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How Trade Beads Bought Manhattan Island - Or Did They?!

Native New Yorker's will undoubtedly be familiar with the patriotic relevance of Battery Park to their local, and national history. For those who have never visited this 25-acre National Monument, that occupies the urbanized Southern  tip of Manhattan Island; the park is so named, due to it being the station for British, Dutch and American defense artillery since around the 16th Century.

$24 of Beads for Manhattan Island? A Misconception

Battery Park is also the location of the infamous Netherlands Monument; a huge inscribed flagstaff at the North-East entrance, which commemorates the arrival and establishment of both Dutch, and European settlers, within what was then known as New Amsterdam (now New York.)  The monument is accompanied by a 19th Century legend. This fable alludes to a historic misconception that Manhattan Island was bought for $24 of Venetian trade beads and trinkets, in 1626. The Venetian trade beads would not have been dissimilar to the Antique Venetian Trade Beads that we have here at The Bead Chest.

Indians & Merchants in Manhattan

Legend tells how the island of Manhattan was taken by Indians during the 17th Century; a nation who cultivated the 'Island Manhattes' and enjoyed a flourishing trade economy with merchants who landed there. They had some dealings with the Dutch; relatively new explorers to this part of the United States, however the Dutch were looking to colonize these fertile, fruitful lands.

Buying Manhattan for Beads: Negotiations & Legends

A failed attempt in 1625 by William Verhulst, the then Governor of the existent Dutch colony to purchase Manhattan Island, led to his successor and seconder Peter Minuit reattempting negotiations with the Indian natives in 1626. By August of that year, it is alleged the Minuit had struck a deal with the Indian governors, and Manhattan Island was sold. The price in Dutch currency was 66,000 guilders, however it is alleged this price was actually the total value of goods handed over to the Indians, rather than any formal currency. Hence, where the legend surrounding $24 of trade beads and trinkets may have been born. Evidence later suggests that the Dutch actually bought Manhattan from the wrong tribe - the deal being struck with Canarsies who occupied the Brooklyn area.

The Secondary Sale of Manhattan for Shell Beads

The legend's plausibility has been debated for over a Century, particularly because so little in the way of historical evidence has survived to support the story. What we do know, from a scribe/scholar who copied a secondary deed at the time of the sale, was that Wampum (shell beads) and not glass trade beads were given to 'back up' the secondary deed of sale. We also know that the Dutch had been following suit of the Venetians, developing their own trade bead production, to aid their trips to foreign shores.

The Manhattan Sale Legend Continues

It seems unlikely that the native Indians of Manhattan Island would have accepted such a low value of trinkets, in return for prime land, yet the legend has, and continues to make trade bead collecting big business. Of the many beads we stock here at The Bead Chest, the Old Antique Venetian Trade Beads are extremely popular. Most have traveled between 2 or 3 continents - the majority dating from the merchant trade era. Have you ever thought that by purchasing a string of trade beads, you could actually be investing in a currency, that bought an entire territory?