Based on strict standards the original Kiliaen Van Rensselaer should not be part of this list of prominent Dutch Americans, because he never set foot on this continent. However, his decision to invest part of his fortune in New Netherland and the impact of these investments on the future developments in New Netherland clearly deserve his inclusion in this biographical listing. In addition three of his four sons established themselves in New Netherland and they collectively left a major imprint on the history of New Netherland and the development of New York State.
In contrast to most immigrants to this country who arrived in the new world with little or no money in their pockets, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer was probably one of the largest Dutch investors in the new world. Relatively speaking he was probably by far the largest investor ever as an individual. Kiliaen Van Rensselaer was an eminent, educated and wealthy citizen of Amsterdam. He was a wealthy pearl and diamond merchant in Amsterdam at a time when the Dutch Provinces were still in the middle of their war of independence from the hated Spanish oppressors. He was also involved with the Dutch West India Company as a major investor and financier. His vessels were part of the supply fleet of the Dutch West India Company, and he extended credit to the company especially at some financially critical situations.
So what caused Kiliaen to become interested in New Netherland? When the Dutch West India Company had established New Amsterdam, the hinterlands provided investment opportunities for Van Rensselaer's enormous wealth. He started out with an agent to develop trade opportunities, but he quickly saw the opportunity for land investment. His agents started buying up land and before long Kiliaen owned land which presently comprises the counties of Albany, Columbia and Rensselaer in the region what is now Albany, New York. His land or estate was called "Rensselaerswijck". The title can be loosely translated as the Rensselaer Estate. He then promoted immigration from the Netherlands where by new immigrants were able to rent the land for a portion of their crops, a form of share cropping. In other words he facilitated immigration by providing transportation from the Netherlands to New Netherland and opportunities upon arrival for poor immigrants who would otherwise not have been able to pay for the costs associated with
their immigration. He used his own fleet to transport them across the Atlantic and upon arrival he even provided the implements and other resources to work the lands.
On location in Rensselaerswijck he had a management structure to help the immigrants settle in. He also insisted that the immigrants either live in communities or near each other so that both social and church life could be established and maintained. He managed to do all this in his rather short life. He passed away at the rather young age of 49. If he had lived longer he probably would have traveled to his property in New Netherland to visit with the people he was able to move there for their livelihood. He would have been able to view his estate as the "Patroon" of Rensselaerswijck. Patroon is a Dutch title which can be translated as Lord of the Manor, but is probably best translated as landowner or landlord.
Following Kiliaen Van Rensselaer's death on October 7, 1643, his son Johannes took over the title as Patroon. But since Johannes was underage the estate was managed by two guardians, all located in Amsterdam. In the meantime the Dutch West India Company became jealous of the power Rensselaerswijck had gained through its successful settlements, and in 1648 Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Amsterdam, went up the Hudson River to assert the Dutch West India Company's supremacy.
In 1652 Jan Baptist Van Rensselaer, Kiliaen's second son and Johannes's brother arrived at Rensselaerswijck. He was the first Van Rensselear to arrive in the new world and visit the estate in person. Jan Baptist became the third Patroon, essentially representing his brother Johannes, the second Patroon. Jan Baptist's Patroonship lasted until 1658 when he retired because of the ongoing hassles with the Dutch West India Company and with Peter Van Stuyvesant. Jan Baptist was succeeded by his brother Jeremias [1632-1674], the fourth Patroon. Jeremias remained in charge of the colony for 16 years, until his early death in 1674. He was in charge when the British took over New Amsterdam and all of New Netherland, in 1664. Jeremias took the oath of allegiance to the Duke of York, and the British left the colony in peace. Jeremias was married to Maria Van Cortlandt, an offspring from another famous New York family of Dutch background.
Jeremias was succeeded by his nephew Kiliaen, son of Johannes, the fifth Patroon of Rensselaerswijck. In 1685 the Van Rensselaer heirs in Amsterdam relinquished all title and rights to Rensselaerswijck, and in turn the Albany heirs relinquished all title and right to the possessions of the Van Rensselaers in the Netherlands.
Kiliaen, Johannes' son, died and was succeeded by Jeremias' son, also named Kiliaen Van Rensselaer[1662-1719]. He was the first Van Rensselaer Patroon born in Rensselaerswijck. He was married to a Maria Van Cortlandt, daughter of Stephen Van Cortlandt.
The seventh Patroon was Stephen Van Rensselaer, a grandson of Kiliaen, not the original Kiliaen. He married Catherine Livingston, daughter of Philip Livingston, signer of the Declaration of Independence. Stephen and Catherine's son, Stephen Van Renselaer[1765-1839], became the eighth Patroon.
Stephen, the eighth Patroon induced farmers to settle on his lands with extremely low rental rates. This policy allowed him to expand the Rensselaerswijck estate to 900 farms of 150 acres each under cultivation. Stephen became a general and fought in the war of 1812. He was married to Margaret Schuyler, daughter of General Philip Schuyler, a scion from another famous Dutch family. He was also a graduate of Harvard in 1782.
The last Patroon, the ninth of Renssealaerswijck was Stephen Van Rensselaer [1789-1868], son of Stephen Van Rensselaer and Margaret Schuyler. During the anti-rent campaigns of 1839 he sold off his lands. He also served as a major general in the militia.
The original Kiliaen Van Rensselaer must be given credit for his farsightedness in seeing the opportunities and challenges posed by his decision to invest in this new land in the new world. His investments and actions formed the foundation of what is now the United States of America.
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APPENDIX: THE VAN RENSSELAERS SELECTED FOR INCLUSION IN PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICANS LISTING
Below is a listing of prominent members of the Van Rensselaer family, currently showing about ten members. Inclusion is determined by having achieved prominence through service in the military and through membership in Federal Government positions, largely serving in the United States Congress. Other types of services were also used to determine inclusion in the listing.
The first member is Kiliaen Van Rensselaer [1596-1644]. Although he never set foot on American soil, he is the founder of Rensselaerswyck, the huge block of land which remained in the Van Rensselaer family for over 200 years.
KILIAEN VAN RENSSELAER [1596-1644]
Kiliaen Van Rensselaer became the ancestor of the Van Rensselaers who will be showcased below. The first member is the daughter in law of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer., Maria Van Cortlandt Van Rensselaer. After her husband passed away while she was pregnant with her last child she had to manage the Rensselaerswyck estate.
MARIA VAN CORTLANDT VAN RENSSELAER [1645-1688]
Following her early death the Rensselaerswyck estate was managed by others, including professional managers and other members of the Van Rensselaer family. The next prominent Van Rensselaer who managed the estate was Stephen Van Rensselaer III.
STEPHEN VAN RENSSEALER III [1765-1839]
Upon his death, his son Stephen Van Rensselaer IV became the last patroon of Rensselaerswyck. He oversaw the sale of all the lands to the tenant farmers who occupied the lands.
STEPHEN VAN RENSSELAER IV [1789-1868]
The other son of Stephen Van Rensselaer III was Henry Bell Van Rensselaer [1810-1864]. He was much younger than Stephen Van Rensselaer IV.
HENRY BELL VAN RENSSELAER [1810-1864]
Stephen Van Rensselaer III was a cousin of Solomon Van Vechten Van Rensselaer. Both were generals and fought in the War of 1812 on the Niagara Frontier. Stephen was in overall command of the American forces and Solomon was his adjutant general.
SOLOMON VAN VECHTEN VAN RENSSELAER [1774-1852]
Solomon Van Vechten Van Rensselaer was the son of another general. He was Henry Killian Van Rensselaer.
HENRY KILLIAN VAN RENSSELAER [1744-1816]
Solomon Van Vechten Van Rensselaer was also the uncle of a U.S. Representative in the House. His name was Killian Killian Van Rensselaer [1763-1845].
KILLIAN KILLIAN VAN RENSSELAER [1763-1845]
Killian K. Van Rensselaer in turn was a first or second cousin of Jeremiah Van Rensselaer.
JEREMIAH VAN RENSSELAEER [1738-1810]
And finally, Robert Van Rensselaer [1740-1802] was a cousin of Henry Killian Van Rensselaer [1744-1816]. See above.
ROBERT VAN RENSSELAER [1740-1802]
The above provides a picture of how the Van Rensselaers are related through family ties. It is generally accepted, however, that the founder of Rensselaerswyck, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer [1595-1644] is the ancestor of all of them.