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New Netherland and Beyond
New Netherland
Delaware River
Colonial New York
New York State


Killian Van Rensselaer
and His Sons

Killian Van Rensselaer, colonist, born in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1595; died there in 1644. He was descended from a long line of eminent citizens of Amsterdam, was carefully educated, and became a wealthy pearl and diamond merchant in his native town. He took an active part in the formation of the West India company, placed several of his vessels at the disposal of the corporation, and twice advanced money to save its credit.

He sent an agent to the New Netherlands to trade with the indians for land on the west side of Hudson river, from twelve miles south of Albany to Smack's island, "stretching two days into the interior," soon afterward concluding the purchase of all the land on the east side of that river, both north and south of Fort Orange, and "far into the wilderness." This great feudal estate included the entire territory that is comprised in the present counties of Albany, Columbia and Rensselaer, and was named Rensselaerswick. He colonized it with laborers and emigrants, whom he sent out in his own ships with provisions and implements of warfare and industry.

Van Rensselaer remained in Holland, but managed his affairs through a director. In 1640 He sent Adrian Van der Donck to be sheriff of the colony, and subsequently Dr. Johannes Megapolensis "for the edifying improvement of the inhabitants and Indians thereabouts." To obviate, as much as possible, the dangers of life among the latter, he required that all his colonists, except the farmers and tobacco-planters, should live near each other, so as to form a church neighborhood.

At his death, his estate descended to his eldest son, Johannes; but the latter, being under age, was placed under the guardianship of Johannes Van Wely and Wouter Van Twiller, who rendered homage to the states-general in the name of their ward. But the colony had in reality become an independent power, and was regarded as injurious to the rights of the province. The West India company became jealous for their privileges, and in 1648 Peter Stuyvesant, then governor of New Amsterdam, went with a military escort up the Hudson river, ordered that no buildings should be erected within a prescribed distance of Fort Orange, and in many ways attempted to cut off the powers of the patroon of Rensselaerswick. A bitter controversy withBrandt Arent Van Slechtenhorst, the director, ensued, but in 1674, the West India company confessed that Stuyvesant's aggressions were unwarranted and in violation of the colony's charter.

While this controversy was in progress, Jan Baptist Van Rensselaer, the second son of the first patroon, came to this country as the representative of his brother Johannes, his commission as director dating 8 May, 1652. He retired in 1658, worn out by controversies with Stuyvesant, and was succeeded by his brother Jeremias. Jan Baptist built the Van Rensselaer mansion, and brought from Holland massive and elaborately carved furniture, large quantities of silver plate, and many portraits of his ancestors. The manor house, in internal improvements and finish, resembled the Holland homestead. The lord of the manor resided there with his tenantry, maintaining the authority of a landed lord in Europe. The second patroon, Johannes, never came to this country.

Killian's third son, Jeremias, born in Amsterdam, Holland, about 1632; died in Rensselaerswick, New York, in October, 1674, was in charge of the colony for sixteen years. He was treated with respect and courtesy by Stuyvesant, by whom, when the province was threatened by the English, he was invited to New Amsterdam to reside over the convention that assembled there, to take measures of defense. When the English gained possession of New Netherlands in 1664, he took the oath of allegiance to the Duke of York. According to the terms of surrender, he was left in peaceable possession of the colony, and conducted its affairs without interference from the new government. He was confirmed in most of his rights and privileges, and the colony was erected into a manor and governed according to English rule.

The village of Beverwyck, which had grown up under the shadow of old Fort Orange, was detached from the manor, and incorporated into the city of Albany. Van Rensselaer soon acquired reputation as an executive officer; his correspondence, which is still preserved by his descendants, is a valuable record of events, and attests his great energy and business-like qualities. He also wrote to Holland minute accounts of various occurrences in this country under the pen-name of the "New Nehterland Mercury." He reserved peace with the neighboring Indians, and so attached them to him that they guarded his estates as carefully as they did their own.

Hew married Maria Van Cortlandt. Jeremias was succeeded by his nephew, Killian, son of Johannes. His patent was issued in 1685, under the title of first lord of the manor, and third patroon. By this patent the heirs in Albany relinquished to the heirs in Holland all title and right to the land in Holland, and the Hollanders gave up all the Albany settlement.

Appletons Cyclopaedia of American Biography by James Wilson and John Fiske, ©1889, D. Appleton and Company, Vol. 6, page 250-251

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