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Jamestown 1609

Jamestown 1609 is a historical fiction poetry comic told from the perspective of a teen girl on her journey from mainland England to the Jamestown colony in North America. During the winter of 1609, colonists endured what is now referred to as “The Starving Time” – a months long period of depleted resources that resulted in mass death and depravity. From winter to spring, the colony of 500 men, women, and children were whittled down to a meager 61. The details of this poem are inspired by true events and historical records.

Words by Cheyenne Smith   ·  Illustrations by Brittany Fetcho

Cheyenne Jamestown Poem fin.jpg
Cheyenne Jamestown Poem fin4.jpg

Footnotes & Historical Context

August – Supplies traveled to Jamestown by ship. After two voyages transported men and materials, the Third Supply ship set sail with food and women – cargo that would kickstart the decades-long gender imbalance in the colonies. Unfortunately, the ship carrying food was lost in a hurricane, which would cause the death of hundreds of colonists over the following months.


September – Goose pulling was a popular pastime of the colonists. Men would grease the neck of a goose, hang it from a pole, and ride horseback underneath until someone ripped the head off.


October – Once fertile, many colonial women gave birth every ~2 years until they could no longer have children or died. To stave off childbirth, some mothers would breastfeed as long as possible to pause fertility (a contraceptive practice now known as the Lactation Amenorrhea Method).


November – Chesapeake conditions were harsh. Malaria took countless lives and an unusual drought stopped the colonists from growing food. As the cold months arrived, people became desperate for food and resorted to eating dogs, cats, mice, and even the leather from their shoes.


December – A man in Jamestown murdered his pregnant wife, salted her, and ate her. Once discovered by the other colonists, the man was tied to a tree, tortured, and left to die. Unfortunately, he was not the only person to resort to cannibalism during the Starving Time.


January – By the new year, hundreds of colonists would have died, with hundreds more fated for death in the coming months. Jamestown would not receive another shipment of food until June of that year, by which point, the population would have dwindled from 500 to 61.

Original voice memo from Cheyenne to Brittany with historical and collaboration notes

In this video, I walk Brittany through the poem mockup and add historical notes where I felt it was relevant. Though the poem can stand alone, from a visual perspective, I wanted Brittany to have as much context as possible when planning her illustrations.


Jamestown 1609, text only


The Atlantic Ocean whispered, Happy Birthday!
As I boarded the Third Supply ship.

Sixty days at sea: black water, vomit, and hurricanes.
Each night, I prayed on a seagull for love or eternity.

Instead, the shore offered only empty promises and starving men;
One fort, one storehouse, one church –
As if God exists in a place like this.


I stay away from the boys when they’re bored;
Their violent games – blood sports.

Who can rip the neck from a goose?
Who can clip the wings of a sparrow?

If boyhood crimes are committed in daylight,  
What chance does my girlhood stand
In the dark?



I’m jealous of Sarah’s son –  
18 months and still latched to her chest.

She said blood and milk don’t mix  
So if she’s lucky – and he’s hungry – she’ll never bleed again.

When our hands untangle, she's shifted from Child to Bride.
Did she get a warning?
Or just run out of time?



No one noticed when the mosquitos left,
And something more dangerous crept in.

A thieving hunger that sneaks out at night
Stealing the barks from our dogs, and the cats from our mice.

The leather from my left shoe is gone too, but the taste still lingers.
Shame. Sweat. Death.
I'm saving the right one for Easter.



The neighbor ate his pregnant wife
So we'll tie him to a tree.

Two less mouths to feed,
The baby never would’ve made it anyway.

Tomorrow they'll be buried in a hole meant for two.
Enough room for a woman's vengeance,
And a mother's gratitude.



I can taste the salt from that August air,
Back when each woman was outnumbered one to six.

Now Sarah and her baby are gone
And there's one man alive for every three dead.

So tonight I'll dream of that ship and stick my face in a fire.
God, if you're listening,
Let flames burn hotter than hunger.

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