In 1664, Charles II, King of England, bequeathed to his brother, James, Duke of York and Albany, all the land in the Hudson River Valley and Long Island from the west side of Connecticut to the east side of Delaware Bay, in short, all of Dutch New Netherland.
He also bequeathed four men-of-war and 300 soldiers under the command of Colonel Richard Nicolls to take possession of New Netherland from the Dutch. Learning of this, the Dutch in New Netherland appealed to the Dutch West India Company asking for a loan of five or six thousand guilders to prepare fortifications. No loan or assistance appeared.
On August 13, 1664 while Director General Peter Stuyvesant was in Beverwyck (now Albany) the English ships arrived at New Amsterdam (New York City). When Stuyvesant heard of the arrival of the British fleet, he rushed back to New Amsterdam. The Dutch residents were offered favorable terms and despite vehement objections from Stuyvesant, they accepted. The name of New Amsterdam was changed to New York and the village of Beverwyck was changed to Albany. The English and Dutch signed the Treaty of Breda in 1667 and the English kept possession of the colony.
In 1672 however, Charles II of England again declared war on the Dutch. On July, 28 1672, a Dutch force landed in New York and took back control of the colony. New York City was changed to New Orange; Albany was changed to Willemstadt. Then on February 19, 1674, the Dutch and English settled their differences and signed the Treaty of Westminster, granting all lands in the colonies back to England. Willemstadt again became Albany but with a stipulation that all officers, ministers and the Van Rensselaers were to retain all of their authority, rights and privileges as before. British Major Edmund Andros was appointed governor of the colony of New York.
In June 1678, Governor Andros issued a new patent to the Van Rensselaers granting them the possession of the manor of Rensselaerswyck with such privileges and immunities as they had before. The owners of houses in Albany were ordered to pay a yearly rent to the Van Rensselaers equivalent to two beaver skins for the large houses, one beaver skin for the “middle sort” and a half of a beaver skin for the smallest buildings. The rent was basically a property tax to the Van Rensselaers recognizing that they owned Albany.
The residents had not paid rent to the Van Rensselaers since Peter Stuyvesant had declared Beverwyck and Fort Orange separate from Rensselaerswyck in 1652 and the Albany property owners refused to pay. The rent was not collected.
In the spring of 1680, two Dutch missionaries from Friesland, Holland visited Albany. They stayed with Robert Sanders, who took them by horseback to see the “Cahoos Falls” at the end of the “Maquas Kill” (Cohoes Falls at the end of the Mohawk River). On their return they met with some Native People camped along the Hudson River who recognized them as “real Hollanders” and gave them some “ground nuts” and “mice with tails” (acorns and potatoes) to cook and eat. They showed them their bark canoe and the Dutch missionaries marveled at how light and strong it was. They tried to impress the Dutch visitors by showing them how fast it could be paddled.
The Dutch ministers also visited “Schoonechtendeel” (Schenectady) by following “a fine sandy road” and found about forty houses inside a palisade by the river. They then visited the widow Van Rensselaer and toured her mansion and mills
The missionaries described Albany as a village of 80 or 90 houses lying up against a hill with several good streets. An old Dutch fort lay abandoned at the river (Fort Orange) and a new wooden English fort (Fort Frederick) had been constructed at the top of the hill. A spring of water (Ruttenkill) ran under the fort and into the village. The town was surrounded by log palisades and had several gates corresponding to the streets.
They said Albany was a principal trading fort with the Native People with activity peaking in the summer months. Indigenous People stayed in houses constructed for them just outside the log palisades.
By the late 1600s, they said that many houses in Albany were made of “framed timber-weather boarded” (clapboard sided). Some were made of brick. There were also a few older stone buildings of very rough masonry. Some had thatched roofs, others were covered with shingles, and some were covered with glazed tiles.
The houses had steep gabled roofs to deflect snow and were constructed in the Dutch style with the gable end facing the street to keep snow and rain water from falling on pedestrians walking on the street. Chimneys were constructed on the outside back wall of houses and widened out at the bottom to accommodate a fireplace on the inside wall and a baking oven on the outside wall of the house. A shed roof was constructed to cover the outside oven.
There were several shops and many taverns in Albany. Few goods were open to view. Instead, the floors, counters and shelves were covered with kegs and wooden crates, jars, barrels and packages. The merchants sold silks, Haarlem damasks, bombazines, serges, red, white and blue kersey, duffel cloth, calico, Osuabruck and Flemish linens, thread, buttons, hooks and eyes, boots, shoes, Iceland and Friesland stockings. They also sold sugar, molasses, spices, drugs, hardware, crockery, brandy, wine, rum, tobacco, guns, ammunition, and available food produce. Farmers lined up their wagons with produce on Jonkers Street (State Street) and the butchers stationed themselves on Handelaers Street (Market Street or later Broadway).
The taverns and inns were designated by a square signboard hung outside depicting the name of the tavern and a drawing of its symbol such as a wide spread tree, a beaver and his lodge, a sickle and barley sheaf, etc. The tavern’s name was indicated by the symbol on the sign such as Oonderdonk’s Beaver Lodge, or Stanford’s Elm Grove Inn.
The men of Albany wore peaked broad-brimmed felt hats frequently folded into a tri-cornered shape or small circular woolen caps, jackets extending over the hips, waistcoats, short breeches, long stockings, buckled shoes, cravats or widely spread linen collars. The wealthier and more successful Albanians wore frilled shirtfronts and cuffs, embroidered waistcoats and velvet coats. Farmers and trappers wore leather breeches and leggings, deerskin coats and fur caps.
The women and girls made more noticeable display of their clothing. They wore different colors of dresses, wide white ruffs, pretty laces and colored petticoats. In winter they wore mantles, caps, hoods, cloaks and other garments, some decorated with fur.
When a death was announced by the slow pealing of the church bell, the aanspreeker, dressed all in black with a black hat with a long piece of black crepe wound around it, visited the relatives and friends of the deceased to invite them to attend the funeral. “Watchers” were selected to watch over the corpse for a period of two or three days to make sure that there were no signs of life. (Watchers would make sure that the deceased did not “wake up,” a precedent for calling this a “wake.”) Watchers were provided with refreshments including a liberal supply of liquor, as well as a number of pipes, tobacco, baked cakes and other things.
The funeral was held on the third or fourth day after death, usually attended by a large group of mourners. The coffin was covered with a dood-kleed (dead cover), a black-fringed cloth with corner tassels. The coffin was borne to the graveyard on a wooden bier. The Dutch burial ground was bounded by Beaver, Green, Hudson and South Pearl streets. After the service, those attending returned to the house of the deceased, where they were generously served various refreshments. The Dutch church accounts for the year 1682 listed 150 guilders and 11 stivers as expense for the burial of a pauper whose funeral was paid for by the church. The expenses included five cans of rum, payment of the bearers, and 15 gallons of beer.
It was no coincidence that the brewers and rum distillers were among Albany’s wealthiest residents. In 1649, the patroon’s brewery made “three hundred and thirty tuns of beer.” Early periodicals said that the Dutch felt that water should not be used for drinking, so rum and beer were part of the daily diet.
When the bell of the Dutch Church rang at eight o’clock at night, the people of the village banked their fires and retired to bed. This kept the coals alive until morning.
In September 1682, James, the Duke of York and Albany appointed Colonel Thomas Dongan to be governor of the province. In May 1686, Albany petitioned Governor Dongan to recognize Albany as a city clearly defining it as a separate municipality and not a part of the Van Rensselaer Manor. This charter granted property owners in Albany clear title of ownership of their land and eliminated the Van Rensselaer’s claim that they owned Albany.
Dongan studied the Van Rensselaer’s claim and the claims of the residents of Albany and decided that the Van Rensselaers owned the land on which Albany had been built and were entitled to rent but went on to say in a communication to the King that he did not think that granting the city to the Van Rensselaers was “in His Majesty’s interest.”
Dongan got a release of “their pretense” from the Van Rensselaers and issued a charter to Albany. His letter continued (possibly admitting a financial conflict of interest) “that the people of Albany has given mee seven hundred pounds is untrue. I am but promised three hundred pounds which is not near my prerequisites, viz ten shillings for every house & the like for every hundred acres patented by mee.”
Under this cloudy reasoning, and a 300-pound payment, the city of Albany was chartered on July 2, 1686. Peter (also Pieter) Schuyler and Robert Livingston were authorized to go to “New Yorke and procure ye Charter for this citty.” Peter Schuyler was appointed Albany’s first mayor, clerk of the market and coroner. Robert Livingston was appointed city clerk.
Among the first series of laws passed by the new city were several barring inhabitants from engaging in the fur trade, strengthening the Van Rensselaer’s control over the fur trade.
Illustrations: New Netherland map published by Nicolaes Visscher II (1649–1702); Peter Stuyvesant (attributed to Hendrick Couturier ca 1660); Map of Albany by John Miller, 1695; The city of New York ca. 1667 copied by G Hayward for DT Valentine’s Manual for 1851 (NYC Municipal Archives); Albany’s Dongan Charter partially unfolded
Lucinda Lamme says
Thank you for a great article with vivid descriptions of life in early Albany. The description of clothing was especially interesting. I wonder, though, about the map of Beverwyck posted here. Try as I might, I can find no geographical features to connect me to Albany’s hill and Hudson River shore. The land looks flat, the water is labeled “Wycker Meer”, the street layout is different, and the church looks like a gothic structure rather than the modest old Dutch Church in the plaza at the joint of modern State and Broadway. Could this be, instead, a map of Beverwyck (now Beverwijk) in north Holland? There a gothic church (the Grote Kerk) stands in a similar orientation to the canal, the channel of which has been narrowed by poldering. The city’s current flag is a red ground with three fleurs-de-lys. Thank you for your consideration.
John Warren says
Great catch, that was the wrong map. That’s Beverwyck in Holland. I switched it out with the John Miller map from 1695.
Thanks for reading,