The Starving Time came about after John Smith returned to England in 1609 and the uneasy truce he had brokered with the Powhatan Indians fell apart and led to the beginning of the First Anglo-Powhatan War.
The First Anglo-Powhatan War was about food, says James Whittenburg, the director for instruction at the National Institute of American History and Democracy (NIAHD). The Powhatans could feed themselves during this timebut just. They didnt have any food to trade with the colonistsand the colonists started taking food.
Whittenburg says analysis of the Jamestown garbage middens shows evidence of colonists eating well in the first couple of years after Jamestowns 1607 founding, dining on abundant seafood from the James River supplemented by corn received in trade from the natives. Food remains that were dated to the winter of 1609-1610the Starving Timepaint a grimmer picture.
They were eating their domestic animals, Whittenburg said. There are horse bones that show signs of butcheringdogs, too.
Fear of Indian attacks kept the colonists inside their fort, eating a diet that led from horses and dogs to rats and even poisonous snakes. It also kept the colonists from seeking better water supplies, Whittenburg added.
He says historical descriptions of the Starving Time colonists correspond with symptoms of people suffering from salt toxicity, including lethargy and irritability.
Explore further: Oyster Shells Tell Story