The First Land Deal pt. 1

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    • #1603

      A recently posted conversation on Twitter got me thinking about how the land of the northwest Bronx ended up in the hands of European colonists.  Was the land “stolen?”  Was it “purchased?”  I am starting to think that neither the Dutch colonist nor the Munsee would have said that the land was “stolen” as we currently understand the meaning of the word.  Nor do I think that they would say that the land was “purchased” as we currently understand the meaning of that word.  No one word seems sufficient to explain the evolving power dynamics, personalities, and forces at play in a land transfer that was first proposed in 1646 and concluded in 1701.

      The “purchaser” of the land that is now Kingsbridge, Riverdale, and Spuyten Duyvil was a Dutch colonist named Adriaen Van Der Donck.  The deed that he signed in 1646 unfortunately has either been destroyed or lost.  But 20 years after it was signed, Van Der Donck’s widow came back to New York with her new husband to claim the land described in that deed (this was shortly after the English takeover of New Netherland).  New York’s Executive Council recorded this event in their minutes for Sept 21, 1666:

      This day came Hugh Oneale & Mary his wife (who in right of her former husband [Adriaen Van Der Donck] laid clayme to a certaine parcell of Land upon the maine not farr from Westchester Comonly called ye Younckers Land) who brought severall Indians before ye Governor to acknowledg the purchase of ye said Lands by Vander Dunck commonly called ye Youncker.

      The said Indians declared ye Bounds of ye said Land to be from a place called by them Macackesin at ye North, so to run to Nerperan, & to ye Kill Soroquapp [Spuyten Duyvil Creek area] then to Muskota & Pappereneman [north of today’s W. 230th Street in Kingsbridge] to ye South & Crosse ye Countrey to ye Eastward by Bronckx his Ryver & Land.

      The Indian Proprietors name who was cheife of them is Tackareek living at ye Nevisans who acknowledged ye purchase as before described, & that he had received satisfaction for it.

      Claes ye Indian having interest in a part Acknowledged to have sold it & received satisfaction of Van der Dunck.

      All ye rest of ye Indians present being 7 or 8 acknowledge to have received full satisfaction.

      Since there are hundreds of surviving deeds related to land deals between local colonists and local Native Americans, they have been studied and analyzed by authors like Robert Grumet.  The consensus view is that there was a misunderstanding of intentions related to many early deals.   For example, the “sale” of Manhattan for 24 guilders has been written about extensively.  Different cultural understandings about what was being “purchased” led to confusion and resentment between the parties.  The Munsee probably thought they were agreeing to share the land whereas the Dutch thought they were obtaining exclusive ownership rights.

      But the deal for the northwest Bronx happened decades after that deal for Manhattan.  By this time, both parties would have had a much better understanding of what the other party expected from any deal.  Again, it is very unfortunate that the 1646 deed did not survive as some deeds between Dutch and Munsee parties stipulated Dutch guarantees of protection of the Munsee.  Others stipulated that the Munsee would have continued access to the land.  In other deals, these stipulations may not have been written into a deal but were simply mutually understood by the parties.  In some areas, such as Hempstead, the colonists ruthlessly asserted their interpretation of exclusive ownership.  In yet other places guarantees of protection were given but not honored.  But if there was one colonist in all of New Netherland that would have understood the Munsee perspective it was the Dutch colonist who signed the 1646 deed to Riverdale, Adriaen Van Der Donck.

      (to be continued)

    • #1604
      Thomas Casey


      Well stated and factual, but not woke.

      Tom Casey



    • #1605

      Thanks for your comment, which reminds me to add to please keep in mind I am only writing very specifically about the northwest Bronx and our hyper-local history.  This area’s history cannot be generalized to serve as a microcosm of U.S. history.  The Dutch West India Company had different aspirations than Queen Isabella just as New Netherland colonists were a much different group than New Englanders.  I would highly recommend Russell Shorto’s “Island at the Center of the World” to learn more about the Dutch colony and Adriaen van der Donck as a figure.  Honestly, it is one of the best history books I have ever read.  If we could afford Russell Shorto’s speaking fees, I would love to have him give a talk to the KHS–if Covid 19 ever ends.  It is such fascinating history and so few people know it mostly because previous historians just assumed the Dutch period was largely irrelevant.  Another amazing book is “First Manhattans” by Robert Grumet.  His research on the Munsee during the colonial period is unbelievably deep and answered so many questions I had about the area’s native people.  Grumet has also done tremendous research on the Munsee names for places in The Bronx and in the greater New York area.  Much of what I learned, comes from Grumet.

    • #1673

      Thank you for the story. Wondering how much it would cost to have Russell Shorto address  KHS?

      You can reply to me at

      Thank you.

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