Saturday, January 18, 2014

"What nature afforded" --which was not enough to live on.

In the summer of 1609 there was plenty of food at Jamestown: forty acres of corn would be ripe by autumn, and the storehouse inside the fort was stacked with bushels of corn to last till then. There were sows with large litters of piglets, and “neer 500 chickings.” Thanks to Pocahontas, the Indians outside the fort were friendly--or pretended to be. The Jamestown colonists were full of hope. But not for long.
            One hot midsummer day, they discovered that the corn in the storehouse had rotted. What damp and heat had not ruined, rats had devoured. “This did drive us all to our wits end,” John Smith wrote, “for there was nothing in the country but what nature afforded.”
            Supplies were supposed to come from England, but no one knew when.              
            No one at Jamestown knew that in May the Virginia Company in London had sent out a fleet of nine ships laden with supplies and more settlers, and that  in July a hurricane had scattered the fleet and driven the flagship Sea Venture on the coast of Bermuda. (This inspired Shakespeare to write The Tempest--but that is another story.)
            The Indians had no food to spare. Virginia was suffering a severe drought, and corn crops were spindly. John Smith, then President of the colony, sent some of his men to dig for oysters downriver, and others upriver to hunt rabbits and squirrels. But it was not enough.
            People went to bed hungry--and angry.

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