Saturday, January 11, 2014

A "tragical history"

In London, the Virginia Company’s spin doctors did their best with the grim news from Jamestown. The investors in this joint-stock venture had yet to see a profit. In November 1610, the Company published A True Declaration of the estate of the colony in Virginia, with a confutation of such scandalous reports as have tended to the disgrace of so worthy an enterprise.

            This booklet had its own version of the “tragical history of the man eating his dead wife,” during the Starving Time, supplied by Sir Thomas Gates, former governor of Bermuda and Virginia councillor (who was not in Virginia during the Starving Time). Gates appeared before the Virginia Company Council in London to set the record straight, and his version was published.

            According to Gates, the truth was that the unfortunate husband at Jamestown had “mortally hated his wife.” He had “secretly killed her, then cut her into pieces and hid her remains in divers parts of his house.” Then he “daily fed upon her,” although, Gates declared, he was far from starving. Jamestown had plenty to eat (so said Gates) and the wife-killer’s house contained “a good quantity to meal, oatmeal, beans, and peas.”

            Such a well-stocked larder would have been news to the starving inhabitants of Jamestown in the winter of 1609-10.

            I wrote a novel about what happened at Jamestown because I wanted to read it.  Look for JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL, to be published early in 2014.


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