What problems did early Jamestown experience?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Actually, poor diplomacy with the Indians was NOT a problem, in fact the colony proudly would have disappeared from starvation had it not been for help from the local Pumunkey Indian tribe. The Indians grew several varieties of maize (corn) and not only showed the colonists how to plant it; but also traded with them for hatchets, metal tools, swords and muskets.

Aside from this the initial problems confronting the colony were:

  • Most of the people who settled the colony were townspeople who did not know how to farm. They only learned how from the Indians.
  • Others were of the gentlemanly class who had come to search for gold and considered physical labor beneath them, even when necessary for survival.
  • The settlers all lacked hunting skills. The area was plentiful with game animals; yet they did not have the ability to hunt for them.
  • As noted above, supply ships from England were largely undependable.

The colony probably would have collapsed were it not for the leadership of John Smith. Smith was difficult and quarrelsome, but had been chosen by the London Company to manage the colony. With iron fisted rules, he forced the colonists to work and they thereby survived; until Smith was injured and had to return to England for medical treatment. Their worst days were after Smith left, the so-called "starving time" when they ran out of food. Things were so bad that one man who had married an Indian woman killed her and salted her down for food. During the winter of 1609-1610 out of 600 settlers, only 80 survived. They were saved this time by the arrival of Sir Thomas Gates who also imposed hard nosed discipline.



enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Early Jamestown was almost a failure like the colonies before it. Some of the apparent problems were poor diplomacy with the natives, which resulted in armed attacks, poor agricultural planning, which resulted in starvation, and poor water supplies which caused dysentery.  As a result, the colony almost died out.  Ships from England failed to arrive on as scheduled; and finally, the colony originally had little to keep it economically viable through trade with England.

Another part of the problem were the unrealistic expectations harbored by some of the colonists, many of which were of the landed gentry in England looking to expand their estates, and were not willing to engage in the hard labor of farming.  However, under good leadership, and the discovery of tobacco as a valued commodity, the colony survived and was thriving by the 1620's.