Part VI. STARVATION TIME & FIVE KERNELS OF CORN
The first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621 was a bountiful feast, but the inventory taken afterwards in preparation for winter proved the Pilgrims had grossly overestimated their harvest. The only way they could possibly get through the winter was to cut in half the already weekly rations of food. To make matters even worse, the ship Fortune arrived shortly thereafter with 35 new settlers. Only three were women. They came empty-handed and poorly clothed; ill-equipped for the approaching winter. Bradford wrote, “They were lusty young men, and many of them wild enough, who little considered whither or about what they went.-But there was not so much as biscuit or cake or any other victuals for them, neither had they bedding, but some sorry things they had in their cabins; not a pot nor pan to dress any meat in; nor over many clothes.-The Plantation was glad enough of this strength, but could have wished that many of them had been of better condition, and all of them better furnished with provisions.”
Thus after a month the Fortune returned to England. The Fortune itself had to be supplied from the scant stores of the Colony for her return voyage.
Grim starvation now threatened their annihilation. The Pilgrim colonists could only tighten their belts. Many times the colonists supplied unexpected arrivals and distressed mariners, sometimes in large numbers, from their slender store.
The houses were very small, barely large enough for the families who, despite cold, hunger and sickness had built them. The new arrivals busied themselves by making additions to the seven houses where they were quartered.
From the first, the colonists had been repeatedly promised provisions from England, but the much needed relief never came.
The colonists struggled through the winter, but by May 1622 their food supply was completely gone and the harvest was four months away. According to Edward Winslow’s account, the wildlife and fish were in short supply because the number of fowl decreased during the warm months and lacking the proper fishing gear they were prevented from taking advantage of the abundance of cod in the area… Winslow stated, “And indeed, had we not been in a place where divers sorts of shell fish may be taken with the hand, we must have perished.”
In desperation, Winslow was sent 150 miles up the Maine coast to buy, beg or borrow whatever provisions the English ships there could spare. All who were asked gave what they could and not one would accept payment of any kind.
By the time Winslow returned, the settlers were literally starving. The provisions were a godsend but there were many mouths to feed; when rationed out, each person received only 1/4 lb. of bread a day.