When Manhattan Sold For $24

Tony Perrottet checks out the housing market and land deals throughout the ages:

The colonial era is full of subversive deal-making, but the world’s most notorious real estate coup occurred in 1626, when the energetic Dutch settler Peter Minuit, as an agent for the West India Company, purchased the unimproved woodland “island Manhattes,” covering 15,000 acres, for 60 guilders worth of goods (around $24 today). The 300 resident Native Americans, referred to in documents as the Manhatesen, were not aware they were selling their island paradise at all, thinking instead they were simply allowing the Dutch to share it. As related by Russell Shorto in The Island at the Center of the World, the chief, Sackimas, deemed that the Dutch access to Manhattan’s resources was a reasonable exchange for a valuable array of European items knives, axes, hoes, awls, cloth, and coats, but probably not beads and the additional promise of support by the Dutch against enemy tribes. For 40 years, the casual sharing arrangement worked well, with Indians still hunting and fishing in the forests and river-fronts. But then the Manhatesen were squeezed out to a less enviable site off-island forests in the north, now known as the Bronx. Still, the Dutch were no visionary real estate geniuses: In 1644, they traded Manhattan for Surinam.