In this episode of A New York Minute In History, Devin Lander and Lauren Roberts delve into the history of the Dutch Patroon system in New York State, and tell the story of the anti-rent movement of the 19th Century, during which tenant farmers banded together to (sometimes, violently) opposed the system under which they were not allowed to own their land outright.
The Anti-Rent Wars were a response from farmers to the leases they were required to sign with the land owners. According to the New York State Library’s Van Rensselaer Manor Papers, the issue began with the creation of a “durable lease” by Stephen Van Rensselaer and Alexander Hamilton. This type of lease was meant to bind the tenants and their heirs to the manor system forever. By calling it an “incomplete sale” Hamilton avoided the fact that this kind of feudalism was outlawed by the State in 1787.
Along with requiring farmers to pay an annual rent, they were also required to pay taxes on the land, despite the Patroon retaining the rights to the land’s natural resources, including wood, mining and water rights. When farmers sold their leases, they were required to pay 25% of the sale price directly to the Patroon.
In 1839, the death of Stephen Van Rensselaer III, who has earned the historical nickname “Good Patroon” for being lax in collecting overdue payments, brought the issue to a head. Van Rensselaer III’s will stipulated that all overdue rents be collected immediately. His sons who inherited the Van Rensselaer Manor, Stephen Van Rensselaer IV and William Paterson Van Rensselaer, were aggressive, demanding payments immediately and refusing to renegotiate the leases or sell the lands to the lessees.
Negotiations between the farmers and patroons led to the Anti-Rent State Convention, held at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Berne in Albany County, on January 15, 1845. Later known as Helderberg Evangelical Luther Church, their website states the current building was constructed in 1835 and has undergone several renovations since then. An article about from the Albany Argus on February 11, 1845 titled “Anti-Rent State Convention” says that the church was a “large and commodious edifice.”
According to the Albany Argus, there were delegates from eleven different counties present. In hopes of gaining support for their cause against patroons, organizers asked the citizens to “lay prejudice aside” and form an opinion based solely on the facts. The delegation then continues on to say that they are Americans and, as a result, were entitled to the laws that are meant to be fair for all, but that equal justice “is denied [them] by the existing laws of this state… particularly to those relating to landlord and tenant.”
Change was brought about as voters called for a New York State constitutional convention in 1846. The New York State Archives notes on their site that with a voter approval margin of 2.5 to 1, the new constitution “abolished all remnants of feudal land ownership,” along with extending constitutional protection for local governments and a reorganization of the judiciary.
You can listen to the podcast here.
Guests include Dr. Charles McCurdy, author of Anti-Rent Era in New York Law and Politics, 1839-1865; and Sandra Kisselback, town of Berne Historian.
A New York Minute In History is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio, the New York State Museum, and Archivist Media, with support from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. This episode was produced by Jesse King, with help from intern Elizabeth Urbanczyk. Our theme is “Begrudge” by Darby.
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