According to historians, Peter Minuit is best known as the man who bought the island of Manhattan from the Indians for the legendary sum of 60 Dutch guilders, or $24.00.
Born in Wesel, Germany, in 1580, Minuit was a Walloon (a Belgian, French-speaking Protestant) whose family fled persecution at the hands of the Spanish army and settled in the Netherlands. He was an employee of the Dutch West India Company, which held a monopoly over all Dutch trade with West Africa and the Americas, and plundered over 120 million guilders from Spanish ships.
On May 4, 1626, Minuit arrived at the mouth of the Hudson River to take up his assignment as the third director of the New Netherland Colony, the Dutch settlement centered at the southern tip of Manhattan that was established in 1624. The colonists traded furs with the local native peoples - Mohicans and Lenapes - and set to work farming the area bounded by the Delaware and Connecticut rivers and the west bank of the Hudson, including outposts on what are known today as Staten Island and Governors Island.
At the same time that the West India Company was settling its New Netherland Colony, war broke out between the Mohawks and Mohicans over control of the fur trade with the colonists. Realizing that settlers in the more far-flung reaches of the colony were caught in the middle of this war, the West India Colony moved them to lower Manhattan, an area mostly deserted by the natives. To solidify control over the island, Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan from the Lenapes for 60 guilders' worth of trade goods. No deed or bill of sale has survived, which has caused some confusion over whether the purchase was made by Peter Minuit or his predecessor, Willem Verhulst, but the similar purchase of Staten Island was paid by him and five other colonists in duffel cloth, kettles, axes, hoes, wampum, drilling awls, and "diverse other wares."
The newly-purchased land was called New Amsterdam, and its 270 residents continued to trade European goods for furs to be sold back in the Netherlands. Peter Minuit served as director of New Netherland until 1633, when he carried on the business of colonizing America and settled New Sweden on the lower Delaware River. He died in 1638, reportedly drowned at sea during a hurricane.
Peter Minuit is commemorated today by Peter Minuit Plaza, a small park at the foot of Manhattan; by a granite flagstaff base in Battery Park, which depicts the historic purchase; by P.S. 108 Peter Minuit School; and by the Peter Minuit Chapter, NSDAR.
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Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration: The WPA Guide to New York City, 1939.