Nutmeg and Nathaniel Courthope; and the British say, ‘I’ll take Manhattan.’

August 4, 2021 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

At one point in the global history, the most valuable spice on earth was nutmeg. It was the 1600s, in Europe what’s in the grip of successive waves of the plague. No one knew what to do about it, And somehow the believe spread that nutmeg could curate or prevent it.

It wasn’t true of course, but that didn’t stop men and or nations from going to great lengths to find the pressure substance or from altering the future because of it.

So here’s the story. A man named Nathaniel Courthope is the central, though not decisive, character.

In the second half of the 17th century, most of Europe’s spices came from what Europeans had appropriately named the Spice Islands. This was a remote set of islands in the South Pacific (today part of Indonesia), and it was the only place in the world where many spaces, including the most precious nutmeg, where to be found. Much to the consternation of the rest of Europe, Dutch traders claimed these islands for Holland. In those days, it was the Dutch rather than the British who ruled the waves.

The fabulous profits that could be made from these spices were too much of a temptation for the British East India Company to allow the status quo to continue. Gaining control of just a few of these islands would mean a great deal to the companies stockholders and to great Britain’s expansionist dreams.

Consequently, in 1616, Nathaniel Courthope set sail to great fanfare in London, vowing to capture some of this loot for King and country. The voyage that took him halfway around the world was not an easy one. Courthope survived numerous difficulties, including mutinies, but eventually made it to the Space Island. There, he found the natives, who had been badly miss treated by their dutch oppressors, to be sympathetic to British claims for their islands.

Courthope was able to land on the island of Run add to fortify it against Dutch attempts to oust him. The island was only about two miles square, and it lacked the resources to properly sustain him and his crew. Despite that, however, the tiny English garrison was able to repel the Dutch for more than four years. Courthope how do even been contacted by the British East India Company and told that he could leave the island, but he refused to do so.

In 1620, he was lured off the island by the false promise of contact with a British spy. He was in a small boat when he realized that the Dutch had set a trap for him. He dived off the boat and tried to swim back to the island, but the Dutch shot and killed him before he could make land. The Dutch reoccupied the island, and the British were never able to exercise their claim of it.

Throughout the rest of the century, the Dutch and the British wage the number of wars over there competing colonization efforts. One of those conflicts involved the American island of Manhattan, which have been held by the Dutch but which the British seized in 1660. The British changed the name of that island from New Amsterdam to New York.

In 1674, the Dutch and British signed a treaty that ended what is now known as the Third Anglo-Dutch War. As part of the negotiations for the treaty, the British gave up all of their claims to Run island. The Dutch, in turn, gave up all of their claims to Manhattan.

It was not exactly a one-for-one swap. But it was close enough, and historians have been chuckling about that ever since.




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