What Did People Eat in Jamestown?

The severe winter that struck the town meant that food was scarce, so settlers resorted to eating anything they could find, including dogs, cats and horses, although further archaeological discoveries suggest they may also have eaten other human beings. Of the 108 colonists that settled the area, only 38 survived the first 9 months.

The colony was founded during one of the worst droughts to affect the region in hundreds of years which, when combined with other factors, meant that the colony struggled to feed itself mere months after being founded.

Most of the colonists had little experience growing crops or working the land. Disease also took a heavy toll, and the surviving colony members became almost entirely reliant on the local Native Americans and supply ships for food.

During the 1609 winter, the supply ship never arrived, and relations with the Native Americans had become hostile. In their desperation, the colonists were forced to eat anything from rats to boot leather.

While cannibalism had always been suspected, there was no proof until the remains of a 14-year-old girl was discovered. Scientists deduced that she arrived on a supply ship, and was most likely a maid or servant. Whether this was an isolated case is unknown, however.