Peter Minuit

views updated May 23 2018

Peter Minuit

Peter Minuit (1580-1638) was director general of the New Netherland colony in America and founder of New Amsterdam. He later became first governor of New Sweden.

Of Huguenot Walloon descent, Peter Minuit was born in Wesel on the German Rhine. Growing up in his native city and apparently becoming a merchant there, he was deacon in the local Dutch Reformed congregation. In 1624 Spanish troops occupied Wesel; Minuit fled to Holland and then to the Dutch West India Company's American colony of New Netherland. In 1625 he was appointed to the governor's council of William Verhulst, but he soon returned to Amsterdam. Early 1626 found him once more in the colony, perhaps only as supercargo for the company; yet on September 23 the New Netherland council deposed Verhulst and proclaimed Minuit his successor.

Presumably Minuit had not planned to stay in America, for he sent for his wife only after his appointment as first director general. One of his earliest official acts was to convene Indian leaders of the region and to purchase Manhattan Island from them for trinkets valued at $24. This gave the company a semblance of legality for its occupation of the island, and its New Netherland headquarters was moved to Manhattan.

Upon completing a fort, warehouse, and mill, Minuit made his town of New Amsterdam the concentration point for scattered Dutch settlements in the colony. When regular church services commenced at New Amsterdam in 1628, Minuit and his brother-in-law (the company's storekeeper) served pastor Jonas Michaëlius as elders.

Missing records limit historical information on Minuit's administrative activities. It is known he opened both diplomatic and commercial relations with Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1627. He also became involved in a bitter quarrel with Johan Van Remunde, secretary of the company in New Netherland; Michaëlius sided with the secretary and soon attacked Minuit as hypocritical, cruel, and dishonest. Both Minuit and Remunde were recalled to Holland for an investigation. After prolonged inquiry Minuit was discharged while Remunde returned to the colony.

Minuit retired to Emmerich, Duchy of Cleves. But in 1635 a company director recommended him to Sweden's chancellor as ideally qualified to establish a colony in America on the Delaware River. A meeting at The Hague (1637) resulted in the formation of a Swedish trading and colonizing company. Minuit, present at the organizational session, provided one-eighth of the 24,000 guilders capital.

Departing in late autumn with two shiploads of Swedish and Finnish colonists, Minuit reached Delaware Bay in March 1638. Late that month, having purchased a tract along the right bank of the river from neighboring Indian chiefs, he proclaimed "New Sweden" and erected Ft. Christina (present-day Wilmington). After completing the fort and leaving a subordinate in charge, Minuit sailed in June 1638 to the Caribbean to trade for tobacco. Visiting a Dutch merchantman in St. Christopher, he was drowned when a hurricane struck the island.

Further Reading

Data concerning Minuit are scattered and incomplete. For his life in New Netherland the best authorities are J. Franklin Jameson, ed., Narratives of New Netherland, 1609-1664 (1909); I. N. Phelps Stokes, The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498-1909, vol. 1 (1915); and Albert Eckhof, Jonas Michaëlius: Founder of the Church in New Netherland (1926). There is some account of his role in New Sweden in Amandus Johnson, The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware, vol. 1 (1911), and Christopher Ward, New Sweden on the Delaware (1938). □