In 1607, the Virginia Company sent 144 men and boys to create the Jamestown Colony. Once again English settlers struggled to survive in the New World. Forty of the settlers died as they crossed the Atlantic. They landed in Virginia in April, and 60 more died of malaria among other ailments by September.
The men sent by the company were supposed to find riches in America and were not equipped to build a successful colony. The most commonly held job was gentleman, complete with man servants. While they were no doubt wonderful members of society they had no useful skills as settlers. There were three goldsmiths who would refine all the gold they found, and no carpenters.
Throughout 1607, the colonists searched the Virginia swamps for gold, and found none. Meanwhile they did not prepare for the winter. Because the summer was so much hotter than back in England, settlers mistakenly believed the winters would be warmer also. They were wrong.
By the time winter set in, the settlers had little food, had few shelters, and had no doors and windows. The settlers were sick, hungry, and cold. By the spring of 1608, only thirty-eight were still alive.
One of those still alive was the professional soldier John Smith. Smith was hired by the company to serve as captain of the militia. He had led an adventurous life as a mercenary fighting all across Europe, and now he was hired to fight in the New World. Crossing the Atlantic, Smith so angered his fellow colonists they planned to execute him, but then they found out his rank.
In mid 1608, Smith was chosen to lead the colony, and declared martial law. He instituted a policy “that he that will not work shall not eat.” His policy, though not ideal, saved Jamestown.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.