A Tour of New Netherland

Fort Orange

Fort Orange 1635 © L.F. Tantillo & M.B. Picotte

Fort Orange


In 1624, the West India Company made its first attempt at establishing a permanent trading and military presence at the spot where the earlier Fort Nassau had failed. They named this outpost Fort Orange, after the same noble family, and placed it a short distance away from the abandoned fort, on the mainland. By now, the fur trade was established. Fort Orange was located five miles south of the confluence of the Mohawk River Valley and the Hudson River, at a spot where Indians would bring furs along an overland pass, thus avoiding the Cohoes Falls to the north. Furs from lands to the west were bought and collected here, and then shipped downriver to Manhattan; from there they were sent to Europe. The handful of soldiers and traders located at Fort Orange were thus at the most vital nexus in the Dutch colony, the place at which the choicest product of the American wilderness-the beaver pelt-was transferred to European markets. These few hearty souls were also (quite unbeknownst to them) the progenitors of the future city of Albany, New York.

Fort Orange suffered a setback in 1626, when a Mohawk party attacked the fort's commander, Daniel Van Crieckenbeek, and a group of his soldiers in nearby woods, killing Van Crieckenbeek and three of his men. Van Crieckenbeek had been assisting the Mahicans in an attack on the Mohawks when the Mohawks ambushed him and his troops. The results were fatal to him, and crippling to Fort Orange. Following the attack, the colony's leader, Peter Minuit, ordered all personnel from outlying areas to gather for safety on Manhattan Island, leaving only a skeleton presence behind at Fort Orange.

The Dutch were always careful recorders of events, and these goings-on on the North River (i.e., the Hudson River) of the New World colony were followed in the Netherlands. In about 1630, a director of the West India Company published an account of the settlement of New Netherland in which he wrote dispassionately and accurately of the fort:

They have there, at the uppermost part of the North River, in the latitude of 43 degrees or thereabouts, a small fort, which our people call Fort Orange, round about which several colonizers have settled themselves under the patronage of the aforesaid company. And again another fort of greater importance at the mouth of the same North River, upon an island which they call Manhattes or Manhatans Island.

In the years following the killing of Van Crieckenbeek and his men, traders, lured by the possibility of good money to be had from beaver pelts, slowly repopulated the fort and its surroundings. When Petrus Stuyvesant took charge of the colony in 1647 he was determined that the fort and the community surrounding it should flourish. But a complicating factor had arisen in the meantime-another Dutch-controlled entity had laid claim to the area. To learn about it and continue the saga of Albany's beginnings, go on to Rensselaerswijck.

  • Fort Orange itself has long disappeared, but history has a way of coming back at you. Click here to learn about a proposal to turn the Albany waterfront into a memorial to Fort Orange and the city's Dutch beginnings.

  • Hartgen Associates has completed an archaeological excavation of a part of Dean Street in downtown Albany, unearthing artifacts-including Delft porcelain tiles-that go all the way to the Dutch period.

  • Here is a paper from the archives of the Rensselaerswijck Seminar on the archaeology of Fort Orange and Beverwijck.


About the New Netherland Institute

For a quarter century NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

The New Netherland Research Center

Housed in the New York State Library, the NNRC offers students, educators, scholars and researchers a vast collection of early documents and reference works on America's Dutch era. Directed by Dr. Charles Gehring. More

 

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