In spite of his involvement and investment, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer never visited his new patroonship Rensselaerswyck; it was managed by his agent, and cousin, Arendt van Curler, commissioner general of the colony of New Netherland.
The second patroon, Johannes Van Rensselaer (1625–1662) succeeded his father after his father’s death in 1643 but also never came to America. He governed through an agent, Brant van Slichtenhorst.
Van Slichtenhorst was hired as the director of Rensselaerswyck by the patroon in 1646, while the Dutch West India Company installed Peter Stuyvesant as director general of the colony of New Netherland on May 11, 1647. Van Slichtenhorst and Stuyvesant took an almost immediate dislike to each other and were constantly at odds.
Upon his arrival in Rensselaerswyck, van Slichtenhorst immediately began issuing building permits on the west side of the Hudson River near Fort Orange (now Albany). The village of Oranje outside the fort grew significantly. The enormously successful fur trade at Oranje made Rensselaerswyck the most financially successful of all European colonies then existing in America.
Stuyvesant was forced to collect a small salary as a soldier and see the wealth being accumulated by the Van Rensselaers, a point also not missed by the other less successful partners in the West India Company. Jealousies began to develop.
Upon his arrival in New Netherland, Stuyvesant immediately began trying to take control of Oranje by issuing proclamations and laws on all sorts of minor everyday issues in Oranje such as a 1649 prohibition against bakers selling cookies and cakes to the Indigenous People which Stuyvesant felt created a shortage of flour and raised prices to the settlers. Baked goods were a major trade item with Native People.
Both Stuyvesant and van Slichtenhorst thought that they had the exclusive right to govern Oranje and a major confrontation erupted. Wouter van Twiller, young patroon Johannes Van Rensselaer’s guardian, was of the same opinion as van Slichtenhorst.
In 1650, one of the West India Company’s directors wrote to Stuyvesant that “He (Wouter van Twiller) admits publicly that he does not intend to allow anyone to navigate the river for the purpose of trade and says he will resist anyone coming there or to Rensselaerswyck [for the purpose of trade] maintaining besides that Fort Oranje is built upon the soil of Rensselaerswyck and that the [Dutch West India] Company has no right to let houses be built or private parties trade there.”
At least some of the West India Company’s directors were starting to support Stuyvesant over one of their own (very successful) partners, Van Rensselaer.
In 1654, a court order was issued ordering that no ship leave the port at Rensselaerswyck without being thoroughly inspected. Van Rensselaer also collected tolls on other merchandise, demonstrating his understanding that he had been granted a monopoly to govern all trade within his colony.
In 1637, the 60-ton ship Rensselaerswijck departed from Holland on a five month journey to Rensselaerswyck to resupply trade goods and collect furs. In 1643, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer and his relatives outfitted the ship Wapen Van Rensselaerswijck to transport their furs from Rensselaerswyck to the Netherlands. Jan Baptiste Van Rensselaer chartered the Prins Willem and Gelderse Bloom before 1651 and sailed it once a year transporting furs. Van Rensselaer’s nephew, Wouter Van Twiller, and Jan Baptiste Van Rensselaer hired a larger ship, the Sint Jan Baptist for the same purpose.
Between 1661 and 1664, Jan Baptiste Van Rensselaer, in partnership with others, controlled at least six other ships.
He also chartered ships with other Amsterdam merchants. He had interests in the Gekruyste Hart, the Eendracht, the St. Jan, Orangieboom, Hartogh van Yorck, Gratie, Croon, and Beurs van Amsterdam. He expanded his exports to the Netherlands to include distilled liquor, grain, lumber and tobacco, as well as furs from Rensselaerswyck.
Van Slichtenhorst also had considerable difficulty dealing with Native People. He learned quickly that they expected to be entertained whenever they came to Oranje. At times he had as many as 50 Native People staying at the patroon’s house. When one of the groups left, van Slichtenhorst wrote that “everything at hand had been stolen because one could not keep an eye on such a large crowd.” Without permission, they butchered and ate two of the hogs in van Slichtenhorst’s yard.
Van Slichtenhorst complained that “one can honestly say that the first three years in the colony we have not been free of Indians for half a day.”
Purchasing land was a particular problem for van Slichtenhorst as he quickly realized that any land he purchased from Native People needed to be occupied quickly by settlers. If it was not quickly occupied, they would re-occupy it and perhaps refuse to leave unless they were paid again.
The local Indian People did not seem to have the same understanding of the meaning of the word “ownership” when it came to the trade goods. They felt that any furnishings, food, drink or even land left unguarded was there for the taking. Between Stuyvesant, Indigenous People, managing the patroonship, and trying to control trade, van Slichtenhorst’s job was certainly not easy.
Stuyvesant continued issuing proclamations trying to control Oranje and van Slichtenhorst ignored them, and in some cases pulled them down. By 1651, soldiers controlled by Stuyvesant had been stationed at Fort Orange to enforce Stuyvesant’s mandates.
On New Year’s Eve, 1651-1652, the soldiers at the fort, began firing burning fuses onto the roof of the patroon’s house where van Slichtenhorst and his family lived. Van Slichtenhorst and his son, Gerrit, extinguished the fuses.
The following day, the soldiers grabbed young Gerrit by the hair and beat him “black and blue [and] …dragged him through mud and mire and treated him inhumanely as if he were a criminal.” They struck van Slichtenhorst’s two children with their guns and threatened to shoot them.
The commander of the fort, Johannes Dijckman encouraged the soldiers, calling out, “Beat them now and may the devil take him!” There is no record of any disciplinary action being taken by Stuyvesant against the commander or soldiers of the fort for the outrage against van Slichtenhorst and his family.
Stuyvesant accused van Slichtenhorst of compromising the integrity of the fort by building houses too close. Even though some villages in the Netherlands were surrounded by a gated wall and located near a fort or castle, Stuyvesant ignored this possibility.
When van Slichtenhorst continued issuing building permits, in 1652, Stuyvesant ordered that all the houses be pulled down and declared that everything within a cannon shot of the fort (about 3,000 feet) – which included all of the village – was under the jurisdiction of the West India Company (meaning Stuyvesant) and not part of the Van Rensselaer’s colony.
Stuyvesant’s power play put the village and fort under his jurisdiction but no houses were ever torn down, suggesting that Stuyvesant’s accusation that they compromised the integrity of the fort was just a pretense. The village of Oranje was renamed “Beverwyck.”
When van Slichtenhorst tore the proclamation off the walls of his house and the tavern, Commander Dijckman visited van Slichtenhorst with eight armed soldiers who hauled down the patroon’s flag and arrested van Slichtenhorst. Van Slichtenhorst spent the next sixteen months in jail in New Amsterdam (now New York City) during which time his contract with the Van Rensselaers expired and he was replaced by the patroon’s two brothers, Jan Baptiste Van Rensselaer and Jeremias Van Rensselaer.
The seizure of the village by Stuyvesant seems to have thrown the fur trade into turmoil. Suddenly any merchant, including merchants from the lower Hudson Valley and New Amsterdam could trade with Native People in Beverwyck, since the patroon’s permit system was no longer valid. Competition became fierce.
However, the patroon’s monopoly on the fur trade in the rest of Rensselaerswyck, now excluding the fort and village of Beverwyck remained. Agents affiliated with the patroon may have gone into the woods outside the village, but within the boundaries of Rensselaerswyck, to intercept indigenous traders before they reached Beverwyck.
Now everyone was trading directly with the Indians and merchants had to pay the extra costs of hiring agents. Indian traders were cut off before they ever reached Beverwyck and Beverwyck merchants who had shops in the village suffered a loss of business.
Bakers, tailors, gunsmiths and brewers who had shops, and farmers and butchers who had previously lined up along Jonkers Street (State Street) and Handelaers Street (Market Street or Broadway) could not have been happy.
Stuyvesant partially countered these losses by ordering the Beverwyck merchants not to pay their rent payments to the Van Rensselaers. This created a problem when the Van Rensselaers stopped making repairs and improvements to public facilities such as streets, bridges, etc. that they had made with the proceeds from the rent payments. In 1653, Stuyvesant levied the first property tax on Beverwyck to allow him to make the public repairs previously made by Van Rensselaer with the rent payments.
Stuyvesant received a steady flow of complaints over the havoc he had created. Many new laws were passed attempting to prohibit trading with Native People in the woods and limiting the number of merchants, but none was successful.
The Van Rensselaer family seems to have maintained some control of the fur trade by dominating the export of the furs. Any merchant could trade but the furs still needed to be sold to the Van Rensselaers as they owned or leased all the ships exporting the furs and still influenced the distribution system in Amsterdam. Then from 1658 to 1662 there was a significant drop in the beaver trade. Since the Indian’s demand for trade goods – especially powder, flints and shot, alcoholic beverages, baked goods, clothing and tools – had not diminished, the furs must have been diverted from Beverwyck and Rensselaerswyck.
Possibly the trade was going to Canada, but this was unlikely since the Mohawk were at war with the French and their Indian allies. More likely it was being shipped overland to the English at Boston. Stuyvesant reported a big drop in export tax paid at New Amsterdam. This export tax was what supported Stuyvesant and allowed him to hire soldiers to control the colony.
Possibly at the urging of the Van Rensselaers, one of their previous managers, Arendt Van Curler (Corlear), began planning the construction of a new village. In the spring of 1661, a number of residents of Beverwyck and Rensselaerswyck thought that they would be more advantageously situated if they moved to Groote Vlachte (Great Flatts, later Schenectady).
They felt that this area was located closer to the traders coming down the Mohawk River with their furs and they could intercept them coming to Beverwyck.
Illustrations: Fort Orange, 1635, by Len F. Tantillo (provided by NYS Museum); Peter Stuyvesant (attributed to Hendrick Couturier ca 1660); Wouter van Twiller by Washington Allston (detail); The Roemer map of Albany (1698); and “Bouwlands of Schenectady, 1664” from Jonathan Pearson, A History of Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times (Albany Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1883).