"First Settlers of Albany County, New York", by Professor Jonathan Pearson

NYGenWeb - Albany County - Genealogy and History




In offering to the curious the following contributions for the family history of Albany county, it may be expected that the compiler should briefly indicate the character of the people, the extent of territory occupied, the sources and deficiencies of information, and the peculiar difficulties of the work.

The site of the present city of Albany was first occupied as a trading post in 1614. After the charter of the Privileged West India Company, in 1621, Fort Orange was built, around which clustered the little hamlet occupied by the servants and factors of the Company, who claimed and exercised the entire Indian trade. Hence colonization was not encouraged, contrary to the provisions of the charter, by which they were bound to "advance the peopling of those fruitful and unsettled parts:" the greed of gain swallowed up all other interests. At length the evil became so apparent and so forcibly presented to the notice of the Directors in Amsterdam, that they were obliged to seek a remedy. On the 7th day of June, 1629, under the title of "Freedoms and Exemptions" concession was made to Patroons to plant colonies in New Netherland.

From the haste with which the Directors in Holland proceeded to avail themselves of the privileges thus granted, one might almost suspect this charter was granted for their special profit and gratification. The failure of the West India Company and the Patroons in fulfilling the requisitions of their charters relating to the colonization of the new province and the encouragement of agriculture, became so apparent in 1638 as to call for the interference of the States-General, and after the agitation and rejection of many projects the Directors were induced to proclaim free trade and free lands to private persons under what they conceived necessary restrictions. This measure had a happy effect in stimulating immigration to New Netherland from the mother country.

The population of New Netherland, at the beginning of Stuyvesant’s administration (1648), is variously estimated at from 1,000 to 3,000; at its close in 1664 it was about 10,000. The Dutch had held the province fifty years, and this was the result of their attempts to colonize it. Its natural advantages both for trade and agriculture were unequaled by any like portion of the continent. The nation which had redeemed its own country from the ocean, which had conquered its freedom from the Spanish yoke, and led all European nations in foreign trade was just the people to found a new empire on these shores. The Dutch character was not wanting in the requisite energy, perseverance and pluck; but it was the system of govewrnment, persevered in against protests and petitions, that was chiefly at fault.

The population of Fort Orange at this early period can not be exactly known; that it was small may be justly inferred from several facts: First. The church built in 1643 was 34 ft. by 19 ft. and contained but nine banken (benches) for the worshipers; yet this house served the little community until 1656. Second. A Jesuit missionary who visited the village in 1646 mentions that it contained then but ten thatched cottages. Third. The number of settlers shown by the Van Rensselaer papers as having been sent over to the Colonie up to 1664 is only 210. (O’Callaghan’s History of New Netherland) It is not to be supposed that all those persons who were attracted to Fort Orange by its happy location for Indian traffic, were either tenants or servants of the Patroon of Rensselaerswyck, or were even under his manorial jurisdiction. Fort Orange and the little hamlet which clustered around its walls for safety were always claimed by the West India Company as under their exclusive authority. This claim however, was strenuously resisted by the Patroon. Hence originated that memorable and almost bloody contest for power between those obstinate, hard-headed officials, Gov. Stuyvesant and Commissary Slichtenhorst.

The Dongan charter of 1686, however, quieted further questions of jurisdiction: Albany became a city one mile wide on the river and 18 ½ miles long. All outside of these limits belonged to the Colonie.

The early population of Fort Orange and Beverwyck, though almost pure Dutch at first, was changeable; after a few years spent in traffic with the Indians some returned to Patria; some retired to New Amsteram (New York), whilst others passed beyond the limits of the Colonie and purchased lands at Kinderhook, Claverac, Catskill, Coxsackie, Niskayuna, Half Moon, and Schenectady.

The conquest of the province by the English in 1664 introduced a new element into the population; the sheriff of the county, clerk of the village and city, and officers and soldiers of the garrison were mainly English or New Englanders; a few of these intermarried with Dutch maidens and became permanent citizens. Later, another nationality was introduced: through the bounty of Queen Anne some thousands of Palatines were sent over in 1708-22; they settled at East and West Camps on the Hudson, and afterwards in the Schoharie valley, and at German Flats on the Mohawk.

Until 1661 the powers of the magistrate of Fort Orange extended south to the Esopus (Kingston). By the division of the province into counties in 1683, Albany county comprised all the territory north of Dutchess and Ulster on both sides of the river, and the village of Albany was regarded as the fountain of authority both in church and judicial matters by the scattered inhabitants of this great region.

The Albany church founded about 1640 was the only one north of Esopus having a permanent ministry until long after 1700, save that of Schenectady; and as all young children in early times were christened in the church and their names entered in the Doop Boek, these ancient baptismal records have a peculiar value and interest to the genealogist. Unfortunately the records, previous to 1684, are wanting; from that date onward they are complete.

The following pages contain the names of all children baptized and recorded in this church from 1684 to 1800 posted and arranged in families. Large additions have also been made from other sources, among which are the wills, deeds, mortgages, marriage and other contracts, powers of attorney, proceedings of magistrates, etc., found in the offices of the county and city clerks; the early records and papers in the secretary of state’s office, the most of which have been fully calendared by Dr. O’Callaghan; and Mr. Munsell’s Annals and Historical Collections of Albany. These sources of information are by no means exhausted; the patient antiquarian has still ample room for gleaning in the same fields, and new ground for research in family papers, records in family bibles, and more especially in those of the Colonie belonging to the Van Rensselaer family.

Although these contributions are not to be regarded as full pedigrees of the families named, down to 1800, they are as complete in most cases for the first three or four generations as they are ever likely to be made from documentary evidence. Considering the great interest awakened periodically among the descendants of Anneke Janse and the real or imaginary connection which most of the ancient Dutch families of the valley of the Hudson, claim with that noted lady, it might reasonably be supposed that their pedigrees would long before this have been clearly established. In some cases this is the fact, but it is to be feared that through tradition or something worse a large element of fiction has been introduced into many genealogies, which it is hoped may in part be removed by the facts hereafter stated.

The Schenectady Families occasionally referred to in the following pages is a work in manuscript similar to this, relating to Schenectady and the valley of the Mohawk.

Pearson's Main Page

Key to Names



Many thanks are owed Alana Bowman for her work in proofreading the main portions of the book. However, the errors remain my fault. Contributed by Melissa Simmons.

Comments and corrections welcome
Holly Timm at albany@nygenweb.com

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this page last edited 10 Sep 2018
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