May 24: The Purchase Of Manhattan

ManhattanIt was on this day in 1626 that Peter Minuit, the Director of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, purchased what is now known as the island of Manhattan from Native Americans.

The popular myth is that Minuit bought the island for beads valuing no more than $24. In truth, he provided the native tribe with trade goods that were valued at 60 Dutch guilders. In 1846, a New York historian converted the guilders into American dollars and came up with a figure of $24. So, from that point on the story was passed along by rubes as “The Dutch bought Manhattan for $24 in beads” which is especially dubious as the dollar didn’t exist in 1626. Conveniently, in 2013, the Institute for Social History of Amsterdam estimated that those 60 guilders were the equivalent to $1,060 in modern money; which is still the real estate steal of the millennium.

Although there is a popular belief the the native tribes were swindled out of their land, historians have found some benefits for the natives in the trade agreement. According to 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.” In addition to the goods the Dutch gave the indigenous peoples, there were other intangible “goods” that were included in the trade: The native tribes believed that through this trade, the Dutch could become strong military allies against rival tribes; and both sides believed that the trade would lead to further trade.

Perhaps most fascinatingly, it turns out that the Dutch “bought” Manhattan from the wrong people! The Manhattan deal was actually arranged with the Canarsee tribe, who resided in what is now Brooklyn. Manhattan actually belonged to the Wappinger Confederacy, and it seems the Canarsee were more than happy to give up their neighbors’ land. Later on the Dutch would learn their mistake and work out a better deal with the Wappinger Confederacy. So, it turns out that the Dutch bought Manhattan twice!

So, on the anniversary of the Manhattan purchase, let’s drink a New Amsterdam. This drink was created by Jim Meehan at New York’s East Village hotspot Please Don’t Tell. This cocktail combines Bols Genever (otherwise known as Dutch gin) with the unsweetened cherry brandy kirschwasser to create a nicely balanced herbal flavor.

New Amsterdam

  • 2 ounces Bols Genever
  • 1 ounce Kirschwasser
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Peychd’s aromatic bitters

Stir everything with ice and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon zest.

Tomorrow: A long time ago…


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