4th Grade New York

Manhattan Purchase

On the surface, the compelling question for this inquiry, “What’s the real story behind the purchase of Manhattan?” asks students to explore the background to the story of the sale of Manhattan to the Dutch in 1626 for $24 of beads and trinkets. A closer look at the story reveals a range of myths and unknowns including who was involved in the transaction, what the transaction actually meant, and what was exchanged. In fact, the only contemporary evidence that the sale ever took place is in a document found in the Dutch National Archives—the Peter Schagen letter written in November 1626 (though a statement by English Governor Francis Lovelace in 1670 confirmed the sale). Exploring this letter and the many other sources of information about the sale offer students a glimpse into the world of historical evidence, a world in which, as much as we might like, conclusive answers prove elusive. Teachers and students should note that, although the supporting questions and tasks ask about the perspectives of Native Americans at the time, there are no historical sources that record their views. Inferences can be made from the Dutch documents, but teachers and students will want to be aware that absence of sources can influence the interpretations that we develop of the past.


Compelling Question:

What's the Real Story Behind the Purchase of Manhattan?

Staging the Question:

Examine the painting by Albert Fredericks that presents the traditional view of the Manhattan purchase. Then read a contemporary article that points out the myths behind that view.

Supporting Question Why were the Dutch interested in the region that became known as New Netherland?

Formative Task Develop an advertisement directed at Dutch investors or colonists encouraging them to come to North America

Sources Source A: “Why Was the Colony of New Netherland Initially Founded?”
Source B: Map bank: Two views of the New Netherland region
Source C: Excerpt from Provisional Regulations for the Colonists adopted by the Assembly of the Nineteen of the West India Company


Supporting Question How would both the Dutch and the Natives benefit from the sale and purchase of land in Manhattan?

Formative Task Create a T-chart that lists what the Dutch and Natives expected to gain from the sale and purchase of Manhattan

Sources Source A: Peter Schaghen letter reporting the purchase of Manhattan
Source B: Excerpts from Instructions / Further Instructions for Willem Verhulst
Source C: Excerpts from Letter from Isaack de Rasiere to the Amsterdam Chamber of the West India Company.
Source D: Indian Deed To The Directors of the West India Company for Land on Long Island


Supporting Question How are the stories told about the sale of Manhattan similar and different?

Formative Task Write one claim with evidence about the similarities across the sources and one about the differences

Sources Source A: Excerpt from History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress, Vol. 1
Source B: Excerpt from History of the Rise of New York in the Seventeenth Century, Vol. 1
Source C: Excerpts from “The Dutch, Munsees, and the Purchase of Manhattan”

Summative Performance Task

Argument: Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, essay) that addresses the compelling question using specific claims and relevant evidence from historical sources while acknowledging competing views
Extension: Thinking as a historian-detective, list the questions that remain around the purchase of Manhattan and what evidence would be useful to answer them.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Discuss the images on the base of the Netherlands Memorial flagpole in light of this inquiry.
Assess: Brainstorm possible actions individuals, groups, or a class might take around the Netherlands Memorial flagpole base.
Act: Select from the possible options and act accordingly.