The earliest Dutch settlement in the upper Hudson River region was Fort Nassau, built in 1614. Home to fur traders, soldiers and support settlers, it often flooded and was eventually abandoned.
The next permanent fort was built approximately two miles north of the fort that was prone to flooding. Fort Orange was built in 1624. A 1628 publication described the fort surrounded by a wooden stockade enclosure and no families dwelling at Fort Orange. Perhaps a few dozen persons lived there. Mainly traders who purchased furs from the surrounding Native American tribes. Later settlement outside the Fort Orange area came as Dutch emigrants purchased land from the Native Americans.
1629 – Dutch Charter of Privileges and Exemptions. This established the Patroon system of land ownership in New Netherland. Patroon is a Dutch word meaning owner or head of a company. The Dutch West India Company granted title and land to some of its invested members. The Patroon would be a landowner of vast tracts of land in New Netherland and controlled manorial rights and privileges, not unlike a lord of the feudal system in Europe. The Patroon could create civil and criminal courts, require one tenth payment of all farm crops and livestock from his tenants as well as receiving rent from those who settled on the land patent.
Patroonships were deeded tracts of land that required settlement of fifty families within four years. The most successful land patent was issued to Kiliaen van Rennselaer, a diamond merchant and one of the principal investors in the Dutch West India Company. His tract of land (Patroonship) surrounded Fort Orange and extended along 24 miles of Hudson River shoreline and 24 miles inland on both sides of the river, an extensive area that is current Albany and Rennselaer Counties in New York state. Of all the land patents deeded in the early Dutch colonial period only van Rennselaer’s patroonship was marginally successful. It lasted into the nineteenth century and passed down through generations of the Van Rennselaer family.
Known as Rennselaerwijck (wyck), the agent for Kiliaen van Rennselaer obtained title to most of the land surrounding Fort Orange. However, the settlement that grew up around Fort Orange soon sparked conflict with the director-general of New Netherland. Peter Stuyvesant was the Company man also in charge of the successful fur trade operations at the settlement of Fort Orange. Stuyvesant objected to the continued growth and building of the community within shadow of the fort.
In 1652 the conflict came to a head. The agent/director for Rennselaerwyck, Brant Van Slichtenhorst, ignored the authority of the director/general of the overall colony of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant. Operating an autocratic, semi-private independent land tract enveloping Fort Orange was in defiance of his demands to submit to Dutch law. Building a community on company property surrounding Fort Orange would have the settlement subject to laws not emanating from New Amsterdam, but from Rennselaerwyck’s agent.
After receiving authority from his superiors of the Dutch West India Company in Holland, Peter Stuyvesant sailed up river with a contingent of soldiers to declare the village would henchforth be within the jurisdiction of the director and council of New Netherland. The village was now under the domain of the West India Company.
The village and surrounding area, including Fort Orange, was renamed Beverwyck in 1652. Beverwyck grew into a lively trading town with a hundred or so houses scattered along a few dirt streets. Rennselaerwyck developed on the east side of the Hudson River with Fort Orange and Beverwyck growing on the western shore.
For the next twelve years, three communities co-existed in the upper Hudson River region: Fort Orange, Rensselaerwyck and Beverwyck. Beverwyck grew with the arrival of European tradesmen who settled the area and raised large families. Most of the population was ethnically Dutch, but the influx of immigrants bewtween 1652 and 1664 were German, Swedes, French and Africans (brought over as the first slaves by the Dutch to New Netherland). Fort Orange had fallen into disrepair. It was built on the waterfront and like its predecessor from 1614, therefore prone to flooding.
Political and ruling country changes in 1664 turned ownership of the Dutch colony of New Netherland over to the English. The war in Euope between England and Holland was settled and the increasing colonisation of New England to the north and Virgina and the Carolinas in the south forced the Dutch to relinquish its control of an area from Connecticut to New Jersey. James, Duke of York, renamed the area New York. New Amsterdam became Manhattan. Beverwyck was renamed Albany.
In 1676, the English government constructed a new English fort on higher ground, well away from the Hudson River. The strategic placement and fortunes of Albany, New York were due to it’s proximity to the junction of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers. Not only would Albany continue to thrive and grow into a major trading post with access to Manhattan in the south, it had access into the heartland of the frontier and the Great Lakes region. The fortunes of the city would be linked to the rest of the continent.
This is the history and background of settlement in the area that began in 1614 and with the building of Fort Orange in 1624. Rennselaerwyck developed patroonship lands on the eastern side of the Hudson River. Fort Orange’s community was renamed Beverwyck in 1652. It was a bustling town in 1664 when the English gained control and renamed the town, Albany.
Somewhere in that history of settling the area are the names of my Van Schaick ancestors. A few are more prominent, taking on political status in the mid-seventeenth century. In my research, I read a paragraph about a Van Schaick who had other branches of the family in the Kinderhook area. That peeked my interest. I have Van Buren ancestors to investigate while I trace my Dutch lineage. Martin Van Buren was born and raised in Kinderhook, New York. Now I DO have his family tree documented back to his ancestor who emigrated from the Netherlands. Still trying to connect my great-great-grandmother, Eunice Van Buren Van Schaick, to Martin Van Buren’s branch of the family.
The reason I took the time to research the early settlement of the Albany area is because this is where my Dutch ancestors lived in the 1800s. And yes–I would like to prove my ancestors arrived as early as the English who settled in New England around the same time. I would like to know the definitive Van Schaick and Van Buren who emigrated from the Netherlands in the 1600s. Am I also related to the prominent Van Schaicks of early Albany fame and fortune?
Of course, I would like to connect to the lineage of Anthony Van Schaick, who built the Van Schaick Mansion on the island near Cohoes, New York. Maybe I’m not a direct descendant, but if they were cousins, eventually I’ll arrive at the common grandparents our lineage shares.
Another reason I’m digging into the history of the Dutch settlement of Albany is to “debunk” a long-standing idea that my great-grandmother wrote our ancestors emigrated from Holland in 1614. The more I research the early settlement along the Hudson River, I now believe she wrote it as a general remark. Such as telling someone, “My ancestors arrived from England and settled Massachusetts in 1620.” It just means the English arrived in 1620 and began to populate Massachusetts, not specifically that I can trace my lineage to that first settlement.
I still want to dig a bit deeper into the Van Rennselaer patroonship lands of Rennselaerwyck. Two reasons: one-the inheritance remained with the heirs for many generations. The Crailo House Museum that I visited on my road trip on July 6, 2002 is in Rennselaer County and connected to the family. And two-I discovered my great-great-grandfather’s older brother, William Van Schaick, Jr died in 1852. His will listed Garrett Van Schaick as living in Troy that year.
I have a direct connection to Rennselaer County, New York. This is where they were born and lived and died in the 1800s. When did they arrive? 1600s? 1700s?
What is it about searching for your distant relatives who are long dead and just names and dates on faded documents somewhere? America can claim explorers trekked over its newly discovered lands going back to the 1500s. 500 years isn’t a very long time compared to the history of Europe or Africa or Asia, where history and kings date back thousands of years. It’s one long leap. To know their names and the dates when our earliest ancestors arrived from the “Old Country”. Once we now who they were and where they came from, we can leap back in time and history to trace our origins.
To know who you are. To realize what ethnic, cultural and native heritage you lay claim to from a long ago past. It’s a treasure hunt. Digging not for gold or buried pirates’ treasure, but digging for the jewels of those who came before. Their DNA is within us. We are all a sum measure of who came before us in time.
I may never glimpse a faded portrait of my ancestors. I would like to open a window into the dates and times they once lived and loved and worked and married and raised children. When I bring their memory alive once more, I’ll believe a warm wind will flow over the sod of their graves and honor them. I exist today due to their hardships and struggle to settle a new land.
When I look at myself in the mirror, I am sum of all those who came before me. In a few day, I’ll have the Dutch background of the Albany, New York area complete. Then I have the exciting task of documenting my family tree. I’ll share what I learn.
Rennselaerwyck — the first settlement that became home to my family.
(Google search) Fort Orange, Rennselaerwyck, Albany