Tour of New Netherland

Albany

1789 etching showing the Dutch influence on the architecture of early Albany.

Albany


For a dozen years following Petrus Stuyvesant's "takeover" of the village of Beverwijck, three semi-autonomous but codependent entities existed side by side: the West India Company's outpost of Fort Orange, the semi-private estate called Rensselaerswijck, and Beverwijck. Steadily, Beverwijck grew. Its houses changed from wood to brick; carpenters, wheelwrights, smiths, and other tradesmen arrived and raised families. A school was founded, and a church. While most of the population was ethnically Dutch, there were also Germans, Swedes, French, and Africans. And of course Indians-on whom the fur trade depended-were an everyday presence

Then, in 1664, everything changed. The English took over New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island, and with it the colony of New Netherland. Beverwijck was renamed Albany, after one of the titles of James, the Duke of York, brother to King Charles II. But the town's vital position - linking Manhattan with the trade route west toward the Great Lakes - insured that it would continue to grow in size and importance, until eventually it became the capital of New York State.

Even before the English takeover, Fort Orange had fallen into disrepair. Its principal flaw was its position right on the riverfront, at a spot that flooded frequently. In 1676, the English government constructed a new fort on the high ground, well away from the river and at the beginning of the road that led westward-a clear indication that the fortunes of the city of Albany would be linked to the heartland of the continent.

If Fort Orange and Beverwijck were founded on the trading of animal skins, Albany, the city into which those settlements grew, would be centered on another kind of trading: political favors. Albany today is a quintessential state capital: gritty, with alternating pockets of charm and decay, old-fashioned warmth and urban blight. From the capitol building, a grand confection loosely based on the Hotel de Ville in Paris, to Empire State Plaza, the 1970s dream-come-true of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, to the brownstone blocks, it is a place of character and characters. It seems sleepy to some, but there is a world to explore just below the surface, as the novels of William Kennedy's "Albany Cycle" make plain. And if you slow down while whizzing along Broadway, you might catch a glimpse of the plaque marking the location of the Dutch trading outpost of Fort Orange.


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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