On May 4, 1626 Peter Minuit, the 3rd director of the Dutch West India (DWI) Co., set foot on Manhattan Island. But Minuit was not Dutch – he was a Walloon.
The first settlers in the New Netherland Colony weren’t Dutch. They were Walloons – Belgian and French Protestants.
They were the people the DWI could convince to move to the New Netherland Colony, where there was nothing. Zip, zero, nada. They would have to hack their way through the wilderness, build shelter, clear land, grow crops, all while abiding to the Company’s rules.
But the financial upside was enormous. They stood to make fortunes (the Company would take a cut) from the riches of the New World they sent back to Holland -mostly furs in the beginning, and to the rest of Europe. If they could survive and thrive.
24 families and soldiers came to the Colony in 1624. About 18 families and soldiers came to Albany and established Fort Orange. A small contingent stayed down river, not in Manhattan, but on Governors Island (then known as Nut Island). There was a small outpost of soldiers on Manhattan Island.
Minuit, was sent to New Netherland in 1626. He promptly made a deal with the native tribe, the Lenape, and purchased land on Manhattan for 60 guilders worth of trade goods. Which was a good thing.
Because later that year a deadly skirmish happened in Albany between soldiers and a local tribe in what is now Lincoln Park, at the ravine. Minuit sent a ship up the Hudson, and the Albany families fled south to the newly purchased settlement of New Amsterdam.
Some of the original settlers returned to Albany, but some decided to remain in the Big Apple.
So, to recap. Peter Minuit – not Dutch. First New Netherland settlers – not Dutch. The New Netherland Colony was a venture capitalist enterprise.. in today’s parlance, the Colony was a “start up”. It was one of several Dutch colonies in the New World including the Caribbean and on the coast of South America, and in Asia, and in Africa where the DWI had its slave trade in Ghana and Benin.
The DWI was licensed by the Dutch government, which took a cut too. There was a board of directors and other investors, including foreign shareholders. The first settlers were “early adopters”; the “the beta testers” of New York.
And, according to historians, this explains, in part, why New York State has always been just a bit different. If your goal is make $, you don’t really care about peoples’ religion and ethnicity. It’s divisive and detracts from the ability to accumulate wealth.
So, when Peter Stuyvesant became the Colony’s director the DWI smacked him down when he didn’t want Jews to settle here, and tried to stop Quakers from practicing their religion in peace. They even allowed Catholics, despite the long standing religious wars in Europe between Protestants and Catholics.
Sadly, the DWI’s race for wealth resulted in its aggressive involvement in the slave trade, including the importation of Africans into the Colony (and Albany) as early as 1628. And that legacy remained for centuries, even under English control (which happened when Stuyvesant surrendered the Colony in 1664). The owning of enslaved people became the norm .. if you were Dutch, English, French, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish for almost 2 centuries in New York State.
Enslaved labor became the economic engine for capital formation in New York until slavery was abolished in 1827 in the state.
The origins of Whitehall Rd. are somewhat murky, but it may originally have been a narrow track through the forest used by the Mahican Indians who lived along the Normanskill Creek. Its use as a dirt road for early colonial settlers probably dates back to the early 1700s. We know that about 1750 there was a barracks, stable and drill ground constructed for British troops during the French and Indian War near corner of Delaware Ave. (It’s location in old genealogies is identified as 150 yards west of Delaware Ave., on Whitehall Rd.)
In the late 1750s the site was enlarged by Col. John Bradstreet. Bradstreet was dispatched to Albany as deputy quartermaster for the British forces in North America. It was one of two storage depots – the other was in Halifax Nova Scotia, but Albany was the closest spot to the upstate frontier in the war with the French in Canada. (That’s probably when it acquired the name Whitehall. At that time Whitehall in London was the home of British government offices. The Albany site was often the home of British military government – where British commanders in North American, Lord Loudon and then Lord Amherst, and their officers often stayed while in Albany.
Bradstreet became great friends with General Philip Schuyler. The route from the Schuyler home on South Pearl and State St. and then new Mansion in the Pastures, would have lead down to “Whitehall Rd.” and then west to what is now Delaware Ave. (It became Second Ave. circa 1873.). It was the route used by Bradford and Schuyler used to travel to each other homes. The area west of Delaware Ave, intersection was called the Normanskill Rd. until about 1800.
At some point Bradstreet purchased the property from the Patroon (along with about another 20,000 acres scattered throughout the area) since it was part of the Manor of Rennselaerwyck. Despite his close relationships with American colonists, Bradstreet sided with the British in the Revolutionary War, and departed for New York City, where he died in 1774.
The property passed to John Bradstreet Schuyler (son of Philip Schuyler) in Bradstreet’s will. During the Revolution is was thought to be a hideout for Tories who came down from the Helderberg Mountains. Supposedly, this was the area where the British attackers massed before they invaded the Schuyler Mansion, attempting to kidnap General Philip Schuyler in 1781 (the raid that left the gouge in the Mansion staircase).
In 1789 the Broadstreet house and property were purchased by Leonard Gansevoort. He was from an old, and Albany Dutch aristocratic family and had amassed great wealth. He had a long career in politics and the law, had been a member of the Continental Congress, was the brother of the Revolutionary War General Peter Gansevoort (the “Hero of Fort Stanwix”), and the great uncle of author Herman Melville. Documents indicate that the legal work for the purchase was probably handled by Alexander Hamilton.
After a large fire swept through much of downtown Albany in 1793 destroying the Gansevoort home, they moved to the Whitehall property, Gansevoort enlarged it quite substantially, turning it into a proper mansion, designed for entertaining on a large scale. It was “statement” home meant to impress. It was immense (supposedly (100 ‘ x 70’), with two wings and four verandas on two stories running front and back. The Great Hall gave way to a grand dining room, a family dining room and a library; the other wing held reception rooms and a grand ballroom. Off to the side was the “Dood Kamer”, which, according to Dutch custom, was a room reserved for laying out the dead. The second floor including bedrooms and family sitting rooms. The Whitehall “Palace” as it came to be known was richly paneled with mahogany and other exotic woods. It was filled with imported china, silver, and silk and damask for drapes and upholstery. There were formal and wild gardens, riding trails and extensive farmland in the thousand acres surrounding the property. It was a self-contained compound, with many out buildings and stables. (Think of the historical documentaries about British grand houses – that was the Whitehall Palace. ) And to run the vast Palace, there were, in 1800, 13 people enslaved by Gansevoort.
In 1810 Gansevoort died and the property passed on to his daughter Magdalena, married to Jacob Ten Eyck. She continued her father’s lavish lifestyle for the next 20 or so years. There are stories of streams of carriages of the Albany wealthy making their way over the Bethlehem Turnpike (Delaware Ave.) to glittering events at the Palace. As Magadelena and Jacob grew older they remained in the house, but started to sell off their land. Many of the farmers who purchased the land over the years were German (Kobler, Friebel, Etling, Klapp, Werker and Swarts. If you look carefully you can still see 3 or 4 older residences in the neighborhood that were original farm houses.) By the mid-1830s the street name appeared on maps appears as Whitehall Rd, and extended to the New Scotland Plank Rd.
In 1883 the Palace burned to the ground; by then it was referred to as the Ten Eyck Mansion.
A smaller house was built at 73 Whitehall Rd., surrounded by an area then known as Ten Eyck Park/Whitehall Park. This area was bounded by what is now Matilda St., Ten Eyck Ave., and Whitehall Rd. In 1909 the building was the Washington Hotel, but has been a residence for the past century.
By 1911 the Whitehall Park Development for “working men” was established on Sard and McDonald Roads, and residential development in the Whitehall Rd. began in earnest and continued steadily for the next 50 years. Within 5 years that area, which had been part of the town of Bethlehem was annexed into the city of Albany. It would not be until the 1960s, after a number of annexations through the decades, that both sides of Whitehall Rd. from Delaware Ave. to New Scotland Ave. would become part of the city.
In 1756 Britain officially declared war on France. The hostilities in North America are generally known as the French and Indian War (since most Native Americans sided with the French).
Before the official declaration there had been major military actions in New York State including an expedition to Crown Point that ended with the Battle of Lake George. With the declaration more British regular troops were sent to the colonies. Many of those ended up in Albany, as did militia men from surrounding states, like Connecticut and Massachusetts since Albany was a “jumping off” point for expeditions north to Canada and west to Niagara held by the French.
As a result Fort Frederick at the top of State St. hill was re-fortified by the British. Albany became one of the 2 major supply depots (the other was in Halifax, NS). The Army built storehouses, warehouses and powder houses,as well as an armory, a hospital and barracks.
The occupation of Albany by the British became a constant source of friction. They took city land and billeted soldiers in citizen’s houses. (This is why there is an amendment in the U.S. Constitution against quartering, since it happened not only in Albany , but in Boston and other cities.) Albany’s response seems to have been especially angry, and near riots broke out.
Lord Loudon, who became the second British commander in North America, commissioned an inventory in late 1756 of the householders, and the number of rooms and fireplaces in each residence within the stockade. There were 329 homes. (Two of the houses remain – the Quackenbush House on Broadway and the Van Ostrande-Ratliffe House on Hudson Ave.)
It’s been estimated that at peak military strength in 1758 British Army regulars and militia men numbered 42,000. Heaven only knows how many funneled through Albany.
Abraham Yates, a member of the Common Council at the time would become head of the Albany Committee on Correspondence in the Revolutionary War (the de facto government). In his journal he complains bitterly about the military presence in the City in the Seven Years War. There is speculation that his experience, as with others, made him especially desirous of throwing off the British yoke of oppression.
In the mid 1750s Albany was mostly a town of Dutch Burghers. So our sleepy little town came alive. Perhaps no other event changed Albany so much, in so many ways. And despite the hostilities with the British command there was money to be made.
There are only few accounts of the time, but it’s clear the War was a boon to merchants and tavern owners. Albany became a boom town, not dissimilar from the gold rush towns of the Old West. The narrow streets were clogged with British regiments, including Scots Highlanders, the guerrilla fighters of Rogers Rangers, Iroquois warriors who sided with the British, and businessman eager to secure military contracts.
Taverns overflowed and drunks spilled into the streets. Dice games became the norm. Charlatans, hucksters, con men and grifters made their way up the River.
Local farmers brought in goods by the wagon load everyday, and the Riverfront was full of ships and barges moving men and supplies (including rum from the British West Indies). The wharves and docks thrummed with activity. Coopers making barrels worked at warp speed, cordwinders (rope makers) were in short supply. Blacksmith forges clanged constantly. Bakeries churned out loaf after loaf, breweries produced prodigious quantities of ale. Industrious Dutch housewives developed side hustles – making cheese, selling eggs, planting larger vegetable gardens.
Along with the soldiers came the women who the British army had hired to cook, and wash and nurse the men. Charlotte Browne was the matron who came to Albany in the early days of the War. Her journal describes a hospital that was little more than “a shed”. When she first arrived the local Dutch women had a low opinion of her, and thought her to be General Braddock’s mistress. (Braddock was the first British commander in the North American theatre of operations.)
On the hill around the Fort you would see small lean-tos and shanty towns,full of women like Ms. Browne paid by the army, as well as camp followers often married to ordinary soldiers. These women supported themselves (and sometimes their children who traveled with them) as domestic servants for the British officers. It’s quite clear from the writings left by General Braddock that these women were considered to be as much a part of the army, and subject to similar discipline, as the soldiers.
But it was against a back drop of war the scenes on the Albany streets played out. In the early days there must have been much fear as initially British losses mounted; a brutal massacre at Fort William Henry, a loss in Oswego, another at Ticonderoga, and the noose around Albany seemed to tighten. However in 1758 a new British prime minister deployed more troops and the tide turned. The decisive victory was in 1759 in Quebec when British General Wolfe defeated General Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham.
According to Stefan Bielinski in his Colonial Albany Project Albany said Albany was never the same after the War. Some of the newcomers stayed in the city, and it began to change for the first time in about 140 years. But not a lot. Because that’s not the Albany way, and never has been.
Slavery has been called “America’s Original Sin”. Sadly, many people think it was a southern thing. It was very much a northern institution as well. Especially in Albany NY.
The first enslaved men were brought to Albany in 1626, only 2 years after it was first settled. Females arrived in what was then Fort Orange in 1630. They were the property of the Dutch West Indies Co., owner of the New Netherland Colony. Soon use of enslaved labor was seen a way to build the Colony since settlers were in short supply.
Rapidly slavery became a source of not only cheap labor, but as a source of capital itself. By the mid 1600s Dutch ships, which ruled the seas, were bringing thousands of men, women and children in chains to New Amsterdam from their colonies in Africa, and the West Indies. Many of enslaved were sold into the South, others were put to work building the cities of Beverwyck, Kingston (Wildwyck) and New York, and many ended up on the huge farms that came to dominate the Hudson Valley from Albany to the Atlantic.
When the British took the Colony in the 1660s the slave trade increased exponentially, and the English began developing more stringent rules governing those they had enslaved- forbidding gatherings of Africans, limits on how far they could travel, etc.
In 1714 the population of Albany was 1,128; of those about 10% (113) were enslaved.
And so it remained in New York until the Revolutionary War and beyond. Slaves were the economic engine of the State. There were thousands. And they were valuable. They were listed in household inventories on the death of their owners, along with horses, feather beds and the good silver. They were chattel. They were part of inheritances. If the second son didn’t inherit the land, he would often be left some enslaved people he could sell to raise money.
As in the South families were separated; husbands from wives and their families; mothers from children. And it’s clear from what little data that does exist, the fathers of many of these children were the slave owners.
The Federal census of 1790 identifies Albany County having 3,722 slaves (and 171 free blacks). That’s the largest number of slaves in any county in any state in the North. (There were were about 21,000 slaves in New York State.)
In 1799 NYS enacted gradual abolition, which emancipated some of those held in slavery, but full freedom for almost all would not come until 1827.
So in the 1800 census there were still 1,800 enslaved and about 350 free people of color in Albany County. In the city, there 5,349 residents; 526 enslaved and 157 free people of color.
Over the years more of those enslaved were freed, but that could be meaningless. Children could be freed, turned over to the town or county by their owners, and then the municipality might very well send the children back to the owner, paying the owner for their room and board in some bizarre foster care system. Adults once freed might have no where to go, so they stayed working for their owners for housing and less than subsistence wages.
I’ve come to think of the early part of the 19th century in Albany, before outright abolition in 1827, as utter chaos for African Americans in the city. Some free Black men were trying to establish a school for their children, while other men were enslaved. Families were still separated, with free men trying to earn enough to buy those members who were still enslaved. Free men sometimes married enslaved women if owners approved.
Stephen Van Rensselaer III, known as “the Good Patroon”, didn’t free Adam Blake Sr., who ran his household, until after after the War of 1812. (Blake was known as the “Beau Brummel” of Albany and for decades the master of ceremonies of Albany’s legendary Pinksterfest.)
I hear people sometimes say, well .. slavery wasn’t that bad in the North. Perhaps the whippings weren’t as bad, maybe you got better food, maybe the mistress of the house made sure your children learned to read the Bible.
But you were property, deprived of freedom and liberty. If you were a slave you were a commodity, as much as a cash crop of wheat or the horse that pulled the plow that planted the wheat.
Women had no agency over their bodies; they were routinely raped. By the 1850 Albany census, more often than not you can find the word “mulatto” (not Black) next to the names of persons of color -the legacy of unwilling unions.
His monument stands at the opening of a little alcove of trees on the old South Ridge. Just behind this shaded space, Glen Cross Bridge once connected Sections 5 and 9.
The monument is one of those simple white obelisks that became so popular as grave markers in the early 19th century. For many years, its inscriptions were obscured by grime, but cleaning has since revealed the words:
In Memory of Charles R. Webster
Born at Hartford, Conn.
September 30, 1762.
Died at Saratoga Springs
July 18th, 1834
Having Been An Inhabitant
Of The City of Albany
For 50 Years.
Instrumental In The
Establishment of The First
In This City, He Was For
Nearly Half A Century
Its Honest and Impartial
Education and Virtue
Had In Him
An Unwearied Supporter
And of Every Institution
To Promote Them
The Advocate And Friend
His Aim Was
To Have His Life Conformed
To The Great Maxim of The Gospel:
To Have His Heart Right With God
And His Trust In The Merits of The
A plaque at the foot of the monument honors him as a Revolutionary War Soldier and was placed by the Yosemite Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution National Headquarters
Charles R. Webster came from a respectable, but impoverished family, he had been apprenticed to a printer in Hartford at the age of seven. That apprenticeship did not end until he turned twenty-one. At the close of his apprenticeship, he served in the Revolution as a Private in Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Grosvenor’s Company in the 3rd Connecticut Regiment commanded by Colonel Samuel Wyllys.
Within a year of the War’s end, Charles Webster had moved to Albany. He returned to Hartford to marry Rachel Steele in 1787 with whim he had two children.
In Albany, he pursued the printer’s trade, forming a partnership with Samuel Ballantine. Together, they offered a full service of publishing from books to a newspaper, but the partnership dissolved after a year and Charles’ twin brother George joined him in the business.
According to publisher Joel Munsell, there was no permanent printing house north of Fishkill when Webster established himself in the trade in Albany.
Within a few years, Charles Webster was the leading publisher in Albany. In addition to private work and the newspaper, the Albany Gazette, the Federalist-leaning Webster also served as the official provider of printing services to the City of Albany.
His civic interests were varied; he was active with the Albany Library and the Lancaster School, as well as the founding vice-president of the Albany Mechanics Society and an officer of the First Presbyterian Church.
In 1793, a fire devastated Albany, destroying numerous homes and businesses. In its aftermath, the Webster brothers moved their firm from its original location at State Street and Middle Alley to the corner of State and North Pearl. It was usually known as Elm Tree Corner of the ancient tree planted by Philip Livingston, but was just as often referred to as Webster’s Corner for the yellow wooden printing house at the northwest side.
In 1794, Rachel Steele Webster died after an illness. Two years later, Charles married her sister, Cynthia, and they made their home at 83 State Street.
As evidenced by the inscription on his monument, he was regarded as an esteemed member of the community. He was known as an honest, temperate, and “remarkably laborious man” of simple habits who rose at four in the morning and returned home at nine at night. His pleasure in the evening was to walk along the city’s North Gate or the Pastures to the south or a place known only as “the Willow Walks.” Other evenings might find him in the reading rooms or calling upon old friends or tending to his garden.
His twin brother, George, died in 1823. Charles lived until 1834.
At the time of his death, he had been suffering from a swollen gland on the right side his face followed by a chronic distention of his right arm. He might have, as was common at the time, gone to Saratoga Springs to “take the waters” of the famous mineral springs for his health.
On July 18, 1834, with his wife at his side, he died at the age of 71. His last words were, “Call the family.”
His body was returned to Albany and was buried in what was then the First Presbyterian section of the State Street Burying Grounds (now Washington Park just west of modern Sprague Place). When that cemetery closed, his grave was moved to Albany Rural Cemetery.
Cynthia Steele Webster survived Charles by fourteen years. She died in Orleans County in December 1848.
Webster’s is one of only a few larger monuments transported from their original graves to the Rural. A engraving of it done while still in the old Burying Grounds appears in Volume V of Joel Munsell’s “Annals of Albany.”
Charles R. Webster’s grave is located in Lot 2, Section 8.
The first settlers of Albany weren’t Dutch. (I know – makes your head spin, right?)The first settlers in 1624 were French Protestants. The Walloons (a/k/a Huguenots) were driven out of France in 1572 following a wholesale slaughter of Protestants in Paris and other French cities. They migrated to Belgium then to Holland*. In Holland many lived in Leiden and attended the same church, the Vrouwekerk (Lady Church) as the Pilgrims. (The communities were so intertwined that Francis Cooke, one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact, married a Walloon, Hester Mahieu**.)
In 1622 a leader of the Walloon community, Jesse DeForest, secured permission from the Dutch West Indies Co. (DWIC) to send a contingent of families to New Netherland, so that they, like the Puritans, could practice their religion in peace. In exchange they were establish a trading colony, shipping goods to the DWIC in Holland.
In late spring, 1624 about 3 dozen mostly Walloon families arrived in what today is New York City aboard the “Nieu Nederlandt”. Some of the families remained in what is now NYC, other went New Jersey and Connecticut, but the bulk of the group sailed up the Hudson to Albany. There they established Fort Orange, a rude stockade, threw up some huts, and began the work of establishing a settlement. Within 6 months they’d collected thousands of beaver and otter furs to send back to Holland. In June 1625 Sarah Rapalie was born in Fort Orange, daughter of Joris Jansen and Catalina Trico Rapalje, French speaking Walloons – she was the first girl and the second child born in New Netherland.
It’s not clear how long families remained at the Fort, but we do know that after a brutal and fatal skirmish with a local Native American tribe in 1626 (in what we know as Lincoln Park) all women and children were sent down to New Amsterdam. By then, the colony was governed by Peter Minuit (the guy who bought Manhattan, and who was, yes … a Walloon! )
In the years immediately following 1624 additional Walloons migrated to New Netherland, but by about 1630 the Dutch migration began in earnest.
Today there’s almost no vestige of the Walloon presence in Albany, except Peyster and Bancker Streets, named after the Walloon-descended Johannes de Peyster and his wife Anne Bancker .
There’s Defreestville, named after the Walloon De Forests, children of Jesse. In NYC in Battery Park there’s a Walloon Settler’s Monument, dedicated in 1924, the 300th anniversary of the Walloon settlers’ arrival in New York. The most visible commemoration of the Walloon preserved in New York can be found in New Paltz at Historic Huguenot Street, generally considered the oldest continuously inhabited street in America. It includes 7 historic stone houses, a reconstructed 1717 Huguenot church, and a burial ground that dates to the very first settlers.And if you are a stamp collector there were 3 stamps issued in 1924 on the 300th anniversary of the Walloons arriving in America. One shows them landing in Fort Orange.
*National boundaries were very fluid.
**Her Walloon nephew, Philiipe de la Noye (Delano), would emigrate to Plymouth 2 years later in 1622 and become the first ancestor of FDR in America.
For centuries Albany was filled with elm trees. They grew to great heights, and had thick, sturdy trunks. When you walked down a street lined with elms it was if there was a large canopy overhead; a green leafy cathedral ceiling.
Albany’s most famous elm tree was at the intersection of North Pearl and State. It was said to have been planted by Philip Livingston (later to be a signer of the Declaration of Independence) when he was a boy in 1735, in front of his family’s city house. It grew to become an Albany landmark for almost 150 years.
Alas, it was whacked in the name of progress to widen North Pearl St. in 1877. There’s said to be a piece of the tree, safely embalmed, somewhere in the vaults of the Albany Institute of History and Art.
(But it was only a matter of time before it, like 80% of most American elms, would succumb to Dutch Elm disease. It’s called that because the pathogen that causes the disease was first identified in the Netherlands. It was discovered affecting trees in the U.S. in the 1930s, and destroyed millions of elms in a few short decades. It seemed they vanished almost over night. )
In the middle of the 18th century Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm made a trip to America; in June 1749 he stayed at Albany, and wrote of his visit.
At this time Albany, although chartered as a city, was
really just a large village of about 1,300 and perhaps 250 homes. It was
an odd combination of sleepy rural village and frontier town; proper
Dutch burghers, Indians and buckskin clad traders. Churches, taverns and
trading posts seemed to have equal importance. Someone once said that
when the Dutch of Albany weren’t in church, they worshipped the God of
(Don’t be shocked. Albany was founded by a
corporation, and then one man, The first Patroon – a diamond merchant –
for the sole purpose of making money. Individual settlers may have come
for other reasons, but it was established as an investment.)
Sweep away, if you can, every image of Albany you have today and try to imagine the Albany of over two centuries ago,
The City Most of the inhabitants still lived within the stockade, although the population had begun to expand (mostly south) outside the fort’s walls about 20 years before. There were still block houses on the corners of the stockade.
The inhabited part of the city extended only a bit farther west than South Pearl St; beyond there was nothing except hills and deep forest. To the north lay the Patroon’s Manor (about where Tivoli St. is today), and then the Patroon’s Creek that cut through the deep gorge of Tivoli Hollow. Below that was the Foxenkill just inside the fort walls, slicing another gorge (which is Sheridan Hollow today). It was crossed by a bridge at North Pearl St.
The Ruttenkill flowed down from Lark St. between Hudson Ave. and State St. It created another deep ravine (filled in the 1800s) and in 1749 it was crossed by several bridges. To the south of the fort stockade were several new streets, extending to about Division St. Then came the Beaver Kill – it twisted south from what is now Western Ave. down through today’s Lincoln Park (creating the roiling and foamy Buttermilk Falls), then flowing into the river. Just above the Beaverkill was “the Pastures”, a communal grazing spot and an area with some small farms and gardens.
As Kalm sailed up the Hudson he noted many ships of all kinds and sizes sailing south to NYC loaded with wood, furs and grain.
The Cityscape He found the houses within the stockade built close together, in the Dutch tradition, with large deep back gardens, cow sheds, chicken coops and fruit trees. “The houses are very neat.. some are slated with tiles from Holland.. most are built in the old way., with the gable-ends towards the street. The street doors are generally in the middle of the houses; and on both sides are seats.. In the evening these seats are covered by people of both sexes. but that’s rather troublesome, as those who pass by are obliged to greet everyone, unless they will shock the inhabitants with their impoliteness”.
Most house had wells, (there were public wells installed in each of the city’s 3 wards in the early 1700s), but water was taken from the Hudson for brewing and washing. It was placed in the cellar until the muddy “slime” sunk to the bottom. . Kalm notes the streets were broad and some are paved; in some parts they’re lined with trees, but he says they’re very dirty because the people leave their cattle in them on summer nights.
Kalm says: “There are two churches in Albany, an English one and a Dutch one.” (Note: there was also a Lutheran Church in the southwest corner of the city.) “The Dutch Church stands some distance from the river on the east side of the market, and it has a small steeple with a bell… The English Church (St. Peter’s Church) is situated on the hill, at the west end of the market, directly under the fort… The Town Hall (called the Stadt Huys) lies to the southward of the Dutch Church, close by the river side. It is a fine building of stone, three stories high. It has a small tower.. with a bell and a gilt ball and a vane.” The street that goes between the 2 churches is five times broader than the others and serves as a market place “to which country people resort twice a week.
(Five years later Ben Franklin would come to the Stadt Huys and propose his “Albany Plan of Union”. In 1775 his Plan would form the basis for establishment of the Continental Congress, and later the Articles of Confederation, precursor to the US Constitution. Albany has some mighty fine history!!)
“The fort on a step hill is a building of stone surrounded with high thick walls. Its situation is very bad, as it can only serve to keep away of plundering parties” . (Given the high hills that surrounded it, they could be used for offensive purposes).
Although Kalm doesn’t describe other buildings in the city, but we know there was the Staats House on the southeast corner of State and South Pearl Streets, dating back to the 1660s. It was the Schuyler family manse where Philip Schuyler and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton were born. Across the street was the “Vanderhuyden Palace”, built in 1725, on the corner of State and North Pearl Streets. On the corner of N. Pearl and Steuben, close to the stockade was a building known in the mid-1700s as a trading post and lodging house for Indians who came to trade.
Domestic Life “The inhabitants of Albany are Dutch, they speak Dutch and their manners are Dutch”.
“The women are perfectly well acquainted with economy; they rise early,
go to sleep late and are almost over nice and cleanly with regard to
the floor, which is frequently scoured several times in the week. The
servants in the town are chiefly Negroes.” *
The kitchens were the gathering places in most homes. The fire places were enormous; large enough to roast a whole cow. Larger homes had a “front room”. They drank mostly beer and water, sometimes tea; coffee not at home. We know every day meals were modest, but in great abundance – bread, cheese and butter, with salads and vegetables, and fowl and fish (Albany was known for its sturgeon – called “Albany Beef” – it fairly leaped out of the Hudson into fishing nets.)
Trade Kalm noted the city was advantageous for trade. The quay (dock) was made sturdily to withstand winter ice and spring flooding, and the river was so deep ships could come close to shore.
Kalm notes “there is not a
place in all the British colonies where such quantities of furs and
skins are brought of the Indians, as at Albany”. He says most of the
Albany’s merchants or their clerks traded with tribes at Oswego in the
summer. “Indians are frequently cheated especially when they are in
liquor” and received as little as 1/10 of the value of their goods. “The
merchants of Albany glory in these tricks.”
Besides the trade at Oswego, Indians came to Albany, especially from Canada, since Canadian merchants used the Indians to smuggle the furs to Albany. They returned with goods that were cheaper in Albany- like wool and other cloth (flax) made on the estates of Albany merchants outside of the city. He noted many residents of Albany engaged in making wampum to trade with the Indians. And thus, Kalm concluded that that the devotion to making money, coupled with their innate frugality served to make many Albany residents very wealthy.
*Albany County had one of the largest enslaved population outside of the South. Slaves were first brought to Beverwyck in its earliest days- over a century before 1749. The labor of the enslaved was part of Albany’s economic engine that contributed to its wealth. In the city most of the enslaved were women and young boys and girls – at least 10% of the population in the mid-1700s. The estates and farms outside of the city owned by city merchants and burghers depended on adult male labor. As far as we know, unlike NYC, Albany had no central “slave market”. It’s likely there were mostly private sales and public sales took place in taverns or coffee houses.
There’s been a masonic lodge in the same location in Albany for over 250 years. It’s the oldest organization in the city, dating back to before the Revolutionary War.
On June 28th, 1756, Alexander
Lightfoot, an innkeeper of Albany was laid to rest. According to “The
New York Mercury”. “his corpse was attended by all gentlemen of the
army, who were members of the Honorable Society of Free Masons.” This is
the earliest known reference to Freemasonry having existed in some form
in Albany. Not until 1758-59 would Freemasonry become more formally
organized in Albany.
The development of Albany’s first Masonic
Lodge was facilitated by a British military Lodge stationed in Albany
during the French & Indian War. This military Lodge would initiate a
few men of Albany into their fraternity and when they departed, would
leave with them an exact copy of the warrant that empowered them to meet
as a Masonic Lodge. The new Freemasons of Albany were instructed that
this document would allow them to meet as a Lodge until a warrant was
received. The warrant was granted in 1765 by the New York Provincial
One of the earliest members of this new Lodge at
Albany was Mr. Richard Cartwright, the owner of The King’s Arms Tavern,
which was located near what is now Green and Beaver Streets. The Lodge,
which would become known as Union Lodge No. 1 (Founded: February 21st,
1765 – Now: Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3) would meet regularly at
Cartwright’s tavern, even after he was driven from Albany due to his
loyalist sympathies. Other early members of this Lodge included: Peter
W. Yates, Leonard Gansvoort, Dr. Samuel Stringer, Matthew Vischer, and
Christopher Yates. As its ranks swelled, two additional Masonic bodies
formed even before the beginning of the Revolution, and with this
growth, so too came a desire for a more permanent home for the Masonic
bodies of Albany.
According to Stefan Bielinksi in “The Colonial
Albany Project” in 1766 the City Council granted Dr. Samuel Stringer a
deed “for a lott of ground on the Hill near the Fort adjoining the
English Burying Ground” on which to erect a lodge building. Subsequent
transactions conveyed an adjoining lot. (Stringer would become the
physician in charge of the Northern Department during the Revolutionary
The Lodge would be just around the corner from the
soldier’s barracks and the hospital in which Stringer would treat
Benedict Arnold after the Battle of Saratoga.
In December 1767
a new warrant empowered a second lodge, the “Ineffable Lodge of
Perfection” with other Albany men. Several days later the men of both
lodges paraded through Albany streets.
By June, 1768, the first building in Albany for exclusive Masonic use was completed, on what would become known as the northwest corner of the Lodge St., and Maiden Lane, and occupied by Masters Lodge No. 2 (Now: Masters Lodge No. 5) and the Ineffable Lodge of Perfection. (It’s said to have been the first purpose built Lodge building in America.)
Rensselaer III, the “Good Patroon” was initiated as Mason in 1776 when
he was 22, and would later serve as Grand Master for New York State)
Soon the cross street at Maiden Lane became known as Lodge St. (It appears on a 1794 map of the city.)
Eventually, the first building would be demolished and a larger three-story would structure would replace it.
In time, this structure would also be replaced by the current Renaissance-revival building at the corner of Lodge Street and Corning Place (previously Maiden Lane). Designed by Fuller and Wheeler and built 1895-96, it was constructed to accommodate the more than a dozen Masonic organizations that were meeting in various places throughout the city. The cornerstone for the building was laid by James Ten Eyck on June 24th, 1895 and the building was completed, dedicated, and open on October 26th, 1896. It is estimated to have cost just over $100,000 to build.
Today the City of Albany is home to five Masonic Lodges, the American York-Rite of Freemasonry, the Ancient & Accepted Scottish-Rite of Freemasonry, and women’s masonic groups, the Order of the Eastern Star, the Order of the Amaranth, and several invitation-only Masonic bodies. Taken together, the Masonic Fraternity, contributes millions of dollars through direct monetary contributions and through the time of its members to a whole host of charitable works, which include: the Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Scottish-Rite Centers for Dyslexia, and the Knights Templar Eye Foundation to name a few. These efforts are in keeping with the mission of the fraternity, which is to improve its membership, their families, and the broader world.
Written by worshipful Michael A. Hernandez, Past Master, Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3, F. & A.M.
On October 17, 1777 the army of General Burgoyne surrendered to the
Americans after the Battle of Saratoga. One of the most interesting
descriptions of the British campaign and Battle comes from the Baroness
Frederika Reidesel. She was in her early thirties when she, with her
young daughters, accompanied her husband General Riedesel to America.
The General was in charge of the troops from Germany who fought
alongside the British.
The Baroness and her children followed the British army down from Canada, and kept a journal of the campaign which laer became a book, “Letters and Journals relating to the War of the American Revolution, and the Capture of the German Troops at Saratoga”. While the Battle raged around her the Baroness and her children found relative safety in the cellar of what is now known as the Marshall House, just north of Schuylerville near the Hudson, while she tended the wounded.
The Battle “We were finally obliged to take refuge in the cellar in which I laid myself down in a corner not far from the door. My children lied down on the earth with their heads upon my lap, and in this manner we passed the entire night. A horrible stench, the cries of the children, and yet more than all this, my own anguish, prevented me from closing my eyes. On the following morning the cannonade again began, but from a different side.”
“Eleven cannon balls went through the house, and we could
plainly hear them rolling over our heads. One poor soldier, whose leg
they were about to amputate, having been laid upon a table for this
purpose, had the other leg taken off by another cannon ball, in the very
middle of the operation. His comrades all ran off, and when they again
came back they found him in one corner of the room, where he had rolled
in his anguish, scarcely breathing.”
Surrender “On the 17th of October, the capitulation was carried into effect. The generals waited upon the American General Gates, and the troops surrendered themselves prisoners of war and laid down their arms.”
riding through the American camp, (I) was gratified to observe that
nobody looked at us with disrespect, but, on the contrary, greeted us,
and seemed touched at the sight of a captive mother with three children.
I must candidly confess that I did not present myself, though so
situated, with much courage to the enemy, for the thing was entirely new
When I drew near the tents, a good looking man advanced towards me, and helped the children from the calash, and kissed and caressed them: he then offered me his arm, and tears trembled in his eyes. “You tremble,” said he ; ” do not be alarmed, I pray you.” “Sir,” cried I, “a countenance so expressive of benevolence, and the kindness which you have evinced towards my children, are sufficient to dispel all apprehension.” He then ushered me into the tent of General Gates..”
The gentleman who had received me with so much kindness, came and said
to me, ” You may find it embarrassing to be the only lady in such a
large company of gentlemen ; will you come with your children to my
tent, and partake of a frugal dinner, offered with the best will. ” By
the kindness you show to me,” returned I, “you induce me to believe that
you have a wife and children.”
“He informed me that he was
General Schuyler…I was easy, after many months of anxiety, and I read
the same happy change in the countenances of those around me. That my
husband was out of danger, was a still greater cause of joy. After our
dinner, General Schuyler begged me to pay him a visit at his house near
Albany, where he expected that General Burgoyne would also be his guest.
The Schuyler Mansion The journey to Albany would take 2 days. “.. we reached Albany, where we had so often wished ourselves ; but we did not enter that city, as we hoped we should, with a victorious army. The reception, however, which we met with from General Schuyler, his wife and daughters, was not like the reception of enemies, but of the most intimate friends. They loaded us with kindness; and they behaved in the same manner towards General Burgoyne, though he had ordered their splendid establishment to be burnt…” (the Schuyler House in Saratoga).
“But all their actions proved, that at the sight of the misfortunes of others, they, quickly forgot their own. General Burgoyne was so much affected by this generous deportment, that he said to General Schuyler, “You are too kind to me, who have done you so much injury.” “Such is the fate of war,” replied he ; “let us not dwell on this subject.” We remained three days with that excellent family, and they seemed to regret our departure.
One writer reports:
“Burgoyne’s soldiers camped on the hill behind Schuyler’s mansion,
causing trouble in their restlessness. The Germans were stealing
potatoes and others were building shelters using Schuyler’s fencing.
Playing host to 4,000 soldiers tried the patience of Mrs. Schuyler..”)
And thus began the odyssey of the Baroness. She traveled across Massachusetts, along with the 5,000 British troops captured at Saratoga, to Boston where the family would remain in Cambridge for about a year.
“I do not know whether it was my vehicle which aroused the people’s
curiosity, for it really looked like a wagon in which rare animals were
being transported, but I was often obliged to stop, because the people
wanted to see the German general’s wife with her children. In order to
prevent them from tearing the linen top off the carriage, I decided it
was better to alight frequently, and thus I got away more quickly than
otherwise. But even so, I cannot deny that the people were friendly and
were particularly pleased to hear that I could speak their native
The Schuyler Connections Continue “None of our gentlemen were permitted to go to Boston. My curiosity and the desire to see General Schuyler’s daughter, Mrs. Carter*, (Angelica Schuyler) impelled me to go, and I had dinner with her there several times. It is quite a pretty city, but inhabited by enthusiastic patriots and full of wicked people; the women, particularly, were horrid, casting ugly looks at me, and some of them even spitting when I passed by them. Mrs. Carter was gentle and good, like her parents, but her husband was a bad and treacherous person. They often visited us and ate with us and the other generals. We did our utmost to reciprocate their kindness. They seemed to feel very friendly toward us too, but it was during this time that this horrible Mr. Carter made the gruesome suggestion to the Americans, when the English General Howe had set fire to many villages and towns, to behead our generals, put the heads in small barrels, salt them, and send one of these barrels to the English for each village or town which they had set on fire. This beastly suggestion fortunately, however, was not adopted.”
In November 1778 the von Riedesels were sent to Virginia and stopped in Hartford to visit the Marquis de Lafayette. They remained in the south until August 1779, then were moved north to New York City (occupied by the British), where the was Baron paroled**. Ultimately the couple traveled north to Canada where they remained until the treaty ending the War was signed. They returned to Europe. The Baroness died in Germany in 1808.
*Mr. Carter was an alias used by Angelica’s husband, better known as John Church.
**While in NYC the couple would have another daughter; they would name her “America”.