The Taking of Manhattan Island
Part 2: Trinkets and Promises
Native Americans didn’t have many beads, but they did have things like animal hides and farm tools andmost importantly, for our storylots and lots of land. A tribe named the Delaware were living on Manhattan Island when Peter Minuit and his settlers arrived at their new settlement near there. Both people were initially suspicious of each other, but trust grew as each discovered the other’s peaceful intentions. They became so friendly, in fact, that they decided to make a swap. Minuit and his people would give the Delaware payment in exchange for the land called Manhattan Island. Both sides agreed, and the exchange was made.
A written record of this transaction exists. This record says that the Dutch paid 60 guilders (coins) for the land. So did they pay in actual coins, or did they paid in beads that were worth 60 guilders?
Here’s where the fun comes in. Historians cannot agree on what the payment actually was. The traditional story has it that Minuit paid in beads, which were all nice and shiny and made a nice present to the Delaware who had just sold away the land they were standing on. But the written record of that payment says nothing about beads. It mentions only the guilders.
Through the years, the story has grown in the telling. Now, it’s hard to hear the story told without mention of the beads. Yet the only account that mentions beads was written 200 years after the fact. This account mentions “beads, button, and other trinkets,” yes, but we have no way of knowing where that author got her information. Beads were part of trades all the time in those days. Were beads part of the Manhattan Island trade? No one knows!
The story including the beads has become so popular now that it’s hard to argue the point because so many people believe that the beads are vital to the story. It’s also hard to find a source that says that the beads were not part of the payment. Go figure.
By the way, that 60 guilders, translated into American dollars if they had been around at the time, equals $24. No matter how they were paid, the Delaware got only $24 for the entire island of Manhattan.
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