On this day May 24, 1626

Director-General of New Netherland Peter Minuit bought Manhattan from Native Americans in exchange for trade goods valued at 60 guilders approximate value of $1000 now.

This figure is known from a letter by a member of the board of the Dutch West India Company, Peter Schaghen, to the States-General in 1626. In 1846 the figure of Fl 60 (60 guilders or florins) was converted by a New York historian to $24, and “a variable-rate myth being a contradiction in terms, the purchase price remains forever frozen at twenty-four dollars,” as Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace remarked.

A a further embellishment in 1877 converted the figure into “beads, buttons and other trinkets.” A contemporary purchase of rights in Staten Island, New York, to which Minuit was also party, involved duffel cloth, iron kettles and axe heads, hoes, wampum, drilling awls, “Jew’s Harps,” and “diverse other wares”. “If similar trade goods were involved in the Manhattan arrangement,” Burrows and Wallace surmise, “then the Dutch were engaged in high-end technology transfer, handing over equipment of enormous usefulness in tasks ranging from clearing land to drilling wampum.”

Though Minuit believed he had just made an excellent deal, he in fact purchased the land from the wrong Native Americans. The island was purchased from the Canarsees, who were living on Long Island and maybe passing through on a hunting trip, when in fact the land should have been bought from the Wappingers, an Algonquin tribe. The “purchase” was also understood differently by both parties, the local group having no concept of alienable real estate, as is always pointed out in modern accounts of the supposed transaction.



%d bloggers like this: