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“We cannot speak too highly of his Benevolence”: Stephen Van Rensselaer III and the Aristocratic Element of the Early Republic

Jonas Benedikt Anderson

Pages 35 - 56



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For more than two hundred years, the Van Rensselaer family resided over thousands of tenants on their vast manorial landholdings in the Upper Hudson Valley. Established with a charter of the Dutch West India Company, the private colony of Rensselaerswyck became a manor in the course of the English takeover of the New Netherlands. After the American Revolution, the Van Rensselaers, under the head of the family, Stephen III, managed to maintain their special form of landholding and kept up notions of lifestyle, hierarchy, and paternalism normally associated with early modern Europe. With a focus on the relationship between landlord and tenants and their ritualized interaction, this article shows how traditional, aristocratic concepts of social order survived the Revolution and were part of the young republic. It contributes to research on the American Revolution and the Early Republic that looks on continuities between the “New” and “Old World” rather than emphasizing the cut of the ties between the two continents. While the American Revolution certainly brought social change with it, the forces of persistence may not be neglected.

Key Words: American Revolution; aristocracy; land tenure; New York; rituals

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