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  • 5/24/2010

The Day In History:

Peter Minuit Buys Manhattan (1626)


Peter Minuit (1589 – August 5, 1638) was a Walloon from Wesel, today North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, then part of the Duchy of Cleves. He was the Director-General of the Dutch colony of New Netherland from 1626 until 1633 and founder of the Swedish colony of New Sweden in 1638. According to tradition, he purchased the island of Manhattan from the Canarsee Native Americans on May 24, 1626. However, the Canarsee were actually native to Brooklyn, while Manhattan was home instead to the Weckquaesgeek, who were not pleased by the exchange and later battled the Dutch in Kieft"s War.


Life and work

Minuit"s Walloon family, originally from the city of Tournai, was one of many Protestant families that fled persecution from the Roman Catholic government of the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium), and found refuge in the Dutch Republic and Protestant parts of the Holy Roman Empire.

Peter himself was born in a time of great upheavals and struggles by Protestants against Catholics, which culminated in the Thirty Years" War and finally led to an exhausted Peace of Westphalia a century later.

Minuit was appointed the third director-general of New Netherland by the Dutch West India Company, in December 1625, and arrived in the colony on May 4, 1626.


The legendary purchase of Manhattan

On May 24 1626, he is credited with the purchase of the island from the natives — perhaps from a Metoac band of Lenape known as the "Canarsee" — in exchange for trade goods valued at 60 guilders. This figure is known from a letter by a member of the board of the Dutch West India Company Peter Stuyvesant to the States-General in 1626; in 1846 the figure 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 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." If the island was purchased from the Canarsees, they would have been living on Long Island and maybe passing through on a hunting trip. The "purchase" was understood differently by both parties, the local group having no conception of alienable real estate, as is always pointed out in modern accounts of the supposed transaction.


Minuit"s subsequent career

In 1631, Minuit was suspended from his post, and he returned to Europe in August 1632 to explain his actions, but was dismissed. He was succeeded as director-general by Wouter van Twiller.

His friend, Willem Usselincx who had also been disappointed by the Dutch West Indian Company, drew Minuit’s attention to the Swedish efforts to found a colony. In 1636 or 1637, Minuit made arrangements with Samuel Blommaert and the Swedish government to create the first Finno-Swedish colony in the New World. Located on the lower Delaware River at what is now Wilmington, Delaware, within the territory earlier claimed by the Dutch, it was called New Sweden, with the Swedes (and Finns) landing there in the spring of 1638. Minuit finished Fort Christiana that year, then departed to return to Stockholm, Sweden for a second load of colonists, and made a side trip to the Caribbean to pick up a shipment of tobacco for resale in Europe to make the voyage profitable. Minuit died while on this voyage during a hurricane at St. Christopher in the Caribbean.

The official duties of the governorship were carried out by the Finnish Lieutenant (raised to the rank of Captain) Mauno Kling, until the next governor was chosen and brought in from the mainland Sweden, two years later.



Peter Minuit is commemorated by Peter Minuit Plaza, a small park at the foot of Manhattan, New York City; by a marker in Inwood Hill Park at the site of the actual purchase; by a granite flagstaff base in Battery Park, which shows the historical purchase; New Holland the Peter Minuit Chapter of the Daughters of the American revolution; and also by a memorial on Moltkestrasse in Wesel (Germany).


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