A short history (not too dry!)–In 1609, Henry Hudson sailed up the river which today bears his name. Records indicate his ship, The Half Moon, reached an island at the mouth of the Mohawk River where it joins the Hudson River. That island is now known as Van Schaick Island and bears the name of my 2nd Dutch immigrant to arrive in New Netherland, Goosen Gerrittsen Van Schaick in 1637. He was granted a patroon or estate land grant by the Dutch over that area in the 1600s. It was a descendant of his that built the Van Schaick mansion that still remains on the island to this day.
My first ancestor to arrive on the continent of North America was Cornelis Maes Van Buren. He arrived in 1631 and settled briefly in the Fort Orange area.
The reasons my Dutch ancestors sailed across the vast Atlantic Ocean to an unknown future is lost in the mists of time. Thankfully, records exist from the 1600s that track the Van Schaick and Van Buren men who arrived in Rensselaerswyck.
First of all there must be a reason to motivate these men to leave a certain lifestyle in The Netherlands and venture to a “promised land” known as Rensselaerswyck.
The Dutch claimed the region after Henry Hudson’s discovery and set up forts in the (Albany, New York) area. Fort Nassau, built in 1614–predates the Mayflower’s arrival at Plymouth Rock in 1620–and later Fort Orange in 1624–which grew into the state capital city of Albany.
The Dutch West India Company was established in 1620 by the States-General and given enormous governing powers over the region known as New Netherland. In 1630, the managers of the Dutch West India Company offered certain exclusive privileges to the members of the company. A charter was issued that stated any member who founded a colony of fifty (50) adults in New Netherland within four years of the charter’s writing would be a patroon (feudal chief) of the territory to be colonized. The colony had to be established outside of the island of Manhattan.
Kiliaen Van Rensselaer was one of the original directors of the West India Company. One of the first to take advantage of the charter’s broad opportunities to own large tracts of land in New Netherland, he sent men to the region even before the 1630 charter was ratified. In April of 1630, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer’s agents secured land for the settlement and colonizing of Rensselaerswyck.
The main purpose was to establish an agricultural colony on the Dutch-claimed American Province. Lands for this colony could extend 16 miles in length if confined to one side of the Hudson River or 8 miles in length if both sides of the river were occupied. Lands could also extend into the countryside and be enlarged if the patroon settled more immigrants on his land. Each patroon settled with the Indians in place on the land by purchasing the land and not by forceable removal. The land was bought or bartered with the Indians of the area.
The tract of land that agents purchased for Van Rensselaer extended from the west side of the Hudson River, adjacent to Fort Orange, upriver to Havers Island, which is my ancestral island of Van Schaick Island and extended two day’s journey into the interior.
So, there it was–a vast empire to be known as Rensselaerswyck, just waiting for emigrants from the homeland to arrive and colonize the area. My information is in no way complete or detailed. I list my sources for this blog as: Manor of Rensselaerswyck – Wikipedia and Cornelis Maes Van Buren from the website: http://xpda.com/family/vanBuren-CorneliusMaes-ind00474.htm
But knowing what I do now about the first of my lineage to arrive in America, I read both histories with an excitement within to realize this 400 year old history has relevance to my personal life. I exist due to the fact that a director of the Dutch West India Company was one of the first members to act on the 1630 charter to settle lands in the Hudson River valley and arrange for colonists to move to America.
Cornelis Maes Van Buren was born around 1610? 1616 in Buurmalsem, Gelderland, Netherlands. He was reportedly an only child. Records state he was one of the first group of emigrants to sail to New Netherland and became a farmer. He arrived at Rensselaerswyck in 1631 and served a three-year contract to Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. These pioneers of the patroon lands embarked in the ship Eendragt (or Unity) When they arrived, the actual settlement of Rensselaerswyck began.
My Dutch ancestor was probably on the first ship to arrive and was undoubtedly one of the original colonists to begin farming the land in Rensselaerswyck. I try to imagine him as a young man. If he was born in 1616 and sailed to America in 1631, then he was around 15 years old.?? (I also have notes that he was born in 1610, which would make him a young adult of 21). I don’t know if he sailed alone on the ship or if he came to Rensselaerswyck with family.
His requirement of service to Kiliaen Van Rensselaer lasted three years. He was a farmer and served a contract from 1631-1634. Then records indicate he returned to The Netherlands and married Catalyntje in 1635. Cornelis Van Buren’s second contract of service at Rensselaerswyck began in 1637-1640.
The final return to Rensselaerswyck–to occupy a farm on or near Papscanee Island–began with a sea voyage from the Netherlands in 1636. I have to go back nine generations to Hendrick Van Buren, my Dutch ancestor, who was born at sea in January, 1637. Cornelis and Catalyntje Van Buren arrived at Rensselaerswyck around April, 1637 to settle as a family in America and tend to the farm.
Research for yourself–the patroon lands that Kiliaen Van Rensselaer purchased in 1631 and following years through his agents became a vast empire surrounding today’s Albany, New York area. He probably never sailed to America to view his empire, but his son and grandson and descendants settled and governed Rensselaerswyck into the 19th century.
I appreciate his determination to establish a Dutch colony in 1630 and wonder what was the incentive to encourage Cornelis Van Buren to become one of the first settlers to leave his home and sail across the Atlantic Ocean to live in an unknown wilderness. It must have agreed with Cornelis, because after his three years were over, he returned home to marry and bring his wife and newborn son back to Rensselaerswyck and a farm on Papscanee Island.
My other Dutch ancestor, Goosen Gerritts Van Schaick arrived at Rensselaerswyck a few years later. He emigrated from Utrecht to the Dutch colony in 1637. He was a brewer by trade and became quite prominent in the area. Records indicate Goosen Gerritts Van Schaick was granted his own patroon lands in 1665 by the Indians. The lands were located at the mouth of the Mohawk River (present day Van Schaick Island, Cohoes Island and Waterford).
In an earlier blog post, I recalled my July, 2002 visit to the Van Schaick mansion and talking to a direct descendant of the ancestor who built the house and once owned the island. He didn’t acknowledge my Van Schaick lineage as direct to the family that built the mansion. I left bitterly disappointed that Saturday morning. After more research, I feel vindicated, because the original owner of Van Schaick Island was Kiliaen Van Rensselaer in 1630. by 1665, Goosen Gerritts Van Schaick was prominent and financially successful enough to purchase the lands around the Mohawk River. Van Schaick called his patroon “Half Moon”, after Henry Hudson’s exploration ship that stopped near the island in 1609.
I do have a photograph of the plaque that states that information–taken on my 2002 vacation to New York. I wish I knew then what I know now. How thrilling it would have been to stand on the very land that my Dutch ancestor, Van Schaick, owned. My great-grandmother, Elsie Van Schaick, was the last to carry his illustrious surname until she married my great-grandfather, Frank Ellsworth.
Generations of Americans trace the beginning of their ancestors to ships arriving from Europe in the 1800s and early 1900s and disembarking their immigrant passengers on Ellis Island in New York. Surnames were anglicized and family histories are sometimes difficult to trace back to the country of origin.
Wars, famine, poverty and a list of multiple reasons account for the journey to leave a homeland to emigrate to the unknown land of America. I’m grateful that the first wave of my ancestors made their “beachhead” at Rensselaerswyck in the early 1600s. The Dutch kept detailed records and as patroon, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer demanded a loyalty oath from the colonists who settled his lands. I have a document that shows Goosen Gerrittsen Van Schaick signed a required oath in 1651.
I’m glad I traveled to the area and stood on the east bank of the Hudson River looking West toward Albany’s skyline. In the 1630s, it was a wilderness inhabited by local Indian tribes. A man with foresight purchased the land and determined to settle it with brave colonists from The Netherlands. I got the chance to stand on ground that was once a part of Rensselaerswyck. I returned to the “Ellis Island” of Cornelis Van Buren and Goosen Gerrittsen Van Schaick.
How do you begin to describe the emotion of being where your lineage in America began? So many people wonder about who they are–where they came from–and it’s turned the real Ellis Island into a museum. American descendants can stand in a vast hall and imagine their ancestors’ first glimpse of a new promise–to live a better life that what they left behind.
And isn’t that what all Americans hope for and strive for in this country of open opportunity? A chance–a chance to live a better life that what was left behind. For my Dutch side of the family, it began due to the opportunity of Rensselaerswyck.
Thank you. Cornelis and Goosen.
Sources: Manor of Rensselaerwyck-Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. http://xpds.com/family/vanBuren-CorneliusMaes-ind00474.htm http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/msscfa/sc10442.htm