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

The "Brown Men" or Savages

Here and there, either in this odd village, or near the bark huts of the Dutch people, wandered colored men, not black like those negro slaves we had on board the Sea Mew, but rather the color of a copper kettle that has been somewhat used over a fire. For clothing, they wore nothing more than a piece of skin tied around the waist, or leggings of hide.

Their heads were bare, with the hair shaven from off a goodly portion, leaving a long tuft directly on the top, which by means, as I afterward learned, of animal fat, was made to stand upright like a horn.

These were the savages, and I looked no longer at the dwellings built in the shape of a half-moon, or at the loosely stacked strips of bark which marked the home of some Dutchman who had come here at the bidding of the West India Company, for all my thoughts were centered upon these brown men, of whom I had heard as one hears a fairy tale, not believing in its truth.

Now although the land was goodly and fair to look upon, a veritable garden of pleasure, to those who had come from a long voyage on the angry waters, as had we of the Sea Mew, yet there came into my mind the fear that these brown men who wandered here and there, giving little heed to us who were so lately arrived, and who were the owners of this New World, might come at some future time to say to themselves that it were better the Dutch had never landed in their midst. If that day ever did arrive, woe unto us whose skins were white!

Little did I believe, even as I dreamed, that such would come to be the truth; that the day was not far distant when these savages who made even of their hair a seeming weapon, would come to thirst for the blood of us who hoped to find fame or fortune, or both, in this New World of America.

At a mile or more from the point where we had anchored, we were told there was a strip of marshy ground, stretching across from river to river, and lying so low that when the tide was at its height, the streams were united, making of this settlement an island, which the Indians called Manhattan.

There were trees in the forest before me enough to make all the masts that could be used by the people of the world, and in such a wilderness how abundant must be the game! In these huge rivers how great in number the fish!

I panted to leave the narrow space of ship; to go on shore where I could wander among the trees and amid the flowers; where I could see these strange, brown people, whose huts were to me much like hills thrown up by ants; to come in contact with all these things which God had made, and in so doing rejoice that I lived.

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