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Bowling Green: The Peppercorn Rental and the Infamous Bead Exchange in Manhattan's Oldest Park

Imagine it's a crisp day in the heart of the Financial District, where modern high-rises tower over the city's oldest park. Yes, amidst the cacophony of Wall Street lies the serene oasis of Bowling Green Park.

buildings in NYC, sky and clouds in background

You can hear more New York City stories with Gesso’s self-guided New York audio walking tours, which you can experience at your own pace.

In the bustling city that never sleeps, the tranquility of this park belies a rich history that dates back to 1733, when the city deemed it a public space. The rental price? A single peppercorn a year. The people cared for this patch of land, cherishing the peace it brought amidst the rising commercial frenzy.

Yet, the tale of Bowling Green Park starts long before the peppercorn lease. It takes us back to a controversial event that still ripples through the pages of history. This humble park is believed to be the site where Manhattan changed hands, where Native Americans allegedly sold the island to Dutch merchant Peter Minuit. The common tale suggests the price was nothing more than a string of beads, valued around $24.

However, the narrative, as shared by the National Museum of the American Indian, is not as simple as it seems. The discrepancies among historians are many, from the date of the sale to the tribe involved. The letter documenting the transaction does not mention beads. Additionally, the stark cultural differences between the Native Americans and the Dutch settlers are often overlooked. Native Americans didn't perceive land as a commodity, unlike the settlers. Gifting to passers-by was customary, leading many to believe that those who traded the land might not have fully comprehended the lifelong ramifications of their agreement.

Many more New York City stories and tours await. Discover more local history with our New York audio walking tours, and see which nearby New York City neighborhoods you want to explore next!


Gesso was created for urban explorers who find joy in life's hidden gems. Find audio tours on the Gesso app, available via the App Store or Google Play, and share your New York City adventures with us on Instagram.


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