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"Sir Henry Hudson entering New York Bay, September 11, 1609, with Indian family watching on shore in foreground." Reproduction of a painting by Edward Moran (1829–1901). The Dutch East India Company had hired the English sailor to find a northeast passage to India. Failing to do so in the waters around Norway, he sailed west. Library of Congress.
One famous story in American history involves the sale of Manhattan. In this legend, Manhattan Island was sold by Indians in exchange for trinkets and beads. If it were true, it would arguably be one of the greatest real estate deals in history. To date, no deed of land transfer, formal title or bill of sale has ever surfaced to serve as proof of this purchase by the Dutch from the Indians. So is this transaction legal?
Housed in the Rijksarchief(the Dutch National Archives) in The Hague, Netherlands, is a letter that references the sale of the Manhattes (Manhattan) written by the Dutch merchant Pieter Schagen, dated November 5, 1626. (A copy of the letter and translation in both Dutch and English can be accessed here.) In this letter Schagen wrote, “They have purchased the Island of Manhatten from the savages for the value of 60 guilders.” Schagen’s letter does not verify either the date of sale or who sold Manhattan on behalf of which tribe of Indians. Further, historians and scholars cannot agree on which tribe actually received payment in exchange for Manhattan. Included in historical references associated with the sale of Manhattan are the Lenape, Manahatin, Canarsie, Shinnecock, and Munsee Indians. The Manahatin, Lenape, and Munsee Indians were all indigenous to lower Manhattan according to their respective histories.
Absent from the letter is the mention of trinkets and beads. Also absent is the name of the individual who actually made the purchase. Many pieces to this historical assumption are missing. Is Schagen’s letter, without a bill of sale, sufficient legal evidence to establish title for the transfer of Manhattan from its original inhabitants to the Dutch?
In one 1626 account, Peter Minuit, appointed director-general of New Netherland by the Geoctroyeerde Westindische Compagnie (the Dutch West India Company), purchased Manhattan from the Lenape, or Delaware Indians, for $24-worth of trade goods. Other accounts state that Minuit made the deal with the Canarsie, who were actually based in Long Island yet accepted gifts in exchange for land that was not theirs. The Canarsie allegedly accepted the gifts and continued on their journey home. Another account contends that it was the Munsee Indians who received the trinkets, and claimed Manhattan as their ancestral homelands at the time.
In 1613, the Dutch established a fur-trading outpost in what is now lower Manhattan. Construction was started in 1625 on Fort Amsterdam, also in southern Manhattan. Ironically, the site ofFort Amsterdamis now occupied by the old U.S. Custom House building, which houses the NMAI’s George Gustav Heye Center. Adeed for Manhattan later surfaced, signed in Fort Amsterdam on July 14, 1649. However, the Dutch had formally been occupying Manhattan since 1613, a period of 36 years. In the 1649 deed Petrus Stuyvesant, Director General of New Netherland, declared three Indians—Megtegichkama, Oteyochque, and Wegtakockken—to be “the right owners of the land.” These three Indians put their mark on this agreement. This deed provokes the questions, If Manhattan was already sold to Peter Minuit on behalf of the Dutch East India Company in 1626, wouldn’t Minuit be the owner? Or did the Indians somehow still hold title?
Essay Source: http://blog.nmai.si.edu/main/2011/08/americas-first-urban-myth.html