Stephen Van Rensselaer
Stephen Van Rensselaer

Information on this page is from History of Rensselaer Co., New York by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, published in 1880. The engraving was kindly contributed by Joan Howe.

STEPHEN VAN RENSSELAER, the founder of the [Rensselaer Polytechnic] Institute [and] "the Patroon", was born in the city of New York, Nov. 1, 1764.

He was the fifth in lineal descent from the ancestor in America, and the most distinguished of all the patroons.

His father was Stephen Van Rensselaer, the proprietor of Rensselaerwyck, who died in 1769. His mother was Catharine, daughter of Philip Livingston, of Livingston Manor, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. His uncle, Gen. Ten Broeck, had the care of his estate during his minority.

He went to school in Albany, and then, by direction of his grandfather (Livingston), he was sent to the Kingston Academy, where he was a classmate with his life-long friend and counselor, Abraham Van Vechten, the lawyer, of Albany. After preparation he went to Princeton College, New Jersey, but the seat of war at that time was near, and he was sent to Harvard College, where he graduated in 1782, at the age of nineteen. The next year he married Margaret, daughter of Gen. Philip Schuyler. She died in 1801, leaving three children. The "Manor House," in Albany, was his residence. In 1802 he married Cornelia, daughter of Judge William Patterson, of New Jersey, of the United States Supreme Court.

He held many offices of honor and trust in the State. He was elected to the Assembly in 1789, 1808, 1810, and 1818. He was a Senator from 1791 to 1795. He was lieutenant governor from 1795 to 1801. A colonel of State cavalry in the War of 1812, and in service on the Canada frontier. He was on a commission appointed to explore a route for a canal to Lake Erie, in 1810. He was a member of Congress from 1822 to 1829. Yale College, in 1825, gave him the degree of LL D. He was a member of the convention of 1821. He was for twenty-two years a canal commissioner, and for fifteen years president of the board. Twice he ran as the candidate of his party for the office of governor.

In 1829 he was instrumental in forming a State board of agriculture, of which he was an active member. In 1822 he commenced the geological survey of Albany and Rensselaer Counties (employing Prof. Amos Eaton), and the work was so enlarged as to embrace the State. He was appointed a regent in 1819 and in 1835 the chancellor of the University of the State of New York. In 1824 he founded the Rensselaer Institute, placing Prof. Eaton at its head, and largely supported it from his own means as long as he lived.

He died in Albany, Jan. 26, 1839. Few men have left a better record of good deeds done for their fellow men, or a more admirable character for imitation.

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