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Manhattan ‘Purchase’ in 1626 Letter

September 22, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ A 1626 letter containing what is believed to be the only surviving mention of the Dutch purchase of Manhattan _ for $24 _ went on exhibit at the New-York Historical Society on Tuesday.

``It’s robbery,″ said one middle-aged New Yorker as he read the translation.

No deed or official document of the island’s sale to the Dutch from the Lenape Indians exists.

The creased yellowed letter, written by a ship captain to the governors of the Dutch West India Company, briefly mentions the transaction.

``They (the Dutch settlers) have bought the island of Manhattes from the wildmen for the value of sixty guilders,″ it reads. The letter continues with a laundry list of items being sent to Amsterdam including beaver, rat, and mink skins.

One visitor gazing at the letter, displayed at the ``$24: The Legendary Deal for Manhattan″ exhibit, was left with a question.

``This gives the perspectives of the Europeans,″ said Ivan Pelcyger, of Oakland, Calif. ``What did the Indians think?″

Herbert C. Kraft, anthropologist and director of the Seton Hall University Museum, said the land transfer might not have been that big a deal, particularly because many of the Lenape lived in what is now New Jersey.

``At the time it was not a great piece of property,″ Kraft said of Manhattan. ``There were loads of mosquitoes and it was very rocky.″

Jim Rementer, a Lenape descendant and head of the Lenape Language Project in Bartlesville, Okla., said the Indians who ``sold″ Manhattan to the Dutch did not share European notions of land ownership.

``The Lenape people thought they were leasing the land. They had no concept they were selling it. It was not a permanent deal,″ he said.

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