Kiliaen van Rensselaer (merchant)

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This article is about the Dutch merchant and first patroon of Rensselaerswyck. For other uses, see Kiliaen van Rensselaer (disambiguation).
Kiliaen van Rensselaer
Born Between 1580 and 1595 [a]
Hasselt, Overijssel, Netherlands
Died Between 1643 and 1646 [b]
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Occupation Diamond and pearl merchant, patroon
Known for An original director of the Dutch West India Company, founding patroon of the Manor of Rensselaerswyck
Board member of
Dutch West India Company
Spouse(s) Hillegonda van Bijler (married 1616, died 1626)
Anna van Wely (married 1627, died 1670)
Children First marriage:
Hendrick van Rensselaer
Johan van Rensselaer
Maria van Rensselaer
Second marriage:
Jan Baptist van Rensselaer
Maria van Rensselaer
Jeremias van Rensselaer
Hilegonda van Rensselaer
Eleanor van Rensselaer
Nicholas van Rensselaer
Susanna van Rensselaer
Ryckert van Rensselaer
Parents Hendrick van Rensselaer
Maria Pafreat
Signature Black on white signature, which reads "K. van Rensselaer"
Notes
No portrait of Kiliaen van Rensselaer is known to exist.[1]

Kiliaen van Rensselaer (Dutch: [ˈkɪlijaːn vɑn ˈrɛnsəlaːr]; approximately 1586,[a] Hasselt, Overijssel – buried 7 October approximately 1643[b], Amsterdam)[2] was a Dutch diamond and pearl merchant from Amsterdam who was one of the founders and directors of the Dutch West India Company, being instrumental in the establishment of New Netherland.

He was one of the first patroons, but the only one to become successful. He founded the Manor of Rensselaerswyck in what is now mainly New York's Capital District. His estate remained throughout the Dutch and British colonial era and the American Revolution as a legal entity until the 1840s. Eventually, that came to an end during the Anti-Rent War.

Kiliaen van Rensselaer was born in the province of Overijssel to Hendrick Kiliaensz van Rensselaer, a soldier from Nijkerk in the States army of the duke of Upper Saxony, and Maria Alberts Pafraet, daughter of a printer in Hasselt.[2] To keep from risking his life in the army like his father, he apprenticed under his uncle, a successful Amsterdam jeweler. He too became a successful jeweler and was one of the first subscribers to the Dutch West India Company upon its conception.

The concept of patroonships may have been Kiliaen van Rensselaer's; he was likely the leading proponent of the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions, the document that established the patroon system. His patroonship became the most successful to exist, making full use of his business tactics and advantages, such as his connection to the Director of New Netherland, his confidantes at the West India Company, and his extended family members who were eager to emigrate to a better place to farm. Van Rensselaer married twice and had at least eleven children. When he died sometime after 1642,[b] two succeeded him as patroons of Rensselaerswyck.

Van Rensselaer had a marked effect on the history of the United States. The American van Rensselaers all descend from Kiliaen's son Jeremias and the subsequent Van Rensselaer family is noted for being a very powerful and wealthy influence in the history of New York and the Northeastern United States, producing multiple State Legislators, Congressmen, and two Lieutenant Governors in New York.

Early years[edit]

On a white background, four black letters appear, aligned vertically and connected along one vertical line which shares at least one line within each letter. H is at top, its left vertical stroke starting the common vertical line; K is below, with its vertical stroke continuing the common vertical line; and the letters V and R sit at the bottom: the V is rotated slightly counter-clockwise so its right stroke continues the common vertical line while the vertical stroke of the R also shares this part of the common vertical line.
Van Rensselaer's merchant's mark

Kiliaen van Rensselaer was born in Nijkerk, Gelderland, Netherlands[3][4] or Hasselt, Overijssel, Netherlands[5] sometime in the late 16th century. The exact year of his birth is not agreed upon by historians.[a] He was the son of Hendrick van Rensselaer and Maria Pafraet,[c] both from Amsterdam.[6] His father was a captain in the Dutch army until his death at the Siege of Ostend in early June 1602.[7][8]

With his father usually not home (and eventually meeting his death) because of a military career, van Rensselaer's mother sent him to apprentice with his uncle, Wolfert van Bijler, a jeweler and diamond merchant. At the time, the gem trade was a prosperous enterprise to join, being a well-developed craft. In those days, the diamond trade was nearly always combined with the trade in pearls, other articles of luxury, and rarities of every description. Dutch jewelers found a ready market for their valuable wares at the Dutch imperial court and the smaller German courts.[5] This realm of work promoted van Rensselaer to a life of economic success.

Much of van Rensselaer's early life is unknown to today's historians, though in March 1608 it has been recorded that he was taking care of some business of van Bijler in Prague. It seems van Bijler gradually retired from his business, leaving it in the control of van Rensselaer.[9] During his tenure at the helm of his uncle's business, van Rensselaer proposed a merger with the firm of Jan van Wely,[d] son of one of van Bijler's sisters, who had an equally successful jewelry business. The firms combined under the name of Jan van Wely & Co. in February 1614.[9][10] Van Rensselaer's name was not included in the name of the new company, since he contributed only one eighth of the investment capital, whereas van Wely contributed half (192,000 guilders). In 1616, van Wely was called on by Prince Maurice to meet at the Hague for a sale in jewels. He was murdered while waiting to meet with the Prince.[10][11] The firm's contract stipulated that at the death of Jan van Wely, the remaining members of the firm should continue the partnership for another six years.[9] Van Wely's murder, therefore, caused no change in the business, but it seems that at the expiration of that time, van Rensselaer began again on his own account, founding Kiliaen van Rensselaer & Co. with partner Jacques I'Hermite.[9][10]

Director of the Dutch West India Company[edit]

This is a white building, standing two stories tall and with a gabled roof. It has seven windows from its left to right side. The door is large with an arched top, painted black. The building has a pediment at the roof level which is roughly one-third the width of the whole building. Over the entry door, it reads in script "West Indisch Huis".
The West India House in Amsterdam, headquarters of the Dutch West India Company from 1623 to 1647

Some of van Rensselaer's success as a jewel merchant came about due to trade made possible by the Dutch East India Company. The practical spirit of the Dutch merchant could not fail to recognize that the way to riches was through trade with the West Indies and Africa. During the Twelve Years' Truce, Dutch merchants had sailed unmolested to the West Indies but also received no letters of marque to take prizes from the enemy.[12]

Before the Eighty Years' War began, people realized that the West Indies trade might bring great prosperity to the country and that more power might be developed against Spain. Rather than travel to the area singly on an armed ship or in the company of a few other vessels, traders could do business in the manner of the large and prosperous East India Company. A company for carrying on commerce in the West Indies and Africa could be organized, which might, like the sister company, act as the war-waging power in those parts and be supported by the treasury, ships, and troops of the United Netherlands.[12]

After long years of preparation, the Charter of the Dutch West India Company was granted by the States-General on June 3, 1621, and the subscription list was opened. It is known that subscriptions did not come in very rapidly at first due to the exclusion of the salt trade from the charter.[12][13] This barrier was overcome in a later amendment to the Charter,[12][14] and the subscription rate increased.[12]

With a capital of seven million florins, the West India Company was granted exclusive authority and trade privileges in the Dutch possessions of the two Americas, as well as the coast of Africa from the Tropic of Cancer to the Cape of Good Hope. The objects of its creation were to establish an efficient and aggressive Atlantic maritime power in the struggle with Spain, as well as to colonize, develop, and rule the Dutch American dependencies — particularly New Netherland (the modern states of New York and New Jersey), discovered by Henry Hudson in 1609.[15]

Van Rensselaer was one of the first subscribers to the West India Company. As with the other subscribers, he contributed 6000 guilders to be a member of one of its chambers.[12] Having paid his way, he was welcomed to the Chamber of Amsterdam, one of five Chambers of the West India Company, each located in a principal Dutch city.[16] The Chamber of Amsterdam was the largest with twenty members,[17] mainly due to the city's population, and represented four ninths of the management of the West India Company.[12][18]

Due to the practical limitations of meetings with 74 members on a regular basis (the total number of members from the five Chambers[16][17]), the Charter called for a board of directors comprising nineteen members of the five Chambers.[16][19] Van Rensselaer was chosen a member of this College of XIX, as it was called.[10] It is said that care was exercised in the selection of the directors of each chamber, and only men of wealth and the highest known integrity were eligible for the trust.[16] Van Rensselaer was apparently known as an unusually clear-headed man and an able and practical merchant who did not limit himself to his own branch of trade. These qualities presumably garnered the trust needed to be elected to the College of XIX.[20]

In its role supporting colonization of New Netherland, the West India Company had an executive board of nine members from the College of XIX to manage the concerns of their colony. Van Rensselaer was also a member of this group. In the early career of the Company, van Rensselaer was one of its mainstays, placing several of his vessels at its disposal and twice advancing money to save its credit. His name is conspicuously identified with all its measures of policy, including the original settlement of Manhattan Island, New Amsterdam.[21]

Patroon[edit]

Unfortunately for the West India Company, the infant colony of New Netherland languished, the cautious Dutch people having very little inclination to emigrate to wild and uncultivated lands in which no substantial inducements were present.[15] While the economic situation of the colony in the late 1620s could be considered a relatively good showing for a colony only newly started in a wilderness, its slow success was hardly sufficient to create much excitement among the directors of the West India Company.[23] Within a few years, the Company realized that special measures which would afford a stimulus to colonization were indispensable.[24]

It was for these reasons that the Company proposed the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions, which the States-General ratified on June 7, 1629. This document was created to encourage settlement of New Netherland through the establishment of feudal patroonships purchased and supplied by members of the West India Company. With a total of 31 articles, the document spells out many requirements of these patroons, primarily stating that each patroon was required to purchase the land from the local Indians,[25] and inhabit the land with 50 adults within four years, with at least one quarter arriving within one year.[26] In return, the patroons were able to own the land and pass it to succeeding generations as a perpetual fiefdom,[27] as well as receive protection[28] and free African slaves from the Company.[29][30]

It is believed that the system of patroonships was originally suggested by van Rensselaer himself.[31] He was reportedly one of the first of the Company to perceive that the building up of New Netherland could not be carried on without labor, and that labor could not be procured without permanent settlers. "Open up the country with agriculture: that must be our first step," was his urgent advice. The Company was not inclined to involve itself in further expense for colonization, and matters threatened to come to a halt, when someone — very likely van Rensselaer himself — evolved the plan of granting large estates to men willing to pay the cost of settling and operating them.[32]

A short, wide parchment map shows the "Noord Rivier" (North River) traveling from right to left along the center of the parchment, in addition to the proposed locations of small settlements. Another river is also shown, at the very right, traveling from the top of the parchment to its connection at the Noord. The map is entitled "RENSELAERSWYCK" [sic] in large letters and the contains two shields and two scrolls containing Dutch text.
Original Map of Rensselaerswyck, c. 1632

Van Rensselaer was quick to take part in the new endeavor: on January 13, 1629, he sent notification[33] to the Directors of the Company that he, in conjunction with fellow Company members Samuel Godyn and Samuel Blommaert, had sent Gillis Houset and Jacob Jansz Cuyper to determine satisfactory locations for settlement.[34] This took place even before the Charter was ratified, but was done in accordance with a draft of the Charter from March 28, 1628.[35]

The report of the agents sent out had not been unfavorable. They had selected an extensive domain on both sides of the North River[e] in the vicinity of Fort Orange for van Rensselaer, which extended 24 miles (39 km) in length, 40 miles (64 km) in breadth and covered an area of almost 1,000 square miles (2,600 km2). The location relative to the fort was chosen with care — in case of danger, it would be a sure point of defense or retreat, and its garrison would be very likely to intimidate the natives. In this manner van Rensselaer employed the troops of the Company more or less as coadjutors to his colonizing plans. Furthermore, the fort would become an easily-reached marketplace for the colonists, where they could maintain communication with the outside world. For that reason, van Rensselaer diligently maintained friendly relations with the commander of the garrison and the authorities within the walls.[36]

His first act was to obtain possession of the land for his colony from the Mohican, the original owners, who had never been willing to sell their territory — not even the ground of Fort Orange. However, after they had been involved in a bloody war with their neighbors, the Mohawks, and were defeated in 1629, they were found ready to dispose of their possessions. In April, two officers of the West India Company in Fort Orange, Sebastiaen Jansen Krol and Dirk Cornelisz Duyster, specially empowered by writing of January 12, 1630,[37] purchased a large tract of land on the west side of the North River.[38] Gillis Houset, one of the men initially sent to determine a settlement location, increased this territory in August by adding tracts of land on the right bank, located above and below Fort Orange, and also by adding land on the east side of the river. After the initial expansion, the territory was later further extended by deeds of purchase in May 1631 and April 1637.[39]

The most troubling aspect of colonizing the patroonships was enlisting the required number of colonists, so that the failure of many of the other proposed patroonships may in part be attributed to this fact. The patroons still dealt with the issues of a cautious people not caring to venture to an undeveloped world. As an owner of extensive lands in the sandy Gooi[f] and of family estates in the not much more fruitful Veluwe, where several relatives were landowners and struggled to subsist on meager means, van Rensselaer had an advantage — his agents needed to employ little persuasion to induce some Gooiers and Veluwers to migrate to more fruitful regions where the farming would be less difficult. In addition, he could depend on the indirect support of his nephew Wouter van Twiller, who had been appointed Director of New Netherland in 1632, and with whom he engaged in friendly correspondence at a time when Dutch directors opposed the patroons in every way.[40] In 1634 he collaborated with Michael Reyniersz Pauw, the patroon of Pavonia on shipping cattle.

With that, van Rensselaer shipped out 37 immigrants on his ship Rensselaerswijck from Amsterdam on September 26, 1636. The vessel arrived on April 7, 1637.[41] The population rose to more than 100 by 1642 and doubled that in the next ten years. The village of Beverwyck alone had more than 1000 inhabitants by 1660 and is said to have become urban by this point.[42]

The good understanding between the patroons of the Amsterdam Chamber left nothing to be desired; Burgh, Godyn, Blommaert, and van Rensselaer, before signifying to the directors their willingness to start colonies, made an agreement to work the projected colonies on joint account, each under the direction of one of them. Three of them would have a one-fifth share in each colony, while the fourth would receive the remaining two fifths, taking the responsibility for its management and exercising patroon rights.[43]

Only Rensselaerswyck was a successful patroonship. Van Rensselaer successively purchased Godyn's share in the patroonship from his heirs, so that van Rensslaer soon became the owner of three fifths. The two other shares remained partly in the hands of Blommaert and partly in the hands of others: Adam Bessels owning Blommaert's fifth, while Johannes de Laet and Toussaint Muyssaert split Burgh's fifth between them.[43]

Letters saved by the van Rensselaer family show that Kiliaen van Rensselaer never visited his colony in person.[1]

Personal life[edit]

First marriage[edit]

Rensselaer family gravestone in the church of Nijkerk, that Kiliaen bought commemorating his father Hendrick and uncle Johan. He probably purchased this when his first wife died, as her family name, Byllaer, is on the stone in the lower right. Kiliaen named his sons Hendrick and Johan after these men.

Van Rensselaer married his cousin Hillegonda van Bijler, on July 23, 1616.[10] As the sole heir of her father Wolfert van Bijler (or Byllaer), she inherited 12,000 guilders.[9] Hillegonda van Bijler was born around 1598, making her near the age of 18 at the time of her marriage to van Rensselaer.[10] The same year, the young husband purchased a couple of lots on the east side of the recently dug Keizersgracht in Amsterdam, between Marten and Wolven streets, where he built a house.[12]

Van Rensselaer and van Bijler had three children. The first was Hendrick, Kiliaen's first son, believed to have died in childhood.[10][12] Johan,[g] their second son, was baptized on September 4, 1625.[12] Maria, their last child, was buried on January 4, 1627.[10][21] She died as an infant.[12]

Hillegonda van Bijler is presumed to have died in late December 1626, since she was buried on January 1, 1627, three days before her third child Maria. She was around the age of 28 and the couple had been married less than eleven years.[10]

Second marriage[edit]

Van Rensselaer re-married on December 14, 1627 to Anna van Wely, daughter of van Rensselaer's former business partner.[44] Van Wely was born around 1601, making her about 26 at the time of the marriage.[10] The couple had eight children[h] between 1629 and 1639, four boys and four girls:

Van Wely outlived her husband, having died in Amsterdam in 1670.[10]

Death and legacy[edit]

A white, cylindrical stone is marked with a copper-colored shield marking the burial place of Van Rensselaer, which includes Dutch text.
Memorial stone in Oude Kerk indicating a burial date

Little is known about van Rensselaer's death, and sources even disagree on the year.[b] Van Rensselaer was interred in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. His memorial stone states he was buried in the church on October 7, 1643.

Van Rensselaer's son Jeremias is the sole ancestor of the entire van Rensselaer family in America, and only because of Kiliaen's purchase and development of the land in New Netherland.[21] Included in the subsequent family tree is a very powerful and wealthy group of individuals over the course of American history. Within the paternal (van Rensselaer) lineage, the family has produced numerous New York State Assemblymen and Senators, two Lieutenant Governors of New York,[k] and five Congressmen from New York between 1789 and 1842.[l]

Van Rensselaer is also the source of the names of the town of Rensselaerville, city of Rensselaer, and county of Rensselaer in upstate New York.[46] Additionally, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy was founded in 1824 by Stephen Van Rensselaer III as the Rensselaer School.[47] It is now a world-renowned technical and engineering school.[48] Notably, at the time of his death, Stephen III was worth about $10 million (about $88 billion in 2007 dollars) and is noted as being the tenth-richest American in history.[49]

Rensselaerswyck continued as a legal entity until the mid-1840s, having survived Dutch and British colonial times, even being given a special patent by Queen Anne to confirm the patroon's fiefdom upon British takeover of the area.[50] The end of the manor came with the Anti-Rent War, when many tenants rose against the successors of Stephen Van Rensselaer III (who had died in 1839), having much influence on the Legislature elections of the time, and eventually intimidating the Van Rensselaer family enough to sell off most of its holdings.[51]

The family records, many of which were translated and published in the Van Rensselaer Bowier Manuscripts, reveal the personality of the man who figures prominently in the history of colonization as the founder of the only successful patroonship that ever existed in New Netherland. But beyond the fact that he managed this patroonship and that he was a merchant and director of the West India Company, practically nothing was known until the organization and translation of the family records in the early 1900s (decade).[1]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Van Lear (1908), p. 32
  2. ^ a b Janny Venema, Kiliaen van Rensselaer (1586-1643): designing a new world, State Univ of New York Press, January 2011, ISBN 90-8704-196-9
  3. ^ Van Rensselaer (1888), p. 2
  4. ^ Netherland Chamber of Commerce in America (1909), p. 28
  5. ^ a b Van Laer (1908), pp. 43–44
  6. ^ Van Laer (1908), p. 43
  7. ^ a b Spooner (1907), p. 6
  8. ^ Van Laer (1908), p. 42
  9. ^ a b c d e Van Laer (1908), p. 45
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Gilbert, Walter. "Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, Anna Van Wely (Walter Gilbert, Ancestors: The Eleventh Generation Back)". Retrieved 2009-07-26. 
  11. ^ Prent
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Van Laer (1908), p. 46
  13. ^ States-General of the United Netherlands (1621): Article I of the Charter of the Dutch West India Company on Wikisource
  14. ^ States-General of the United Netherlands (1622): Amplification of the Charter of the Dutch West India Company on Wikisource
  15. ^ a b Spooner (1907), p. 7
  16. ^ a b c d Van Rensselaer (1888), p. 8
  17. ^ a b States-General of the United Netherlands (1621): Article XII of the Charter of the Dutch West India Company on Wikisource
  18. ^ States-General of the United Netherlands (1621): Article XI of the Charter of the Dutch West India Company on Wikisource
  19. ^ States-General of the United Netherlands (1621): Article XVIII of the Charter of the Dutch West India Company on Wikisource
  20. ^ Van Laer (1908), p. 47
  21. ^ a b c d e f g Spooner (1907), p. 11
  22. ^ Spooner 1907, p.17
  23. ^ Netherland Chamber of Commerce in America (1909), p. 26
  24. ^ a b Spooner (1907), p. 14
  25. ^ Dutch West India Company (1629): Article XXVI of the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions on Wikisource
  26. ^ Dutch West India Company (1629): Article III of the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions on Wikisource
  27. ^ Dutch West India Company (1629): Article VI of the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions on Wikisource
  28. ^ Dutch West India Company (1629): Article XXV of the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions on Wikisource
  29. ^ Dutch West India Company (1629): Article XXX of the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions on Wikisource
  30. ^ Van Lear (1908), pp. 51-52
  31. ^ Goodwin (1919), p. 32
  32. ^ Goodwin (1919), p. 33
  33. ^ Van Rensselaer, Kiliaen; Samuel Godyn, and Samuel Blommaert (1629): Notification by Samuel Godyn, Kiliaen van Rensselaer and Samuel Blommaert that they send two persons to New Netherland to inspect the country on Wikisource
  34. ^ Van Lear (1908), p. 50
  35. ^ Van Laer (1908), p. 154
  36. ^ Van Laer (1908), pp. 53–54
  37. ^ Van Rensselaer, Kiliaen (1630): Instructions to Bastiaen Jansz Krol from Kiliaen van Rensselaer (January 10, 1630) on Wikisource
  38. ^ Crol, Bastiaen Janssen (1630): Contract of sale of land along the Hudson River from the Mahican Indians to Kiliaen van Rensselaer on Wikisource
  39. ^ Van Laer (1908), p. 54
  40. ^ Van Laer (1908), p. 53
  41. ^ Venema (2003), p. 17
  42. ^ Venema (2003), p. 18
  43. ^ a b Van Laer (1908), p. 55
  44. ^ Van Laer (1908), p. 49
  45. ^ a b Van Laer (1908), p. 319
  46. ^ French (1860), p. 540
  47. ^ "RPI History". Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  48. ^ "The Top 50 Universities for Technology". Times Higher Education. 2007. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  49. ^ Klepper, M.; R. Gunther. "The richest Americans: Stephen Van Rensselaer". Fortune Magazine. Retrieved 2009-06-28. 
  50. ^ Spooner (1907), p. 20
  51. ^ Ellis (1967), pp. 158–161
  52. ^ a b Van Rensselaer (1888), p. 25
  53. ^ Van Laer (1908), p. 876
  54. ^ Van Laer (1908), p. 49
  55. ^ Van Rensselaer (1888), p. 3
  56. ^ Van Laer (1908), p. 854
  57. ^ a b "Van Rensselaer, Stephen, III, (1764–1839)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. United States Congress. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  58. ^ a b "Van Rensselaer, Jeremiah, (1738–1810)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. United States Congress. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  59. ^ "Van Rensselaer, Killian Killian, (1763–1845)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. United States Congress. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  60. ^ "Van Rensselaer, Solomon Van Vechten, (1774–1852)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. United States Congress. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  61. ^ "Van Rensselaer, Henry Bell, (1810–1864)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. United States Congress. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 

Bibliography[edit]

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External links[edit]

This article incorporates text from the Van Rensselaer Bowier Manuscripts published by the New York State Library (1908), Annals of the Van Rensselaers in the United States by Rev. Maunsell van Rensselaer (1888), The Dutch in New Netherland and the United States: 1609–1909 published by The Netherland Chamber of Commerce in America (1909), and The Van Rensselaer Family by W. W. Spooner (1907), publications now in the public domain.