Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Starving Time: Meanwhile, in the enemy’s camp . . . .

 Uttamussack, Winter 1610

(An excerpt from JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL, now available on

Opechancanough leaned forward on his fur-covered couch and took a rib of roast pork from the platter in front of him. He was grateful to the English for bringing so many hogs with them. At first his people had been reluctant to taste hogs’ flesh, but they soon found the sweet white meat a delicious change from venison and turkey, and the river tribes had had a surfeit of it this winter. . . .
“Tell me again about their numbers,” Opechancanough said to his son, who reclined on a couch next to his. “How many at the place near Kecoughtan--the place they call Point Comfort?”
Smacking his lips and laying down a well-gnawed rib bone, Nemattonow reached for another and said, “Still the same. About forty. And they are not sick, like the ones upriver. They have no corn, but they have plenty of hogs and crabs to eat.”. . .
“What about the numbers at the other fort?”
“They are still dying as fast as May flies, as they have done since John Smith left.”
“He was a good man,” Opechancanough said thoughtfully. “A brave man. Even my brother admired him--until Pocahontas became too fond of him. That was unfortunate. It was just as well he had to leave. But tell me about those who are still at Jamestown:”. . .
“There are so many new mounds of earth in their burying place that I cannot count them all.” . . .
Opechancanough smiled again. . . . “They will soon starve, and the ones who survive may kill each other off. All we have to do is watch and wait.”

To see more about this novel, go to

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Starving Time: The Buried Truth

Percy, Smith, and the other writers mention cannibalism without calling it by name. Percy supplies the details of the starving man who murdered his pregnant wife and ate part of her remains [see blog of 1/4/14], and Smith’s Generall Historie elaborates on the consuming of at least one corpse: “So great was our famine, that a savage we slew, and buried, the poorer sort took him up again and ate him, and so did diverse one another boiled and stewed with roots and herbs.” Horrific as it sounds, it is not impossible to imagine. Jamestown in the winter of 1609-10 was a place where, as Percy says, starving people were desperate enough to lick up the blood which had “fallen from their weake fellowes.”
         Another account of the Starving Time, also written by those who had lived through it, told of eating “vermin or carrion [what]soever we could light on, as also toadstools, jew’s ears [Auricularia auricula-judaea, a small, ear-sized tree fungus], or whatever else we found growing upon the ground that would fill either mouth or belly.” As that terrible winter went on, they were “driven through unsufferable hunger unnaturally to eat those things which nature most abhorred: the flesh and excrements of man.”
They ate these things “as of our own nation as [well as] of an Indian digged by some out of his grave after he had lain buried three days, and wholly devoured him. Others, envying the better state of body of any whom hunger had not yet so much wasted as their own, lay [in] wait and threatened to kill and eat them.”

We now know that in at least one instance, the butchered corpse of a 14-year-old girl, cannibalism was real in early Virginia.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Starving Time: More Hunger Games

Recent excavations at Jamestown give grim testimony to some of Percy’s journal entries. Did the starving colonists actually eat shoes, snakes, rats, dogs, etc.? Shoes would not leave much evidence, but animal bones would--even 400 years later. In the cellar pit of the barracks inside the fort archeologists have unearthed the bones of poisonous snakes and musk turtles, butchered horse bones, the bones of the black rat, and dog and cat bones.The dog bones are probably those of a mastiff, which the English used for hunting. In their desperate need, they killed and ate the dogs that might have hunted for game.
         But hunting for game assumes the hunters were not afraid to venture outside the fort.

         When the boots and shoes and dogs and cats were gone, what was left to eat?

George Percy’s journal, continued:

And now famin beginneinge to Looke [so] ghastly and pale in every face, that notheinge was Spared to mainteyne Lyfe and to doe those things which seame incredible, as to digge up deade corpes outt of graves and to eate them.

         And 400 years later, we have evidence that they did.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Winter, 1610 at Jamestown: "A world of miseries"

The next part of George Percy’s journal is too grim to be paraphrased. It deserves quoting in full, just as he wrote it:
         Now all of us at James Towne beginneinge to feele the sharp pricke of hunger, which noe man [can] trewly descrybe but he which hath Tasted the bitternesse thereof. A world of miseries ensued . . . in so much that some to satisfye their hunger have Robbed the store [storehouse], for the which I Caused them to be executed. Then haveinge fedd upon horses and other beastes as longe as they Lasted [that would have been the horse and four mares, and the goats and sheep that John Smith’s presidency had left], we weare gladd to make shifte with vermin, as doggs, Catts Ratts, and myce, All was fishe thatt Came to Nett to satisfye Crewell hunger, as to eat Bootes shoes, or any other leather some could come by. And those being Spente and devoured, some were inforced to search the woodes and to feed upon Serpentts and snakes and to digge the earthe for wylde and unknowne Rootes, where many of our men weare Cutt off and slayne by the Savages.

Inside the log fort, starvation; outside it, “savages.”
JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL (2014) is now available on