Rensselaerwyck

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As the result of the 1609 voyage of exploration by Henry Hudson up the river that now bears his name, much of what is now New York State was claimed by the Dutch. In 1621 the Netherlands government granted the Dutch West India Company a 24-year trading monopoly in its American colonies. The Company conceived of the Patroon system as a way to attract settlers without increasing its expenses. A Patroon, or Dutch Lord, was granted a large tract of land; in return he agreed to sponsor settlers from the Netherlands and colonize the land at his own expense.

In 1629 Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, a prominent Amsterdam merchant and principal shareholder in the Dutch West India Company, was granted the right to purchase land from the Indians to create the Manor of Rensselaerswyck. It soon incorporated most of the land in what are now Albany, Rensselaer and Greene Counties. Fort Orange, now the city of Albany, just beyond the northeast corner of Rensselaerwyck, became the center of the Dutch fur trade.

The Dutch farmers were brought over by Van Rensselaer to clear and work land, but were not permitted to own it. Rather they were granted long-term leases, assuring the Patroon a healthy yearly income. The leases could be sold, along with the buildings built by the tenant farmers, but the underlying land and mineral rights belonged to the Patroon. When the English wrested control of the Dutch American colonies in 1664 they did not disturb the Patroon system.

In a few decades both sides of the Hudson River Valley were thickly settled with Dutch families. Each January the tenant farmers made the sometimes long trek to the Van Rensselaer manor house in Watervliet to pay their annual rent in produce and labor, typically four fat fowl, 24 bushels of good winter wheat, and a day's labor with horse and wagon.