Tuesday, May 4, 2010

$24 Can Buy You an Island….in 1626

Today in 1626, Peter Minuet landed in modern day Manhattan. He later bought the island called New Amsterdam for $24 worth of cloth and brass buttons. This might be the most one sided real estate deal ever executed when we think of how expensive little shoebox apartments are these days in Manhattan.
Peter Minuet was born in modern day Germany into a world torn apart by the Reformation. Minuet and his family settled in an area that was safe for Protestants. At the age of 45, Minuet was selected as the third director-general of New Netherland by the Dutch West India Company. He set sail for North America and arrived in the colony on May 4, 1626.
The most famous story of Minuet’s time in New Netherlands is how he purchased Manhattan from natives for 60 guilders, which is usually converted to $24. Some of have doubted this conversion rate in recent years. In 2006, the Institute for Social History of Amsterdam found that 60 guilders in 1626 had the approximate value of about $1000.  There is also a belief that Minuet traded more goods than just cloth and brass buttons for the land. He may have also traded more useful items such as axe heads, hoes and wampum in addition to “cloth and brass buttons” Whatever his actions, he was recalled to Europe in 1632 and suspended from his post. Minuet later became involved in an effort to establish the first Swedish colony in the New World just south of New Netherland.  While in the process of settling New Sweden, Minuet perished in shipwreck in the Caribbean while attempting to trade tobacco.
            This narrative of New Netherland only serves to reinforce the degree to which the Native Americans were taken advantage of in the settlement of the “New World.”

[Image via coromandal

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