Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Peter Minuit (1580 - 1638), born in Wesel, Duchy of Cleves (present-day Germany), was the Director General of the Dutch colony of New Netherland from 1626 until 1633. He is most famous for the purchase of the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans (Algonkins), on May 24, 1626.
Peter Minuit's Walloon family was one of many Protestants families who escaped the Spanish government of the Netherlands and found refuge in the Dutch Netherlands and Protestant parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Peter himself was born in a time of great upheavals and struggles by Protestants against Catholics, which culminated in the Thirty Years' War and finally led to an exhausted Peace of Westphalia a century later.
Minuit was appointed the third director general of New Netherland by the Dutch West India Company in December 1625 and arrived in the colony on May 4, 1626. On May 24 of the same year he is credited with the purchase of the island from the natives -- perhaps from a Metoac tribe known as the Canarsees  -- in exchange for trade goods valued at 60 guilders. This figure is known from a letter by Peter Schagen to the board of the Dutch West India Company: a traditional conversion to $24US using 19th century exchange rates is not particularly meaningful. The trade goods are sometimes identified as beads and trinkets, but that may also have been an embellishment by 19th century writers. A contemporary purchase of rights in Staten Island, New York to which Minuit was also party involved duffel cloth, iron kettles and axe heads, hoes, wampum, drilling awls, "Jew's Harps," and "diverse other wares." If the island was purchased from the Canarsees, they would have been living on Long Island and maybe passing through on a hunting trip.
In 1636-1637 Minuit made arrangements with Samuel Blommaert and the Swedish government to create the first Swedish colony of New Sweden on the lower Delaware River, within the territory claimed by the Dutch, with the Swedes landing in the spring of 1638 (at what is now Wilmington, Delaware). Minuit reportedly died in the summer of 1638 during a hurricane at St. Christopher in the Caribbean.
Today, Peter Minuit is commemorated by Peter Minuit Plaza, a small park at the foot of Manhattan, New York City; by a granite flagstaff base in Battery Park, which shows the historical purchase; by the Peter Minuit School (Public School 108); the Peter Minuit Chapter of the D.A.R.; and also in Wesel (Germany), Moltkestreet.
External links and references
- Project Gutenberg's Narrative New Netherland, edited by J.F. Jameson, includes a footnote about the life of Minuit, but gives an improbable birth date of 1550.
- The Canarsees - http://www.angelfire.com/realm/shades/nativeamericans/meotac.htm
- Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace: Gotham, 1999.
- Kenneth T. Jackson, ed.: Encyclopedia of New York City. 1995.
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