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

Claim of the West India Company

And what I thus heard, without being minded to play the listener, was that among the orders given by the West India Company, was one to the effect that before Master Minuit should do anything toward taking upon himself the governing of the country, the land of Manhattan Island was to be bought of the brown men, and these useless trinkets were to serve in the stead of purchase money.

To the better understanding of this order, let me go back in the tale to where I have said that the West India Company claimed to own the land which was called New Netherland. Their reasons for making such claim were that the Dutch government had, many years before, sent out the ship Half Moon, commanded by an Englishman named Henry Hudson, who believed himself to be the first white man that ever saw these rivers; and afterward that famous Dutch seaman, Adrian Block, had followed Master Hudson, stopping at this same island of Manhattan. Therefore it was, because of their vessels being supposed to have come to this place first, that the people of Holland claimed the land as their own.

As I came to know later, however, a certain sailor from Florence had been sent to America by the French king, near ninety years before Master Hudson's coming, and, on landing nearabout where we then were, claimed all the country in the name of France.

Perhaps the West India Company knew somewhat of this, and, fearing the French king might set up ownership to the island of Manhattan, had decided to buy it of the Indians so they might say it was doubly theirs, first because of having been discovered by them, and again because of being bought in fair trade.

All this which I have just told you came to me afterward, when I knew more of the great world and of the manner in which the nations of the earth struggled one against another to increase their possessions.

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