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A Lesson From Jamestown For Modern Civilization

By: Tom Chatham

Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in North America. This settlement was meant to establish a functional colony that would earn money for the company that was financially backing it. The new world was overflowing with natural resources yet to be exploited.

As a business venture the men who thought up this colony failed to think it through to its inevitable conclusion. That lack of planning led to the death of many people and almost ended in total failure. They made many assumptions that ended badly. For one thing they intended to supply the colony with regular shipments of food from England. The inability to deliver this food in a timely manner led to massive starvation.

The people that were chosen to populate this colony were regular people that were used to living in an established, stable society where the things they needed were readily available. In reality, the people they needed to establish this colony and get it operational needed to be woodsmen and rugged types that knew how to live and survive in the wilderness. The lack of personnel with the appropriate skills to live here caused much hardship for several years until they figured everything out the hard way.

John Smith was able to work with the Indians and trade with them. Following an accident, Smith went back to England and the relations with the Indians went bad. The colonists became trapped in their fort and slowly starved to death. Did that need to happen?

These colonists were depending on things to work as they had planned but life teaches us that the best laid plans often go awry. They had few contingency plans if things did not work right. They failed to take stock of the resources available to them and learn how to use them to their advantage.

What really amazes me is that they slowly starved while living only yards away from the James River. This is a waterway that was teaming with seafood. Fish, crabs and oysters are just some of the resources available in this waterway but the lack of knowledge to harvest this food led to massive suffering.

History teaches us lessons and we become wiser by learning those lessons. We can learn the easy way, from other peoples mistakes, or the hard way, by making those mistakes ourselves and hopefully surviving it. I prefer to learn from others mistakes as much as possible. So, what does this have to do with modern civilization?

If and when we are suddenly taken out of the comfortable, well organized world that we know and are suddenly thrown back onto our own resources, what we know will determine how well we get by. Knowing how to acquire food from the local area and how to avoid dangerous places and people while doing it are just some of the things you will need to know if the current distribution system ever shuts down for any length of time.

Learning history gives us more than just dry historical facts. History tells us what questions we should be asking ourselves and shows us what the consequences are for not knowing the answer. Knowing history is just as important as knowing survival skills. History teaches us what works and what does not. It helps to put the survival skills into context. It teaches us what comes next when something bad happens. We now know that lack of sanitation can lead to contaminated water that leads to cholera epidemics. We know this because we know history.

While you are learning to survive disasters you also need to learn some history to go with it to help you answer the questions you have not even thought of yet. Knowledge comes from many places and in many forms and allows us to adapt to changing circumstances. The technology may change but we have been in these situations before and learned to deal with it. Learn from the past so you can better deal with the future. There is nothing new under the sun.