top of page

400 Years of The New York Myth

HOST, PASCAL HOGUE: Before New York.. there was New Amsterdam. Dutch ships first arrived in the city’s port four hundred years 1624. There are a number of events over the next two years commemorating this moment - most sponsored by the Dutch consulate. 

HOST, CLAIRE DAVENPORT: But as Marine Saint reports, an exhibition at the New York Historical Society, is struggling to acknowledge the ways the Dutch displaced the Lenape people.  


When you walk into the New York Historical Society, the first exhibit you see features a framed letter.  It’s the infamous Schagen Letter,  dated 1626….and it’s thought to mark the Dutch purchase of Manhattan from the Lenape people.


It represents this fact that Europeans basically swindled native people out of their lands.

SAINT: That’s the exhibit’s curator and historian Russell Shorto. If you know anything about the settling of Manhattan four centuries ago, you may know that the Lenape supposedly sold Manhattan to the Dutch for 24 dollars. 

SHORTO: What we have is this letter is that a Dutch official wrote and he said, our people have bought the island Manhattans from the Vilden, the wild people for the value of 60 gilders. 

SAINT: Shorto says what people get wrong about this story is that the Lenape didn’t consider themselves the “owners” of the land - therefore, it wasn’t theirs to sell.


It paints the Lenape people as people who really had no consideration or value of land.

SAINT: Hadrien Coumans is the co-founder of the Lenape Center in Manhattan. 

COUMANS : It's very offensive that this letter is used as a means of promoting some kind of transaction, which never happened. 

SAINT: Coumans says The Historical Society didn’t consult with the Lenape Center in designing the exhibition about the Dutch. If it had, he would have asked for what  modern-day Lenape really want…for the Dutch to take accountability. 

COUMANS: The atrocities committed against Lenape people and other peoples must be the focus. And there must be the beginning of their own truth-telling, their own means of providing reparations and healing. 

SAINT: ((ambi)) And back at the Historical Society, on the second floor, workers are setting up for an event . And artist Beatrice Glow is showing off what she thinks those early Dutch ships could look like.

((BEATRICE GLOW: Let’s start with this piece…Here you see a parade float maquette. ((fade out))

SAINT: Instead of ships, Glow imagines each vessel as a miniature parade float…each one honoring communities enslaved or displaced by colonial rule. One of the miniatures reimagines the seal of New York City with two women, one Dutch and one Lenape, crouched around the Tree of Life. 

GLOW: I wanted to imagine that the commemoration, this alternate commemoration, what that would be when they actually came to life.

SAINT: Glow did extensive research on the native communities in early New York. She describes her work as a collaboration with the indigenous artists. One of the Munsee Lenape elders, Michaeline Picaro Mann, even inspired the show’s title, “When Two Rivers Meet.”

GLOW: And she said in her culture, the most sacred place is where two rivers meet. But it's also an invitation to everyone who comes to the exhibition to converge, to listen to each other, and to meet at some point, the when is that proposition.

SAINT: The events this month kick off the start of a two year reckoning with early Dutch colonial rule. Marine Saint, Columbia Radio News.


bottom of page