In addition to the malarial swamp the settlers arrived too late in the year to get crops planted. Many in the group were gentlemen unused to work, or their manservants, equally unaccustomed to the hard labor demanded by the harsh task of carving out a viable colony. One of these was Robert Hunt, a former vicar of Reculver, England, who "probably celebrated the first known service of holy communion in what is today the United States of America [at Jamestown, on June 21 1607]." In a few months, fifty-one of the party were dead; some of the survivors were deserting to the Indians whose land they had invaded. In the "starving time" of 1609–1610, the Jamestown settlers were in even worse straits. Only 61 of the 500 colonists survived the period.
Virginia Indians had already established settlements long before the English settlers arrived, and there were an estimated 14,000 natives in the region, politically known as Tsenacommacah, who spoke an Algonquian language. They were the Powhatan Confederacy, ruled by their paramount chief known as Wahunsenacawh, or "Chief Powhatan". Wahunsenacawh initially sought to resettle the English colonists from Jamestown, considered part of Paspahegh territory, to another location known as Capahosick, where they would make metal tools for him as members of his Confederacy, but this never transpired.
The first explorers had been greeted by the natives with lavish feasts and supplies of maize, but as the English, lacking the inclination to grow their own food, became hungry and began to strong-arm more and more supplies from nearby villages, relations quickly deteriorated and eventually led to conflict. The resulting Anglo-Powhatan War lasted until Samuel Argall captured his daughter Matoaka, better known by her nickname Pocahontas, after which the chief accepted a treaty of peace.