The Dutch ship Halve Maen (Half Moon), commanded by English explorer Henry Hudson, dropped anchor off the mouth of the now self entitled Hudson River in 1609.
His arrival was somewhat controversial since he disobeyed his orders to search for the fabled Northeast Passage to the Indies via a route over the top of Russia (a route we now know to be impossible) instead believing he would have a better chance of finding a West passage through the land mass of present day United States. The effects of Hudson’s decision would later prove incredibly influential in both the colonisation of a young United States, as well as finalising peace with the Dutch by exchanging one small American island for another in the East Indies. One was a nutmeg rich Indonesian island called Run while the other – formally a Dutch colony called New Amsterdam – would eventually develop into the heart of one of the most influential cities in the world, Manhattan Island.
Continuing up the new river, the crew of the Halve Maen eventually arrived at ‘that side of the river that is called Manna-hata (Manhattan) by the locals’. Laying anchor next to land that would later be described as ‘the finest for cultivation I have ever set foot upon’, Hudson was rowed ashore by a local chief to meet the natives and obtain knowledge of the river further up stream (which Hudson still hoped would continue through to the Indies). Following the advice from Sebastian Cabot who had discovered much of the North American coastline under Henry VIII a century previously, they continued with the proven technique that;
“If [a native] may be made drunk with your beer or wine, you shall know his heart”.
Upon meeting the local tribe, Hudson handed bottle and glass to the nearest chieftain and instructed him to drink. The chief, still not sure if these are men or their god Mannitto [the supreme being] having arrived in either a large fish or floating house, sniffed the mixture and passed it on. This continued through the assembly
of locals with no one taking a sip until one spirited warrior, “harangues the assembly on the impropriety of returning the glass with contents still in it” since this was given by Mannitto out of the spirit of friendship. The warrior then drank it down – after reportedly bidding the assembly a farewell just in case. With the whole tribe watching for some reaction the warrior quickly began to stagger about and eventually fell to the ground to which he is immediately expected to be dead. But after a few minutes got back to his feet and exclaiming he had never felt happier in his life and demands another glass. Naturally the glass is given again and many more to follow with the tribe quickly becoming intoxicated.
The islanders love for a stiff drink and their common intoxicated manor was continually recorded well into the next century with a Missionary in 1801 claiming that the name “Manhattan” derives from the native word manahactanienk meaning; “The island of general intoxication”. More than likely the natives, needing to create a word for intoxication having previously not encountered the effect, derived the word after the area that first introduce it, Manhattan.
- Nathaniels Nutmeg. How one man’s courage changed the course of history – Giles Milton, Hodder & Stoughton, 1999