Van Rensselaer (Rensselaerwyck) Manor
A Preliminary Inventory
|Quantity:||305 containers (ca. 200 cubic feet)|
|Access Restricted:||Access to the Rensselaerwyck Manor Papers is restricted due to on-going conservation issues. Prior approval of the Associate Librarian for Manuscripts and Special Collections is required before access to the papers is granted. Please contact MSCOLLS@nysed.gov at least one week prior to your visit to determine whether requested documents will be available.|
|Acquisition:||Information available upon request|
|Processed by:||Fred Bassett, Senior Librarian, Manuscripts and Special Collections, 1999|
Related Online Resources:
- Van Rensselaer Manor Papers (online exhibit)
- Selected Van Rensselaer Manor Papers (digitized documents in the OCE Digital Collections)
The Manuscripts and Special Collections unit of the New York State Library owns an extensive collection of land records covering the Rensselaerwyck Manor, an area that once included large portions of Albany and Rensselaer counties.
The Van Rensselaer family held rights, dating back to the seventeenth century, to most all land in this area. These rights included the collection of ground rent, that is, rent paid annually, usually in commodities such as bushels of wheat, to the agents of the patroon, the head of the family. In 1785 Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764-1839) inherited the family rights to the Manor and it became necessary to determine the extent of these land holdings. Job Gilbert and John E. and Evert Van Alen were hired to survey and map the entire Manor.
The Hudson River divided Rensselaerwyck into the East Manor and the West Manor. The East Manor lands included all of Rensselaer County south of Lansingburgh, Schaghticoke, Pittstown, and Hoosick. The East Manor was divided into areas known as Elizabethtown (Brunswick), Philiptown (Nassau), Roxborough (Grafton), Greenbush, Schodack, Stephentown, Middletown, and Little Hoosick. Middletown included chiefly the eastern portions of the present towns of Poestenkill and Sand Lake and the western portion of Berlin. Little Hoosick encompassed the present town of Petersburgh and the eastern portion of Berlin. Troy was part of the Manor but is not covered by detailed maps and surveys.
All of Albany County was included in the West Manor except the City of Albany, the southeast portion of the Town of Coeymans and the northern part of the Town of Watervliet (now the Town of Colonie). Land records for the West Manor, for the most part, only cover the present towns of Berne, Knox, Rensselaerville, and Westerlo, the other records having been destroyed in the Capitol fire of 1911. Jacob Winne and John Preston were the surveyors for many of the West Manor lots.
The Rensselaerwyck Manor Papers consist primarily of maps, surveys, account ledgers and leases. While some of the West Manor papers (including most of the surveys) were burned in the Capitol fire of 1911, most of the maps and surveys, many of the leases, and the account ledgers survive for the East Manor. One existing map covers the east half of the East Manor, while individual existing maps cover each of the survey areas except Little Hoosick. Additional versions of these maps survive in the Historic Cherry Hill Papers, which are held at Historic Cherry Hill (523 1/2 South Pearl St., Albany, NY 12202; 518-434-4791).
Survey volumes, including both the actual surveys and maps of some of the individual lots, cover the many of lots in the East Manor. Some miscellaneous surveys survive as well. These maps and surveys are surprisingly very accurate, considering the rugged wilderness of much of the East Manor in the late eighteenth century, as well as the seemingly primitive instruments in use at this time. These records are frequently consulted by present-day land surveyors and title abstract firms for the valuable, detailed, and accurate information they contain. These records have gained the status of virtually an adjunct to land records maintained by Rensselaer County itself. Current deeds to many parcels of land in Rensselaer County contain references to original Van Rensselaer leases.
A substantial number of the Van Rensselaer family's copies of the large, impressive original leases survive as well. But the most interesting records of all are the account ledgers (sometimes called the rent ledgers), massive leather-bound volumes documenting the annual collection of ground rent by agents of the patroon. These ledgers include valuable information on dates of property transfers (often not found in recorded deeds) and on subleases, partial interests and tenants of properties and names of the parties involved. Also, the manner of rent collection is stated. While rent was usually due in bushels of wheat, the actual payment may have been in the form of cash or promissory notes, or other commodities such as oats, rye, cider, shingles, firewood, livestock, or even days of service laboring for the Manor. Occasionally they contain interesting personal information as well. The ledgers have been microfilmed; the New York State Library's call number for the microfilm is (MA/FM,974.74,V36,99-18511).
The Van Rensselaer Manor records hold a wealth of information on rural Albany and Rensselaer counties and their early residents. They largely date from the late 1600s to the 1850s, following the Anti-Rent Wars, by which time the family had relinquished its feudal rights to most of the land holdings.
The records are available for research Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 PM in the reading room shared by the New York State Library and the New York State Archives on the third floor of the Cultural Education Center, Madison Avenue, Albany. The microfilm is located the main library on the seventh floor of the CEC. Some original records may be studied; however, in some cases, because of the fragile nature of some maps and surveys and the size and weight of the massive account ledgers, patrons should use the microfilm copies.
Box and Folder List
The box and folder list for the Van Rensselaer Manor Papers is currently in the process of being updated; please contact MSC for the latest version of the unpublished finding aid.