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The man who really founded NEW YORK

You may wonder what the connection is between this small island and the biggest city in America. Add a war over nutmeg* and an adventurer called Courthope, and it all becomes clear.

Run is one of the forgotten islands of the world. It is less than three kilometres long and one kilometer wide. It is so insignificant that it doesn't even appear on the map. It is a small piece of rock in a remote part of the East Indies, separated from Australia by 960 kilometres of ocean.

But despite its size, Run was not always so neglected. For much of the seventeenth century there were settlers there, and England and Holland fiercely fought for control of the island. For many years, a tiny band of courageous Englishmen fought off an army much stronger than themselves. The men were led by an adventurer whose heroism was to change the course of American history. That man was Nathaniel Courthope.

Nathaniel Courthope was a trader who worked for the East India Company. He arrived in Run in 1616 and took part in the three-year struggle against the Dutch. Surprisingly, the fight was for control of Run's nutmeg trees, whose lemon-yellow fruit was worth its weight in gold.

It was considered a luxury, as its powerful medicinal qualities were thought to be a cure for the plague. Unfortunately it was also very rare. In fact, nutmeg grows on six remote islands in the West Indies. As a result the value of nutmeg rose by an incredible 60,000 per cent, and Courthope was sent to defend Run, England’s last remaining source of the spice. If this too was controlled by the Dutch, millions of pounds would be lost and the battle for nutmeg would be over.

Courthope’s two ships arrived in Run's harbour in December 1616. At first, the Dutch tried to starve Courthope and his men rather than fight them, but amasingly they managed to survive. Finally, in 1620 some of them tried to leave the island by ship. The Dutch surprised the ship, opened fire on it and Courthope was injured. He never recovered. After that, the island surrendered to the Dutch.

In 1652, The war ended and Run was given back to the English. But soon after, war broke out between the two countries again, and Run was taken by the Dutch once more. This time the English were so angry that the Duke of York sent warships across the Atlantic and captured the Dutch-held island of Manhattan. The two sides met to try and find a solution to the problem. The English demanded the immediate return of Run while the Dutch wanted the return of Manhattan Island. However, after months of negotiations , it was agreed that the Dutch should keep Run and the English should keep Manhattan. Soon afterwards the tiny settlement around Manhattan was renamed New York.

Today, almost four centuries after his death, both the English and Americans have forgotten Courthope. Yet his defence of Run helped to reshape history. Although his death robbed England of her nutmeg, it was to give her the biggest of apples!

British Airways Highlife magazine


*nutmeg - powder made from a plant which gives flavour to food
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