Gateway to the Classics: Peter of Amsterdam by James Otis
Peter of Amsterdam by  James Otis

Boats Used by the Savages

This fear of so seaworthy a craft as ours, was all the more comical after I had seen such boats as the savages themselves used, and you may believe that I am stretching the truth to the point of breaking it, when I say that they put off in toy vessels that were little better than eggshells.

What is more, they showed no fear in so doing even when the waves ran high, and it seemed as if no human power could prevent the frail craft from being swamped.

These canoes, as the savages called them, were given shape by thin splints of wood, bent something after the fashion of a bow, with the forward and after ends, although one looked the same shape as the other, rising high above the midship portion. They were covered with bark from the birch tree, sewn together with sinews of deer, or of such like animals, and smeared plentifully with balsam from the pine trees. Where in another craft would have been the rail, were strips of wood not thicker then my smallest finger, but of such toughness as to give shape to the boat.

I could easily, and have done so many times since, toss the largest of these canoes on my shoulder and carry it without feeling that I was burdened. Yet four or five of the brown men would get inside one


of these drowning machines, as Kryn called them, kneeling in the bottom, since there was no chance to sit squarely down, and dart over the waves with greater speed than our crew could row the longboat.

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