Early Jamestown: Why Did so Many Colonists Die?

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Early Jamestown: Why Did So Many Colonists Die?
It was a rough beginning with constant deaths throughout the colony of Jamestown. English settlers started arriving at the James River in the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia in the spring of 1607. Some hoped for new homes; most hoped to become rich, but for the most part, the adventure would come to a tragic end. By 1611, 400 of the original 500 colonists had died. So, the question to be answered is why so many colonists died. The answer is to why people died can be found in three basic reasons: issues with the water, the fact that the colonists came with mostly unhelpful skills, and the fact that the colonists failed to maintain peaceful relations with the Indians who were already living in the area.

The water became a major problem for the colonists because it was not fresh water; it was a harsh mixture of saltwater and freshwater enough to do some damage. The colonists tried to dig wells for fresh water, but these were subject to drought and/or saltwater intrusion. Since the colony dumped all of their waste in the water source, it became even more toxic as the weeks passed, and could have also contributed to disease. The headcount began to rapidly drop, and several of the deaths were caused by saltwater poisoning. It seems water was an important factor in the hardship of the colony, but it is not the only one.

The colonists were not very smart in whom they brought to established their new colony. For example, the largest group of one profession that came was all gentlemen, whom were people of wealth and did not know anything about hard labor. There were only twelve laborers brought in the first shipment. This made it hard for the colonists to obtain food and build shelter. Not only did they not bring enough of certain people, they also brought people who had no purpose in being there other than to eat all the food, which was scarce to begin with. Skills of tailors, barbers, and even a drummer were brought...
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