Manhattan Island: best real estate steal ever?

PeterminuitheadshotThere’s a rock just outside Inwood Hill Park that marks the location where Peter Minuit (right), director general of New Netherland, supposedly bought Manhattan from Native Americans for the equivalent of $24 in 1626.

Best real estate steal ever—or enduring myth?

For starters, consider that the first account of the deal comes from a snippet of gossip.

“In a 1626 letter, a Dutch merchant reported he had just heard, from ship passengers newly disembarked from New Netherland, that representatives of the West India Company ‘had purchased the Island Manhattes from the Indians for a value of 60 guilders,'” wrote Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace in their book Gotham: A History of New York to 1898.


In 1848, a New York historian translated that figure into $24. And in 1877, a second historian claimed with no evidence that the amount was paid in “beads, buttons, and other trinkets” (detailed in the 1909 illustration above).

Besides the fact that no deed of sale exists, it’s important to consider what “purchase” meant back in 1626. The way the Dutch defined it may have been quite different from how Native Americans saw things.


Natives may have considered the 60 guilders a rental fee, not a sales exchange, giving the Dutch hunting and other use rights while also retaining them for themselves, according to an insightful piece in Mental Floss.

Also, “it appears from a later repurchase agreement that the people who made the original arrangement didn’t live in Manhattan and so were in no position to offer up even use-rights of visiting privileges,” wrote Burrows and Wallace.

Meanwhile the plaque marking the location of sale, on Shorakkopach Rock (above) in Inwood, remains.

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6 Responses to “Manhattan Island: best real estate steal ever?”

  1. Michael Kasino Says:

    Featuring: The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers
    According to legend, on this site, Peter Minuit ‘purchased’ Manhattan island from Native Americans in 1626 for trinkets and beads then worth about 60 guilders.
    Featuring The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers

  2. robert r Says:

    According to Ric Burns’ excellent work, “New York: A Documentary Film”: “The Dutch paid more than the $24 of legend…but still, less than $600 for all 14,000 acres of Manhattan real estate. The Native Americans thought the deal to be temporary.”

  3. carolegill Says:

    I’d love to know what became of the ancestors (direct) descendants of the people involved. I bet it would be fascinating.

  4. Stacy Walsh Rosenstock Says:

    Just an early example of Day Trippers scamming European tourists.

  5. carolegill Says:

    not sure how that applies.
    if anyone got cheated it was the indigenous population.
    One thinks of the Vanderbilts, for example and one thinks of the descendants of those Manhattes peoples.
    Historically, Europeans never got cheated, they always came out ahead. If they are scammed in more recent times, that’s a modern thing which has at its roots interesting origins.

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