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

Buying the Island of Manhattan

I had again been puzzling my brain to figure out how any trading of land could be carried on, since it was not reasonable to suppose the savages had knowledge of the Dutch tongue, or that Master Minuit understood such words as the brown men spoke.

It was all made plain, however, when one of the white men who had come from Amsterdam the year before, stepped forward, bending low before my master as he began making odd sounds to the Indians, which must have been words of some kind, since they answered him in the same manner, after which the whole crowd of top-knotted, half-naked savages rose to their feet.

Then our Dutchman would repeat the Indian words in English to Master Minuit, though no one could say whether he repeated exactly that which the savages had told him, and thus a full hour was spent in telling of the greatness of Holland, the good intent of the West India Company toward the brown people, and the advantage it would be to have white men in the land.

Master Minuit was not the only one who could deal out soft words, for the chief savage of the company was quite his match in such business, and made it appear as if this island of Manhattan were the one place in all the great world, while at the same time he claimed that the Manhattan Indians were the only real men ever born.

Finally Master Minuit got at the kernel of the nut by telling the savages that he was ready to buy, and to pay a good price for their island, at the same time letting it be understood that they need not move away so long as it was their desire to be neighbors and friends

with the white men, who would pay all kinds of prices for furs, or whatsoever they had to sell.

This was the time when the chest was opened, and I looked to see the brown men walk away angrily, believing Master Minuit was making fools of them when he offered such trumpery stuff for good, solid land; but much to my surprise the savages hung over the beads and cloth as if they were worth their weight in gold.


Had I owned the island, and Master Minuit was trying to buy it from me for what he had in the chest, I would not have given him as much of the soil as he stood on, for a shipload of the stuff; but these savages seemed to think they were getting great wealth in exchange for the land, and he who was acting as mouthpiece had need to keep his tongue wagging lively in order to repeat all that was said.

By noon the bargain had been made; the savages kept a tight grip on all they had received, even when

they were invited on board the Sea Mew, where writings of the trade were to be made, and I had hard work not to laugh outright when I saw how gingerly they stepped into our staunch longboat, as if fearing it would overset.

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