On May 5, the New York State Museum is set to open an exhibit highlighting artifacts from Fort Orange, the 17th-century precursor of the state’s capital city.
The exhibition, titled “a small fort, which our people call Fort Orange,” examines the archaeological discovery of the fort in 1970, as well as the lasting impact of Dutch settlement of New York 400 years ago. The title is taken from Johannes De Laet, a director of the Dutch West India Company, recorded in 1625.
In addition to select artifacts from the 36,000-object Fort Orange archaeology collection, the exhibition will include film footage from the 1970 excavation and information gleaned from four decades of historical and archaeological research, including renderings of the fort by historical artist Len Tantillo. Dutch ceramics on loan from the Albany Institute of History & Art bring life to the story.
Fort Orange was the first permanent Dutch settlement in New Netherland, built as a trading post by the West India Company in 1624 at the present-day location of Albany, making the city the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States, north of Virginia.
Fort Orange was located at the nexus of the lucrative beaver-pelt trade. Between 1624 and 1664, the fort’s role in the development of New Netherland evolved from a point of contact and trade between Native Americans and Europeans, to an enclosure with dwellings and private enterprises, and finally an abandoned space consumed by the development of Albany.
Centuries later, Fort Orange on the surface had long disappeared. But in a six-month period between 1970 and 1971—just months ahead of Interstate 787 construction — a small archaeology team from the State Historic Trust (predecessor to the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, or OPRHP) headed by Paul Huey made remarkable discoveries about life in the Dutch colony. In 2016, the collection was transferred from OPRHP to the New York State Museum, where it is available for further scientific study and the education of future generations.
The New York State Museum is located at 222 Madison Avenue in Albany. For more information, call (518) 474-5877 or visiting the Museum website.
Painting: Fort Orange, 1635, by L. F. Tantillo.