On November 8, 1610, another piece of propaganda, the Virginia Company’s latest booklet, went on sale at the Black Bear in St. Paul’s churchyard. Its title is self-explanatory: 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. It celebrated the earlier safe return of Gates, Newport, and others from the Sea Venture expedition, and did its best to dispel the worst of the Virginia reports, especially the “Starving Time” and the “tragical history of the man eating of his dead wife in Virginia.”
Sir Thomas Gates appeared before the Virginia Company’s Council and tried to the record straight about the Jamestown colonists who had killed and eaten his wife, a story that had shocked all of London. (Apparently no one asked where Gates came by this information, since he himself had been in Bermuda when the wife-butchering incident took place.) According to Gates the man “mortally hated his wife.” So he “secretly killed her, then cut her in pieces and hid her remains in divers parts of his house.” The implication being that the husband did not kill his wife because he was starving—though he “fed daily upon her.” As further proof that there was plenty to eat in Jamestown, Gates reported that besides the wife’s dismembered body the man’s house contained “a good quantity of meal, oatmeal, beans, and peas.” Such a larder would have been news to the starving inhabitants inside the fort, who remembered existing on half a can of meal per day.
And perhaps a little meat. . . .