The Jamestown colony flourished under the strict rule of John Smith. Nevertheless, The London Company (which was now called the Virginia Company) had formed a new government that was to be led by Thomas De La Warre. The new charter issued by the Virginia Company called for the appointment of a governor rather than a president. John Smith, who nearly died after igniting himself in a canoe, returned to England for good. Since De La Warre was unable to make the trip immediately, Thomas Gates was named interim governor. Unfortunately, Gates’ ship wrecked off the coast of Bermuda and he was unable to resume the trip until new ships were built.


Meanwhile, the Virginia Company was in the process of reformulating its philosophy on potential profits in Jamestown. By 1609, it became obvious that profits would have to be realized over a long-term basis rather than immediately. The Virginia Company began reorganizing business possibilities to resemble those that had been successful in controlling the populations in Ireland. They proposed to bring England to the New World by sending families to Jamestown. Families were promised their own parcels of land for seven years of communal labor at Jamestown. This, the Virginia Company believed, would cause colonists to have a permanent stake in the welfare of the community as a whole, which would result in increased productivity and profit. Those that were not wealthy enough to pay their passage to the New World would have their trip subsidized (paid for) in exchange for seven years of labor. Those individuals became servants.


With John Smith out of the picture, and with the lack of a visible leader at Jamestown (because of Gates’ shipwreck), Powhatan saw an opportunity to rid himself of the white settlers once and for all. Hence, Powhatan ordered his people to stop trading with the settlers. Without any leadership, and more specifically without the leadership of John Smith, the settlers once again became complacent and stopped contributing to the welfare of Jamestown. Trading teams that departed from Jamestown to Powhatan’s lands rarely returned and were presumed dead. Without corn from the Algonkins, with settlers who refused to work, and with Powhatan’s warriors seemingly closing in around them, the winter of 1609-1610 became known as the “Starving Time”. Colonists were forced to eat cats and dogs and some were even executed for digging up human corpses to eat. When Gates finally arrived in 1610, only about 60 of the 500 settlers were still alive. Gates decided to abandon the settlement and nearly set sail with the remaining settlers for England. While Powhatan and his people celebrated wildly, Thomas De La Warre arrived with three fully supplied ships with a mission to stay indefinitely.


De La Warre and Gates re-established the tough discipline that had led the colony to success under John Smith. Under the set of rules developed by Gates and enforced by Sir Thomas Dale (the future governor of Virginia), settlers would be brutally punished for breaking the rules. Settlers were shot, burned at the stake, and hung at the gallows. Such transgressions as cursing carried physical torture or public humiliation as consequences.


During this time relations with the Indians worsened. The settlers were still dependent on the Indians for food, and became more and more violent in their quests to obtain it. The Indians, in turn, responded in kind, resulting in a bloody series of killings on both sides.