Tuesday, October 22, 2013

So, Who Got Taken...?

Most of us were taught way back in elementary school that the island of Manhattan was purchased for a really, really low price! Somewhere close to twenty-four dollars worth of trade goods, right?

Turns out that the Indians did not get the short end of the deal after all. Turns out that the Dutch traders were not as slick as they thought. Here's the story of what really happened!

In a single landmark real estate deal, Dutch settlers supposedly purchased the entire island of Manhattan for some worthless glass beads. But what actually happened in 1626? Dutch settlers bought the use of Manhattan in exchange for iron kettles, axes, knives, and cloth. And as it later turned out, the tribe who sold the land at such a deep discount were taking payment for lands which didn’t even belong to them.

The story of the $24 Manhattan purchase is a myth which insinuates that the settlers, by virtue of being so darn clever, “deserved” the land. Of course, the valuation of anything at $24 should be immediately suspect as the dollar obviously didn’t exist in the 17th century. The idea that the goods were worth only $24 stems from a flawed currency conversion made by a 19th-century historian. And records from the time suggest it is actually the Dutch settlers who were tricked.

Letters from the period, detailing other Dutch purchases, make it clear what goods were typically exchanged for land in the American Northeast. The manufactured goods, while not extremely valuable to the Europeans, were obviously scarce in America and thus valuable to Native traders. In similar fashion, discarded beaver pelt clothing was garbage to Native Americans, yet European traders couldn’t get enough, because they used the fur to make stylish hats. Determining a trade’s winner and loser is really just a matter of perspective. “Glass beads” is a pernicious exaggeration of the idea that Manhattan was purchased for worthless goods.

Of course, the biggest problem with the Manhattan purchase isn’t the price: It’s the identity of the sellers. The Dutch conducted their business with the Canarsee tribe who were actually based out of what is now Brooklyn. However, we should be fair to perpetrators of the glass beads myth: The Canarsee probably would have taken anything in exchange for the use of Manhattan, as the island actually belonged to the Wappinger Confederacy, another group of Native Americans. As a result, the Dutch claim to Manhattan was later contested, and the Dutch compensated the rightful owners. Thus, the Dutch settlers actually paid for Manhattan twice.

Here is another point to consider. Any trade can only be judged a fair trade by the folks involved. If both parties are happy, then the trade was fair! In this case, the tribe who actually did the trade was probably extremely happy, were as the Dutch were...well, you can guess how they felt!

Let's try and have coffee out on the patio this morning. We may have to move back inside if the rain starts again!


Chickenmom said...

Good one Mr. Hermit! Wouldn't it be wonderful if our true history was taught? The good and the bad, but the truth. 36 here - send us your rain as it is so dry up here. I'll bring some coconut custard pie for all!

Sixbears said...

Once again, we see that our history is complicated -not black and while like we learned in school.

linda m said...

Good one - I was taught the "worthless glass beads" story. This is very interesting and sounds a lot more plausible for the time. Those were some smart Indians to sell land to the "dumb white man" that didn't even belong to them. Hey, wait a minute - people are still swindling each other to this day. 29 here this morning with clear skies - finally.

Momlady said...

Yup, and we celebrate Columbus Day which is a farce because Columbus did NOT discover America. The closest he came might have been Costa Rica.

JO said...

Great post! I just started reading about the history of the north east and south east and the Native Americans. There are bands I have never heard of before. I haven't read this yet.
Thank you for posting this.

We warmed up a bit it is 47 this morning. It would be nice if we can stay on the patio.

HermitJim said...

Hey Phyllis...
That would be nice, but I don't think it will ever happen! Might make the folks in Washington look bad, ya know?

Thanks for coming by today!

Hey Sixbears...
Certainly a lot more complicated than we are allowed to think.

Thanks for coming over today!

Hey Linda...
I think that most of us were taught the same thing. Maybe the Dutch didn't want the true story getting out.

Thanks for coming over today!

Hey Momlady...
We have more than our fair share of false holidays here in the good ol' U.S.A. I wonder why that is?

Thanks for coming by today!

Hey Jo...
I knew that you liked to read history books, so this one might give you something to investigate!

Thanks, sweetie, for dropping by today!

Hermit Ladee said...

It seems as though it's more convenient to tell our version of history and not the truth. But then again, truth and reality are perceived and perceptions can be biased. Just like the trader's perception of fairness. :-)Thanks for the lesson.