Peter Minuit was a Walloon whose protestant parents had moved from Doornik, Henegouwen in the southern Netherlands, which then included present-day Belgium, to Wesel in Germany, in order to escape from the Catholic Spanish colonials, who were not favorably deposed to those people who had left the Catholic Church to become Protestants. Minuit's birth year is not exactly known but it is somewhere between 1580 and 1589.
Peter Minuit married Gertrude Raedts on August 20, 1613. Gertrude came from a wealthy family which probably helped Peter in establishing himself as a broker. What products he dealt in is also not known, but it probably involved diamonds, because in a legal document, a will, drawn up in the Dutch City of Utrecht in 1615 he is described as a diamond cutter.
Peter Minuit joined the Dutch West India Company [DWI], probably in the mid 1620's, and was sent to New Netherland in 1625 to search for tradable goods other than the animal pelts which were then the major tradable product coming from New Netherland. He returned in the same year, and in 1626 was appointed by the DWI to become the new governor general of New Netherland, taking over from Willem Verhulst, the previous governor general. Minuit arrived in New Amsterdam on May 4, 1626.
Although Peter Minuit was governor general of the colony for five years [he was relieved of his position in 1631], he is best known for his purchase of Manhattan from the Indians for 60 guilders which is estimated to be equivalent to about $25 in 1626 dollars, probably equivalent to about $500 in today's dollars, but still an obvious bargain. The exchange was made either in May 1626 or in July 1626, which is either in the same month, or two months after he arrived in New Amsterdam to take up his new governor general position.
Peter Minuit's tenure as governor general was rather uneventful in comparison with earlier or later governor generals of the Dutch colony. He did, however, introduce a measure of democracy in the colony during his time in New Netherland. Upon his arrival in 1626, he proposed a plan to establish an advisory body to the governor general. The advisory body would be a council of five members, which would advise the governor general, and would jointly with the governor general develop, administer and adjudicate a body of laws to help govern the colony. In addition he proposed the institution of, what we would call today, an attorney general to enforce the laws on the books.
In 1631 or 1632 Minuit was relieved of his duties as governor general. What the reasons were for his termination is not clear, but the directors of the DWI were business people and Minuit may have made decisions that were, in their view, not in the interest of the DWI organization. He was replaced by Walter van Twiller.
Although there have been six governor generals during the existence of the New Amsterdam colony from 1620 to 1664, a forty year period, only two of the governor generals are well known. Peter Stuyvesant leads the group, but not because he was so popular with the people; he was not. Stuyvesant is the one who had to surrender the colony to the British because his defenses were virtually non-existent, and he wisely decided to surrender in order to avoid bloodshed. Peter Minuit is the other governor general who is well known probably largely because he made the historic purchase of Manhattan from the Indians. But the reason he is well known may also be caused by the relative peace that existed in the colony during his tenure. There was peace among the population of New Amsterdam, but there was also relative peace with the Indians who then still lived in close proximity to and among the new settlers.
Peter Minuit is remembered to this day with a number of public mementoes. On Manhattan there is a Peter Minuit Plaza, which is a small park in lower Manhattan. There is also the Peter Minuit marker in Inwood Hill Park commemorating the purchase of Manhattan from the Indians. Then there is the Peter Minuit Flagstaff Base in Battery Park. School children in Public School 108 in Manhattan every day attend the Peter Minuit School. And the Manhattan Chapter of the DAR has called one of their chapters the Peter Minuit chapter of the DAR. Finally, in Wesel Germany, there is a Peter Minuit Memorial on Moltkestrasse, Wesel , Germany.
After his governor generalship of New Netherland, he worked with the Swedish Government to establish a Finnish-Swedish settlement, called New Sweden, near what is now Wilmington, Delaware. It was in the territory then claimed by the Dutch. Was it done out of spite for his former employers? Perhaps.
On his return from New Sweden in 1638, his ship and he made a side trip to the Caribbean to pick up a load of tobacco. Unfortunately, at that time there existed no hurricane tracking methods. While having dinner aboard a Dutch ship a hurricane forced all ships out to sea. Minuit and 't Vliegende Hart were never seen again; however, his ship the Kalmar Nyckel did make it back to Sweden without him.
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Wikipedia (Dutch - Nieuw Amsterdam)