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

Quarrelsome Slaves

It was during this year of our Lord, 1626, when the venture of making a village in the New World was well-nigh shown to be a success, that the first serious crime was committed, and one which cost, before many years had passed, much of white blood.

Among the laborers who had been brought over in the Sea Mew, were nine negro slaves, the West India Company having sent them in the belief that because of their skins' being black they might do much toward gaining favor with the brown men.

In Holland these fellows had shown themselves to be fairly good servants, although not greatly given to industry; but no sooner were they landed in the New World than they became indolent and ill-tempered, seeming to believe that because of this country's being inhabited by people whose skins were dark, they were entitled to a full share of everything, with no longer the need to look upon any man as master.

The result of it all was that the negroes became troublesome, ready to quarrel with any man who crossed their path, and unwilling to do so much of labor as would have provided them with food to eat.


They swaggered here and there around the village, taking good care, however, not to cross Master Minuit's path, else would he have pulled them up with a round turn. At night, when the head men of the village were in their dwellings, these black fellows did not hesitate to quarrel with, or even illtreat, the hard working Dutchmen who had never a harsh word for any one.

Now I have heard it said later that Master Minuit was at fault because of his not giving to those negroes, when they first showed signs of being unruly, such a punishment as would never have been forgotten; but it must be borne in mind that my master was an exceeding busy man, having the care of everything whatsoever on his shoulders, from the cutting of stone to the dealings with the West India Company.

Then again, there is a question in my mind as to whether he knew how overbearing they were growing, for our people, realizing that his cares were many, suffered much in the way of small injuries rather than complain to him.

However this may be, I shall always hold that the behavior of these negroes was no affair of Master Minuit. Until some of the people had called his attention to it, matters went on as they began, with the black men growing more and more unruly.

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