Richard of Jamestown - James Otis

"The Starving Time"

We came to know what starvation meant during that winter, and were I to set down here all of the suffering, of the hunger weakness, and of the selfishness we saw during the six months after Captain Smith sailed for home, there would not be days enough left in my life to complete the tale.

As I look back on it now, it seems more like some wonderful dream than a reality, wherein men strove with women and children for food to keep life in their own worthless bodies.

It is enough if I say that of the four hundred and ninety persons whom Captain Smith left behind him, there were, in the month of May of the year 1610, but fifty-eight left alive. That God should have spared among those, Nathaniel Peacock and myself, is something which passeth understanding, for verily there were scores of better than we whose lives would have advantaged Jamestown more than ours ever can, who died and were buried as best they could be by the few who had sufficient strength remaining to dig the graves.

I set it down in all truth that, through God's mercy, our lives were saved by Master Hunt, for he counseled us wisely as to the care we should take of our bodies when our stomachs were crying out for food, and it was he who showed us how we might prepare this herb or the bark from that tree for the sustaining of life, when we had nothing else to put into our mouths.

We had forgotten that Lord De la Warr was the new governor; we had heard nothing of the ship in which it was said Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers had sailed. We were come to that pass where we cared neither for governor nor nobleman. We strove only to keep within our bodies the life which had become painful.

Then it was, when the few of us who yet lived, feared each moment lest the savages would put an end to us, that we saw sailing up into the bay two small ships, and I doubt if there was any among us who did not fall upon his knees and give thanks aloud to God for the help which had come at the very moment when it had seemed that we were past all aid.

[Illustration] from Richard of Jamestown by James Otis


Front Matter

Who I am
Left Alone in the World
An Idle Boy
Captain Smith Comes to London
Meeting Captain Smith
Captain Smith Speaks to Me
Plans of the London Company
The Vessels of the Fleet
How I Earned my Passage
When the Fleet Set Sail
The Voyage Delayed
Nathaniel's Story
We Make Sail Again
The First Island
Captain Smith Accused
Captain Smith a Prisoner
I Attend My Master
Several Islands Visited
A Variety of Wild Game
The Tempest
The New Country Sighted
The Leader Not Known
Arrival at Chesapeake Bay
An Attack by the Savages
Reading the Company's Orders
Captain Smith on the Council
Smith Remains Aboard
Exploring the Country
People Land from the Ships
Captain Smith Proven Innocent
We Who were Left Behind
Baking Bread without Ovens
Unequal Division of Labor
Building a Home of Logs
Keeping House
Lack of Cleanliness
Cave Homes
The Golden Fever
Ducks and Oysters
Roasting Oysters
Leaning to Cook
The Sweet Potato Root
A Touch of Homesickness
Master Hunt's Preaching
Neglecting the Future
Surprised by Savages
Strengthening the Fort
Sickness and Death
Smith Gains Authority
Disagreeable Discipline
Signs of Rebellion
Second Proclamation
Building a Fortified Village
Trapping Turkeys
A Crude Kind of Chimney
Cooking a Turkey
Candles or Rushlights
The Visit of Pocahontas
Captain Kendall's Plot
Death of Captain Kendall
Captain Smith's Expedition
An Exciting Adventure
Taken Before Powhatan
Pocahontas Begs for Smith
Captain Smith's Return
A New Church
Captain Newport's Return
A Worthless Cargo
Condition of the Colony
Captain Newport's Return
Gazing at the Women
Hunt Brings Great News
Captain Newport's Instructions
The Story of Roanoke
The Crowning of Powhatan
Preparing for the Future
Stealing Company Goods
What the Thieving Led To
Fear of Famine
The Unhealthful Location
Gathering Oysters
Sturgeon for Food
Turpentine and Tar
Making Clapboards
Providing for Children
Dreams of the Future
A Plague of Rats
Treachery During Smith's Absence
Captain Smith's Speech
The New Laws
The Accident
Captain Smith's Departure
The "Starving Time"
Our Courage Gives Out
Abandoning Jamestown
Lord De la Warr's Arrival
The Young Planters