Front Matter Where I Was Born Alone in Holland An Important Introduction I Go My Way The Bargain Sailing for the New World A View of New Netherland The "Brown Men" or Savages Summoned to the Cabin Toys for the Savages Claim of the India Company Making Ready for Trade Braun and Gildersleeve Gathering the Savages Going Ashore Buying Manhattan Boats Used by the Savages Wandering over the Island The Homes of the Savages Master Minuit's Home Beginning the Work A Strange Kind of Craft Building a Fort In Charge of the Goods The Value of Wampum Buildings of Stone The Government A Prosperous Town Quarrelsome Slaves A Brutal Murder A Village Called Plymouth I Go on a Voyage A Lukewarm Welcome Two Days in Plymouth Forging Ahead The Big Ship Minuit's Successor Trouble with the English Van Twiller Discharged Director Kieft Unjust Commands Minuit's Return Revenge of the Savages Kieft's War Director Petrus Stuyvesant Time for Sight-Seeing How the Fort was Armed Village Laws Other Things about Town A Visit of Ceremony New Amsterdam, a City Stuyvesant Makes Enemies Orders from Holland Making Ready for War An Unexpected Question With the Fleet Driving out the Swedes Uprising of the Indians An Attack by the Indians Back to New Amsterdam Coaxing the Savages Religious Freedom Punishing the Quaker Other Persecutions Dull Trade Charge Made by Hans Braun Dismissed by Stuyvesant English Claims Idle Days On Broad Way Looking after the Ferry Coming of the English A Weak Defense Stuyvesant Absent Disobeying Commands Surrender Demanded A Three Days' Truce English Visitors Stuyvesant's Rage The End of Dutch Rule The City of New York

Peter of New Amsterdam - James Otis

The Value of Wampum

Because of thus being employed, I very soon saw that which served the savages as money, and queer stuff it was, being neither more nor less than bits of shell.

The brown men called the stuff wampum, and because of having such poor tools it must be an enormous amount of work to make it. As nearly as I could learn, there were certain big shells which washed up on the shores here after a storm, and only some part of the inside of these, and a portion of the mussel shells, were used.

From the big shells they made a smooth white bead, grinding the shell down against a rock until it was perfectly smooth, and then boring a hole through it. The beads of wampum made from the mussel shells were in shape much like a straw, and less than half an inch in length.

These beads the Indians strung on the dried sinews of wild animals, from a half a yard to four feet in length, when, as I have already told you, they were used as money.

But wampum is even more than that among the savages. When these strings are fastened to the width of five or six inches into a belt, they are given to messengers to take to another tribe, much as kings of old used to give their seal rings as a sort of letter of recommendation.

[Illustration] from Peter of New Amsterdam by James Otis

The wampum belts were sent in token of peace after a war, or as a present from one ruler to another, and, as can be seen, this wampum was even of more value to the savages than gold is to white men.

One would think that when they got our beads in exchange for their furs, they would have strung them with those which had been cut from shells, and yet they did nothing of the kind, for in their eyes one of those tiny, white balls, which had a hole through the middle, was of more value than a cupful of Master Minuit's best.

I do not know how it was figured out; but you must know that in Holland they have a coin called a stuyver, which is worth in English money near to two pennies. Our people here allowed, in trading with the Indians, that four beads of wampum were equal to one stuyver, or two pennies, and a single strand six feet long, was equal to four guilders, or, roughly speaking, about eight shillings.

There is no need for me to say that our people did not buy wampum of the Indians; but in the course of the bargaining it passed back and forth, because of being the only coins the brown men had, and therefore I suppose it was, that Master Minuit believed it necessary to put some fixed price upon it.