St. Nicholas Day in Colonial Albany

If you were living in colonial Albany today in the early 1700s you and your family would probably be preparing for the arrival of St. Nicholas on December 6th.

St. Nicholas was a real person – a 4th century bishop who lived in what’s now Turkey. He provided for the poor and the sick, and became the patron saint of children (he’s also the patron saint of pawnbrokers – go figure). He was much admired and loved throughout Europe.

Over time the legend of St. Nicholas grew and his religious feast day became a celebration that extended beyond the church walls and incorporated regional pagan myths. Each country (and regions within countries) developed their own St. Nicholas traditions, but there are 2 commonalities – St. Nicholas arriving the night before before his feast day, leaving presents for the children (usually left in their shoes) and the women of the house in a baking frenzy- special treats for this festive and special day.

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In some areas St. Nicholas arrived by boat from Spain (much of the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Germany was under Spanish rule in the 16th and 17th centuries). In other mostly Germanic regions he flies on a white horse; in some places he comes into town riding a horse or walking beside a donkey carrying a load of gifts. Scandinavians had mythical little creatures “tomte” or “nisse” (suspiciously like elves) that assisted with December festivities. (And in pagan tradition, there’s often a creature called a Krampus – part Devil/part goat – that punishes bad children and sometimes leaves coal instead of gifts.)

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There’s no documentation of exactly how the Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated in colonial Albany (although cookbooks yield some interesting info), but there is historical documentation for the same time period for the countries from which the citizens of Albany emigrated. Some scholars think the people who came here abandoned their traditions in the New World. We know that in the earliest days of the New Netherlands Colony, Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor, was quite straight laced and adhered to his own sense of the Dutch Reformed dogma – basically old peg leg was a bit of a religious fanatic. But after the early 1670s, when the colony was finally in the hands of the British, people were free to celebrate as they wished (more or less).

So we theorize the traditions would have been more important for people so far from “home”, but what did happen was probably a mixing of cultural traditions. There were Germans, Scots, Swedes, and Walloons and Huguenots (French Protestants), English and Norwegians. They lived next to one another and they intermarried * and traditions melded as cultures blended.

But Albany was still predominantly Dutch in the early 1700s. So most of the children would be waiting for “Sinterklaas” (the Dutch name for St. Nicholas) on St. Nicholas eve called “Sinterklaasavond”. Then all the children, giddy with excitement, would put out their wooden shoes (wooden shoes, except for the very rich – were a cultural thing in most of western Europe and Scandinavia – sabots among the French, clogs in the Norse countries land, klomp and Klompen among the Dutch and Germans.

The toys would be homemade in anticipation of just this night – wood or cornhusk dolls, tops, hockey sticks, whistles, stick horses, ninepin and balls, ice skates – lovingly crafted by parents. In addition to the toys, there would sweets and chocolate and maybe a coin. And probably an orange – the global trade of the Dutch had made exotic fruits like oranges high prized special delicacies (orange is the color of the Royal Dutch family – the House of Orange). An old Dutch poem about St. Nicholas even mentions oranges specifically.

“Saint Nicholas, good holy man!
Put on the Tabard, best you can,
Go, therewith, to Amsterdam,
From Amsterdam to Spain,
Where apples bright of Orange,
And likewise those granate surnam’d,
Roll through the streets, all free unclaim’d”

The women of the families in each ethnic group would bake their specialties. For the Dutch that meant a cookie call a Speculaas – a highly spiced shortbread (it’s still probably the national cookie of the Netherlands), crunchy little cookies called Kruidnuten (sometimes called Ginger Nuts – mini-speculaas)** and Peppernoten (Pepper Nuts) – small, chewy and also made with exotic spices. The lucrative East Indies spice trade had a dramatic impact on Dutch (and other European baking and cooking) and used spices that could only come from Southeast Asia in the “Spice islands”. The cookies would be rolled and dough placed in special forms.***The forms were usually made of wood, intricately carved and passed down through generations.

Fast running sloops would bring the spices, sugar, cacao, molasses and oranges up the Hudson to Albany to the docks about where Madison Ave. meets Quay St. today. They would have been off-loaded from larger ships in New York harbor, bringing the cargo from Asia, the British and Dutch Islands in the Caribbean and the colonies of British Honduras (now Belize) and Surinam, which was owned by the Dutch, in Central America.

German women would have made Stutenkerl (also called Nikolaus) – sweetened dough shaped into the form of St. Nicholas (with the Reformation, the dough men looked less bishop- like). And Scandinavian women would have made Pepparkakor – crisp ginger cookies cut in shapes of stars and hearts.

(I’m of the opinion that a German Haufrau was visiting a Swedish Hemmafrau and decided she would make a ginger cookie St. Nicholas (or visa versa) and that was the origin of the gingerbread man.)

Meanwhile Brits and the Scots brought little to the table. The religious wars in Scotland and England for over a century ended with a Protestant ban on saint day celebrations. And Christmas (save for a church service) was a no no. Except for religious services, Holiday traditions had taken a huge nose dive. So, they took to it like duck to water and by the early 1770s Sinterklaas is now Santa Claus and associated with Christmas.

As you’ve been reading along you can see how the Feast of St. Nicholas evolved into American Christmas, but that’s a whole other story we’ll save for another time.

*My Dutch 10th great grandmother married an English soldier and her daughter married a Swede (by way of Holland) who was a ship captain – all within 40 years of the family settling in New Netherlands in the 1650s. And my Walloon ancestors quickly married Germans and Dutch.

** Ginger nuts are still featured in Albany bakery ads of the 1850s.

***Speculaas are still made (in the Nertherlands you buy a Speculaas spice mix – rather than the individual spices) and the windmill cookies you like are actually speculaas.

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Julie O’Connor

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The Origin of the Baker’s Dozen – A Beverwyck Christmas Fable

The first published version of this fable appeared in 1836, written by James Paulding, a close friend of Washington Irving*, in his “Book of St. Nicholas”. Paulding was born in Nine Partners (Pine Plains) in Duchess County and it is quite likely this fable had been passed on through oral tradition.

In Paulding’s story the baker lives in New Amsterdam – but over the years a number of versions surfaced, most based in Beverwyck (the name for Albany in the mid part of the 1600s).

This version appeared in the “Times Union” in 1940, written by Edgar Van Olinda, who wrote the paper’s old Albany history columns in the mid-20th century.

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In 1655 on Christmas Eve, so the rumor has it, the phrase, “Baker’s Dozen” made its first appearance in the vocabulary of Beverwyck among the tradesmen.

There was a Beverwyck baker who kept a little shop just off Jonker St. (State St.) .The baker’s name was Volkert Jan Pietersen Van Amsterdam, called for brevity Baas.

The gentleman in question had established quite a reputation for New Year’s cookies, which he sold up and down the Hudson River in settlements that could boast one Dutch family. Now Baas had been working hard all day and no one could begrudge him a little nip of rum to speed up production. And next week started a New Year and he probably has made some good resolutions. We mention this little deviation from the straight line not in the spirt of criticism, but to prove he was wide awake and that the following curious incident really happened.

As business dwindled down almost to the vanishing point and he was about to close up his shop, there was a knock on the door, and going to see what was abroad at that unseemly time of night, he beheld an ugly old woman who demanded a dozen New Year’s cookies; specifying each must be in the effigy of good St. Nicholas. Carefully counting out 12 of the delicacies and placing them in a bag, he was astounded when she demanded an extra one.

“I want a dozen,” was her insistent demand. Baas was just as insistent as she.

“I gave you a dozen” said Bass. “I counted them very carefully – 12 of my finest cookies.”

“One more cookie”, said the old woman “One more than 12 makes a dozen.”

The argument threatened to go on until daybreak, with neither party to the purchase willing to give ground. Finally his temper riled beyond the point of any verbal settlement on the question he grabbed her by the shoulders (however, not before he had received copper coins in payment) and pushed her out into the night.

“You can go to the devil for another cookie”, he shouted.

“You won’t get another” and shut the door in her face.

When he related the story to his wife, the kindly spirit suggested that as it was on the eve of Christmas, he might have made an exception, but by then it was too late to relent. The old woman had vanished into the night.

From that time on the business began to fall off and sundry mysterious things began to happen to his products. The dough raised to the ceiling and then fell flat as a pancake. Even the baker’s wife became afflicted with deafness. On three subsequent occasions the old woman appeared at the shop and demanded her 13th cookie.

Three times she was refused, and in desperation he exclaimed,

“Holy St. Nicholas, what shall I do?”

At that instant the venerable St. Nicholas entered the shop and asked what is was that perplexed old man and complimenting him the excellence of his likeness in the cakes he said:

“The trouble with you is that you have not absorbed the Christmas spirit. Favor the old woman. Give her what she demands and your troubles will vanish into thin air.”
And so saying he disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

At that instant there appeared the old lady, again demanding her extra cookie, and Baas was all thumbs getting the extra cookie into her bag, which he handed her and added a cheery “Merry Christmas”.

“The spell is broken,” said the witch, for that is what she was. “Now swear to me on St. Nicholas that here in Beverwyck and all the Van Rensselaer Patroonship, 13 will make a baker’s dozen.

Baas took the oath, and that is why today in every good bakery, the baker hands you an extra sample of her wares – or does she?

*Paulding and Irving were founding members of The Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York, established to commemorate the history and heritage of New York. Notably, the first meeting was a dinner held in 1835, the year before Paulding published this story. To the members of the Society, New York’s Dutch heritage was in danger of being lost and its preservation was one of the goals of the Society.

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National Dutch-American Day Albany

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November 16, is  National Dutch-American Heritage Day when we celebrate our Dutch roots. Without the Dutch there would probably be no Albany.

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We were discovered in 1609 by Henry Hudson, exploring for the Dutch East India Co. By 1624 there was a settlement surrounding Fort Orange.

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The village came to be known as Beverwyck (basically Beaverville). In 1664 the English came into possession of the entire New Netherlands colony and Beverwyck became Albany, but the streets of Albany retained their Dutch names for many years.

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When Martin Van Buren was elected our 8th president in 1837 his primary language was Dutch, although he’d been born in 1782, after the American Revolution. It was common in the early 1800s for there to be “English” schools in Albany where kids from Dutch speaking families could learn English. Into the 1880s there were still members of old Albany Dutch families who spoke Dutch at home (old habits die hard).

We are surrounded by our Dutch heritage in our place names, from Guilderland, to the Krumkill and Normanskill Creeks, to Feura Bush and Watervliet.

Few vestiges of our original Dutch architecture exist – the oldest is the Van Ostrand- Radcliffe house at 48 Hudson Ave. that dates back to the 1720s. (Johannes Van Ostrand came to Albany from a Dutch family outside Kingston and Johannes Radcliffe was the grandson of one of the original Dutch settler families and a British soldier who arrived to garrison the Fort.) Another is the Quackenbush House on Broadway, built in the 1730s – currently home of the Old English Pub. The Dutch style of building remained popular long Dutch officials left the Colony. Fort Crailo across the river was built in the Dutch style in 1707. There’s also the Ariaanje Coeymans House, Coeymans, built in the Dutch style circa 1700, the Peter Winne house in Bethlehem, the Yates House in Schenectady and the Van Loon house in Athens – all examples of original Dutch buildings.

We pay homage to our history through our more current architecture. – the fire House on Delaware Ave and the old AFD fire signal building are the best known examples of our Dutch heritage, although built in the 20th century.

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Today, Albany pays tribute to its Dutch Heritage during the Tulip Festival every May when the streets are scrubbed in the old Dutch manner and we crown the Queen of the Dutch flowers.

 

While the official presence of the Dutch in America ended over 300 years ago, they brought us food, traditions and words we use in everyday life. Santa Claus was originally the Dutch Sinterklaus (a/k/a St. Nicholas). We eat yummy Dutch foods: waffles, donuts and cookies, and use Dutch ovens to cook. Where would we be without the words: aardvark, bazooka, brandy, caboose, coleslaw, cruller, dollar. hooky, iceberg, pickle and smuggle? And there’s “Dutch courage” (alcohol aided bravery), a stern “Dutch Uncle” and “Going Dutch” (homage to legendery Dutch parsimony).

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You might be surprised how strong and pervasive Dutch roots are in America and how many people have Dutch ancestors despite the relatively few original Dutch settlers. Famous Americans with Dutch roots include FDR, Tiger Woods, Dick Van Dyke, Marlon Brando, Robert DiNiro, Christine Aguilera, Anderson Cooper, Walter Cronkite, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, Diane Keaton,Jane Fonda, Taylor Swift , the Kardashians and the Boss.

1626: The Massacre in Albany’s Lincoln Park

The City of Albany is proposing to put a sewage treatment facility in the upper section of Lincoln Park. It’s needed to address several long standing problems related in part to the Beaver Creek that runs under the Park; other changes will made be to the Park’s landscape. We thought this was an opportunity to tell you about an incident in that area almost 400 years ago that had a major impact on our history and could have changed the fate of our city.

First you have to imagine how the Park looked in the early 1600s. Today we see mostly manicured lawns, pretty shrubbery and trees and gentle rolling hills. When the Dutch first came here it was a wilderness of fierce and awesome beauty. It was a heavily forested, with a deep ravine running much of the length of the Park, a rapid flowing creek (known alternatively as Buttermilk Creek, then the Beaverkill and today, Beaver Creek) and Buttermilk Falls. (The Falls were described in 1828* as a charming spot with a foaming cascade that plunged 30 feet into a deep gorge.)

Fort Orange, the trading outpost of the Dutch West Indies Co., was established on Broadway (near the existing Holiday Inn Express) in 1624. In late summer 1626 the soldiers from the Fort set out on an expedition to the west, following the creek up to the Falls, into the area of the Park known today as the “Ravine” (in the northwest corner of the Park – near Delaware and Park Avenues), about a mile from the Fort.

It was here they were ambushed by a party of Mohawks (part of the Iroquois Confederacy). The group from the Fort included Daniel Van Crieckenbeek (there are several variant spellings), a number of soldiers (2 of whom were Portuguese) and Mahican Indians (Algonquin tribe). (There’s no indication of the number of Mohawks or Mahicans killed.)

The ambush was revenge against the colonists for siding with the Mahicans and helping them attack the Mohawks. Van Criekenbeek’s decision to join with the Mahicans was a departure from the previous neutrality of the Dutch in Fort Orange that had insured good relations with the Iroquois.

A contemporary account says that the Dutch force was met with a “barrage of arrows”. Van Criekenbeek and several men were killed. 3 men escaped; one man was wounded, but survived by swimming to safety. The most horrific reports of the ambush focus on Tymen Bouwenz. He was said to have been roasted alive and then eaten, with the Mohawks carrying some of his limbs back to their camps as symbols of their victory. (Legend has it that he was singled out by the Mohawk for the great courage he demonstrated as a brave warrior during the ambush.) The 4 men killed were buried near where they fell.

Most settlers (there were about 8 families) in the Fort fled to Manhattan fearing further retribution by the Mohawks; about a dozen soldiers remained behind. When reports of the massacre reached Manhattan Peter Minuit, recently appointed Director of the New Netherland Colony, dispatched Peter Barentsen (a sloop captain with experience among the various tribes in the Colony) to the Fort. The Mohawks explained the massacre was retribution for Dutch interference in the inter-tribal dispute and provided beaver skins as a peace offering, Amity was restored between the Dutch and both tribes. However, it would about another 4 years, in 1630, before re-settlement of families would begin. In the absence of the Barentsen’s intervention, the consequences of the massacre might have been quite different, as well as the history of Albany.

Although Buttermilk Falls is long gone and the wilderness tamed over centuries, a small part of the Ravine remains – the area where the massacre occurred in 1626, near the Falls. Despite significant changes in the 19th century and the building of the Park (it was originally called Beaver Park) in the 1890s it is the last area that remains in a natural state (perhaps kismet). The early Park planners were careful to maintain the Ravine in a natural state.** It’s remained un-marked and forgotten, although it’s the last remaining patch of Albany’s earliest history, and the location of an event that could have forever changed the fate of our city. A path has been beaten through rock outcroppings; there’s a dense cluster of trees and tangled vegetation. The rocky walls mark the Creek’s course; there’s a deep, grated culvert through which you can sometimes here the last surviving sounds of the waterfall.

The current master plan for the upper part of the Park calls for the creation of all sorts of man- made amenities, including improvement of “unusable lands in the ravine by creating the new Reflection and Learning Garden at Lincoln Park”. We’re not quite sure what that means, and clear answer from city officials about the intent for the Ravine has not been forthcoming so far.

Whatever is planned it must include preservation of the Ravine area in which the massacre occurred in a natural state, with appropriate historic maker/signs that tell its history.

Preservation of historic spaces is just as important as preservation of historic buildings. When you know the story of the massacre and walk through the Ravine you feel a visceral connection to our earliest history. It comes alive. As the historian Arthur Schlesinger said, “… history requires atmosphere and context as well as facts”.

The site in the Ravine is an historic battlefield– as much as Gettysburg or Yorktown. It’s part of our Albany history and a cultural resource that requires conservation and a commitment to remembering our past. It’s as important as to our history as the Schuyler Mansion; it’s the earliest evidence of our deep Dutch roots, and the first Dutch settlers in the New World. With a little TLC the Ravine could be maintained its natural state and this small, but critical piece of our history, preserved and marked for future generations. So few remnants of our past remain; this one is a keeper.

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*”The Runaway, Or, The Adventures of Rodney Roverton”, New England Sabbath School Union, 1842

** Indeed, when the Lincoln Park was originally envisioned the idea was to leave the area of the Ravine as a “ramble” (“The Public Parks of the City of Albany”, 1892). We suspect that the intent was to create something similar to the “The Ramble” designed by Frederick Law Olmstead in Central Park in NYC. It’s an area of winding paths a rustic setting, within a natural landscape of rocky outcrops that, although man-made, offers a needed contrast to the rest of the Park.

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Thanks to Paula Lemire and the “Battle of Lincoln Park” in her Albany History Blogspot http://albanynyhistory.blogspot.com for much of the material used for this post.

How the Van Rensselaer Manor Vanished from Albany

Most of you know that the “Patroon” originally owned the vast area around Albany called Rensselaerwyck. (Basically, Patroon means “land owner” in Dutch.) The first Patroon was Killian Van Rensselaer, a pearl and diamond merchant, who acquired the land from the Dutch West India Co. (DWIC) in 1630. Think of the DWIC as a group of venture capitalists and speculators.. betting on the New World, using a traditional form of Dutch land ownership for revenue generation and capital formation.

Rensselaerwyck was one of several patroonships in the New Netherlands, but the only one that proved successful*. The original grant that encompassed land on both sides of the River was soon expanded by acquisition of additional lands from the Indians. In exchange for the land the Patroon had to establish a functioning colony (over which he had almost total power). (Much like IDA grants today, the Patroon got a tax break for the first decade.) Rensselaerwyck was a feudal manor and the Patroon was literally Lord of the Manor, except for Albany, which was at the time Fort Orange, a wholly owned subsidiary of the DWIC.

1.4There’s no evidence that the first Patroon ever visited his fiefdom. Business was conducted in his name by agents, from a large house and cluster of buildings north of the Fort on Broadway, near the Patroon Creek, a tributary of the Hudson River. In 1666 the compound was destroyed by a flood and rebuilt by Jeremias Van Rensselaer. (Jeremias was the third son of Killian and the first Patroon to establish permanent residence in Rensselaerwyck.)

 

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2According to Steve Belinski (the “Colonial Albany Social History Project”) the new building was constructed in the “Country Style” with the entrance on the long side and attached outbuildings. (Think a Patroon “compound” and the seat of government for the Manor.) A century later in 1765 a new and grand Manor House would be built on the same grounds by Stephen Van Rensselaer II, the Patroon and 3rd Lord of the Manor for his new wife, Catherine Livingston, daughter of Philip Livingston (signer of the Declaration of Independence). It was a large Georgian Mansion – one of the grandest homes in the country at the time – nestled amid a forest setting and lush, well-tended gardens. It was a thriving, mostly self-sufficient plantation, including slaves.

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14There were changes made to this Manor House around 1820 and again in the early 1840’s the existing structure underwent major renovation by architect Richard Upjohn (he designed the existing St. Peter’s Church on State St.), preserving the Georgian features of the original Manor House. It was still a gracious baronial manse – but it would be the home of the Last Patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer IV.

 

14.1The days of the Patroon were coming to an end. The Anti-Rent Wars had already started in the late 1830s. The Patroon’s thousands of tenants were protesting what was still a feudal system of land ownership in which the Patroon held all the cards. The Wars would continue until 1846** when the NYS Constitution was amended to abolish the Patroon system and Van Rensselaer would start selling off his property – in Albany and across the Manor. ***

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20The Last Patroon died in 1868. By then the Manor House was hemmed in by the Erie Canal and the railroads on the east and the growing city and its factories on the west. By the 1870s the great Manor House was abandoned. There were attempts by the family to have the structure declared a New York State landmark of sorts. There were efforts made by some citizens to move the building to Washington Park. These failed.

 

 

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Finally, in the early 1890s Albany’s great architect, Marcus Reynolds (Banker’s Trust, the D&H Building and the Delaware Ave. fire house) and young Van Rensselaer cousin, convinced the family to agree to have the Manor disassembled. He transported the exteriors and the Manor House was “re-built” as the Sigma Phi fraternity house (Van Rensselaer Hall) at Williams College. (Reynolds was an 1890 graduate of Williams.) The interiors were donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and are currently on display in Gallery 752 in the American Wing.

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Van Rensselaer Hall survived until 1973 when it was demolished for a new Williams College library.

The last evidence of the Patroons in Albany survived into the 20th century on Broadway near Tivoli St. Alas, circa 1918 the Patroon’s Office (where the Patroon’s agents conducted business for almost 200 years) was demolished to accommodate the expansion of the International Harvester franchise.

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Today there’s no trace the Patroons were ever here, except for an historical marker on Clinton Ave. that identifies it as the former Patroon St., the original dividing line between the Patroon’s land and Albany. There’s no historic marker … nothing, nada, zip, zilch ….at 950 Broadway, near Manor St., the address of the Manor House. (This was one of the pet peeves of the late Warren Roberts, History Prof. at U Albany and author of the great book, “A Place in History; Albany in the Age of Revolution 1775-1825”. )

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And that’s how the Van Rensselaer Manor House vanished.

* A 10th G Grandfather, Cornelius Melyn, was the Patroon of Staten Island. It didn’t work out. There were wars with several Indian tribes, and battles with the DWIC and the successive Director Generals of the colony, including Peter Stuyvesant, over the dictatorial nature of the DWIC. He was a cranky rebel and a thorn in the side. Great Grandpa Corny ended up in the English New Haven Colony, took an oath of loyalty to the Crown and relinquished his right to the Patroonship of Staten Island. The last vestige of Corny is a mural in the Staten Island Borough Hall.

**The Anti-Rent Wars are fictionalized in the novel, “Dragonwyck” by Anya Seton (1944) and in a movie of the same name (1946) with Gene Tierney, Vincent Price and Walter Huston. Vincent Price is the perfect arrogant Dutch Patroon villain.. “You must pay the rent.”

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*** A GG grandfather purchased land in the 200 block of Livingston Ave. (then Lumber St.) in 1850 as part of the Patroon’s property sell-off.

The Rattle Watch in Beverwyck and Nepotism – an Albany Civil Service Tradition

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By the 1650s there were enough people in the New Netherlands for there to be public safety concerns and with those came public safety officers. Initially there was the equivalent of neighborhood watch in New Amsterdam (NYC), but that didn’t work out especially well, and so the first Rattle Watch (a group of 8 men) was appointed in 1658. Beverwyck followed in summer 1659; two men, Lambert Van Valkenburgh and Peter Winnie, were appointed on an annual basis and paid in wampum and beaver skins.

The Rattle Watch was established in Beverwyck because the local burghers, who had been assuming the responsibility – on a voluntary basis, wanted out. (There appears to have been a dispute about fire wood they were owed for stepping up, that was never provided.)

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10The Rattle Watch was a combination of police officer, firefighter & hourly time caller who carried the equivalent of a wood New Year’s Eve noisemaker that made a clacking racket.

Here’s the job description of the Rattle Watch from the Fort Orange court records in 1659:

1) First, the said rattle watch shall be held to appear at the burghers’ guard house after the ringing of the nine o’clock bell and together at ten o’clock shall begin making their rounds, giving notice of their presence in all the streets of the village of Beverwyck by sounding their rattle and calling [out the hour], and this every hour of the night, until 4 o’clock in the morning.

2) Secondly, they shall pay especial attention to fire and upon the first sign of smoke, extraordinary light or otherwise warn the people by knocking at their houses. And if they see any likelihood of fire, they shall give warning by rattling and calling, and run to the church, of which they are to have a key, and ring the bell

3) Thirdly, in case they find any thieves breaking into any houses or gardens, they shall to the best of their ability try to prevent it, arrest the thieves and bring them into the fort. And in case they are not strong enough to do so, they are to call the burghers of the vicinity to their aid, who are in duty bound to lend the helping hand, as this is tending to the common welfare.

4) Fourthly, in case of opposition, they are hereby authorized to offer resistance, the honorable commissary and magistrates declaring that they release them from all liability for any accident which may happen or result from such resistance if offered in the rightful performance of their official duties.

There’s a general consensus that Lambert (as we shall call him) was selected because he had some previous military experience working for the Dutch West Indies Company (DWIC) – the owners of the New Netherlands colony. He had originally settled in New Amsterdam, but sold his property (factoid – the Empire State Building stands on the land he owned) and migrated to Beverwyck.

The role of the Rattle Watch seems to have evolved over time – with the acquisition of New Netherlands by the English in 1664, growth of population and increasing tensions with the Native American population. But the job stays in the Van Valkenburgh family. In the 1670s, Lambert’s son-in-law, Zacharias Sickles, who’d also been a DWIC soldier and married to Lambert’s daughter Anna – becomes a Rattle Watch.

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In 1686 the Royal Governor, Thomas Dongan, issued a city charter to Albany (it’s the oldest chartered city in the country). The Dongan Charter made some changes to how the government worked and created the position of a High Constable and 7 sub-constables, one for each wards. But the tradition of the Rattle Watch continued.

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In the 1699, another son-in-law of Lambert Van Valkenburgh, John Radcliff. gets the appointment. John had come to Albany to be a soldier at the English fort, and married Lambert’s daughter Rachel. They lived on the “southside” near Beaver and Green. We think that his job transcended the traditional Rattle Watch role and he was more constable-like, with a job description that was more like what we know of the police today. In 1727 we find Rachel a widow, with grown children. But in 1732 the Common Council names Rachel to the position of Rattle Watch. Hmmm.

While women in this role were not unheard of it, her appointment was a rarity. (The Dutch in the New Netherlands granted women more rights on an equal par with men – when the English took over, women were relegated to second class citizens, but in very Dutch Albany, old habits died hard.)

6At the time of her appointment Rachel would have been probably in her 70’s. Because Rachel was my 9th great grandmother sometimes I think about her. Did one or more of her 10 kids do the job for her? Or did she trudge the rutted snowy and icy streets of Albany on cold winter nights in a long cloak, possibly made of beaver, and a wide brim beaver hat over her white cap tied beneath her chin. She would have carried her Rattle and a lantern, patrolling the streets of Albany from 10pm to daylight. The entry in City Record says she was to “Go all night and call hours from ten to 4, time and weather”.

 

 

 

5The route began at the main guard house (the city was still enclosed in a stockade fence at this time) near the south gate, up Brower (Broadway) St., over the Rutten Kill bridge (one of the 3 creeks that ran through Albany – filled in the 1800s) at Col Schuyler’s house, then to Jonker St.(State St.) to the corner where Johannes de Wandelaer lived on the hill near the fort, then to the house of Johannes Roseboom, on the east side of Parel (Pearl) St. north of Rom St. (Maiden Lane) to Gysbert Merselis’ house (northeast corner of Parrel and Rom) to the house of Hendrick Bries, and thence to the Guard House.

For this, she received 5 pounds and 10 shillings,and 5 pounds of candles.

We don’t know how long Rachel had the job, or how long the Rattle Watch continued or whether the job passed to other Van Valkenburgh kin IF the Rattle Watch continued. (She died in the mid-1700s and was buried in the Dutch Reformed Church cemetery. )

At least 75 years of the Rattle Watch in one family?? So very Albany.

11There is lasting evidence of the Radcliffe family in Albany. Johannes Radcliffe, grandson of Rachel Van Valkenburgh and John Radcliffe, was the second owner of the Van Ostrand Radcliffe house in Albany, the oldest structure in the city. It was constructed on Hudson St. just outside the city stockade when it was built in the 1720s. As we go farther down her family line, James Eights, the painter of the wonderful watercolors that let us know what Albany looked like in the early 1800s was Rachel’s great great grandson (through her oldest daughter Elizabeth.)

The Rattle Watch gig may explain why generations of my family have cursed the State St. hill climb – it’s genetic.

Thanks to Stefan Bielinski and Colonial Albany Project for some of the material in this post http://exhibitions.nysm.nysed.gov//albany/welcome.html .

 

The Women of Colonial Albany

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These short biographies come from calendar prepared by Stefan Bielinski of the Colonial Albany Project for Albany’s 1986 Tricentennial.  ( You should take a look at his Colonial Albany Social History Project )

Most of the women discussed here were the matriarchs of our city:

Alida Schuyler Van Rensselaer Livingston
Anna De Ridder Yates
Anna Von Rotmers Bradt
Anna Cuyler Van Schaick
Cathaline Schuyler Cuyler
Elizabeth Staats Wendell Schuyler
Elsie Wendell Schuyler
Engeltie Wendell Lansing
Magdelena Douw Lansing
Maria – a slave
Sara Gansevoort
Rachel Lambert Van Valkenburgh Radcliff

I have to admit I’m partial to Rachel Van Valkenburgh Radcliff, one of my 9th great grandmothers; a tough old bird and a workhorse.

Talk about Albany History – Rachel was the grandmother of Johannes Radcliff in – who was the second owner of the historic Van Ostrand- Radcliff House at 48 Hudson Ave. , the oldest structure Albany. And a little known fact, she was also a great grandmother (through her daughter Elizabeth) of James Eights who painted all those wonderful watercolors of Albany in the early 1800s. alioda.jpg

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The Schuylers, Guy Beattie, and Albany’s Forgotten Park

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This was the mansion at The Flatts , after the Dutch “DeVlackte,” later called Schuyler Flats and Schuyler Farm. It was situated on the west bank of the Hudson in what is now Menands (then West Troy), opposite Breaker Island (formerly two islands called Culyer and Hillhouse). For a century, from about 1711-1806, the main public road from Albany to Saratoga ran between the mansion and the river.

The Flatts was (were?)  owned and occupied by the Schuyler family for 250 years.

Because its history is so complex, and the Schuyler family history so confusing (how many of them were named Peter and Philip?!), I’ve broken it down into a chronology. Info gleaned from many sources. Please excuse the lack of annotation, I didn’t set out to write a term paper.

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Arent Van Curler

1630 – Arent Van Curler, a cousin of the first Patroon Van Rensselaer, arrives with the first colonists of the manor,  and is soon after made superintendent. He marries in 1643, and after a brief honeymoon in Holland, returns to work the farm.  He establishes the Flatts as the heart of the area’s fur trade.

1660 – Richard Van Rensselaer, a son of the Patroon, occupies the property.

1666 – He builds the main house.

1668 -The house’s roof caves in.

1670-  Richard VanRensselaer returns to Holland. The Flatts is sold to Col. Philip Pieterse Schuyler. Schuyler repairs the old house and cellar, and builds an additional structure to the north. This begins a long Schuyler lineage in the area.

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Col. Pieter Schuyler

1683 – Upon the elder Schuyler’s death, his son, Col. Pieter Schuyler (later the first mayor of Albany), inherits The Flatts.

1690 – General Fitz John Winthrop  sends the first detachment of his army from Albany for the invasion of Canada to the Flatts. The Flats become a staging ground for troops engaged in the French and Indian War, and many of their officers find entertainment. Here the gallant Lord Howe spends the night, and eating his breakfast on the march under Abercrombie to attack Ticonderoga. Here, the the barns are turned into hospitals for the defeated forces of Abercrombie.

1695 – Pieter leases it to his son Philip.

1711 – Col. Peter Schuyler, now married to Maria Van Rensselaer, the sister of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, moves to The Flatts.

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1720 – Philip Schuyler marries Margarita Schuyler, his cousin, whose father had for a number of years been the mayor of the City of Albany. Margarita is known during the latter part of her life as “Madame Schuyler.”

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Philip Schuyler

1724 – Upon the death of Col. Peter Schuyler, his eldest son Philip P. Schuyler becomes the owner of the Flats and the mansion.

1752- A serious fire nearly demolishes the mansion, which is then rebuilt by British soldiers.

1758 – Col. Philip Schuyler dies, survived by his kindhearted widow, by now known as  “Madame Schuyler” or “Aunt Schuyler.” The property is willed to her until her death when it is supposed to be passed on to her nephew, Peter Schuyler.

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“Madame/Aunt Schuyler”

Aunt Schuyler’s home becomes the place of gathering both men and supplies because it’s at the head of deep navigation of the Hudson and is convenient for those coming from New England either by way of Bennington or Kinderhook.

During this period, a large (100′ x 60′) barn that had been used for troop lodging and staging is torn down.

1771 – Peter Schuyler dies, his will naming his grandson, Stephen Schuyler, as eventual heir to The Flatts.

1774 – At The Flatts, Major  Peter Schuyler forms his plans for the Revolutionary War invasion of Canada.

1782 – With the passing of Margarita “Madame” Schuyler, The Flatts becomes the property of Stephen Schuyler, who has lived here since the 1740’s.

1808 – Philip P. Schuyler dies and is buried in the family plot.

1820 – The death of Stephen Schuyler leaves the property to Peter S. Schuyler , husband of Catherine Cuyler.

1832 –zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzto-let-1839b

Peter S. Schuyler leaves it to Stephen R. Schuyler. I’m not certain Stephen Schuyler lives in the mansion. In fact, this 1839 newspaper ad offers the place for lease. Not sure if there were takers.

(Year?) Stephen R. Schuyler leaves it to Richard Philip Schuyler.

1898 – Richard P. Schuyler dies. His widow, the former Susan Drake, remains in the house twelve more years.

1910 – Drake vacates The Flatts, ending the Schuyler era. She rents the place to Guy Beattie, a farmer who had been working the land for a while. Over the years, various parcels of the estate have been leased to farmers and loggers.

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Guy and Mary Ann Killough Beattie, with their granddaughters Rosamund Patricia Beattie and Linda Beattie. 1945.

1910-1948 The land is leased for farming and carnivals (Beattie’s Field”).

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Guy Beattie oversees circus setup. Photo from Brian Abbott’s website.

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The Flatts, 1942. Photo from Brian Abbott website

1948 – The Beatties sell the contents of their home and retire to Florida. Rivenberg opens the mansion as Sunny Crest Nursing Home.

1949 – Carnival operator James E. Strates buys Beattie’s 30-acre farm for $60,000. Schuyler Flats become the area’s home for the Strates Shows.

1957 – The State Chapter of the National Society of Daughters of Founders and Patriots of America, and Albany County Historical Society team up to recognize the historic site with a plaque. It’s affixed to the house, now painted white. Present at the unveiling are Susan Schuyler Cornthwait, 11, daughter of Mr & Mrs Schuyler Cornthwait, Hyde Park, Vermont, and Catherine Rhodes, 11, daughter of the Rev. James R. Rhodes and Mrs Rhodes of Slingerlands, both descendants of Richard P. Schuyler, last of the direct family line to occupy the house. The historical societies express hope that James E. Strates, who owns the property, might donate the house to the state. They neglect to ask him, though, and when interviewed, Strates admits no one even told him about the plaque.

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Plaque on the mansion, 1957. Photo from Brian Abbott website.

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In The End... All You Really Have Is Memories

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1967 -When Cohen Construction fails to deliver its part of the deal, Murray-Simon sues. Development plans go on hold, and the land is put up for auction.

1968- William A. Wells of Buffalo purchases the 50-acre plot for $600,000, the only bidder at a public auction for the land. He expresses a desire to build an office complex, apartment houses and commercial buildings.

1968 – In drawing up plans for the I-787/NY-378 interchange, the Department of Transportation makes accommodations to avoid the historic Schuyler site. It opens in 1970.

1970 – Colonie Town Board hearings proposes rezoning from business E to commercial-multiple housing. The potential developer wants to integrate apartment housing and a shopping center. Archeological surveys conducted on a proposed sewer line result in a more thorough excavation of the Schuyler House by Paul Huey, historical archaeologist for the Office of Historical Preservation. His discoveries cause a flurry of local media attention, and Colonie’s Town Historian, Jean Olten, lobbies for its purchase.

1975 – The Town of Colonie buys 2.5 acres to preserve for an historic park.

1990 – Albany County transfers an additional nine acres.

1992 – The National Park Service designates the site a National Historic Landmark.

1992-2002  -Spearheaded by Paul Russell, Conservation Officer with the Town of Colonie, the idea for a park moves from a concept to reality, The Open Space Institute funds acquisition of another twenty-odd acres.  The Town and the Hudson River Greenway contribute additional funds.

2002 -Schuyler Flatts Cultural Park opens. The plaque, rescued from the 1962 fire, is rededicated.

2016 – The remains of 14  unidentified Schuyler slaves found  on Flatts land were re-interred in St. Agnes Cemetery.

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Website for the park:
http://www.colonie.org/historian/historical/schuyler.htm

A descendant of Guy Beattie created a webpage about his great-grandfather’s tenure at The Flatts. It includes some wonderful photos.
http://brianabbott.net/projects/family-photos/then-and-now-photos/schuyler-flatts

The New Netherland Institute has a wonderful, multi-page article on excavations at The Flatts:

http://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org/history-and-heritage/digital-exhibitions/arent-van-curler-and-the-flatts/the-story/rediscovering-the-flatts/

There’s a nicely detailed article about the Schuyler burial ground at The Flatts here:

https://albanychurchgrounds.wordpress.com/the-schuyler-flatts-burial-ground/

Trivia:

  • The channel that formed Breaker Island was filled in by the construction of exit 7 of Interstate 787 with NY Route 378. The Hudson River remains on its east bank, with various creeks, ponds, small lakes, and marshes on the west side.
  • The Schuyler house was the prototype of the Vancour Mansion in Paulding’s “The Dutchman’s Fireside.”
  • Some think the arsenal was built at Watervliet because Troy was an important iron-producing city, but it’s quite possible that location was chosen because of Schuyler Flatts’ history as a strategically-situated arsenal.

Mrs. Anne Grant wrote a book about Madame Schuyler, called “Memoirs of an American Lady.”
In this passage she describes the interior of the mansion:

“It was a large brick house of two, or rather three stories (for there were excellent attics), besides a sunk story, finished with exactest neatness. The lower floor had two spacious rooms, with large, light closets; on the first there were three rooms, and in the upper one four. Through the middle of the house was a wide passage, with opposite front and back doors, which in summer admitted a stream of air peculiarly grateful to the languid senses. It was furnished with chairs and pictures like a summer parlor. Here the family usually sat in hot weather, when there were no ceremonious strangers.

“ One room, I should have said, in the greater house only, was opened for the reception of company; all the rest were bedchambers for their accommodation, while the domestic friends of the family occupied neat little bedrooms in the attics or the winter-house. This house contained no drawing-room — that was an unheard-of luxury; the winter rooms had carpets; the lobby had oilcloth painted in lozenges, to imitate blue and white marble. The best bedroom was hung with family portraits, some of which were admirably executed; and in the eating-room, which, by the by, was rarely used for that purpose, were some Scriptural paintings.

“ The house fronted the river, on the brink of which, under shades of elm and sycamore, ran the great road toward Saratoga, Stillwater, and the northern lakes; a little simple avenue of morella cherry trees, enclosed with a white rail, led to the road and river, not three hundred yards distant.”

[Note: All corrections are welcome. I am not a historian, just a curious researcher. Most of this information was completely new to me, so forgive me any lapses or errors.]

From Al Quaglieri’s blog Doc Circe Died for Our Sins

How Albany Celebrates its Birthday – the Dongan Charter, July 22 1686

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77 years after Henry Hudson landed on our shores in 1609 Albany became a city. On July 22, 1686, the Royal Governor of the New York colony, Thomas Dongan (BTW..much has been made of the fact that he was an Irishman and a Catholic), granted the city of Albany a royal charter. The charter was crucial because it separated the City of Albany from the rest of the Patroon’s holdings (a/k/a Rensselaerwyck) and created its own identity. Charter provisions also fixed Albany’s boundaries, created a city government structure, and identified trading rights.

The first meeting of the new government was held on July 26, 1686 and Pieter Schuyler.. yes of the venerable Schuyler family, was the first mayor. Some historians say the fee for the Charter was $1,500 for Dongan and $120 for his Secretary – with payment of one beaver pelt per year to the English monarch. (We assume that debt was cancelled in 1776.)

We don’t know if the 100th birthday of Albany was celebrated in 1786 – our guess is yes.. and with more than a tipple or two. (Ben Franklin collected more than 200 words/phrases to describe having over indulged- colonial Americans drank all day, every day – from early in the morning until they went to bed.)

4But by 1886, for our 200th birthday, we do know there was a citywide bicentennial bash that lasted an entire week. Public events included an immense illuminated parade with floats depicting the history of the City, Scottish games and a boat regatta, public concerts, grand orations, a military parade and fireworks. Visitors swarmed the City.

 

 

 

19By 1936, there was a sense that Albany needed to do something to celebrate her 250th birthday. It was the middle of the Great Depression, and everyone needed a lift. Again there were massive citywide celebrations – a parade, a ball, concerts, church celebrations and a regatta. John Boyd Thacher, Mayor at the time, was the master of ceremonies, welcoming residents and visitors to the citywide festivities; he was everywhere and everyplace, it seems at the same time. His great uncle, John Boyd Thacher, had done the same when he was Mayor 100 years before during Albany’s Bicentennial. (We do like tradition in Albany.)

26In 1986 when the City’s 300th birthday rolled around, we partied on and off for a year -had a parade, a regatta, a celebratory ball, tall ships, historical exhibits, a balloon fest in Washington Park and a riverfront festival with Mayor Tom Whalen at the helm.

Since this is the Big 330, enjoy these images from past celebrations and we suggest you lift a glass to the oldest continuously chartered in the United States. The Dongan Charter still rules.

September 19, 1609 – Discovery Day!

14369987_1086141744767420_397901500446019129_nToday in 1609 it all began. Henry Hudson landed in Albany.

A little background

This was Hudson’s third voyage of exploration. He set sail in April 1609 in the “Half Moon” (Haelve Maen), commissioned by the Dutch East Indies Company in Holland to find a good route to the East Indies to the Spice Islands. Those Islands, north of Australia and southwest of Indonesia, were the source of lucrative spices like mace, nutmeg and cloves- highly prized and expensive commodities in 17th century Europe. But Hudson went rogue. He was convinced he could find a Northwest Passage, so he sailed west, rather than south and east.

14358997_1086141001434161_2858732146870186033_nHe arrived in New Foundland in July and then swung south,sailing around area of the Virginia Colony in August, but found no promising passage, so he went north. In mid -September he landed in what is now New York City and New Jersey. There he found the mouth of what appeared to be a fine wide river that held promise.

 

 

 

14372057_1086141238100804_9197135007825254383_oBy all accounts, he landed in Albany on Saturday, September 19, near Castle Island (a/k/a Westerlo Island and Cabbage Island) that no longer exists (filled in for the Port of Albany in the early 1930s). Probably about where Broadway and Church St. intersect today. Or it could be farther north – near State St. or even beyond that.. as far as Peebles Island. But most historians agree, sort of where The Plaza 23 Truck Stop is located today.

Hudson and his crew hung around for 4 days. Members of the crew traveled north up the River, as far as 25 miles or so, but discovered it was not really navigable north of Albany. They traded with the Native Americans for furs, and Hudson and a mate got some of the Native Americans drunk on wine and hard liquor (aqua vitae). Sounds like a fun weekend?

 

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By David Lithgow, circa 1933

 

14352195_1086141924767402_8619863255196879935_o.jpgOn the 22nd, the Half Moon headed back down the River. On October 4th, it started the long voyage back to Europe. Hudson and most of his crew members were delayed in England. (He was, after all, an Englishman, exploring on behalf of the Dutch – there was a price to pay.)

The aftermath
Hudson: In April 1610, he made one last voyage, on the “Discovery”, this time exploring for English interests. He went west again, this time via Greenland. Hudson and his crew ended up in what is now Hudson Bay in Canada. It was an arduous voyage; they spent the winter in the frozen north. There was illness; nerves frayed, and tempers flared. Apparently Hudson was not the easiest of captains. Finally in June 1611, there was a mutiny. Hudson, his son who was on the trip, and a handful of other crew members were set adrift in a small boat in the Bay. They were never heard from again.

 

Albany: About 1614 Hendrik Christiansen arrived near Albany in the “Fortuyn “to follow up on potential trade opportunities with the Iroquois and Algonquin tribes that Hudson and his crew had identified in 1609. On what was Castle Island, he established Fort Nassau (a/k/a Fort van Nassouwen, named after the Dutch royal house of Orange-Nassau. It was no so much a fort, but merely a small fortified trading post surrounded by earthen works. The Fort flooded every spring and was ultimately abandoned in 1618.
In the early 1624, the now incorporated Dutch West Indies Company was finally chartered and sufficiently capitalized to take advantage of trade opportunities in the West Indies (New York, Delaware and New Jersey were sort of an afterthought – not the prime target). Fort Orange was established on somewhat higher ground than the previous Fort Nassau – at the foot of State St. about where the D & H (SUNY) building is located today.

Our Takeaway: While other parts of the United States were settled for different reasons – religious freedom and social reform come to mind – our area of the country was not. Hudson’s voyage was financed for purely economic and trade reasons, not for the glory of finding new lands or for converting heathen populations to Christianity. Albany and New York City and the other early Dutch settlements were established for the same reason: to make money. The New Netherlands Colony was a private commercial enterprise. And it became a mecca for anyone who wanted to a chance to thrive in the New World. Pretty much if you could pull your own weight you were welcome.