Peter Minuit

Peter Minuit

Born 1580/85 in Wesel - Died June 1641 in front of St. Christopher / Antilles

Peter Minuit was the son of Wallonean immigrants who were expatriated by the Spanish due to religious reasons, probably between 1580 and1585 in Wesel. There is not much known about his youth. In 1609 Minuit's father Johan died. Peter took over the management of the household and his father's business in the Loew quarter which was the part of the city heading south. In his last will Minuit wrote in Utrecht in September 1615 he is mentioned to be a diamond cutter. On August 20th he married Gertrud Raetz.

In his home town he had a very good reputation who was appointed a guardian several times and he took care intensively for his wards. He also helped the poor ones of the city with material goods, as in the time of the Spanish occupation (1614-1619) there was a lot of poverty in the city.

Most probably it was in 1624 when Peter Minuit left Wesel. At that time the formerly wealthy Hanse-city sank into economical and political unimportance. More and more citizens left the city heading north - like Hans Lipperhey who invented the telescope.

Minuit's wife Gertrud moved to her relatives in Cleve first, whereas her husband had enrolled on the list for the directors meeting of the Dutch-West Indian Company in Amsterdam.

After the discovery of America by Christoph Columbus the colononists mainly concentrated on Middle- and South America. There's a report dating from 1540 telling the story where the French pirate Varrazano entered the bay of North America. Red Indians are said to have murdered him. Only few men could escape and those who survived brought the news to Europe. 1607 the English sailor Henry Hudson made two expeditions under the Dutch flag in order to find a northern passage to "India". On his way he passed the eastern coast of North America but had to escape from the arrows of the Red Indians. In 1609 he started a new expedition under the order of the Dutch East India Company and discovered the river which later on was named by him.

After Hudson's return many often phantastic reports about the new country were spread. They praised the mighty river, its phenomenal shores and the impressing number of fur animals living in that country. The directors in Amsterdam thought for a long while until they decided on the discovery of the new land. Hendrik Christiansen from Cleve was in charge of the first journey. He confirmed Hudson's discoveries und showed furs which encouraged his principals to have further journeys undertaken.

In 1614 a newly founded merchandise company equipped a small fleet sailing under the charge of Christiansen. Having arrived in the new world Christiansen named the nearly unknown area "New Netherlands" and built a merchandise site consisting of several wooden huts on the southern end of the Manhattan island which was inhabited by Red Indians. This settlement he called "New Amsterdam". In due course he started an exchange trade with the Red Indians living on the other side of the river.

Christiansen's activities were stopped immediately when he was killed by a young red Indian he had taken with him on one of his returns to the Netherlands. His role was then taken over by two Dutchmen about whom nothing is known well. In the course of time the Dutch West Indian Company learnt that it had been necessary to build a bigger settlement in order to stabilize the trade with the new colony. In order to speed up the enlargement of the new settlement they made their director Peter Minuit become the general director of New Netherlands. Peter Minuit had had some experience as he had already undertaken several journeys to East India and Brazil for merchandise business. He had got the reputation of industrious officer, skilled diplomat and honest man.

On January 9th 1626 Peter Minuit started from the isle of Texel, accompanied by 2 ships full of emigrants and a huge pile of instructions and orders from the Dutch-West-Indian company under his arm. The directors of the company were convinced to have chosen the right man to manage a difficult and urgent matter, as in the meantime the relationship between the colonists and the Red Indians had become worse. IT often had happened that Dutch ships were set under fire. Due to the increasing uncertainty the export of furs did not increase though there were many more colonists engaged in the business now.

At the end of April they reached America and the emigrants started to bring the cattle they brought with them on land and build houses. Soon after a delegation of Red Indians called on Minuit and asked whether he was going to take their land away by force or pay for it instead. So Minuit arranged for a meeting to take place at the beginning of July where the amount to be paid should be fixed. That day chieftain Sagisgura showed Minuit a piece of paper on which Minuit's predecessor had signed the amount of money to be paid. This amount was 1.200 Dutch gulden. But Minuit was only in the possession of a few bank notes unknown by the Red Indians who thought that the bank notes were of no value. Thus they denied to accept them. In the end Minuit showed them some Spanish gold coins, glass pearls and bales of cloth. The Red Indians decided on those goods instead of the bank notes and the contract was signed.

Minuit-memorial in New York

Peter Minuit had bought the land on which later on New York was built up for about 60 gulden - the amount the goods he gave the Red Indians cost. After all claims of the Dutch had been settled under the leadership of Minuit who intended to live in peace with the Red Indians the development was successful. Within seven years the amount of the exported furs was five times as much as before, further settlers came (amongst them was Minuit's wife)and the area around was discovered thoughtfully. After a few successful years spent in New Netherlands Minuit's luck had run out. Some new settlers who had gained huge parts of the country did not agree to the order that the fur trade had only to take place within the responsibility of the Dutch West Indian Company. This lead to an immense financial loss of the company site in New Amsterdam. The settler who just had small farms unwarrantedly opposed against the governor Minuit whom they made responsible for the misery. 1631 Minuit was temporarily suspended from his post and left New Netherlands in August 1632 returning to Amsterdam to give detailed reports. In Amsterdam the chamber court of justice decided on a termination of Minuit. He got engaged amongst the merchants of Amsterdam and moved - urged by his wife - to Emmerich in 1634. But it did not last long that the agile man stayed at his home country. Since his time in Amsterdam he was in contact with a friend called Willem Usselinx. He, like his friend Minuit had been disappointed by the Dutch West Indian Company and drew Minuit's attention to the Swedish efforts to found a colony.

Minuit-memorial in Wesel

Being recommended by another friend, Samuel Blommaert, Peter Minuit got engaged for the Swedish and left for America in 1637 in order to found a new colony at the mouth of the river Delaware. Having arrived there Minuit acted as he had done before: He did not conquer the land by force but bought it legally. The colony "New Sueda" grew continuously and to the Swedish government's satisfaction Minuit had furs delivered to Stockholm regularly.
In June 1641 Minuit left the Delaware settlement and sailed to St. Christopher to exchange goods from Delaware against tobacco. A short time before he returned he visited someone he knew from Amsterdam on that man's merchant ship which lay on anchor nearby. During his visit a hurricane swept over the coast and the ship from Rotterdam was adrifted, disappeared in the Ocean and was lost. This was the way Peter Minuit's career came to an end whilst his ship survived the hurricane and returned to New Sweden.

His successors had no luck. Soon there was a conflict between New Netherlands and New Sweden. In August 1655 the governor of New Netherlands, Peter Stuyvesant, attacked New Sweden with his army and conquered it. Two years later both colonies fell to England.