1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 33

Chapter 22

New Amsterdam

New Netherlands

Pete seemed more surprised by the first view of New Amsterdam than Gordon, and expressed it as they approached from Long Island Sound.

“That’s it?” he said. “This is what’s going to become New York?”

“It’s never going to be New York, little bro,” Gordon said, as the morning fog began to clear and the docks on what the modern times would have called the East River became more visible. “That only would happen if the English had decided to keep their claims in the New World.”

“We could change its name.”

“Yeah,” Gordon said. “We could. But I don’t see that happening.” He leaned on the rail, squinting across the sun-dappled bay at New Amsterdam, scarcely more than a little hamlet at the southern end of Manhattan Island — no tall buildings, no Statue of Liberty, no big steel bridges connecting it with Long Island or anywhere else.

Of course, everything he knew of New York was from television, lost in a future that would never be. Sitcoms and police dramas — there were probably some episodes on VHS tapes back in Grantville, showing more fragments of a world that this world wasn’t going to become.

“I expected something a little more grand.”

“From what I’ve read, that’s in the near future — in the next ten years in our own time line, New Amsterdam was to have expanded by an order of magnitude. It’s really a great place for a city: natural harbor, wide river leading into the interior, nice flat land and good farmland above. No wonder the English wanted it and no doubt why they took it away from the Dutch.”

“Didn’t the Dutch buy the whole island for, like, twenty-four dollars?”

“More or less. Though that’s an exaggeration. It isn’t like Peter Minuit just handed some Indian chief a twenty and four ones and got a title deed, like he was buying St. James Place or something. It was a pile of trade goods and weapons and so forth, and the Indians didn’t have the same sense of the deal that the Dutch had –“

“‘The land doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the land.'”

“That’s the general idea. But Europeans take a whole different view of the entire thing. That’s why they’re building a wall across the north side of the settlement — because of the Indians who think they got a raw deal.”

“You mean they don’t already have a wall?”

“They would have, eventually — it was built in the 1650s in our time line, but events have moved up the timetable. I imagine they’d like to know what’s going on beyond it.”

“Sounds like a job for the Duke.”

Gordon smiled; he wanted to get up in the air again.

“We’ll have to see what the lay of the land is before we put John Wayne in the air,” he said. “This is more complicated than the Puritans.”

“Oh? Why?”

“Because it’s complicated,” Gordon said. “There may not be too many of these New Netherlanders, but there’s no telling which side they’re on.”

“Not on the French side, though.”

“Maybe not down here in New Amsterdam. But upriver, it’s not as black and white. They trade with the French, they trade with the Indians that trade with the French. They’re looking for an angle — all of them.”

* * *

In the port of New Amsterdam, Challenger was just another ship — with different rigging and an unusual flag, but otherwise not much different from other ships at the dock. Still, it seemed to attract attention, though they were not challenged or confronted as they had been in Thomasville or in Boston.

The view from the dock wasn’t much more impressive than the view from the bay. New Amsterdam close up was a messy, disorderly place with muddy streets — no different, really, than any number of European towns. From the deck of Challenger, though, Gordon could hear a welter of speech in several languages. Some he recognized, like Dutch and heavily accented English, and others he didn’t.

He asked Captain Maartens what he expected, and received a grunt in return.

“I imagine the schout will be here any time to see what we’re about. We’re not carrying any cargo, so he’ll demand nothing but a bribe.”

“This is a diplomatic mission, Captain,” Gordon said. “You shouldn’t have to –“

“But we will. They expect it. I expect it. Go explore, Chehab. Go do your diplomatie, whatever you need to do. We’ll likely be here when you get back.”

Captain Thomas James, who had been watching the exchange, walked up to join Gordon. “Come,” he said. “Let me show you the…wonders…of New Amsterdam.”

* * *

Thomas James’ sarcasm was unconcealed; his disdain was similarly obvious. He didn’t think very much of New Amsterdam or of the Dutch, and he gave Gordon and Pete a history lesson as they walked along the Strand, the street that followed the docks on the east side of Manhattan Island.

“The Dutch Estates General don’t know what to make of this place,” James said. “The settlement has been here almost fifteen years — and they consider it either the greatest investment of guilders they’ve ever seen, or the most impressive boondoggle.”

“I thought they only paid twenty-four dollars for the whole thing,” Pete said.

“Sixty guilders,” James said. “Initially. To get the Indians to pull up their tent stakes and leave. But it has cost a hell of a lot more than that to build the fort — which they haven’t even finished; to plant the bouweries — the farms — and to establish the beaver trade. Every time someone brings in a haul of beaver pelts the High Mightinesses have another bout of believing that the whole thing is going to turn into pure profit.”

“Beaver pelts?”

“All the fashion,” James said. He took off his own hat and held it up. “Beaver pelt. Smoothed down and brushed. The height of couture, as the French would say.” He looked Gordon up and down, and then Pete, who scowled at the attention. Pete had a forage cap he’d picked up somewhere; Gordon was wearing a ball cap from John Deere, which looked as if it had seen far better days.

“What?” Pete said.

“Nothing,” James said, putting his own hat back on his head and adjusting it minutely. “Beaver pelts. For hats, for cloaks, and coats. But there’s more to the beaver trade than that.”


“The learned doctors of Amsterdam — and elsewhere — believe that the beaver has great medicinal value as well. The oil from the skin can be taken medicinally for dizziness and dropsy, and the skins are made into slippers to be worn as a cure for gout.

“And then there are the testicles.”

“Wait.” Pete stopped in his tracks. “Beaver testicles? This I have got to hear.”

“I understand,” James said, “that beaver testicles have medicinal value. An extract assists in…” he hitched up his breeches in a provocative way. Gordon doubled over, laughing.

“It must work for the beavers,” Gordon said, when he could catch his breath.

“I’ll stick to strippers and porn,” Pete said.

* * *

The Strand dead-ended in a wide place flanked by a mostly built pentagonal fort. The foundations were of stone, as were the outer walls that faced the ocean; but the interior palisades were no more than strong oak beams with chinking in between. That was the pride of the settlement, according to Thomas James: Fort Amsterdam and the adjoining barracks that held the hundred or so soldiers deployed at the colony.

A number of new-looking buildings also fronted the plaza: a bakery, a smithy, and a couple of large warehouse-style structures that could be just about anything. The only thing missing from the scene was a church.

“They nearly have one of those built as well,” James said. “They just haven’t finished it. But they do have the church bells, so I understand: they brought them back when the Dutch took Puerto Rico a dozen or so years ago. They would have built their house of God long since if the Nineteen had sent over someone other than a drunkard comforter of the sick.”