Monday, May 21, 2012

Nutmeg – the Tropical Spice that bought Manhattan

My last blog was about the Many Uses of Nutmeg.

In the meantime I finished reading the book “Nathaniel’s Nutmeg,” in which British author Giles Milton writes about Nathaniel Courthope who was a trusted captain of the East India Company, who fought a fierce battle in the 17th century against the Dutch by defending Run, the tiny island in the volcanic group of the Banda Islands in today’s Indonesia.  At that time, Run was one of the few places in the world where the priced nutmeg trees were growing. 

Nathaniel made a name for himself, as after his death in 1620, the British took revenge to the loss of Nathaniel and the Island of Run which he so dedicated himself for and demanded the island of Manhattan from the Dutch.  Milton joked about it in his book that Nathaniel’s death caused England to ”lose nutmeg but gained bigger apples” instead and therefore altered the course of history.   In modern times nutmeg is grown in other tropical countries with Grenada (Caribbean) leading the production.  In fact, they made the nutmeg the symbol of their country and put it on their flag.  Natives also make jams and candies from the fruit pot.

Who was Nathaniel Courthope?

Almost 400 years have passed since Nathaniel Courthope became a trader and lieutenant of the East India Trading Company. He was hired by the British merchants in 1616 to stabilize the trade of tropical spices, especially nutmeg.  When he arrived at the small Island of Run as commander of the two ships, the Swan and the Defense, he was welcomed by the Natives.  The Dutch had won command over the rest of the Banda Islands It was Courthope’s charter to gain control over Run.  He negotiated with the Natives and defended the island as their protector for a period of four years, only to be betrayed by a Dutch traitor who passed himself as a deserter.  Therefore, he was attacked and killed by the Dutch on October 18, 1620.

Nathaniel Courthope’s courageous stand on the tiny Spice Island Run left a legacy of heroic exploits and helped reshape history and led to the founding of New York.

Why was Nutmeg so Important?

The Spice Trades have been going on for centuries. With the discovery of new sea routes (like Columbus coming to America), more countries send out explorers and traders until wars were fought over the prized spices.

The 17th century was a time where one nutmeg had the value of gold.  Nutmeg became of great value because of its medicinal application during the plague and other epidemics.  Nutmeg was looked at as a miracle drug in the treatment of all kinds of diseases.

How did New Amsterdam become New York?

Several wars were fought between the English and the Dutch.  After the 2nd Anglo-Dutch War of 1665-1667, at the Treaty of Breda, the two countries agreed on trading the Island of Run for the Island of Manhattan with the small colony New Amsterdam along the Hudson River.  The English had occupied the island of Manhattan during the war (as retaliation to the massacre at Amboyna in 1623 and spice war over the Banda Islands).  Manhattan came under the sovereignty of the Duke of York who later became King James II.  With that deal, history was changed forever.  The Duke renamed New Amsterdam New York. 

 It is interesting how history plays itself out sometimes.  It seems that the sacrifice of some people (in this case the courage, dedication, and perseverance of Nathaniel Courthope) was enough a price to overshadow the betrayals, cruelties, and greed of the conquering Dutch.  It turned out that soon thereafter the Natives transplanted nutmeg trees to other places in Malaysia, the Caribbean and Grenada.  With that the island of Run has very little significance today.
If you want to learn more about this intriguing time of history and you like to find out about explorers, pirates and sea faring, read the story of Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton.

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