Just steps away from Spuyten Duyvil Creek and the northern tip of Manhattan, there once was a tulip tree that stood for at least 280 years. During those nearly three centuries, the tree was witness to a lot of things, as the local Lenape tribe used the area as a summer camp. Eventually, those Native Americans would be joined by a new group: The Dutch, who were establishing New Netherland.
The colony had only been formed in 1621 by the Dutch West India Company (WIC) when Peter Minuit was appointed director and tasked with creating a capital for New Netherland. The original choice, the Delaware River, was plagued by mosquitos in the summer and froze over in the winter. So Minuit made the decision to place the new capital on the island of Manhattan instead, then known in the Munsee dialect as manaháhtaan, the “place where we get our bows.”
The WIC company policy dictated that all land must be purchased from the natives. The story goes that underneath that tulip tree, Minuit struck a deal with the chief of the local Lenape tribe, Seyseys, to the tune of 60 guilders’ worth of goods (such as glass beads). That was worth about $24 at the time.
It would have seemed like a pretty good trade back then, as glass beads were relatively rare in the Americas. The Lenape also thought they were trading the right to use the land, not granting exclusive rights to it—which would have been hard for them to do, as most of the island was actually controlled by the Weckquaesgeeks, a band of the Munsee. The fact that the Dutch had a different concept of ownership than the Lenape, and the fact that they made the deal with the people who didn’t even own the land, would create a lot of conflict in the years to come.
As for the tulip tree, it grew to 165 feet with a diameter of 51 inches and stood until the 20th century. Unfortunately, the plant’s health began to decline. Though the Parks Department tried desperately to save it by patching its rotting insides with cement and putting a protective fence around it, the tree fell victim to a storm in 1938. The stump stood for years before it too was removed, and the American Legion, Peter Minuit Post 1247, dedicated a large boulder with a plaque in its place.