Bringing Nutmeg West

During the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century, the British invaded the Banda Islands. Taking lime-free nutmeg with them, they were able to replant it in places like the Caribbean island of Grenada. Grenada is now among the leading producers of the spice, and a nutmeg is featured on the country's flag.

A City for a Spice: The Treaty of Breda

To maintain their monopoly on nutmeg, the Dutch needed to make sure they were the only ones growing it. In an effort to keep people from replanting the nutmeg they sold, the Dutch dipped it in lime, which effectively prevented it from sprouting. But this wasn't the only obstacle to overcome in their nutmeg monopoly. The British were still dabbling in nutmeg trade from their stores on the island of Run. Though small, the island of Run was rife with nutmeg. The EIC had early on secured a successful partnership with its leaders to trade its nutmeg.

Jan Pieterszoon-Coen, the ruthless commander of the VOC was dead set on expelling the British any way he could. Much to his chagrin, however, the VOC and EIC officials back in Europe signed a cooperation agreement in 1619. But Coen decided that if he couldn't have Run's nutmeg, then no one could. In lieu of direct violence against the British, he sneaked on the island when the British left it undefended and burned down all the nutmeg trees [source: Weir]. Finally, in 1666, during the Second Anglo-Dutch war, the VOC took control of Run.

Meanwhile, things weren't going so well for the Dutch in the West. Compared to nutmeg trade in the East, fur trade in New Netherland wasn't as lucrative. To make matters worse, a British fleet had succeeded in taking over New Amsterdam (the Dutch name for Manhattan) in 1664. The 1667 Treaty of Breda allowed the Dutch and British to formally settle their differences. In exchange for official control of Run, the Dutch relinquished their claims to New Amsterdam.

The British weren't very excited about the trade, and they initially tried to pawn it off for valuable sugar-producing lands in South America. As fate would have it, the Dutch didn't agree with this trade, and the British kept the island, later renaming it New York.