While perusing history websites recently, I became convinced that certain New York Metro Area residents, past and present, may have a legal claim to almost 15,000 acres of extremely valuable real estate.
There have always been doubts about the authenticity of the 1626 purchase of Manhattan by Peter Minuit from the Lenni Lenape Indians for “$24 worth of trinkets” the traditionally quoted sale price. Minuit was the Director General of New Netherlands which included the present “Big Apple” and parts of Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware.
There are no legal documents to record the “purchase”, no deed or title papers, only a mention of it in a 1626 letter by a merchant to his Dutch West Indies employers. He reported a sale price of “60 guilders worth of trade goods” which would come to about $1,200 in 2021.
It’s quite likely neither party was completely aware of all the actual transaction details. The Lenapes did not believe tracts of land and bodies of water were saleable commodities and may have accepted the trinkets as a good will gesture of the Dutch for their agreeing to share the island. Language differences would also cloud the details. Lenape remarks would be limited mostly to “okay” and “thank you” which translate to “yuh” and “wanishi”. They called the property “manahatta” or “hilly island”.
The main fault of the “sale” is that the sellers didn’t own or even live in Manhattan. They were the Canarsees, a Lenape tribe that lived in present day Brooklyn. It’s as if your house-sitting brother-in-law sold your place while you were out of town. The Kapsee Lenape people lived at the lower tip of Manhattan, Peter Minuit’s neighborhood, and were not mentioned as participants.
So what kind of settlement would be appropriate for the present day Lenapes to rectify the the unfairness of this multi-flawed sale? Complete invalidation would involve tremendous complications and is out of the question. But reasonable reparations are possible.
Most of the Lenape tribe (AKA Delawares) now live in Oklahoma where they were exiled by our government with other tribes in the 19th century. Some descendants still live in the Garden State. These peaceable Indians, called “The Grandfathers” by neighboring warlike tribes, were the rightful owners of Manhattan by reason of centuries of occcupancy and were deprived of their land by conniving cousins who insinuated themselves at the closing, as questionable as that closing was.
It’s not too late, even four centuries later, to make some amends. In the interest of fair play, the Lenapes should be awarded title to at least some patch of land on the island. Central Park would be appropriate for these outdoor people and a casino license would enrich the tribe enough to buy tons of trinkets.
I believe it’s necessary that I explain I do not have one drop of Lenape blood in my veins and would not benefit from the reparations. My DNA report shows I’m almost 100 percent Irish with just a dash of Neanderthal.