Van Rensselaer Manor Papers

Mapping and Surveying the Manor

On November 1, 1785, Stephen van Rensselaer III (1764-1839) came of age and assumed full rights to the title Patroon and Lord of the Manor of Rensselaerswijck. With the help of Alexander Hamilton (Stephen's wife, Margaret Schuyler, was the sister of Hamilton's wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, both daughters of General Philip Schuyler) Stephen made plans to develop and populate the vast land holdings of the manor.

A Map of the Manor Renselaerwick
A Map of the Manor Renselaerwick
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Handbills were distributed announcing that the patroon would give the patriots of the Revolution homesteads without cost. The conditions of the grants stated that a farmer find a location, clear it, build a dwelling, and live there for seven years free. At the end of this time, he would go to the manor office and receive a "durable lease" with a moderate annual rent to be paid in wheat.  About 3,000 families took Van Rensselaer’s offer.  Many of these new tenants were "Yankees" who had spread across New England and begun to overflow into New York State.  These "Yankee" settlers would by 1830 bring to an end the Dutch culture and tradition of Albany that had endured for two centuries.

The influx of settlers required that these homesteads be surveyed and that undeveloped lands be divided into farm lots. The Patroon commissioned John E. Van Allen and Job Gilbert in 1888 to survey and map the entire East Manor. They created divisions, for surveying purposes only, within the East Manor known as Elizabethtown, Philipstown, Roxborough, Greenbush, Schodack, Stephentown, Middletown, and Little Hoosick.  Similarly, William Cockburn was hired to survey and map the West Manor, particularly lands now situated in Rensselaerville, Berne Knox, and Westerlo. Jacob Winne and John Preston were also hired to survey many of the West Manor lots. The task of surveying manor lands was largely completed by 1795 and documented in field books and maps that included detailed information about the physical characteristics of the land. The most revealing information was that soil conditions in much of the manor, particularly the hilly areas, tended to be hard and rocky, not well suited for sustainable crop production.

Last Updated: August 18, 2009