Peter Minuit

Peter Minuit

Infobox Officeholder
name = Peter Minuit

imagesize =
caption =
order = 3rd
office = Director-General of New Netherland
term_start = 1626
term_end = 1632
predecessor = Willem Verhulst
successor = Sebastiaen Jansen Krol
birth_date =
birth_place =
death_date =
death_place =

Peter Minuit (1589 – August 5, 1638) was a Walloon from Wesel, today North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, then part of the Duchy of Cleves. He was the Director-General of the Dutch colony of New Netherland from 1626 until 1633 and founder of the Swedish colony of New Sweden in 1638. According to tradition, he purchased the island of Manhattan from the Canarsee Native Americans on May 24, 1626. However, the Canarsee were actually native to Brooklyn, while Manhattan was home instead to the Wappani, an indian tribe who were not pleased by the exchange and later battled the Dutch in Kieft's War. [cite book |last=Loewen |first=James W. |authorlink=James Loewen |title=Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong |year=1995 |publisher=The New Press |location=New York City |isbn=1-56584-100-x ]

Life and work

Peter himself was born in a time of great upheavals and struggles by Protestants against Catholics, which culminated in the Thirty Years' War. It finally led to the Peace of Westphalia a century later (1648) and would leave much of Germany devastated, though Rhine-Westphalia less than most of it. The neighboring Dutch Republic would briefly emerge as the dominant force in Europe.

Minuit's Walloon family, originally from the city of Tournai, was one of many Protestant families that fled persecution from the Roman Catholic government of the Spanish Netherlands. In 1581, at the height of the Eighty Years' War that split the Netherlands in a Catholic South and a Protestant North, Minuit's father found refuge in the city of Wesel that had become a haven for Protestants as early as 1540. In the early decades of the next century the Duchy of Cleves was embroiled in a war of succession -an early phase of the Thirty Years' War-, while the neighboring northern provinces of the Netherlands were now an increasingly wealthy Protestant Republic. The exact reasons for Minuit's decision to leave Wesel are unclear but there are indications that he moved to Utrecht.

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. "Peter Minuit" (biography), Wesel, Germany, webpage: [ Wesel-Minuit] .]

The legendary purchase of Manhattan

On May 24, 1626, he was credited with the purchase of the island from the natives — perhaps from a Metoac band of Lenape known as the "Canarsee" [Europeans often referred to the native inhabitants simply by the Lenape language place name for the larger area: "Canarsee", in this case.] — in exchange for trade goods valued at 60 guilders. This figure is known from a letter by a member of the board of the Dutch West India Company Peter Schaghen to the States-General in 1626.60 guilders in 1626 had the approximate value of $1000 now. [ [ Letter of 1626 stating that Manhattan Island had been purchased for the value of 60 guilders] , The College of New Jersey. Accessed April 26, 2007. The 60 guilders have been traditionally converted to about $24. Of course, this is a mistake, as 60 guilders in 1626 had a much higher value. The website of the International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam ( [ ] ) calculates its value as 60 guilders (1626) = Euro 678.91 (2006) , equal to about 1000 dollars. One might speculate that the confusion arose in the following way by making three errors. Error 1: A rijksdaalder, a Dutch coin - only introduced in the 18th century - is worth 2.5 guilders (50 "stuivers" = 50 x 0.05 guilders = 2.5 guilders, so that 60 guilders would have the same value as 24 "rijksdaalders". Error 2 and 3: If one then mistakenly equates a "rijksdaalder" with a "daalder" (30 "stuivers" = 30 x 0.05 guilders = 1.5 guilders) and a "daalder" with a dollar ("daalder" reminds one of dollar), one gets "60 guilders = $24".] In 1846 the figure of Fl 60 (60 guilders or florins) was converted by a New York historian to $24, and "a variable-rate myth being a contradiction in terms, the purchase price remains forever frozen at twenty-four dollars," as Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace remarked: [The founding myth of New York is treated in Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, "Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898" (1999:xivff).] a further embellishment in 1877 converted the figure into "beads, buttons and other trinkets." 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 similar trade goods were involved in the Manhattan arrangement," Burrows and Wallace surmise, "then the Dutch were engaged in high-end technology transfer, handing over equipment of enormous usefulness in tasks ranging from clearing land to drilling wampum." If the island was purchased from the Canarsees, they would have been living on Long Island and maybe passing through on a hunting trip. The "purchase" was understood differently by both parties, the local group having no conception of alienable real estate, as is always pointed out in modern accounts of the supposed transaction.

Minuit's subsequent career

In 1631, Minuit was suspended from his post, and he returned to Europe in August 1632 to explain his actions, but was dismissed. He was succeeded as director-general by Wouter van Twiller.

His friend, Willem Usselincx who had also been disappointed by the Dutch West Indian Company, drew Minuit’s attention to the Swedish efforts to found a colony. In 1636 or 1637, Minuit made arrangements with Samuel Blommaert and the Swedish government to create the first Finno-Swedish colony in the New World. Located on the lower Delaware River at what is now Wilmington, Delaware, within the territory earlier claimed by the Dutch, it was called New Sweden, with the Swedes (and Finns) landing there in the spring of 1638. Minuit finished Fort Christiana that year, then departed to return to Stockholm, Sweden for a second load of colonists, and made a side trip to the Caribbean to pick up a shipment of tobacco for resale in Europe to make the voyage profitable. Minuit died while on this voyage during a hurricane at St. Christopher in the Caribbean.

The official duties of the governorship were carried out by the Finnish Lieutenant (raised to the rank of Captain) Mauno Kling, until the next governor was chosen and brought in from the mainland Sweden, two years later.


Peter Minuit is commemorated by Peter Minuit Plaza, a small park at the foot of Manhattan, New York City; by a marker in Inwood Hill Park at the site of the actual purchase; by a granite flagstaff base in Battery Park, which shows the historical purchase; New Holland the Peter Minuit Chapter of the Daughters of the American revolution; and also by a memorial on Moltkestraße in Wesel (Germany).



*Tobias Arand, Peter Minuit aus Wesel - Ein rheinischer Überseekaufmann im 17. Jahrhundert; in: Schöne Neue Welt. Rheinländer erobern Amerika, hg. v. Rheinischen Freilichtmuseum und Landesmuseum für Volkskunde in Kommern, Opladen 1981, 13-42
*cite book | author=Weslager, C. A. | title=A Man and his Ship: Peter Minuit and the Kalmar Nyckel | location=Wilmington | publisher=Kalmar Nickel Foundation | year=1989 | id=ISBN 0-9625563-1-9

External links

*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]
*Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace: "Gotham," 1999.
*Kenneth T. Jackson, ed.: "Encyclopedia of New York City." 1995.
* [ The Kalmar Nyckel Foundation & Tall Ship Kalmar Nyckel.]
* [ Peter Schaghen's letter on the purchase of Manhattan Island for the value of 60 guilders]
* [ CollectValue exhibition of Novum Belgium share certificates in honour of Peter Minuit, claiming back Manhattan] s-ttl|title= Director of New Netherland
years= May 4, 1626–1631
s-ttl|title= Governor of New Sweden
years= March 29, 1638June 15, 1638

NAME= Minuit, Peter
SHORT DESCRIPTION=third director-general of New Netherland, founder of the Swedish colony of New Sweden in 1638
DATE OF DEATH=August 5, 1638
PLACE OF DEATH=St. Christopher

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