Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Minuit, Peter

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MINUIT, or MINNEWIT, Peter, colonist, b. in Wesel, Rhenish Prussia, about 1580; d. in Fort Christiana, New Sweden (now Delaware), in 1641. He was of a good family, and had been a deacon in the Walloon church in his native town, but removed to Holland and had resided there several years, when, on 19 Dec., 1625, he was appointed by the Dutch West India company its director in New Netherlands. This office had been held first by Cornelis Mey, and then by William Van Hulst, but the company now ordained a more formal government, with enlarged powers, so that Minuit may be called the first governor of New Netherlands. He sailed from Amsterdam in the “Sea Mew,” landed on Manhattan island, 4 May, 1626, and purchased it from the Indians for trinkets that were valued at about twenty-four dollars. The ship that bore the news of this purchase to Holland carried back 8,250 beaver, otter, mink, and wild-cat skins, and much oak and hickory timber. Minuit built Fort Amsterdam and a warehouse and mill, and by the arrival of new vessels the population of the island was soon increased to about 200. In 1627 the director exchanged several letters with Gov. William Bradford, of Plymouth, which resulted in the establishment of commercial relations between the two colonies. Minuit governed with energy and skill till August, 1631, when he was recalled, the West India company holding him responsible for the accumulation of land in the hands of the patroons. He sailed for home in March, 1632, and in April put into Plymouth, England, where his ship was attached by the council of New England on a charge of illegally trading in the English dominions. This led to a brisk diplomatic correspondence, and on 27 May the vessel was quietly released, though the English did not abandon their claims. Minuit, after unsuccessful endeavors to regain his office, offered his services to the Swedish government, and the chancellor, Oxenstiern, renewed in 1633 the charter of the Swedish West India company, which had been formed in 1626. Under its auspices Minuit set sail from Gothenburg in 1637 with a body of Swedish and Finnish colonists in two vessels, the “Key of Calmar” and the “Griffin.” They ascended Delaware bay, purchased from the natives the land from the southern cape to the falls near Trenton, and in March, 1638, began to build Fort Christiana, near the present city of Wilmington. This was the first permanent European settlement on Delaware river. Gov. Kieft, of New Netherlands, protested in a letter to Minuit that the land bordering on the Delaware “has been our property for many years, occupied with forts and sealed by our blood, which also was done when thou wast in the service of New Netherland, and is therefore well known to thee.” This protest was disregarded, and the colony remained a Swedish possession till it was captured by the Dutch fourteen years after Minuit's death. In 1640 it narrowly escaped abandonment. It had been more than a year since the colonists had heard from home, and their necessities had become so pressing that they applied to the authorities at Manhattan for permission to remove thither, but, on the day before the one that had been fixed upon for the change, a ship laden with provisions arrived in Delaware river. Minuit displayed much skill in keeping the settlers together and in avoiding hostilities with the Indians and the Dutch, and the success of the colony was undoubtedly due to his energy. He is described as robust, with somewhat dull black eyes and brusque manners.