“We cannot speak too highly of his Benevolence”: Stephen Van Rensselaer III and the Aristocratic Element of the Early Republic
Pages 35 - 56
This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.
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.
1 Address of the Committees Appointed at Meetings of the Tenants, Freeholders of the Four Towns in the West Manor of Rensselaerwick, to the Electors of the State of New York. 1801. Library of Congress. Web. 8 Oct. 2021. www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.113002aa/.
2 Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1967. Print.
3 Baker, George E. The Works of William H. Seward. 5 vols. Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin, 1853-84. Print.
4 Barnard, Daniel D. “A Discourse on the Life, Services, and Character of Stephen Van Rensselaer, delivered before the Albany Institute, April 15, 1839.” Ancestral Sketches and Records of Olden Times. Ed. Sarah Rogers Van Rensselaer. New York: A. D. F. Randolph, 1882. 281-341. Print.
5 Bonomi, Patricia U. A Factious People: Politics and Society in Colonial New York. New York: Columbia UP, 1971. Print.
6 Breen, Timothy H. The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.
7 Brooke, John L. Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2010. Print.
8 Burke, Peter. “Cities, Spaces and Rituals in the Early Modern World.” Urban Rituals in Italy and the Netherlands: Historical Contrasts in the Use of Public Space, Architecture and the Urban Environment. Ed. Heidi de Mare and Anna Vos. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1993. 29-38. Print.
9 Burnard, Trevor. Planters, Merchants, and Slaves: Plantation Societies in British America, 1650-1820. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 2015. Print.
10 Bushman, Richard. The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities. New York: Knopf, 1992. Print.
11 “The ‘Case of the Colonie of Rensselaerswijck,’ Delivered to the Council of the Duke of York, London.” 27 Apr. 1678. MS. Van Rensselaer Manor Papers, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library, Albany.
12 Christman, Henry. Tin Horns and Calico: A Decisive Episode in the Emergence of Democracy. New York: Holt, 1945. Print.
13 “Contract between Stephen Van Rensselaer and Oliver Adams.” 2 July 1791. MS. Abraham Van Vechten Papers, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library, Albany.
14 Coote, Richard. “Lord Bellomont to the Lords of Trade.” 28 Nov. 1700. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York. Vol. 4. Ed. John Romeyn Brodhead. Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons, 1854. 781-97. Print.
15 “Copy of the Patent for the Manor of Rensselaerswijck.” 5 Nov. 1685. MS. Van Rensselaer Manor Papers, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library, Albany.
16 Cox, Marvin. “A Reassessment of R. R. Palmer’s The Age of Democratic Revolution.” The History Teacher 24.3 (1991): 343-52. Print.
17 Edwards, Tryon. A Dictionary of Thoughts. Detroit: Dickerson, 1907. Print.
18 Ellis, David M. Landlords and Farmers in the Hudson-Mohawk Region, 1790-1850. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1947. Print.
19 Flick, Alexander C. The American Revolution in New York: Its Political, Social and Economic Significance. Albany: State U of New York P, 1926. Print.
20 Gallay, Allan. “The Origins of Slaveholders’ Paternalism: George Whitefield, the Bryan Family, and the Great Awakening in the South.” The Journal of Southern History 53.3 (1987): 369-94. Print.
21 Genovese, Eugene D. Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. New York: Vintage, 1976. Print.
22 Genovese, Eugene D., and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. Fatal Self-Deception: Slaveholding Paternalism in the Old South. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.
23 Haynes, Sam W. Unfinished Revolution: The Early American Republic in a British World. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2011. Print.
24 Hochgeschwender, Michael. Die Amerikanische Revolution: Geburt einer Nation 1763-1815. München: Beck, 2016. Print.
25 Humphrey, Thomas J. “Conflicting Independence: Land Tenancy and the American Revolution.” Journal of the Early Republic 28.2 (2008): 159-82. Print.
26 ---. Land and Liberty: Hudson Valley Riots in the Age of Revolution. DeKalb: Northern Illinois UP, 2004. Print.
27 Huston, Reeve. Land and Freedom: Rural Society, Popular Protest, and Party Politics in Antebellum New York. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.
28 Jacobs, Jaap. New Netherland: A Dutch Colony in Seventeenth-Century America. Leiden: Brill, 2005. Print.
29 Kierner, Cynthia A. Traders and Gentlefolk: The Livingstons of New York, 1675-1790. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1992. Print.
30 Kilbride, Daniel. An American Aristocracy: Southern Planters in Antebellum Philadelphia. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2006. Print.
31 Kim, Sung Bok. Landlord and Tenant in Colonial New York: Manorial Society, 1664-1775. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1978. Print
32 Lamb, Martha J. “The Van Rensselaer Manor.” The Magazine of American History 11 (1884): 1-32. Print.
33 Laws of the State of New-York Revised and Passed at the Thirty-Sixth Session of the Legislature. 2 vols. Albany, NY: H. C. Southwick, 1813. Print.
34 Mark, Irving. Agrarian Conflicts in Colonial New York, 1711-1775. New York: Columbia UP, 1940. Print.
35 McCurdy, Charles W. The Anti-Rent Era in New York Law and Politics, 1839-1865. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2001. Print.
36 Morgan, Gwenda. The Debate on the American Revolution. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2007. Print.
37 Nobles, Gregory H. “A Class Act: Redefining Deference in Early American History.” Early American Studies 3.2 (2005): 286-302. Print.
38 Palmer, Robert R. The Age of Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800. Vol. 1: The Challenge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1959. Print.
39 Pencak, William. “R. R. Palmer’s The Age of the Democratic Revolution: The View from America after Thirty Years.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 60.1 (1993): 73-92. Print.
40 “Record of Leases Granted by Stephen Van Rensselaer and Ancestors to Tenants and their Assignees, 1766-1797.” MS. Van Rensselaer Manor Papers, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library, Albany.
41 Reynolds, Marcus T. “The Colonial Buildings of Rensselaerswyck.” The Architectural Record 4 (1895): 415-38. Print.
42 Rink, Oliver A. Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1986. Print.
43 Rozbicki, Michal J. The Complete Colonial Gentleman: Cultural Legitimacy in Plantation America. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1998. Print.
44 Scott, James C. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1990. Print.
45 Smith, Ebenezer. Letter to Stephen Van Rensselaer. 19 Feb. 1800. MS. Van Rensselaer Manor Papers, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library, Albany.
46 Syrett, Harold C., ed. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 26 vols. New York: Columbia UP, 1961-79. Print.
47 Tamarkin, Elisa. Anglophilia: Deference, Devotion, and Antebellum America. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 2008. Print.
48 Ten Broeck, Abraham. “Journal Accounts of Receipts and Expenditures of the Family of Stephen Van Rensselaer as Kept by Abraham Ten Broeck, 1763-1787.” MS. Van Rensselaer Manor Papers, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library, Albany.
49 “Town of Rensselaerville.” Albany Gazette. 9 Apr. 1801: 2. Readex: America’s Historical Newspapers. Web. 8 Oct. 2021.
50 Van Rensselaer, Maunsell. Annals of the Van Rensselaers in the United States. New York: C. Van Benthuysen & Sons, 1888. Print.
51 Van Rensselaer, Nicholas. “Notes. 29 January 1839.” MS. Isadore M. Fixman Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytech Institute, Troy, NY.
52 Van Rensselaer III, Stephen. “Letter to the Executers of the Last Will of Stephen Van Rensselaer II. 29 December 1785.” MS. Van Rensselaer Manor Papers, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library, Albany.
53 Venema, Janny. Kiliaen Van Rensselaer (1586-1643): Designing a New World. Hilversum: Uijtgeverij Verloren, 2010. Print.
54 Washbon, Harriet Jenkins. Rensselaerville: Reminiscences and Rhymes. Rensselaerville, NY: C. Van Benthuysen & Sons, 1890. Print.
55 Witbeek, Thomas. “Notice Is Hereby Given to the Tenants of Stephen Van Rensselaer.” No date. MS. Van Rensselaer Manor Papers, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library, Albany.
56 Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: Knopf, 1992. Print.
57 Yokota, Kariann Akemi. Unbecoming British: How Revolutionary America Became a Postcolonial Nation. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.
58 Young, Alfred F. The Democratic Republicans of New York: Its Origins: 1763-1797. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1967. Print.
59 Young, Alfred F., and Gregory H. Nobles. Whose American Revolution Was It? Historians Interpret the Founding. New York: New York UP, 2011. Print.