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"A Pedigree Partly Indian, Partly Batavian"

    First Americans

A Description of New Netherlands

Adriaen van der Donck - 1649


Of the Food and Subsistence of the Indians

In eating and drinking the Indians are not excessive, even in their feast-days. They are cheerful and well satisfied when the have a sufficiency to support nature, and to satisfy hunger and thirst. It is not with them as it is here in Holland, where the greatest, noblest, and richest live more luxuriously than a Calls, or a common man; but with them meat and drink are sufficient and the same for all. Their common drink is water from a living spring or well, when it can be had, wherein they seldom fail, as in days of old. Sometimes, in the season of grapes, and when they have fresh meat or fish, and are well pleased, they will press out the juice of the grapes and, drink it new. They never make wine or beer. Brandy or strong drink is unknown to them, except to those who frequent our settlements, and have learned that beer and wine taste better than water.

In the Indian languages, which are rich and expressive, they have no word to express drunkenness. Drunken men they call fools. When, they associate much with our people, and can obtain liquor, they will drink to excess, when they become insolent and troublesome, and are malicious. To prevent this, the government has forbidden the sale of spirituous liquors to the Indians. Most of them however will not taste liquor. Before they are accustomed to spirituous liquor, they are easily made drunk, for which a small glass or two is sufficient; but in time they become accustomed to it, and bear it as well as our own people do. The rheumatic gout, red and pimpled noses, are snares unknown to them; nor' have they any diseases or infirmities which are caused by drunkenness.

Their common food is meat, and fish of every kind, according to the seasons, and the advantages of the places where they reside. They have no pride, or particular methods in preparing their food. Their fish or meat they usually boil in water, without salt, or smout, and nothing more than the articles yield. They know of no stewing, fricasseeing, baking, frying, or the like methods of cooking, and seldom do they warm up or boil any food, unless it be small pieces of meat or fish, when they travel or are hunting, and have no other opportunity to prepare their food.

For bread they use maize, or Turkey corn, which-the women pound fine into meal, (as the Hebrews did their manna in the wilderness,) of which they bake cakes, for they know nothing of mills. They also use pounded maize, as we do rice, and samp, with their boiled meat. Their common food, and for which their meal is generally used, is pap, or mush, which in the New-Netherlands, is named sapaen. This is so common among the Indians that they seldom pass a day without it, unless they are on a journey or hunting. We seldom visit an Indian lodge at any time of the day, without seeing their sapaen preparing, or seeing them eating the same. It is the common food of all; young and old eat it; and they are so well accustomed to it, and fond of it, that when they visit our people, or each other, they consider themselves neglected unless they are treated with sapaen. Without sapaen they do not eat a satisfactory meal. And when they have an opportunity, they frequently boil fish or meat with it; but seldom when the meat or fish is fresh, but when they have the articles dried hard, and pounded fine. This food they usually prepare at the close of the winter and in the spring, when the hunting season is past, and their stock of provisions is nearly exhausted. They also use many dry beans, which they consider dainties. Those they boil soft with fresh meat. They use for their subsistence every kind of fish and flesh that is fit for food, which the country and the places of their settlements afford, and that they can obtain. They observe no stated times for their meals, as our people do, but they suppose it best to eat when, they are hungry. They can control their appetites, bodies and stomachs in a wonderful manner; for with very little or no food, they can pass two, three, or four days, and when afterwards they again have it plenty, they will make up for the arrears lost without overcharging their stomachs, or becoming sick; and although they eat freely, they have no excessive eaters or gluttons among them.

Ceremonies of high or low seats, or of beginning to eat their meals first or last, or to be waited upon, I have never seen among them. Seldom will they invite each other to eat with them, except at great feasts, but every person who is with them at meal time, without exception, can partake of their fare, without pay or compensation. It is not customary with them to receive compensation for their hospitality. On extraordinary occasions, when they wish to entertain any person, then they prepare beavers' tails, bass heads, with parched corn meal, or very
fat meat stewed with shelled chestnuts bruised.

When they intend to go a great distance on a hunting excursion, or to war, where they expect to find no food, then they provide themselves severally with a small bag of parched corn meal, which is so nutritious that they can subsist on the same many days. A quarter of a pound of the meal is sufficient for a day's subsistence; for as it shrinks much in the drying, it also swells out again with moisture. When they are hungry, they eat a small handful of the meal, after which they take a drink of water, and then they are so well fed, that they can travel a day. When they can obtain fish or meat to eat, then their meal serves them as well as fine bread would, because it needs no baking.


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