Monday, May 16, 2016


“We’ll have Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island too.” Can’t you just hear Ella Fitzgerald singing that classic? I wonder what Peter Minuit would have thought had he heard the song in May 1626, 390 years ago, when the Dutch bought Manhattan Island.

A hundred years before, Giovanni da Verrazano, working for the French, had explored in the area on board La Dauphine, and had given names to many of the places he saw. Naming is not claiming, and he sailed on, only to be eaten by cannibals elsewhere. He left only his own name to be given to a bridge connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island four hundred and forty years later.

No beads: beads they had. And none of those other trinkets either.

The Dutch knew a good place when they bought it. Fish and game were plentiful, the climate was favorable, and the natives were fairly friendly. Abundant furs were available from the vast territories to the north and west. 

The Dutch already had a fur trading settlement on what is now Governors Island, and had started a fort on Manhattan when they probably decided that they should buy the place. The legends say Minuit bought Manhattan for trinkets, beads. Not beads: beads they had. The deal was done in trade goods, worth about 60 Dutch guilders, worth a few thousand dollars in today’s money. The Canarsie people got the goods, but they didn’t live there. Like countless thousands of people today, they only worked there. They lived on Long Island and commuted regularly, and sold land that really wasn’t theirs to sell. American Indians had no concept or traditions for possession of the land. Their idea of the transaction surely differed from Minuit’s purpose to establish the colony of Nieuw Amsterdam. When you think of the value of New York City land today, the increase in value is staggering.

“So good they named it twice!” The U.S. Postal Service would like you to use the designation New York, New York, not Manhattan, in your correspondence. The most densely populated of the boroughs of the city, and even more packed when the commuters pour in, New York is the financial and cultural capitol of the United States. It is home to Wall Street, Broadway, and the United Nations, and many of the Fortune 500 companies associated with financial, cultural, and international commerce.

Manhattan Hot Spot

Many would picture the island as flat, if they think of that at all, but the name Manhattan is a derivation of the Lenape words for “island of many hills.” They say that New York is the city that never sleeps, but it does seem very sleepy very early on a Sunday morning. Normally, there is so much to see and do there that the shape of the island is the last thing you notice. With only an occasional taxi cruising by, I once stood on one of the main avenues, looking north, and saw the parade of street lights rolling up and down as those hills climb toward the top of the island. Peter Minuet would be astonished. I was!

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