May 24, 2012

Nikos Deja Vu - May 24th, 1626 - The purchase of Manhattan - How the American Indians were hoodwinked by crafty Europeans

May 24th, 1626 - The purchase of Manhattan
How American Indians were hoodwinked by rafty Europeans

The roots of the name of Manhattan lost in the mists of time. Believed to have originated from the language of the older Algkonkouian-known residents of the area and mean-hilly island. For centuries, was one of the major fishing areas and hunting for natives.
From the moment Europeans set foot in the New World, Manhattan attracted their attention. They saw a huge harbor, naturally protected from the storms of the north Atlantic, and from every potential attacker, without extreme weather conditions and access to the interior of the Americas, through the Hudson River.

In 1624 the Dutch company Dutch West India Company founded in the south of the island New Amsterdam as a trading station. Two years later, he came in as the new Governor Peter Minouit and the first action was to buy Manhattan from the Indians on 24 May. In return, offered goods worth 60 guilders (24 dollars).
The fact is known from a letter to the administration of the Dutch company. Often, the goods are identified as key chains, beads and other fancy trinkets, but this might not be accurate, but due to the imagination of writers of the 19th century. According to data of another purchase, of Staten Island, which also participated Minouit in return were given coats, pots, axes, shovels, needles and other goods.
According, however, to modern researchers, indigenous peoples should be unaware of the concept of permanent land ownership as it moved constantly ... Created camps where they found food, and when the seasons change left the area. When agreed on the sale of Manhattan's best-say-historians believed that the vested rights of hunting and fishing in the Netherlands, which in turn would leave at some point, as they did themselves.

The story of the purchase of the island of Manhattan is legendary. Most people see it as proof of how the simple American Indians were hoodwinked by those crafty Europeans.
At the end of the nineteenth century, various American historians and writers published several different versions of the story of the purchase, which took place in the early seventeenth century. The pictures illustrating these articles feature Dutch people in dark seventeenth-century garb, complete with hats. Their partners in the negotiations resemble nineteenth-century inhabitants of the Midwestern prairies. The Dutchmen bought the island for twenty-four American dollars’ worth of beads and mirrors, or so the story goes. The question, however, is whether this account of the event is based on fact.

The only proof

The archives of the Netherlands and the United States contain no receipts or deeds of transfer that might serve as proof of purchase. In the National Archives in The Hague, however, there is a letter that refers to the purchase of the island. The letter was written by the merchant Pieter Schagen and is dated 5 November 1626. He addressed the letter to the directors of the West India Company, which had been granted ownership of the entire area of New Netherland by the States General. Schagen wrote about how the Dutch men and women living on the island had been faring up until then. He also reports: ‘have bought the island of Manhattes from the savages for a value of 60 guilders’. This passage in Schagen’s letter is the only source that directly refers to the controversial purchase of the island. There is no mention of payment in worthless beads or mirrors, nor does the letter say who it was that purchased the island on behalf of the Dutch or who may have sold it on behalf of what Indian group. We do know that at the time of purchase, Peter Minuit (1580-1638) was governor of New Netherland. In all probability he bought the island from members of the Lenape tribe.

The price of land

Documents do exist for the purchase of another island, Staten Island. There the sale was finalized with local Indians through payment in kind of a similar amount (sixty guilders). The articles the Indians received consisted of duffel, cauldrons, axes, hoes, awls, Jews’ harps and wampum (Indian beads, which functioned as currency). Each item was regarded by the recipients as something of great value. It is virtually impossible to determine the objective value of the goods that were traded. On the basis of Schagen’s letter, we know that the exchange value of the goods was sixty Dutch guilders. But take note: that was the price for the Dutch sellers. The actual value of the goods for the recipients cannot be ascertained today. It is unlikely, however, that they would have agreed to sell if the offer had been too low.

Indians and ownership rights

There is yet another factor at issue, however. The original inhabitants of the area were unfamiliar with the European notions and definitions of ownership rights. For the Indians, water, air and land could not be traded. Such exchanges would also be difficult in practical terms because many groups migrated between their summer and winter quarters. The Dutchmen were well-versed in these concepts, of course, and they had also been given explicit instructions from their directors to respect the rights of the original inhabitants and to avoid conflict. So it was perfectly consistent with this line of thinking to offer to buy the Indians’ land. In doing so they would be complying with their instructions – in conformity with the current notions of ownership rights.
It can be concluded that both parties probably went home with totally different interpretations of the sales agreement.

Transcription Schagen letter
Recep.7 November 1626
High and Mighty Lords,

Yesterday the ship the Arms of Amsterdam arrived here. It sailed from New Netherland out of the River Mauritius on the 23d of September. They report that our people are in good spirit and live in peace. The women also have borne some children there. They have purchased the Island Manhattes from the Indians for the value of 60 guilders. It is 11.000 morgens in size [about 22.000 acres]. They had all their grain sowed by the middle of May, and reaped by the middle of August They sent samples of these summer grains: wheat, rye, barleey, oats, buckwheat, canary seed, beans and flax. The cargo of the aforesaid ship is:

7264 Beaver skins
178 ½ Otter skins
675 Otter skins
48 Mink skins
36 Lynx skins
33 Minks
34 Weasel skins

Many oak timbers and nut wood. Herewith, High and Mighty Lords, be commended to the mercy of the Almighty,
Your High and Mightinesses' obedient
P. Schagen

Nikos Deja Vu

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