This item is from Destiny (1983).  It was written by Paul Aurandt (Paul Harvey, Jr.).

The Great Manhattan Swindle

IN THE AUTUMN OF the year 1626, a politician in the city of Amsterdam wrote the following letter to the legislative assembly of the Netherlands:


          Here arrived yesterday the ship . . . which on the 23rd  September sailed from New Netherland . . . They report that our people there are of good cheer and live peaceably.  Their wives have also borne children there.  They have bought the island Manhattes (sic) from the savages for the value of sixty guilders . . .

     And that is the earliest-known document relating to the local history of Manhattan Island.  It also refers to something which would one day be called history’s greatest real estate deal, the purchase of the island itself, for what amounted to twenty-four dollars’ worth of beads and trinkets.

     This much we learned in grammar school.

     It was only after the English swiped Manhattan from the Dutch that it came to be known as New York.  Prior to that time it was known as New Amsterdam, the governmental seat of the Dutch colony New Netherland.

     Peter Minuit was the original director-general of the colony.  He made all the laws, acted as judge in all legal matters.  His authority was unquestionable.  It was he, acting on behalf of the Dutch West India Company, who personally purchased Manhattan from the Canarsie Indians on May 6, 1626.

     To put things in perspective, the island is thirteen and a half miles long, two and a half miles wide at its widest, approximately twenty-two square miles of land.

     Minuit acquired it at about a dollar a square mile.

     Historians are fond of citing, for the sake of comparison, a real estate transaction which occurred some three centuries later: one square foot at the corner of Nassau and Wall streets for $622.29.

     Your pocket calculator won’t even compute that rate of appreciation.  There is not enough room for the figures.

     More than 391 billion percent.

     If not fair, Peter Minuit’s purchase from the Indians was legal.  There was even an ornate document to seal the deal.

     In the years since, the transaction has been listed among the shames of the white man.  The Great Manhattan Swindle.  The early European colonists, of course, rarely reimbursed the Indians at all for the lands they settled.  Still, could twenty-four dollars seriously be considered reimbursement for such an enormous piece of property?

     Well, this was the white man’s real problem: He never gave the red man enough credit for shrewdness.

     For the purchasing power of the dollar in 1626 was such that in modern equivalent, Peter Minuit actually paid many thousands of dollars for Manhattan.

     And one thing more, he purchased the island from the Canarsie Indians.  But the Canarsies did not live there.  They were only visiting.

     What I’m saying is–the Canarsie Indians sold something they never owned in the first place.

     And after they ripped off the world’s smartest real estate dealer, they got in their canoes and returned home.

     To Brooklyn.

     Now you know THE REST OF THE STORY.


  1. 1 Abby November 22, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    I learn something new every day! Happy Thanksgiving Scott!

  2. 3 duncanr November 24, 2012 at 5:55 am

    sneaky buggers, those Canarsie Indians 😆

    great story, Scott

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