who were hostile to the settlers. Also, there was only one gunsmith so if the guns, used to hunt prey, broke, it would be useless. Just because there were guns does not mean that the colonists knew how to use them and guns back then were not accurate so it would be very hard to catch and kill prey. Also, they could not hunt prey since they had no hunters. There were only two druggists and two surgeons with no women. Druggists were people who made the medicine and if there were only two druggists to make medicine for 560 people, the druggists would be overworked.

Same with the surgeons, they would not be able to give medical attention to all people. This would leave many people vulnerable to sickness and many people would die. Also, back in the 1600s, women were used to caring for the sick and since there were no women in Jamestown, again, many people died. This lack of skills may be because the colonists were just going to get rich with gold and neglected the fact that they needed food onboard the ships and put on other useless equipment. Their lack of skills also set up bad relations with the Native Americans. If they had better social skills then they would be able to cooperate with them. Because of this, they lost a valuable trading partner. Their lack of social skills was shown again in document E with their “harsh dealings” with the “salvages.” This lost all trust between the colonists and Native Americans.

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Therefore, many colonists died in early Jamestown because of the relations with the Native Americans, typically the trading incident with cutting extremities, the environment, which is the contamination of water, tides and droughts, and finally the lack of skills, which are jobs that provide food, help the sick and social skills with the Native Americans. All these problems were a major obstacle for the colonists which only 90 people got over from 560 colonists. These obstacles that faced the colonists really changed the development of the settlement of Jamestown and affected the approach of future settlements.

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Early Jamestown: Why Did So Many Colonists Die?. (2021, Apr 10). Retrieved September 30, 2022, from