Friday, December 14, 2012

CWA: Hope From The Past

I’m standing on the deck of the St. Catrina, anchored off the southern tip of Manhattan Island, the heart of New Netherland. The Dutch call this place New Amsterdam. The similarity of the name to the famous Dutch city is perhaps meant to reassure hesitant colonists, worried this North American colony won’t be anything like home. For a family in Old Amsterdam, the idea of settling in New Amsterdam must seem like an improvement. Trading the old for the new. Perhaps they imagine leaving behind Old Amsterdam’s crowded streets and stinking canals cluttered with refuse. They might also imagine that New Amsterdam will be less damp with fog and rain. A land where good farmland is cheap and plentiful. Where forests to the north burst with game and timber, and where the ocean to the south freely offers up her bounty.

New colonists would not be wrong to imagine New Amsterdam thus. But whether or not it is an improvement to Old Amsterdam will not be so easy to determine. As the crew readies the longboat that will bring us to New Amsterdam, I listen to the ship’s master argue with the man chosen to represent the twenty-three Jewish passengers, Senhor Lucena.

 “I would require the balance of your payment before we unload your belongings,” the St. Catrina’s master, Jacques de la Motthe says to Senhor Lucena.

“You know our circumstances. You will have your florins, but you must allow me first to speak with Dutch West India Company representatives.  I can assure you they will extend us credit for the balance.”

The master of the St. Catrina shifts uncomfortably. “This might not be possible.  The governor of New Amsterdam is not happy about our arrangement.  He threatens to bar me from trade with the colony. I must have payment now.  I have fulfilled my end of our bargain.  Your people are delivered safely to New Amsterdam.”

“How can you possibly expect me to give you funds I don’t possess?”

De la Motthe shrugs now, confident. “Governor Stuyvesant does not want debtors in his colony, especially Jewish ones.”

Senhor Lucena glances at the passengers, assembled on the upper deck for departure. He lets out a defeated sigh. “What would you have us do?”

“My men will deliver you to shore. Your possessions will remain on board until the governor decides what to do with you.”

As I step into the longboat and seat myself next to my older sister, Isobel, the craft gives a sudden lurch and falls freely until the slack of its ropes runs out. The longboat jerks and sways several feet above the water. Isobel screams, and this sets the St. Catrina’s crew to laughing.

“Be careful!”  Senhor Lucena yells to them.

The rigging master smirks, but the remainder of our descent is smooth until the craft hits the choppy tide that draws us to Manhattan Island.

The beach is narrow and rocky, covered in a dark quilt of broken shells and sea weed. The southern tip of the island boasts a flat, almost treeless settlement dominated by a squared structure with walls twelve-feet high and two tree-trunks thick. It is a roughly built fort, but imposing all the same.  Senhor Lucena gives an arm to his wife and then to Isobel to help them out of the longboat. I climb out by myself, but immediately fall onto my backside.

 “You are like a true sailor,” one of the French oarsmen says, pulling me to my feet. “It is the land that makes you stumble.”

 “We were over four months at sea. It is a wonder any of us is standing,” Senhor Lucena says.

 “It’s a wonder any of you are still alive,” the Frenchman quips back.

 Dutch West India Company soldiers herd us together to wait for the longboat to retrieve the others from the ship. The governor of New Amsterdam has ordered the Jews to be brought to Fort Amsterdam as a group, each man, woman, and child accounted for.  As we wait on the beach, I press my feet into the sand and watch the impressions fill with sea water until Isobel pulls me back by the collar, reproaching me for ruining my shoes even though they’re some other boy’s worn-out cast-offs.

 When we finally make ou way inside the fort, I see how it houses several large buildings hugging the east and west walls.

 “These are the quarters,” Senhor Delgado says to anyone listening, “for Dutch West India Company soldiers and administrative offices.”

Each corner of the fort extends to make a kind of spear-head shaped palisade that stands about five feet above the courtyard. Each palisade contains two cannons positioned side by side, like iron eyes to watch over the settlement and the harbor.  The soldiers escort our party to an unsheltered courtyard covered in crushed shells.

 “You’ll remain here,” the commander says, “until the governor considers what to do with you.”

 “I would speak with his Excellency, the governor,” Senhor Lucena says.

 “Only when he’s ready to receive you. You might as well sit down. It could be hours.” The commander seems almost sympathetic to our plight, but offers us no comforts.

 We sit on the ground and wait.

We are silent, just a few words here and there, a child whining, a mother shushing him, Sehnor Israel occasionally wondering aloud when we’ll be received by the governor.

At the hottest time of the day, a stranger comes upon our group. He is younger than Senhor Lucena, perhaps only in his late twenties. The man has an easy manner with the Dutch guards, even if he doesn’t have the look of the Dutch with his dark eyes, high cheekbones, and thick dark hair.

“Good day,” the stranger says, tipping his wide-brimmed hat to the group. “I am Asser Levy. Your brethren in Amsterdam have long wondered what became of you. They feared you were drowned.  It will please them greatly to know you live.”

Who is Patricia O'Sullivan?

Please feel free to comment on posts or email me at

I am passionate about bringing to light odd bits of history. My first three novels deal with Sephardic Jews and Native Americans for this reason. I also write about Irish slaves in the Caribbean and the limits on women throughout history.

However, the overriding theme of all my novels is religion - religious faith, religious tensions, religious theology, religious history, and religious hypocrisy.

I have advanced degrees in theology and history. I recently played a nun in The Sound of Music. I was in a madrigal group when I was younger. I used to be a high school teacher. Now I teach at a university. I love learning. I'm learning French because my family is moving to France for a year in 2013. I'll never be fluent enough to write in French. I'm hoping to be able to communicate well enough to buy groceries and find the toilet.

I care about improving as a writer. I don't approve of sock puppet reviews. If you want to review my novels, please be honest. I'm a teacher - I get constructive criticism.

I love Celtic folk music. One of my favorite bands is Great Big Sea. I grew up in New England and miss it every day. The people, the food, the landscape, the history, the literary traditions, and the intellectual heritage of New Englanders make me proud to count myself among them. My other favorite places are France, Ireland, and Canada.

For the last decade I've lived in Mississippi. I am thankful that the wonderful people here have put up with this damn Yankee for so long. Mississippians are truly friendly, well-mannered, and beautiful. Like Massachusetts, Mississippi has a rich literary history. And like Ireland, Mississippi has a difficult history it is trying to overcome with a combination of faith, measured political progress, and pride in their heritage.

- Patricia O'Sullivan

Patricia's novels can be found on Amazon at:

Her blog can be found at:

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