Although it played a highly significant role in the settling and development of the Capital Region, Fort Crailo, the birthplace of “Yankee Doodle” and the manorial seat for generations for one branch of the Van Rensselaer family, remains relatively little known, even within the Capital Region itself.
Shirley W. Dunn’s new book, Fort Crailo and the Van Rensselaers: The Dutch Colonial Origins of Greenbush & the City of Rensselaer (Black Dome Press, 2016) traces the history of Crailo and the Van Rensselaers from the years leading up to the building of Fort Crailo in 1663, through the war years and through the many additions and renovations over the centuries and generations of Van Rensselaers, to the present day in its role as the museum of Dutch history in the Hudson River Valley.
As the first Dutch farms took root east of the Hudson River across from Fort Orange (Albany), a fortified farmhouse was built by the Van Rensselaers to protect their interests and provide a haven for settlers. Originally surrounded by a tall wooden palisade, Fort Crailo survived King Philip’s War, the French and Indian wars, and the American Revolution. For over a century, armies camped on its grounds as they made their way to and from the battles, and it was there that a British Army surgeon penned the lyrics to “Yankee Doodle.”
When peace finally came, generations of Van Rensselaers enlarged the little fort into a mansion overlooking their 1,500-acre farm that sprawled along the east bank, sowing the seeds for the future Village of Greenbush and the City of Rensselaer. Derelict and shuttered by the late 1800s, Crailo State Historic Site — today a museum of Dutch colonial life in New York — stands as a rare victory of historic preservation.
Author Shirley Dunn, best known for her three books on the Mohican Indians, is a highly regarded local historian and author.
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