The True Story of the Sale of the Island of Manhattan

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Reading Time: 3 minutes 37 seconds

Manhattan is considered the cultural, financial, entertainment, and media capital of the world. The borough hosts the United Nations Headquarters as well as Wall Street. Many multinational media conglomerates reside in Manhattan, and it’s been the setting for many books, films, and tv shows. The value of the island of Manhattan, including all of its real estate, exceeds over three trillion dollars. Median residential property sales prices in Manhattan equals to $ 1,600 per square foot in 2018. Fifth Avenue, which also resides in Manhattan, commands the highest retail rents in the world, commanding a whopping $ 3,000 per square foot.

An often-repeated story throughout History is that the Dutch bought the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans. The price paid was $24 worth of beads, trinkets, a jar of Mayonnaise, two pair of wooden clogs, a loaf of wonder bread and a carton of Quaker oats. It is considered one of the biggest business mistakes in History. Here’s the thing did it really go down the way we were taught? Let us explore, shall we?

On May 4, 1626, Peter Minuit arrived in New Amsterdam (modern-day NYC) as the new director of the Dutch West India Company (DWIC). The Dutch West India Company was a charted company of Dutch Merchants. Its goal was to expand the Dutch trade reach globally. It dabbled in trading many goods, including participating in the Atlantic slave trade. Minuit had been sent to diversify the trade coming out of New Netherland (Modern-day New York), they traded in mostly animal pelts then. Minuit was authorized by the DWIC to settle any disputes with any local Native American tribes over trading and land rights. Soon after Minuit’s arrival, he agreed with a local tribe for the land rights to Manhattan. There is no proof of an original title deed. The only evidence we have is a DWIC internal communication from 1626. The communication states:

“Yesterday the ship the Arms of Amsterdam arrived here. It Sailed from New Netherland out of the River Mauritius on September 23. They report that our people are in good spirit and live in peace. The women also have borne some children here. They have purchased the Island of Manhattes from the savages for the value of 60 Guilders. It is 11,000 Morgens in size.”

A historian in 1846 calculated that 60 guilders were equivalent to $24 for that time. This $24 figure has been frozen in time and is where this part of the story originates. Modern historians have calculated that 60 guilders were equivalent to $951.08 in that time frame. Now $951 is much better than 24, but it’s still too low of a price for the whole island of Manhattan.

One thing the correspondence doesn’t cover is what Native American tribe or on whose behalf was a deal with Minuit made. Historian Nathaniel Benchley found that Minuit was dealing with the Canarsees, a Lenape tribe primarily located in south Brooklyn. For those of you who are familiar with New York Geography, south Brooklyn is not Manhattan far from it actually. Benchley claims that the Weckquaesgeeks, a closely related Wappinger tribe, actually occupied most of mid and Northern Manhattan. That’s great except Minuit made a deal with the Canarsees.

That explains the low price! Manhattan was never the Canarsees to sell away. They were traveling through Manhattan and was approached with an offer they couldn’t refuse. They were happy to agree to anything the Dutch proposed hell it wasn’t their land. The Canarsees happily took the goods which were more than just trinkets and beads and went back to Brooklyn.

To further emphasize this point, there was a series of bloody battles between the Wappinger tribes and the Dutch settlers during the early 1640s. It seems someone didn’t respect the “deed” that was signed in 1626. Before these battles and the Dutch encroachment, the Wappingers lived peacefully on Manhattan.

If you were wondering how Manhattan eventually became part of the U.S. A.. The English conquered New Netherland and renamed it New York in 1664. After being regained buy the Dutch it was ceded back to England in the Westminster Treaty of 1674. The U.S.A won it from the English with the win in the revolutionary war.

Mistakes Were Made

Often throughout History, we are taught inaccurate stories. Especially when the story makes Europeans look Smarter, more intelligent, and wiser than whatever minority or “savage” culture they were dealing with. This story turns that line of thinking on its head and shows it as a false construct.

The Dutch were the ones who made a mistake in this story. They never did their research or homework on who had the right claim to Manhattan. They probably just stopped the first Native Americans they saw and proposed a deal to them. The problem was those Native Americans were the Canarsees, and they didn’t have a claim to Manhattan. Sure the Dutch paid a low monetary price, but they paid a much higher price in bloodshed with the battles they had to fight with the Wappinger tribes over the actual ownership of Manhattan.

The native Americans were not as dumb or naïve as they are portrayed, and the Europeans are not as intelligent as they are portrayed; the truth is somewhere in the middle. This tale is one of many stories from the past, that has been whitewashed, and the real story is finally coming too light.

Originally published at https://mwmblog.com on September 16, 2019.

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