Posts Tagged ‘Colonial Dutch’

Manhattan Island: best real estate steal ever?

June 3, 2013

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.