Van Rensselaer Manor Papers

Birth of the Manor

It was the first half of the 17th century, and the Dutch were embarked on an unprecedented program of globalization. The Dutch first laid claims to the lands that are situated in the Hudson River Valley in 1609 with the voyage of Henry Hudson, who commanded an expedition sponsored by the Dutch East India Company. The first permanent settlements in New Netherland were established in 1624 in Manhattan and Fort Orange (present-day Albany).

Map of Renselaerswijk
Map of Renselaerswijk
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The patroonship plan was devised by certain members on the board of directors of the private trading and shipping enterprise known as the West India Company to promote colonization of the region. The plan allowed an investor, called a patroon, to negotiate with the natives for a tract of land on which he was obligated to settle fifty colonists within four years at his own expense. The patroon was granted legislative and judicial powers as well as rights to hold the land in perpetual fief of inheritance, along with the right to dispose the colony by last will and testament. In essence, colonization was turned over to the private sector.

Killiaen van Rensselaer, a diamond merchant in Amsterdam and member of the board of directors of the West India Company, with the assistance of a knowledgeable agent named Bastain Jasz Krol, negotiated a contract of sale in 1630 with the Mohican Indians for land in the upper Hudson River Valley in the vicinity of the Dutch trading post and garrison known as Fort Orange. This was the founding of the Manor of Rensselaerswijck, which would last into the middle of the 19th century.

Initially, a fair number of willing settlers were attracted as tenants of Rensselaerswijck (passenger list, bill of lading), with most of them choosing to settle near Fort Orange.  Some of these tenants practiced agriculture and husbandry as specified in the terms of their contracts. (ledger of debit credit accounts), But in general, any effort to make the plantation profitable for the patroon was compromised by the widespread interest in trading furs, initially an irresistible avenue to riches for many living in the region. Fur trading was presumed to be the exclusive domain of the West India Company and this created tension between the company and the settlers.

Last Updated: December 6, 2010