Algonquians “Sell” Manhattan Island

The Dutch secured a legal claim to their primary stronghold in North America by giving trade goods to the Canarsee Indians in exchange for the island of Manhattan. Four decades later, the Dutch would be forced in turn to relinquish control of the island to the British, who would rename it New York.

Summary of Event

In the early seventeenth century, the Netherlands, like other nations of northern Europe, sent out explorers to search for a sea route around North America to the riches of eastern Asia. The principal explorer for the Dutch was Henry Hudson, Hudson, Henry an Englishman who, in 1609, explored the river that bears his name. When Hudson and other navigators failed to find the Northwest Passage, the Dutch, like other Europeans, decided to claim the lands that they had found in the Americas and exploit their resources. While hoping to discover gold and silver, as the Spanish had done to the south, the Dutch soon found that furs were the most readily exploitable resource of the middle Atlantic coastal region that they claimed. The Dutch could obtain these furs by trading with the Native Americans Native Americans;Dutch traders and , who would do most of the trapping in exchange for European goods. The demand for pelts was so great in Europe that one shipload could make its investors wealthy. Exploration;Netherlands of North America
North America;Dutch exploration of
Furs, trade in
[kw]Algonquians “Sell” Manhattan Island (May 6, 1626)
[kw]Manhattan Island, Algonquians “Sell” (May 6, 1626)
Expansion and land acquisition;May 6, 1626: Algonquians “Sell” Manhattan Island[1020]
Colonization;May 6, 1626: Algonquians “Sell” Manhattan Island[1020]
Trade and commerce;May 6, 1626: Algonquians “Sell” Manhattan Island[1020]
American Colonies;May 6, 1626: Algonquians “Sell” Manhattan Island[1020]
Manhattan Island, Netherlands purchase of
Treaties, Native Americans and Europeans
Hudson, Henry
May, Cornelius Jacobsen
Verhulst, Willem
Minuit, Peter
Kieft, Willem
Stuyvesant, Peter

In the interests of further discovery and to stimulate trade, the Dutch legislative body, the States-General, granted to its traders and explorers the exclusive right to make four voyages to any new lands that they might explore. Under this grant, in 1614, five ships visited the Hudson River, which the Dutch then called Mauritius. Later that same year, these traders combined as the United New Netherland Company United New Netherland Company and received a monopoly on the trade of the Hudson Valley from the States-General. Ignoring Manhattan Island, these early traders sailed up the Hudson River to the site of present-day Albany, where they erected Fort Nassau on Castle Island as a base of operations. There they exchanged their goods for furs with the Mohican Mohicans tribal peoples. Following the expiration of the charter of the United New Netherland Company in 1618, a succession of different companies plied the Hudson River fur trade. New Netherland

In 1621, a number of influential merchants obtained from the States-General a charter for the Dutch West India Company Dutch West India Company with the sole right to trade on the Atlantic coasts of Africa and North and South America for twenty-four years. Although the new company organized primarily to challenge Spanish control of Latin America, it was also interested in the Hudson River area. In 1624, the company dispatched Captain Cornelius Jacobsen May May, Cornelius Jacobsen with a shipload of thirty families to settle in North America. Opposite Castle Island, the group founded a trading post they named Fort Orange; to the south, they formed a settlement on the Delaware River. They also may have established a trading house on Governor’s Island, in what would become New York City’s harbor. Coastal Algonquian Algonquians tribes probably were in the process of forming a coalition when the Dutch arrived and disrupted that maneuver. Colonization;Netherlands of North America

The first two governors of New Netherland, Cornelius Jacobsen May and Willem Verhulst, Verhulst, Willem lived at the Delaware River site and administered the colony from there. Peter Minuit, Minuit, Peter the first director-general of New Netherland, shifted his center of operations to Manhattan Island. A native of Wesel, then in the Duchy of Cleves, Minuit was probably of French or Walloon descent. He impressed many as a shrewd and somewhat unscrupulous man.

One of Minuit’s first acts after arriving on Manhattan Island early in 1626 was to buy the rights to the island from an Algonquian tribe, the Canarsee Canarsee , for trinkets worth about sixty guilders, or about twenty-four dollars. There is some debate whether Minuit actually arranged the purchase himself or if his predecessor, Verhulst, did, but a May, 1626, letter revealed Minuit’s intentions to buy the island. Controversy also surrounds the morality of the purchase. Tradition commonly calls the sale an unconscionable steal or a tremendous bargain. However, some historians suggest that the conversion to twenty-four dollars is too low and that, refiguring the payment in 1986 dollars, the Dutch paid $31 billion.

The Canarsee, moreover, certainly placed a different value on the beads, other trade goods, and land than did the Europeans. Value is a human creation, and if the Canarsee in fact believed that the island was equal in worth to the trinkets they received for it, it is difficult to find a basis from which to argue that they were incorrect. Certainly, to claim that European judgments of the relative value of land and trade goods was more accurate than Native American judgments is to tread dangerous ground. To be sure, however, the concept of land ownership did not exist among most indigenous people or, at the least, it had a meaning completely different from that of Europeans. As a result, the Canarsee may have though they were selling temporary rights, or some set of permanent rights to the land less exhaustive than the Dutch believed they were buying.

The Algonquian inhabitants of Manhattan Island before contact with Europeans.

(Gay Brothers)

Because the Manhattan tribe, whose name the island inherited, had a better claim to it than did the Canarsee, Minuit later apparently also bought the island from them. Through this, their first major land purchase from the Native Americans, the Dutch secured the semblance of a legal title to Manhattan. At the time of the purchase, it was a beautiful island, covered with a great forest and abounding with wildlife and wild fruits.

Minuit made New Amsterdam New Amsterdam , at the southern tip of Manhattan, the nucleus of Dutch activity in the area. A large fort, pentagonal in shape, surrounded on three sides by a great moat and fronting on the bay, was one of the first structures to be built. When it was complete, Minuit brought several families from Fort Orange to settle in the town. He also ordered the evacuation of Fort Nassau on the South River, near present-day Gloucester, New Jersey, and transferred the fort’s garrison to New Amsterdam. Despite his vigorous administration of the colony, the parent country recalled him for examination in 1632 and dismissed him from the Dutch West India Company’s service.

In the meantime, in 1629, the directorate of the company, with the approval of the States-General, had issued a charter of Freedoms and Exemptions that provided for the grant of large estates, called patroonships, to those members of the company who would recruit at least fifty settlers more than fifteen years of age to settle their lands within four years. These grants ostensibly were to promote farming in New Netherland, but their primary intention was to encourage settlers to go up the Hudson River to settle and make additional contacts with the Native Americans, thereby extending the fur trade. Traders presumably would ship the furs down the river to New Amsterdam, whence the Dutch West India Company had the sole right to export them. With one exception, Rensselaerwyck, these patroonships never measured up to Dutch expectations.

New Amsterdam, c. 1651, about twenty-five years after the Dutch acquired the island.

(Library of Congress)


After the purchase of Manhattan Island, relations between the Dutch and the Native Americans of the region remained mostly harmonious and the fur trade continued to prosper until 1641, when hostilities broke out. The fighting, called Kieft’s War Kieft’s War (1641)[Kiefts War (1641)] after Director-General Willem Kieft, Kieft, Willem resulted from his attempt to collect taxes from the Algonquian tribes for Dutch “protection.” The conflict ended with a treaty on August 29, 1645, but it had already disrupted the fur trade and forced Kieft to relinquish some of his power to advisory bodies in order to obtain popular support for the prosecution of the war. Taxation;Algonquians

In 1647, Peter Stuyvesant Stuyvesant, Peter succeeded Kieft and became the last Dutch director-general of New Netherland. It was he who surrendered the colony to the British in 1664. The brightness of the early promise of New Netherland, lustrous with the purchase of Manhattan in 1626, faded within the half century. With its fading, however, the promise of the island as a British outpost shone all the brighter. Although the Dutch would retain significant economic and cultural influence in the renamed New York, the English would benefit even more from their possession of one of the world’s best harbors.

Further Reading

  • Brasser, Ted J. “The Coastal New York Indians in the Early Contact Period.” In Neighbors and Intruders: An Ethnohistorical Exploration of the Indians of Hudson’s River, edited by Laurence M. Hauptman and Jack Campisi. Ottawa, Ont.: National Museums of Canada, 1978. Argues that the coastal Algonquians were probably in the process of forming a coalition when the Dutch obtained Manhattan.
  • Condon, Thomas J. New York Beginnings: The Commercial Origins of New Netherland. New York: New York University Press, 1968. Examines the Dutch purchase decision as part of a wider commercial policy.
  • Francis, Peter, Jr. “The Beads That Did Not Buy Manhattan Island.” New York History 67, no. 1 (January, 1986): 4-22. Asserts that the trinkets the Dutch paid for the island were much more valuable than is commonly assumed.
  • Gehring, Charles. “Peter Minuit’s Purchase of Manhattan Island: New Evidence.” De Halve Maen 54 (Spring, 1980): 6ff. Discusses a letter from Minuit suggesting his intention to buy Manhattan Island.
  • Rink, Oliver A. Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986. Argues strongly for Minuit’s mastery in establishing New Amsterdam.
  • Shorto, Russell. The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America. New York: Doubleday, 2004. Minuit’s purchase of Manhattan is included in this history of New Netherland. Shorto argues that America owes a debt to the Dutch colony, because it was the first place in the New World where people of different races and creeds lived together in relative harmony.
  • Trelease, Allen W. Indian Affairs in Colonial New York: The Seventeenth Century. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1960. Places the Dutch purchase in the context of other relations with Native Americans around New Netherland. Argues that the money paid was worth more to the Canarsee tribal people than usually is presumed.
  • Weslager, C. A. “Did Minuit Buy Manhattan Island from the Indians?” De Halve Maen 43 (October, 1968): 5-6. Questions whether it was Minuit who actually purchased the island, suggesting that Verhulst did instead.

Hudson Explores Hudson Bay

Founding of New Amsterdam

Dutch Wars in Brazil

Beaver Wars

British Conquest of New Netherland

Hudson’s Bay Company Is Chartered

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