hasn’t been a peaceful sleep for John Colman. His was the first
recorded–and as yet, unsolved!–murder in what would one day become
metropolitan New York City. On September 6, 1609, our man Colman came
to a violent end, the details of which were sketchily reported by a
seedy crew mate. Seems our boy Colman was a Brit, sailing with
Dutchmen, set upon by Indians. He was a favorite of the much disliked
Henry Hudson (remember him? namesake of the river? Well! The later
mutiny against him was led by none other than the very man who reported
our friend Colman’s death!). Now, 400 years later, The New York Times presented this case to NYPD homicide detectives (read here),
but alas, the question of who killed John Colman remains unanswered.
However, one thing we do have is a poem (can you say “spin”?) written
about the episode. Read this excerpt, return back to the poetry of
similar style you were made to read in junior high, and bid a tranquil
slumber to the soul of our hero John Colman. Poor thing.
The Death of Colman
By Thomas Frost
(original publication unknown, excerpted from Poems of American History. BE Stevenson, ed., New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1908)
But we, who sought for China’s strand
By ocean ways untried,
Forgot our mission when we cast
Our anchor in a tide
That kissed a gem too wondrous fair
For any eastern sea to wear!
Entranced we saw the golden woods
Slope gently to the sands;
The grassy meads, the oaks that dwarfed
Their kin of other lands;
And from the shore the balmy wind
Blew sweeter than the spice of Ind.
As he whose eyes, though opened wide,
Are fixed upon a dream,
So Colman–one who long had held
Our Hudson’s warm esteem–
Gazed on the gorgeous scene and said,
“Ere even’s shades are overspread,
“Proudly our flag on yonder height
Shall tell of Holland’s gain;
Proclaiming her to all the earth
The sovereign of the main.”
And quickly from the Half Moon’s bow
We turned the longboat’s yielding prow.
And suddenly our unshaped dread
Took direful form and sound.
For from a near nook’s rocky shade,
Swift as pursuing hound,
A savage shallop sped, to hold
From stranger feet that strand of gold.
And rageful cries disturbed the peace
That on the waters slept;
And Echo whispered on the hills,
As though an army crept,
With flinty axe and brutal blade,
Through the imperforate forest shade.
“What! are ye cravens?” Colman said;
For each had shipped his oar.
He waved the flag: “For Netherland,
Pull for yon jutting shore!”
Then prone he fell within the boat,
A flinthead arrow through his throat!
And now full many a stealthy skiff
Shot out into the bay;
And swiftly, sadly pulled we back
To where the Half Moon lay;
But he was dead–our master wept–
He smiled, brave heart, as though he slept.