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

A View of New Netherland

Because of all this, the voyage, which took up nearly four months, was one of discomfort, if not exactly of suffering, and when we came to anchor off that place in America which had been named New Netherland, I would have rejoiced even though it were the most desolate island, because of my life on shipboard having, for a time at least, come to an end.

But before I tell you what I saw when I gazed upon this part of the New World for the first time, to the end that you may the better understand what I am talking about, let me say that toward the close of the year of grace, 1624, a company of forty-five persons, men, women and children, with all their home belongings, their tools for the farms, and one hundred and three cows and sheep, had been sent out from Amsterdam in three large ships and a small boat, called by the Dutch a yacht, although in England it would have been spoken of as a pinnace.

Some of these people, who agreed with the West India Company to build at this place a trading post, had already set up such houses as would serve to shelter them from the weather.

And this is the picture which I saw on the fourth day of May, in the year of our Lord, 1626, when I stood on the forward part of the Sea Mew, gazing shoreward with hungry eyes, for the one desire I had was to plant my feet once more upon the solid earth.


We were lying where two grand rivers came together, forming a harbor in which all the King's ships might ride in safety. In front of me was a range of small hills, whereon grew noble trees that had just put on their dress of green to mark the coming of the summer, and in the valleys, betwixt the forest and the shore, were small dwellings or huts built of the bark of trees, much as a child might make a house of twigs.

Beyond these huts were settlements like unto nothing I had ever seen, made up of buildings which looked not unlike gigantic logs that had been split in the middle, with the cleft side lying on the ground. Some of these half-round shelters were exceedingly long, others short, and all had one or more doors close to the ground, but no windows that I could see.

They were made, as I afterward learned, of the bark of birch trees laid over a framework of saplings, and fastened in place with the sinews of animals, or with small wooden pegs. From more than one of them came smoke, telling of fires and of cooking, but I saw no chimneys.

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