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Background of Settlement in Petersburgh and Rensselaer County, NY

Welcome to the Church Family of Petersburgh, NY website at
http://churchtree.tripod.com


History of Church Family of Petersburgh
History of Petersburgh

Excerpts from "A Driving Tour of Rensselaer County New York" by Craig Stromme

published by Rensselaer County during tenure of County Executive John Murphy

"Early History of Rensselaer County"

In September of 1614, Henry Hudson sailed up the River of the Mountains (now known as The Hudson River) in search of the fabled route to the East. Instead of making his way to the Orient, he made his way up to Rensselaer County. The Dutch West India Company had to make do with what Hudson had discovered.

The directors of the Company decided they could make a profit from these new lands if they could entice people to settle them. The Company offered tracts of land 18 miles long along one side of the Hudson, or 9 miles along both sides, to any patroon (patron) willing to pay for the settlement of the new land. The patroon had to agree to bring at least 40 adult settlers within four years and pay a duty on all exported goods to the Company. In exchange for these simple obligations, the patroon could have land as far back from the river as he wanted, was granted the land in perpetuity, and was given feudal powers (the right to make laws and judge cases).

With all these inducements, it is difficult to understand why Kiliaen Van Rensselaer was the only man ever to become a patroon. We often tend to think of a large number of wealthy patroons, but Kiliaen was the only legally established one.

As soon as Kiliaen was granted his patent, he ordered deputies to purchase a large tract of land from the local Inidans (Mohicans) and lay out sites for farms. Kiliaen had great difficulty attracting farmers to these new lands and was forced to offer wages instead of shares in the early years. It took him ten years to get the number of settlers he had promised in his agreement.

Van Rensselaer's final tract was more than twice the size of that the Company had officially offered: 23 miles on both sides of the river and extending back 24 miles on both sides (the final Van Rensselaer holdings were over 1,000,000 acres). With this much land Van Rensselaer expected to make substantial profits, but most contemporary accounts agree that if he made any profits at all from his land they were very small (he died in 1643).

Late in the 17th century, a traveller wrote that there were a half-dozen men in this area fairly well off, "but all the rest are miserable poor." The people who made money in this area were usually fur traders; the farmers had a difficult time of it. Although the rents were not terribly profitable for the Van Rensselaer family during these early times, there were only 80 freeholders in Rensselaerwyck by 1720. The Van Rensselaers owned all the land and were willing to wait for profits.

The English relieved the Dutch of all their holdings on this continent in 1664, but they recognized the validity of the Van Rensselaer claims. Similarly, the War of Independence left their holdings untouched. these changes in government did take away many of their feudal rights (they could no longer act as judges in cases on their own lands), but they left others (the tenants still owed service to the manor, could not sell their lease rights without paying one-fourth to the patroon, and paid taxes on all land they did not own.) The results of the continuation of feudal powers will be discussed below in the section on the Anti-Rent Wars.

"The Anti-Rent Wars"

...The Van Rensselaers almost never actually sold land outright. Instead, they offered tenants leases. After the Revolutionary War, Stephen Van Rensselaer decided to entice new farmers to the lands that no one had been willing to settle as yet - the hill lands, hard and rocky. People who answered his advertisements were told to choose their parcel, farm it free for seven years (after clearing it), and then come back and negotiate a permanent lease.

(Ed. note: These very same advertisements no doubt were seen by the John Church family in Connecticut, resulting in their settling the steep rocky ridge between Church Hollow and Potter Hill in Petersburgh.)

When the farmer came back to negotiate his lease, he was told to sign the standard lease or give up the land. Few were willing to do this after they had finally begun to make their farms pay, so they signed. The leases were feudal in the powers of the landlord and the duties of the tenant, but the farmers really had no choice...

...We know, from first person accounts, some of the difficulties that the early settlers in this area faced. The first difficulty was that this land was part of the Van Rensselaer estates so farmers had to pay their rent every year (here rent was 10 bushels of wheat per 100 acres - but when the farmer leased the land, of course, he got timber land and not farm land. Then, even after the land was cleared and the crops harvested, the farmers had to make a 20-mile trip to Nassau just to get their corn or wheat ground. This trip took three days. Winters were harsh and the houses were not weatherproof: people could remember waking up in winter with several inches of snow on their beds.

But these were not the only inconveniences. There was no stores in the area until 1778; prior to that time settlers had to make the long trip down to Castleton Landing for manufactured goods. The paths were too small to admit wagons and so everything had to be carried. One family was forced to leave its wagon in Cherry Plains for twelve years before they could finally get it to their farm. We often forget that the early settlers in the Eastern part of the the United States faced a situation just as difficult as the men and women who later settled the West...

...Stephen died in 1839. He had collected over $41,000,000 in rents from his 100,000 tenants during his lifetime and was one of the wealthiest men in the country. His heirs were told that the estate's debts could be paid out of their portions or with the proceeds from back rents. The brothers, Stephen and William, decided to collect the rents rather than damage their own portions. Thus, they ordered sheriffs and their agents to collect from the tenants.

When the estate called in past debts, a group of tenants tried to meet with Stephen (he inherited the West Manor, now Albany County) and renegotiate the leases. Many of the families had been paying rents on the same land for generations, including all taxes, and now wanted to buy the land. Stephen refused to renegotiate, but agreed to sell the worst land in the estate for $5 an acre (more than twice what the tenants offered). This was the beginning of the Anti-Rent Wars: the tenants refused to pay any more rents.

(Ed. note: There now followed a period of resistance for several years on the part of the renters and farmers in preventing the sheriffs from serving warrants or selling animals or possessions.)

...Christman's "Tin Horns and Calico" tells the complete story of the Anti-Rent War and its leaders.

...The Anti-Renters did not receive any relief until 1850 when the Supreme Court of New York found many of the clauses in the lease agreements unconstitutional and failed to recognize the validity of all the Van Rensselaer claims. The ruling, in short, was that the leases were invalid but that the rent was not. The tenants still refused to pay rent (on land that they now owned) and the Van Rensselaers gave up and sold their claims to a speculator. He hounded the tenants for back rents and brought over 1,000 suits to court. He won all of them but he still died bankrupt. Once the law recognized their legal right to the land they farmed for generations, the Anti-Renters would never give in.

See Rensselaer County Historical Society: Grafton Anti-Rent Mutual Protection Association Records, 1824-1867 http://www.rchsonline.org/findinggraftonantirent.htm


Van Rensselaer East Manor Land Records

The Manuscripts & Special Collections, New York State Library, holds an extensive collection of land records covering the “Manor of Rensselaerswyck,” an area including a large portion of Albany and Rensselaer counties. In Rensselaer County, the entire county south of Lansingburgh, Schaghticoke, Pittstown and Hoosick was included in the “Manor.” The Van Rensselaer family held rights, dating back to the 17th Century, to most all land in this area. These rights included the collection of “ground rent” on lands within the Manor. This rent was paid annually, usually in commodities such as bushels of wheat, to the agents of the “Patroon,” the head of the family.

In 1785 young Stephen Van Rensselaer inherited the family rights to the Manor, and it became necessary to determine the extent of these land holdings. In order to complete this task, surveyors John E. Van Alen and Job Gilbert were hired to survey and map the entire Manor. The Manor was divided into the “East Manor” and “West Manor” by the Hudson River, and the East Manor into divisions known as Elizabethtown (Brunswick), Phillipstown (Nassau), Roxborough (Grafton), Greenbush, Schodack, Stephentown, Middletown and Little Hoosick. “Middletown” included chiefly the eastern portions of the present towns of Poestenkill and Sand Lake and the western portion of Berlin. “Little Hoosick” encompassed the present Town of Petersburgh and the eastern portion of Berlin. You will notice that the east line of Middletown (west line of Little Hoosick) bisects the area of our study.

The Van Rensselaer Manor Papers consist primarily of maps, surveys, account ledgers and leases. While some of the West Manor papers (including most of the surveys) were burned in the Capitol Fire of 1911, most of the maps and surveys, many of the leases, and all of the account ledgers survive for the East Manor. One map covers the east half of the East Manor, while individual maps exist covering each of the survey areas except “Little Hoosick.” Additional versions of these maps survive in the Historic Cherry Hill Papers (a separate collection of manuscripts kept by a branch of the Van Rensselaer family), also held by the New York State Library. Survey volumes, including both the actual surveys and maps of some of the individual lots, cover the majority of lots in the East Manor. In addition, some miscellaneous surveys survive as well. An index of the surveys should be completed later this year.

The accuracy of the maps and surveys is surprising, considering the rugged wilderness of much of the East Manor in the late 18th Century, as well as the seemingly primitive instruments in use at this time. These records are frequently consulted by present-day land surveyors and title abstract firms for the valuable detailed and accurate information they contain. These records have gained the status of virtually an adjunct to land records maintained by the County itself. Current deeds to many parcels of land in Rensselaer County contain references to original Van Rensselaer leases. The Rensselaer-Taconic Land Conservancy is studying methods by which these maps can be computerized. The attached map shows the results of the computer “digitizing” of some of these lot boundaries from circa 1790 maps, and plotting them over modern map data. This has greatly enhanced our study of the “West Mountain” in Berlin, and more specifically, the course of the early roads which traversed the area.

A substantial number of the Van Rensselaer family’s copies of the large, impressive original leases survive as well. But the most interesting records of all are the account ledgers (sometimes called the “rent ledgers”), massive leather-bound volumes documenting the annual collection of “ground rent” by agents of the Patroon. These ledgers include valuable information on such as dates of property transfers (often not found in recorded deeds) and on sub- leases, partial interests and tenants of properties, and names of the parties involved. In addition, the manner of rent collection is also stated. While rent was usually due in bushels of wheat, the actual payment may have been in the form of cash or promissory notes, or other commodities such as oats, rye, cider, shingles, firewood, domestic animals or even days of service laboring for the Manor. Occasionally they contain interesting personal information as well. The ledgers have all been microfilmed.

The Van Rensselaer Manor land records hold a wealth of information on rural Rensselaer County and its early residents. They largely date from the late 1700’s until the 1850's following the so-called “Anti-Rent Wars,” by which time the family had relinquished its feudal rights to most of these land holdings. These records are available for research (Monday through Friday, except state holidays, from 9 AM to 5 PM) at the Manuscripts & Special Collections of the New York State Library, located on the floor of the Cultural Education Center on Madison Avenue in Albany. Some original records can be studied, while in other cases, because of the fragile nature of some maps and surveys, and the size and weight of the massive account ledgers, patrons are provided microfilm or photostatic copies for their use. For additional information on use of these records, contact the State Library at (518) 474-4461.

Top of page || Church Genealogy Main Page || Church Home Page || History of Church Family of Petersburgh, NY

"The Church Family of Petersburgh, NY featuring descendants of Frank and Myrtle Church" website
at http://churchtree.tripod.com
©2002 by Daniel J. Bornt, e-mail to: vanatalan@yahoo.com

Background of Settlement in Petersburgh and Rensselaer County, NY

Welcome to the Church Family of Petersburgh, NY website at
http://churchtree.tripod.com


History of Church Family of Petersburgh
History of Petersburgh

Excerpts from "A Driving Tour of Rensselaer County New York" by Craig Stromme

published by Rensselaer County during tenure of County Executive John Murphy

"Early History of Rensselaer County"

In September of 1614, Henry Hudson sailed up the River of the Mountains (now known as The Hudson River) in search of the fabled route to the East. Instead of making his way to the Orient, he made his way up to Rensselaer County. The Dutch West India Company had to make do with what Hudson had discovered.

The directors of the Company decided they could make a profit from these new lands if they could entice people to settle them. The Company offered tracts of land 18 miles long along one side of the Hudson, or 9 miles along both sides, to any patroon (patron) willing to pay for the settlement of the new land. The patroon had to agree to bring at least 40 adult settlers within four years and pay a duty on all exported goods to the Company. In exchange for these simple obligations, the patroon could have land as far back from the river as he wanted, was granted the land in perpetuity, and was given feudal powers (the right to make laws and judge cases).

With all these inducements, it is difficult to understand why Kiliaen Van Rensselaer was the only man ever to become a patroon. We often tend to think of a large number of wealthy patroons, but Kiliaen was the only legally established one.

As soon as Kiliaen was granted his patent, he ordered deputies to purchase a large tract of land from the local Inidans (Mohicans) and lay out sites for farms. Kiliaen had great difficulty attracting farmers to these new lands and was forced to offer wages instead of shares in the early years. It took him ten years to get the number of settlers he had promised in his agreement.

Van Rensselaer's final tract was more than twice the size of that the Company had officially offered: 23 miles on both sides of the river and extending back 24 miles on both sides (the final Van Rensselaer holdings were over 1,000,000 acres). With this much land Van Rensselaer expected to make substantial profits, but most contemporary accounts agree that if he made any profits at all from his land they were very small (he died in 1643).

Late in the 17th century, a traveller wrote that there were a half-dozen men in this area fairly well off, "but all the rest are miserable poor." The people who made money in this area were usually fur traders; the farmers had a difficult time of it. Although the rents were not terribly profitable for the Van Rensselaer family during these early times, there were only 80 freeholders in Rensselaerwyck by 1720. The Van Rensselaers owned all the land and were willing to wait for profits.

The English relieved the Dutch of all their holdings on this continent in 1664, but they recognized the validity of the Van Rensselaer claims. Similarly, the War of Independence left their holdings untouched. these changes in government did take away many of their feudal rights (they could no longer act as judges in cases on their own lands), but they left others (the tenants still owed service to the manor, could not sell their lease rights without paying one-fourth to the patroon, and paid taxes on all land they did not own.) The results of the continuation of feudal powers will be discussed below in the section on the Anti-Rent Wars.

"The Anti-Rent Wars"

...The Van Rensselaers almost never actually sold land outright. Instead, they offered tenants leases. After the Revolutionary War, Stephen Van Rensselaer decided to entice new farmers to the lands that no one had been willing to settle as yet - the hill lands, hard and rocky. People who answered his advertisements were told to choose their parcel, farm it free for seven years (after clearing it), and then come back and negotiate a permanent lease.

(Ed. note: These very same advertisements no doubt were seen by the John Church family in Connecticut, resulting in their settling the steep rocky ridge between Church Hollow and Potter Hill in Petersburgh.)

When the farmer came back to negotiate his lease, he was told to sign the standard lease or give up the land. Few were willing to do this after they had finally begun to make their farms pay, so they signed. The leases were feudal in the powers of the landlord and the duties of the tenant, but the farmers really had no choice...

...We know, from first person accounts, some of the difficulties that the early settlers in this area faced. The first difficulty was that this land was part of the Van Rensselaer estates so farmers had to pay their rent every year (here rent was 10 bushels of wheat per 100 acres - but when the farmer leased the land, of course, he got timber land and not farm land. Then, even after the land was cleared and the crops harvested, the farmers had to make a 20-mile trip to Nassau just to get their corn or wheat ground. This trip took three days. Winters were harsh and the houses were not weatherproof: people could remember waking up in winter with several inches of snow on their beds.

But these were not the only inconveniences. There was no stores in the area until 1778; prior to that time settlers had to make the long trip down to Castleton Landing for manufactured goods. The paths were too small to admit wagons and so everything had to be carried. One family was forced to leave its wagon in Cherry Plains for twelve years before they could finally get it to their farm. We often forget that the early settlers in the Eastern part of the the United States faced a situation just as difficult as the men and women who later settled the West...

...Stephen died in 1839. He had collected over $41,000,000 in rents from his 100,000 tenants during his lifetime and was one of the wealthiest men in the country. His heirs were told that the estate's debts could be paid out of their portions or with the proceeds from back rents. The brothers, Stephen and William, decided to collect the rents rather than damage their own portions. Thus, they ordered sheriffs and their agents to collect from the tenants.

When the estate called in past debts, a group of tenants tried to meet with Stephen (he inherited the West Manor, now Albany County) and renegotiate the leases. Many of the families had been paying rents on the same land for generations, including all taxes, and now wanted to buy the land. Stephen refused to renegotiate, but agreed to sell the worst land in the estate for $5 an acre (more than twice what the tenants offered). This was the beginning of the Anti-Rent Wars: the tenants refused to pay any more rents.

(Ed. note: There now followed a period of resistance for several years on the part of the renters and farmers in preventing the sheriffs from serving warrants or selling animals or possessions.)

...Christman's "Tin Horns and Calico" tells the complete story of the Anti-Rent War and its leaders.

...The Anti-Renters did not receive any relief until 1850 when the Supreme Court of New York found many of the clauses in the lease agreements unconstitutional and failed to recognize the validity of all the Van Rensselaer claims. The ruling, in short, was that the leases were invalid but that the rent was not. The tenants still refused to pay rent (on land that they now owned) and the Van Rensselaers gave up and sold their claims to a speculator. He hounded the tenants for back rents and brought over 1,000 suits to court. He won all of them but he still died bankrupt. Once the law recognized their legal right to the land they farmed for generations, the Anti-Renters would never give in.

See Rensselaer County Historical Society: Grafton Anti-Rent Mutual Protection Association Records, 1824-1867 http://www.rchsonline.org/findinggraftonantirent.htm


Van Rensselaer East Manor Land Records

The Manuscripts & Special Collections, New York State Library, holds an extensive collection of land records covering the “Manor of Rensselaerswyck,” an area including a large portion of Albany and Rensselaer counties. In Rensselaer County, the entire county south of Lansingburgh, Schaghticoke, Pittstown and Hoosick was included in the “Manor.” The Van Rensselaer family held rights, dating back to the 17th Century, to most all land in this area. These rights included the collection of “ground rent” on lands within the Manor. This rent was paid annually, usually in commodities such as bushels of wheat, to the agents of the “Patroon,” the head of the family.

In 1785 young Stephen Van Rensselaer inherited the family rights to the Manor, and it became necessary to determine the extent of these land holdings. In order to complete this task, surveyors John E. Van Alen and Job Gilbert were hired to survey and map the entire Manor. The Manor was divided into the “East Manor” and “West Manor” by the Hudson River, and the East Manor into divisions known as Elizabethtown (Brunswick), Phillipstown (Nassau), Roxborough (Grafton), Greenbush, Schodack, Stephentown, Middletown and Little Hoosick. “Middletown” included chiefly the eastern portions of the present towns of Poestenkill and Sand Lake and the western portion of Berlin. “Little Hoosick” encompassed the present Town of Petersburgh and the eastern portion of Berlin. You will notice that the east line of Middletown (west line of Little Hoosick) bisects the area of our study.

The Van Rensselaer Manor Papers consist primarily of maps, surveys, account ledgers and leases. While some of the West Manor papers (including most of the surveys) were burned in the Capitol Fire of 1911, most of the maps and surveys, many of the leases, and all of the account ledgers survive for the East Manor. One map covers the east half of the East Manor, while individual maps exist covering each of the survey areas except “Little Hoosick.” Additional versions of these maps survive in the Historic Cherry Hill Papers (a separate collection of manuscripts kept by a branch of the Van Rensselaer family), also held by the New York State Library. Survey volumes, including both the actual surveys and maps of some of the individual lots, cover the majority of lots in the East Manor. In addition, some miscellaneous surveys survive as well. An index of the surveys should be completed later this year.

The accuracy of the maps and surveys is surprising, considering the rugged wilderness of much of the East Manor in the late 18th Century, as well as the seemingly primitive instruments in use at this time. These records are frequently consulted by present-day land surveyors and title abstract firms for the valuable detailed and accurate information they contain. These records have gained the status of virtually an adjunct to land records maintained by the County itself. Current deeds to many parcels of land in Rensselaer County contain references to original Van Rensselaer leases. The Rensselaer-Taconic Land Conservancy is studying methods by which these maps can be computerized. The attached map shows the results of the computer “digitizing” of some of these lot boundaries from circa 1790 maps, and plotting them over modern map data. This has greatly enhanced our study of the “West Mountain” in Berlin, and more specifically, the course of the early roads which traversed the area.

A substantial number of the Van Rensselaer family’s copies of the large, impressive original leases survive as well. But the most interesting records of all are the account ledgers (sometimes called the “rent ledgers”), massive leather-bound volumes documenting the annual collection of “ground rent” by agents of the Patroon. These ledgers include valuable information on such as dates of property transfers (often not found in recorded deeds) and on sub- leases, partial interests and tenants of properties, and names of the parties involved. In addition, the manner of rent collection is also stated. While rent was usually due in bushels of wheat, the actual payment may have been in the form of cash or promissory notes, or other commodities such as oats, rye, cider, shingles, firewood, domestic animals or even days of service laboring for the Manor. Occasionally they contain interesting personal information as well. The ledgers have all been microfilmed.

The Van Rensselaer Manor land records hold a wealth of information on rural Rensselaer County and its early residents. They largely date from the late 1700’s until the 1850's following the so-called “Anti-Rent Wars,” by which time the family had relinquished its feudal rights to most of these land holdings. These records are available for research (Monday through Friday, except state holidays, from 9 AM to 5 PM) at the Manuscripts & Special Collections of the New York State Library, located on the floor of the Cultural Education Center on Madison Avenue in Albany. Some original records can be studied, while in other cases, because of the fragile nature of some maps and surveys, and the size and weight of the massive account ledgers, patrons are provided microfilm or photostatic copies for their use. For additional information on use of these records, contact the State Library at (518) 474-4461.

Top of page || Church Genealogy Main Page || Church Home Page || History of Church Family of Petersburgh, NY

"The Church Family of Petersburgh, NY featuring descendants of Frank and Myrtle Church" website
at http://churchtree.tripod.com
©2002 by Daniel J. Bornt, e-mail to: vanatalan@yahoo.com