The West India Company brought the first settlers to New Netherland to gather beaver pelts to sell back in the Netherlands but they had a hard time finding enough people to settle the colony. In an effort to attract more people, the company decided to give private entrepreneurs pieces of land in New Netherland if the entrepreneurs (patroons) promised to ship fifty colonists to it within four years. So, in 1631, a Dutch diamond merchant named Killiaen van Rensselaer bought a large tract of land around Fort Orange from the Mahicans who had long lived there. He established a "patroonship," or private farming community, which he named Rensselaerswijck. Many patroons bought land, but Kiliaen Van Rensselaer was the only one who was able to build a successful colony. His patroonship, Rensselaerswyck, lasted into the nineteenth century, passing down through generations of the Van Rensselaer family.

Kiliaen Van Rensselaer never visited America, but he worked hard to make his patroonship a success. Rensselaerswyck grew quickly, with a steady stream of farmers and tradesmen coming from Europe. Farming was the main activity in the patroonship. The products of farming were used to support the growing patroonship, but also the settlers in colonies nearby. Van Rensselaer had thought that the nearby West India Company settlement of Fort Orange, in the area of present day Albany, and his own colony of Rensselaerswyck would be mutually supporting: the fort would provide protection, and the patroonship would supply the fort with goods. Van Rensselaer hoped to make a profit by selling goods to the settlers in the fort. But the two settlements were so close to each other that they competed for profits, leading to a tense relationship between the patroon and the West India Company that controlled the fort.

Compelling Question: How did the residents of Rensselaerswyck attempt to satisfy their basic economic needs?


Receipt for the Sale of Two Horses and Two Cows to Abraham Clock (DeHooges), April 30, 1646
Courtesy: New York State Library


Invoice Listing Goods Shipped from Amsterdam to New Netherland, July 21, 1654 and August 1, 1654
Courtesy: New York State Library


Account and Inventory of Merchandise Received by DeHooges from Pieter Pietersz Wijncoop, c. 1644
Courtesy: New York State Library


Ordinance of the Patroon Concerning the Sale and Export of Furs, Grains, Etc., August 3, 1639
Courtesy: New York State Library


 Official Inventory of Pieter Pietersz Wijncoop's Pelts, July 3, 1646
Courtesy: New York State Library


Ordinance of the Colony of Rensselaerswyck Regulating Trade, August 12, 1641
Courtesy: New York State Library


Bill of Lading, Pieter Amilius and the Otter to Jeremias Van Rensselaer, June 14, 1656
Courtesy: New York State Library


The Account Keeper, Painted by Nicolaes Maes, 1656

Courtesy: The Saint Louis Art Museum

Additional Resources

Image Analysis Graphic Organizer

Primary Source Graphic Organizer

Written Document Analysis Graphic Organizer

About the New Netherland Institute

For over three decades, 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. More


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