Outside the fort were Indians, and inside, disease and death. John Smith would write later, “Within tenne daies scarse ten amongst us coulde either goe, or well stand, such extreame weaknes and sicknes oppressed us.” Worse yet, there was not enough to eat. As a 20th century historian wrote, “Gone were the meat and ale to which husky Elizabethan appetites were accustomed; daily rations now consisted of half a pint of wheat as little of barley, both wormy from months at sea.” Such a diet would be approximately 600 calories. This was the Starving Time, Part I.
From August 6 to September 5, twenty-one men died, sometimes two and three a day. As George Percy remembered, “Our men were destroyed with cruell diseases as Swellings, Flixes, Burning Fevers . . . but for the most part they died of meere famine.” One of them was councilor Bartholomew Gosnold, the captain of the Godspeed, who left a wife and three small children at home in Bury St. Edmonds. As befitted an officer and a gentleman, he was buried with full military honors.
Edward Wingfield, the colony’s first president, allegedly hoarded food and refused to share the company’s liquor supply (aqua vitae and sack). He lasted only four months in office. There were bitter quarrels, and Smith wrote mysteriously that he himself was “disgrac’d through others’ malice.”
Smith wrote the history of Virginia, but he left out a lot.
[i] Percy, “Observations gathered out of a discourse of the plantation of the southern colony in Virginia by the English, 1606, Written by that honorable gentleman, Master George Percy,” in Horn, ed., Captain John Smith, 933.