Meanwhile, at Jamestorn’s ruined fort, De La Warr set his men and others who were able-bodied to work. Some were put to cleaning up the debris of ruined houses inside the fort, others to making coal for the forges (blacksmiths were essential for making tools and weapons and ammunition), still others to fish, but the latter, the Captain-General noted with disappointment, “had ill success” in the James River. The starving residents of Jamestown had become too weak and too frightened of Indians to fish in the river, and they had let their nets—fourteen of them by one count—rot to pieces. The newcomers had some nets, but they had little luck in casting them. They hauled in their nets every day and night, “sometimes a dosen times one after the other,” but they did not catch enough to feed even a fourth of the people who were there. Strachey wrote ruefully, “Notwithstanding the great store [of fish] we now saw daily in our River; but let the blame of this lye where it is, both upon our Nets, and the unskilfulnesse of our men to lay them.” Captain-General De La Warr sent some of his men in the pinnace Virginia to fish downriver and in Chesapeake Bay, but they returned by the end of June with nothing to show for their fishing trip.
In short, Jamestown’s residents were still desperately hungry. They needed many more calories than normal if they were to recover from months of severe malnutrition. And many had simply lost heart. They no longer wanted to make an effort. Sir Thomas Gates was shocked to find that what little fish they managed to come by, they ate raw “rather than they would go a stones cast to fetch wood and dresse it.”\
Where was John Smith when they needed him?