We call her Jane: female, fourteen years old, possibly from southern England.
She left Plymouth, England, in June 1609 as part of the largest fleet yet to sail for Jamestown. But a terrifying hurricane scattered the fleet, and her ship limped into Jamestown in early August. Less than a year later, she was dead.
These are the things we know about her. There is much more we do not know. Who was she? Why did she leave home? Was she the daughter of a well-to-do gentry family or the humble maidservant of a gentlewoman? What did she hope to do in America? Was she timid in the face of the unknown, or was she brave? How did she die?
We know so little about Jane because, like most women and children of the time, she was not recorded in the historical documents. Today she is our only tangible personification of the darkest period of the Jamestown colony -- "the starving time" -- when in the winter months of 1609 and early spring of 1610 most of Jamestown's inhabitants died of sickness and starvation. A few chilling accounts tell us that in desperation the wretched survivors consumed the bodies of those who succumbed -- people like "Jane."