Peter Minuit, Minnewit
|3rd Director of New Netherland|
|Sebastiaen Jansen Krol|
Wesel, Duchy of Cleves, Holy Roman Empire (modern North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany)
|Died||1638 (aged 58)|
Peter Minuit, Pieter Minuit, Pierre Minuit, or Peter Minnewit (between 1580 and 1585 - August 5, 1638) was a Walloon from Wesel, in present-day North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, then part of the Duchy of Cleves. His surname means "midnight" in French. He was the 4th Director of the Dutch North American colony of New Netherland from 1626 until 1631, and 3rd Governor of New Netherland. He founded the Swedish colony of New Sweden on the Delaware Peninsula in 1638.
Minuit is generally credited with orchestrating the purchase of Manhattan Island for the Dutch from the Lenape Native Americans. Manhattan later became the site of the Dutch city of New Amsterdam, and the borough of Manhattan of modern-day New York City. A common account states that Minuit purchased Manhattan for $24 worth of trinkets. A letter written by Dutch merchant Peter Schaghen to directors of the Dutch East India Company stated that Manhattan was purchased "for the value of 60 guilders" in goods, an amount worth approximately $1,050 in 2015 dollars.
Peter Minuit was born sometime between 1580 and 1585, into a Calvinist family that had moved from the city of Tournai (presently part of Wallonia, Belgium) in the Southern Netherlands, to Wesel in Germany, in order to avoid Spanish Catholic colonials, who were not favorably disposed toward Protestants.
His father, Johan, died in 1609 and Peter took over management of the household and his father's business. Peter had a good reputation in Wesel, attested by the fact that he was several times appointed a guardian. He also assisted the poor during the Spanish occupation of 1614-1619.
Minuit married Gertrude Raedts on August 20, 1613. Gertrude was from a wealthy family and she probably helped Peter Minuit establish himself as a broker. A will drawn up in 1615 in the Dutch city of Utrecht, mentions "Peter Minnewit" as a diamond cutter. Whether he traded in other items is unknown.
By 1624, the city was in an economic decline and in 1625, he had left Wesel and like others, went to Holland. At first, Gertrude went to stay with her relatives in Cleve.
Minuit and his family joined the Dutch West India Company, probably in the mid-1620s, and was sent to New Netherland in 1625 to search for tradable goods other than the animal pelts that then were the major product coming from New Netherland. He returned in the same year, and in 1626 was appointed the new director of New Netherland, taking over from Willem Verhulst. He sailed to North America and arrived in the colony on May 4, 1626.
Minuit is credited with purchasing the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans in exchange for traded goods valued at 60 guilders. According to the writer Nathaniel Benchley, Minuit conducted the transaction with Seyseys, chief of the Canarsees, who were only too happy to accept valuable merchandise in exchange for an island that was mostly controlled by the Weckquaesgeeks.
The figure of 60 guilders comes from a letter by a representative of the Dutch States-General and member of the board of the Dutch West India Company, Pieter Janszoon Schagen, to the States-General in November 1626. In 1846, New York historian John Romeyn Brodhead converted the figure of Fl 60 (or 60 guilders) to US$23. The popular account rounds this off to $24. By 2006 sixty guilders in 1626 was worth approximately $1,000 in current dollars, according to the Institute for Social History of Amsterdam.
According to researchers at the National Library of the Netherlands, "The original inhabitants of the area were unfamiliar with the European notions and definitions of ownership rights. For the Indians, water, air and land could not be traded. Such exchanges would also be difficult in practical terms because many groups migrated between their summer and winter quarters. It can be concluded that both parties probably went home with totally different interpretations of the sales agreement."
A contemporary purchase of rights in nearby Staten Island, to which Minuit also was party, involved duffel cloth, iron kettles, 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."
Minuit conducted politics in a measure of democracy in the colony during his time in New Netherland. He was highest judge in the colony, but in both civil and criminal affairs he was assisted by a council of five colonists. This advisory body would advise the director and jointly with him would develop, administer, and adjudicate a body of laws to help govern the colony. In addition there was a schout-fiscal, half-sheriff, half-attorney-general, and the customs officer. During Minuit's administration, several mills were built, trade grew exponentially, and the population grew to almost 300.
In 1631, the Dutch West India Company (WIC) suspended Minuit from his post for reasons that are unclear, but probably for (perhaps unintentionally) abetting the landowning patroons who were engaging in illegal fur trade and otherwise enriching themselves against the interests and orders of the West India Company. He arrived back in Europe in August 1632 to explain his actions, but was dismissed  and was succeeded as director by Wouter van Twiller. It is possible that Minuit had become the victim of the internal disputes over the rights that the board of directors had given to the patroons.
After having lived in Cleves, Germany for several years, Minuit made arrangements with Samuel Blommaert and the Swedish government in 1636 or 1637 to create the first Swedish colony in the New World. Located on the lower Delaware River within territory earlier claimed by the Dutch, it was called New Sweden. Minuit and his company arrived on the Fogel Grip and Kalmar Nyckel at Swedes' Landing (now Wilmington, Delaware), in the spring of 1638. They constructed Fort Christina later that year, then returned to Stockholm for a second load of colonists, and made a side trip to the Caribbean on the return to pick up a shipment of tobacco for resale in Europe to make the voyage profitable. During this voyage, Minuit drowned when the ship he was visiting (at the invitation of its Dutch captain, a friend of Minuit), The Flying Deer, was lost with all hands during a hurricane at St. Christopher (today's St. Kitts) in the Caribbean. The losses suffered, such as goods, colonists, and Minuit, caused irreversible damage to Sweden's colonization attempts. Two years later, Swedish Lt. Måns Nilsson Kling, whose rank was raised to captain, replaced him as governor. Nine expeditions to the colony were carried out before the Dutch captured it in 1655.