Date: Fri 09-Jul-1999
Opening September 24, Exhibit Will Explore $24 Deal For Manhattan
NEW YORK CITY -- The New York Historical Society will open "$24: The Legendary
Deal for Manhattan," an exhibition investigating the infamous "purchase" that
follows a trail of historic prints, maps, wampum, beads and other colonial-era
items in search of the truth behind the legend.
The exhibition is sponsored by the DeWitt Stern Group, Inc, a Manhattan
insurance broker celebrating its 100th year in business. DeWitt Stern brokers
lines in property and casualty, life insurance and financial services, among
Jolyon F. Stern, president and CEO of DeWitt Stern, and the third generation
Stern to lead the company, said, "It seems fitting for DeWitt stern to sponsor
this exhibition during our centennial year - it's a show that really captures
the business spirit that made New York what it is today."
The exhibition "$24" examines how Manhattan's myth of origin developed and why
it remains part of American popular imagination more than 350 years later.
"24" is designed by May and Walkins, who produced the Historical Society's
groundbreaking "Before Central park: The Life and Death of Seneca Village."
The exhibition design suggests to visitors how settlers and native Americans
lived in Seventeenth Century New Amsterdam. Interactive stations offer a
chance to learn about the barter economy of the period.
History records that some kind of transaction took place in 1626. However, the
Dutch and Native Americans probably understood what was happening quite
differently; they had very different concepts of land ownership. It has been
suggested that the Native Americans did not believe they were giving up their
There were no dollars in 1626. The Dutch apparently bartered the island for
goods estimated, in 1626, to be worth 60 guilders. Over two hundred of years
later, in 1846, historians estimated that 60 Dutch guilders equaled 24
American dollars. Even back then this seemed a fantastically low purchase
Many artists' representations of the purchase are exhibited, such as Alfred
Fredericks' "Purchase of Manhattan Island from the Indians" and Edwin Willard
Deming's "Peter Minuit Buying Manhattan Island from the Indians." Also
included are items of popular culture that refer to the $24 deal, including
the Rodgers and Hart song about Manhattan, "Give it Back to the Indians."
In additions, the exhibition features the only known document that supports
the story: a letter written by Pieter Schaghen, found in The Hague in 1839.
Also on exhibit are original Dutch maps of New Netherlands from 1656 and New
Amsterdam 1660; instructions written by the director of the Dutch West India
Company regarding Native American relations; Seventeenth Century land deeds
from other parts of the region; and various Native American and Dutch
artifacts, books, manuscripts, prints, newspapers, drawings and paintings.
Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage into what is now known as the Hudson River set the
stage for European settlement here. The Dutch were the first to eye the
economic potential of New York. It is from records of their interactions with
Lenape Indians living on the "island Manhattes" that the story of the $24
A lucrative beaver fur trade spurred the Dutch quest for land ownership. By
1626, the Dutch West India Company had many posts along the Hudson, but needed
to establish a settlement to facilitate and expand their business. Peter
Minuit, acting for the Dutch West India Company, set his sights on Manhattan
Island. The settlement became known as New Amsterdam.
The New York Historical Society, Two west 77th Street at Central Park West, is
open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm. For more information, 212/873-3400.