Wednesday, January 20, 2016

I’ll Take Manhattan

I’ll Take Manhattan
Written by Hal Taylor

Nearly everyone is familiar with what is arguably the most famous and ironic real estate deal of all time. I am of course referring to the purchase of the Island of Manhattan for $24 worth of household goods – about 60 seventeenth century guilders, or in today’s market, about $1,200 – or the ticket price of a broadway show.

But not nearly as many are familiar with the man who initiated the transaction.

He was one of the truly outstanding but largely forgotten figures of early colonial America, and his name was Peter Minuit. Born sometime in the 1580s, he came from a widely divergent European background that included French, Walloon, Dutch, and German ancestry.


Minuit (pronounced Min-wee) had originally trained as a diamond-cutter in Utrecht, Netherlands. Finding that profession too boring, he volunteered his services to the Dutch West India Company and sailed to the brand new outpost on the Hudson River in the New Netherlands colony known as New Amsterdam. The Dutch government tried to rule their fledgling colony from Europe, but they had little understanding of the inherent problems in establishing a virgin province, and their efforts proved to be rather clumsy. Due to a sparkling personality, however, it was not long before the newly-arrived Minuit impressed his fellow settlers with his leadership skills, and in 1626 they elected him their on-site commander, taking over from Willem Verhulst, the previous director.

One of Minuit’s first acts was to purchase the island the settlement was situated on–Manhattan. And it was for this legendary transaction, probably the most famous in history, that he is remembered today, but barely.

The earliest settlers and explorers in North America were too savvy to merely conquer the native population (that would come later). They treated them as trading partners. At the time, articles of clothing, particularly hats, made from beaver fur were immensely popular in Europe. It could take as many as seven hides to craft one these hats given their enormous brims. The Indians were happy to provide pelts in great quantities in return for useful items they lacked, such as cloth, iron cookware, weapons, etc. It was a fruitful relationship.

The small, free market colony began to prosper but adversity soon appeared in the form of its first minister–the Reverend Jonas Michaelius. The bitchiest, most miserable, and bitter “man of God” most had ever encountered, he immediately took a disliking to Minuit, writing to West India Company directors that Minuit was cheating them. The directors, always referred to as “Their High Mightynesses” recalled both Minuit and his accuser to Holland to address the matter in person. Unbelievably, the directors gave Minuit a formal dismissal, claiming that he had not recruited enough settlers to people New Netherland. It was after this humiliation that the outraged Minuit teamed up with Willem Usselinx and Samuel Blommaert, two other disgruntled former West India Company members and together dreamed up a plan to create their own colony.

They needed a powerful backer for this undertaking and they found one: Gustavus Adolphus II, the King of Sweden. Though he had aggressively won control of a great deal of northern Europe, his prospects for commercial development were limited. Seveny-five percent of the cargoes and more than half the ships plying the Baltic Sea were Dutch.

But the enterprise had to be abandoned as the King was killed in battle. It would not be resumed for another ten years.

It was finally in 1638 that Minuit found himself in command of two ships loaded with Swedes, Finns and supplies to begin a new colony. They entered the Delaware Bay and sailed up to the present-day site of Wilmington, DE. It was there that Minuit repeated the process of buying land from the natives, and built Fort Christina, named for the daughter of the deceased Swedish King. After overseeing the initiation of the infant colony, he boarded his ship that had brought them, the Kalmar Nyckel and sailed for the Caribbean to exchange what liquor and wine he had left on the ship for a cargo of tobacco, which had become extremely lucrative in Europe. After loading, Minuit was invited to visit the Flying Stag, a Dutch merchantman. While on board, a hurricane struck and forced a number of ships out into the open sea to ride out the storm. The Kalmar Nyckel made it through the storm undamaged but the Flying Stag and Peter Minuit never returned.

He is only remembered today for his very shrewd real estate deal.


About the Book
Filled with 140 finely-crafted original drawings and paintings, The Illustrated Delaware River by Hal Taylor is designed to guide readers as they explore the rich and diverse heritage of the historic Delaware River Valley. This waterway that defines the common borders of the states of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York has hosted some of the most monumental events in the history of the United States. From its discovery by Henry Hudson over 400 years ago, to its crossing by George Washington during the Revolution, and through its course of over 330 miles, the Delaware River offers us much to learn. This entertaining guide introduces the reader to the events, places, and people that make the Delaware one of America’s truly great rivers.

About the Author
Hal Taylor has been a graphic artist for over 30 years, spending much of the last four of them researching, writing and creating artwork for this book.

Entering the field of graphic design as a typographer, he soon began developing his own hand lettering and logo designs, and gained enough experience to begin teaching the same subjects at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He has also developed over seven different original type designs which are available at a variety of online sources including fonts.com and myfonts.com.

Always considering lettering as a form of illustration, it was a logical transition to try this more expansive form of artwork, which resulted in Hal providing illustrations and design for over one hundred books for Townsend Press, a highly regarded publisher of academic works and classic literature. His work has also been displayed at the prestigious Philadelphia Sketch Club, the oldest artist's club in the Western Hemisphere.

Incorporating a love of history, the latest project has been writing and illustrating his own book, The Illustrated Delaware River. Hal makes his home in historic New Jersey.


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