The Power of Nutmeg

by Ron

Because my wife is of Dutch heritage, we have spent time exploring her ancestry back to the Netherlands. Her family was a part of New Amsterdam which eventually became Manhattan. A distant family member suggested I read a book titled The Island at the Center of the World. Fascinating.

Here is a description from Goodreads that will give you a small understanding of the scope of the book and Impact of New Amsterdam on New York and America of today.

When the British wrested New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664, the truth about its thriving, polyglot society began to disappear into myths about an island purchased for 24 dollars and a cartoonish peg-legged governor. But the story of the Dutch colony of New Netherland was merely lost, not destroyed: 12,000 pages of its records–recently declared a national treasure–are now being translated. Drawing on this remarkable archive, Russell Shorto has created a gripping narrative–a story of global sweep centered on a wilderness called Manhattan–that transforms our understanding of early America.

The Dutch colony pre-dated the “original” thirteen colonies, yet it seems strikingly familiar. Its capital was cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic, and its citizens valued free trade, individual rights, and religious freedom. Their champion was a progressive, young lawyer named Adriaen van der Donck, who emerges in these pages as a forgotten American patriot and whose political vision brought him into conflict with Peter Stuyvesant, the autocratic director of the Dutch colony. The struggle between these two strong-willed men laid the foundation for New York City and helped shape American culture. The Island at the Center of the World uncovers a lost world and offers a surprising new perspective on our own.

Upon reading this book you begin to realize that many of the concepts that America is built upon came from the early Dutch colony, not completely from the English colonies that came later.

But, knowing what New York and America are worth today or back in the mid-1660’s a very powerful question begins to emerge “Why did the Dutch give up Manhattan without firing a shot?”

The answer to that question is Nutmeg!

The most expensive spice in the world at the time was nutmeg. It cost more per ounce than gold. The Dutch wanted the nutmeg trade and were willing to give New Netherland including New Amsterdam to the English in trade for the small Polynesian Island of Run.

Today that trade looks absolutely nuts. The wealth of America could have been a foundation for the Dutch and we would be closer to the Netherlands today than England. You’ll have trouble finding the Island of Run without Google help.

The point is that at the time, this was a good trade. We didn’t quite see the total future and value of the new world, but the value of Nutmeg was well established. It was a good deal. The world economy and shipping was driven mainly by spices in the 1600 and 1700’s. Filling one ship with Nutmeg at over thirteen dollars per ounce was a tremendous economic driver. Manhattan for the Island of Run was a very good deal.

Lesson learned? Don’t judge decisions made in the past by the conditions that exist today. You will falsely accuse the decision makers of making bad, wrong or stupid decisions. Nothing may have been farther from the truth.

One of the reasons many teams and corporations aren’t good at decision making today is caused by the second-guessing of decisions made in the past.  Learn form the past, don’t second guess the past.

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