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Peter Minuit, Pierre Minuit or Peter Minnewit (1580 – August 5, 1638) was a Walloon from Weselmarker, today North Rhine-Westphaliamarker, Germanymarker, then part of the Duchy of Clevesmarker. He was the Director-General of the Dutchmarker colony of New Netherland from 1626 until 1633 and founder of the Swedishmarker colony of New Sweden in 1638. According to tradition, he purchased the island of Manhattanmarker from Native Americans on May 24, 1626.

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 Tournaimarker, 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 Weselmarker that had become a haven for Protestants as early as 1540. In the early decades of the next century the Duchy of Clevesmarker 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 Utrechtmarker.

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.

The legendary purchase of Manhattan

On May 24, 1626, he was credited with purchasing the island from the natives — perhaps from a Metoac band of Lenape known as the "Canarseemarker" — 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, Pieter Janszoon Schagen, to the States-General in 1626. Sixty guilders in 1626 had the approximate value of $1000 now. In 1846 the figure of Fl 60 (60 guilders or florins) was converted by a New York historian to US$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: a further embellishment in 1877 converted the figure into "beads, buttons and other trinkets." A contemporary purchase of rights in Staten Island, New Yorkmarker, 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." Though Minuit believed he had just made an excellent deal, he in fact purchased the land from the wrong Native Americans. The island was purchased from the Canarsees, who were living on Long Islandmarker and maybe passing through on a hunting trip, when in fact the land should have been bought from the Wappinger, an Algonquin tribe. The "purchase" was also understood differently by both parties, the local group having no concept 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 India Company, drew Minuit’s attention to the Swedish efforts to found a colony on the Delaware River. In 1636 or 1637, Minuit made arrangements with Samuel Blommaert and the Swedishmarker government to create the first Swedish colony in the New World. Located on the lower Delaware River within the territory earlier claimed by the Dutch, it was called New Sweden. Minuit and his company arrived at Swedes' Landing, at what is now Wilmington, Delawaremarker, in the spring of 1638. Minuit finished Fort Christinamarker that year, then departed to return to Stockholm, Swedenmarker for a second load of colonists, and made a side trip to the Caribbeanmarker 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. Christophermarker in the Caribbean. The official duties of the governorship were carried out by the Swedish Lieutenant (raised to the rank of Captain) Måns Nilsson 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, north of the Whitehall Ferry Terminal; by a marker in Inwood Hill Parkmarker at the supposed site of the actual purchase of Manhattan; by a granite flagstaff base in Battery Parkmarker, which depicts the historic purchase; by a school and playground in East Harlemmarker; by the Peter Minuit Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution; and by a memorial on Moltkestraße in Weselmarker, North Rhine-Westphaliamarker, Germanymarker. He was played by Groucho Marx in the 1957 film The Story of Mankind.


  1. "Peter Minuit" (biography), Wesel, Germany, webpage: Wesel-Minuit.
  2. Europeans often referred to the native inhabitants simply by the Lenape language place name for the larger area: "Canarsee", in this case.
  3. 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.
  4. The 60 guilders have been traditionally converted to about US$24. Of course, this is a mistake, as 60 guilders in 1626 had a much higher value. The International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam calculates its value as 60 guilders (1626) = 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.
  5. 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).


  • 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
  • Jaap Jacobs (2005), New Netherland: A Dutch Colony in Seventeenth-Century America. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN90 04 12906 5.

Further reading

  • Mickley, Joseph J. Some account of Willem Usselinx and Peter Minuit: Two individuals who were instrumental in establishing the first permanent colony in Delaware (The Historical Society of Delaware. 1881)

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