Problems for the Jamestown colonists began almost as soon as they arrived in Virginia. At first, their chosen site of settlement seemed to have the necessary advantages, such as a deep water anchorage and natural defenses. However, they soon found that these were outweighed by some serious flaws.
First of all, the site of the colony had little in the way of fresh water. The water in the nearby river was frequently too salty for human consumption. It also took some time before the colonists made the link between refuse disposal and unsafe drinking water. Until 1610, they frequently deposited refuse too close to their limited supply of drinking water, which led to outbreaks of disease.
Furthermore, malaria and other possible mosquito-borne illnesses were common, since the local marshy environment was an ideal home for this parasitic insect. With limited medical supplies and knowledge, many of the colonists succumbed to diseases in the first years of settlement.
Although initial relations with the local Powhatan were promising, things began to sour by 1609. Faced with famine, the English settlers frequently requested food from the Indigenous population, something that the Powhatans soon began to bristle at. Relations became so strained that most colonists refused to leave the fort during the winter of 1609-1610 out of fear of being killed by their Indigenous neighbors.
Although they had sent for supplies in 1609, the resupply ship from England had wrecked on Bermuda. As a result, food supplies dwindled even more and colonists were forced to eat whatever they could scrounge, including leather, horses, and, in some extreme instances, each other. This period became known as the "starving time." When the resupply party finally arrived in Jamestown the following spring, they found the colony barely clinging to existence. The fort was in near ruins, and most of the colonists were dead.