September 21st, 2009
This question has long been a piece of American folk lore.
Most Indian nations used legal property rights regimes that differed from European rights systems. See Robert J. Miller, Economic Development in Indian Country: Will Capitalism or Socialism Succeed?, 80 Or. L. Rev. 757, 767-98 (2002).
In fact, after allegedly buying Manhattan from local natives, the Dutch were upset because Indians continued to live and hunt on the island. I wonder what the American Indians assumed the Dutch had purchased?
Also, everyone assumes that selling the island for $24 in 1626 shows how ignorant Indians were about land values. But I read somewhere, that someone calculated that if that $24 had been able to have been deposited in a bank at compound interest rates that now almost 400 years later the amount would total more than all of Manhattan is worth, including its buildings and land values. (This is hearsay, of course, and maybe we shouldn’t rely on my memory too much?) So maybe $24 was a fair price even to the Dutch for Manhattan in 1626?
This issue has arisen recently because the news is reporting: “A 1626 letter that said the historic Lenape Nation sold the island of present-day Manhattan to the Dutch is on display at the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City.
The letter said Dutch Gov. Peter Minuit purchased the island for $24 in items. It’s the only record of the transaction — no other documentation exists.
“It’s called the best business deal ever,” Martine Gosselink, a curator at the National Archives of the Netherlands, told The New York Post. “For us, the idea you can buy Manhattan is crazy, but for them, it was just another piece of land.”
The Lenape, also known as the Delaware, were later removed to Oklahoma.”
Dutch ‘treaty’ (The New York Post 9/11)