- Historic Sites
The $24 Swindle
The Indians who sold Manhattan were bilked, all right, but they didn’t mind—the land wasn’t theirs anyway
December 1959 | Volume 11, Issue 1
Everybody was happy, that is, except the Weckquaesgeeks. At first they had no idea that their land had been sold out from under them, but then more and more Dutch farmers began to arrive, and their unfenced cattle wandered off across the Indians’ land, eating their corn and trampling their crops, and when the Indians complained, they were given a few trinkets in payment and told it was too bad, but the land was no longer theirs. It was then there was absolutely nothing they could do. Even if they had wanted to make a fight about it, the Dutch had guns and they didn’t, and the only thing the Indians could do was sullenly try to make the best of an impossible situation.
Matters might have continued at a slow boil for some time, if it hadn’t been that a few of the Dutch violated all the standing orders and began to trade liquor and guns to the Indians in exchange for furs. They found that the Indians, being unaccustomed to liquor, were pushovers for aquick bargain after about one drink; the thing the Dutch didn’t realize was the fact that an Indian with a hangover, a gun, and a burning sense of injustice was as dangerous as a platoon of dragoons, The mere sight of a red-eyed, dry-mouthed Indian, with a gun in his shaking hand and bits of dirt and grass clinging to his coating of days-old eagle fat, should have been enough to warn them to be careful-but it wasn’t.
Inevitably, trouble developed; massacres were perpetrated by both sides, but as often as not it was the Dutch who were the aggressors. (In one spectacular display of perfidy they slaughtere a whole group of Weckquaesgeeks who had come to them for protection against the marauding Mohawks, and mangled them so badly that at first it looked like the work of other Indians. As a result, by 1664, when the British fleet slipped in and quietly took New Amsterdam, there were very few Indians left on the island, and those who remained didn’t really care about anything. They had succumbed not only to various kinds of diseases and to the white men but, more disastrously, they had been done in by the Mohawks from up one river, and by the Canarsees from across another.
It should be a lesson to us all.