Many of us heard the story how the Dutch, governed by Peter Minuit, bought the entire island of Manhattan from the natives for a miserable price – 24$. But is really the story that correct?
The island of Manhattan has been inhabited by the Native American tribes for centuries, it is not quite possible to state for sure, which one made the deal with the Dutch, though probably it was the Canarsie tribe. Some people argue that Indians, due to their believes, didn‘t understand how trade with Europeans works, but we know for sure natives’ concepts of possession. The point is that natives had the concept of possession and private property (not dissimilar to capitalist construct), though many tribes had communal land.
Let’s return to the story itself. According to the letter written by Pieter Schagen people have bought the land from natives for the price of 60 guilders, although there are no records about the deed itself and all existing ones were written long after the purchase when the Dutch inhabited that island for several decades. But what about 24$? 19th century historians converted the value of 60 guilders from 17th century to U.S. dollars, the result was 24$. The point is that this number remained unchanged for about two more centuries, regardless inflation and changes of currency value. The results of modern reevaluations are quite different – some state that it equals 15,000$, others that it is almost 1000$. Though it is a moot, the fact that Indians didn’t sell their land for nothing. The most popular currency in New Netherland at that time were trinkets. By trinkets they meant kettles, axes, mattocks, musical instruments and drilling awls, all in all – for Native Americans it was very useful but not that expensive European stuff. The next moot is whether the land was really bought or just leased. Professor G. Edward White states that native tribes of Manhattan had a tradition of property rights and just offered the Dutch the right to hunt there, while Richard Howe notes that the Dutch, who relied rather on negotiations than on brute force (like other Europeans used to), thought the transaction was full and legitimate, making the land of Manhattan their property that could be later a subject to private purchases. One more interesting fact about this purchase – the Dutch probably purchased the island of Manhattan from Canarsies, who actually didn’t live there (they lived in the area near to Brooklyn). Historians say that Canarsie sought Dutch protection from the enemies, while the Dutch wanted to legitimize their land claims before the British. It is also known that Weekquaesgeeks – real natives to Manhattan then fought with the Dutch, which led to Kieft’s war. As the result the Dutch drove the tribe of Weekquaesgeeks out of their land completely.
To conclude all mentioned above, it is worth stating that the entire brand of Manhattan being sold for glass beads is totally invalid. The local tribes understood the principles of trade, so they weren’t just giving away their homelands. And last but not least, Manhattan wasn’t actually sold, as Canarsies had no rights of owning the island and the deed was just an attempt to legitimize the claims.
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