Manhattan Purchase

Grade Range: 4-8
Resource Type(s): Reviewed Websites, Primary Sources, Lessons & Activities
Duration: 90 minutes
Date Posted: 10/12/2016

This historical investigation is aligned with the C3 Framework and is from

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.

National Standards

United States History Standards (Grades 5-12)

Historical Thinking Standards (Grades 5-12)

Common Core State Standards (Grades K-12)

Common Core State Standards (Grades 6-8)

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards (Grades 3-5)

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards (Grades 6-8)