In 1620, the English Puritans landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts and the following year the Dutch West India Company was chartered and given the exclusive right to conduct trade in New Netherland.
In 1624, eight families joined the Dutch traders at Albany arriving on the ship New Netherland captained by Cornelis May.
These settlers built homes and cultivated farms; they also constructed Fort Oranje (Fort Orange) on the west bank of the Hudson River.
In 1626, Peter Minuit was the governor of the colony and there were about eight families and 26 traders at Oranje as the village adjacent to Fort Oranje was then called. The land around Oranje was occupied by the Mohican, who, at this time, were the closest and principal traders with Oranje.
In 1627, the Mohican went to war with the Mohawk and requested the assistance of the commander of Fort Oranje. In the ensuing battle, the Dutch and Mahicans were ambushed and many were killed, including the Dutch commander Daniel Van Krieckenbeeck and three of his men.
Many of the families at Fort Oranje were sent south to New Amsterdam (now Manhattan) for protection, but the traders mostly stayed on. The Mohican were driven to the east side of the Hudson River and the Mohawk occupied the land surrounding Oranje.
In 1629, the Dutch passed the Charter of Privileges and Exemptions, a plan for the colonization of New Netherland. Under the plan, the Dutch West India Company granted one of their members, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer (1580–1643), a Dutch diamond and pearl merchant in Amsterdam, the exclusive right to purchase, govern and conduct trade in a tract of land approximately 10 miles long along both sides of the Hudson River at Fort Oranje, with the provision that he would settle it with at least 50 adults within four years.
Part of Van Rensselaer’s family was involved in tailoring fur coats, felt hats and other items of apparel which is probably what attracted him to the beaver trade at Fort Oranje. Van Rensselaer was granted a monopoly on trade within his colony to limit competition and try to encourage his success.
Kiliaen Van Rensselaer hired agents, including the leader of Fort Oranje Bastiaen Jansen Krol, to purchase land from Indigenous people. Krol and others were purchased about 700,000 acres, 24-miles-long by 48-miles-wide, comprising most of what is now Albany, Rensselaer and Northern Columbia Counties from the Mohawk and the Mahicans, establishing the colony of Rensselaerswyck in 1630.
By 1648, this patroonship stretched from Beeren Eyland, south of Albany to Unawat’s Castle near the Cohoes Falls at the junction of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers. Van Rensselaer’s land purchases continued for several years, eventually encompassing over a million acres.
New Netherland became the only one of the original 13 colonies established more for trade and than for settlers escaping harsh political or religious conditions in Europe. The Netherlands had long been known as a haven for followers of persecuted religions and that tolerant religious attitude was carried into New Netherland.
The question as to whether Fort Oranje, which had existed previous to Van Rensselaer’s purchase and the developing village of Oranje just north of its walls, were included in the original 1629 Dutch West India Company grant to Van Rensselaer, and his subsequent land purchase from the Indian tribes, became a point of contention that lasted for many years.
The Dutch West India Company was in the habit of granting exclusive rights and monopolies to limit competition, to encourage development of markets, and more readily assure the success of their ventures. I believe it’s inconsistent to believe that the Company intended for merchants and soldiers at Fort Oranje to be separate trade competitors to the Van Rensselaers.
Van Rensselaer, nor any other partner in the Dutch West India Company, would have invested so much time and money to just become one of many traders vying for the trade and competitively driving prices down. Also during much of this time (to quote Peter Stuyvesant) “Fort Oranje was bared of soldiers.” So it would appear that the Dutch West India Company had largely abandoned the fort.
It seems clear that Fort Oranje was included in the Dutch West India Company grant to Van Rensselaer but a series of Dutch and English governors, most notably Peter Stuyvesant, who did not get along with the managers of Rensselaerswyck, refused to recognize the fort or village of Oranje as part of Van Rensselaer’s holdings.
From the beginning, it seems that Kiliaen Van Rensselaer intended two parts to his colony. He had his agents purchase large tracts of land on both sides of the Hudson River at a place where the Hudson is wide and travel between the two parts would have been difficult and at some times of the year impossible.
The west side of the colony was on the trade route where native people came from the west (from at least as far as the Great Lakes) along the Mohawk River, then across land near Albany (avoiding the Cohoes Falls) before entering the Hudson River. Both Fort Nassau and the later Fort Oranje had been constructed on this route at what is now Albany.
The section on the eastern side of the Hudson was separated from access to most of the fur trade by the river. This side was planned as a mostly agricultural settlement, and homes, farms and livestock were planned. Farmers there could not only solidify Dutch settlement, but also provide food for the soldiers and traders and supplement manpower for the military when needed. The river helped keep the settled farmers at a distance from the more lucrative fur trade on the other side of the river, although some there did at times trade in fur against official policy.
Van Rensselaer could have located his patroonship anywhere in New Netherland, from Delaware in the south to eastern Connecticut. This would have included Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York (including all of Long Island), and Connecticut. Instead he chose a remote yet navigable location at Fort Oranje to be closer to the trade.
Van Rensselaer financed the development of the patroonship. He paid to recruit, transport and settle most of the original families. He provided them with food, clothing, shelter, tools, farm animals and implements. He built grist mills to make flour and lumber mills to make boards. He built docks, roads and barns.
In return, the families signed contracts promising to either work for the patroon for a certain number of years or to give him a share of their farming or trapping labors. The patroon controlled most of the trade, especially the fur trade with Europe. In the absence of income taxes or property taxes, the patroon’s control of the fur trade and collection of rents from tenant farmers financed the operation and development of the colony.
One early account gave a typical annual rent as two fowl or two beaver pelts per year and several days of donated labor to rebuild roads or other civic facilities. Visitors returning to the Netherlands gave reports of the prosperity in Rensselaerswyck, which encouraged immigration.
Van Rensselaer basically operated Rensselaerswyck as fiefdom had been operated in Europe.
Illustrations: New Netherland map published by Nicolaes Visscher II (1649–1702); “A map of the Manor Renselaerwick surveyed and laid down by a scale of 100 chains to an inch by Jno. R. Bleeker, surveyor, 1767″ (courtesy NYPL);”Fort Orange, 1635,” by Len F. Tantillo (courtesy NYS Museum); and West Indisch Huis, the West India House in Amsterdam, headquarters of the Dutch West India Company from 1623 to 1647.