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Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs:
Historical Appendix: Cities and Towns

Index to All Families | Index to Families by County: Albany, Columbia, Fulton, Greene, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren, Washington

Go to previous: Albany County | next: Progenitors: Introduction

[This information is from Vol. IV, pp. vi-x of Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs, edited by Cuyler Reynolds (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1911). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 929.1 R45. Some of the formatting of the original, especially in lists of descendants, may have been altered slightly for ease of reading.]


The city was incorporated by patent issued by Lieut.-Gov. Thomas Dongan, July 22, 1686, and is the oldest existing chartered city in the United States.

Its history, in its wealth of details covering three centuries, is of interest equal to that of any other in the country, and a resumé of it merits attention.

Giovanni de Verrazano, an expert Italian navigator, commissioned by Francis I., to seek a direct route to the East Indies, sailed in 1523, aboard La Dauphine, with about fifty men, from Dieppe, France, and entered New York Bay in 1524; but after making investigation, did not pursue his course up the river.

In 1540, a small band of French fur-traders, bent on bartering with the Indians, sailed up the river and erected a stone "castle," or fortified trading-post, 26 x 36 feet, on an island at the southern boundary of the present city of Albany. Their records were so meagre that they have not been accorded due fame as the first white men to sail up the Hudson river.

Henry Hudson, an English navigator, was employed by the Dutch East India Co., under contract dated January 8, 1609, to explore the Grande (Hudson) river, noticed by him on a French map, and he sailed on the Half Moon from the Texel river, Holland, March 25th of that year. He entered New York Bay September 3rd; passed through the Narrows on the 6th, and it is calculated that he reached the site of Albany on September 19th, where he anchored and investigated, until he decided to sail down the river on September 23rd. His record is preserved.

The Lords States-General at The Hague, Holland, on October 11, 1614, granted a license to fur-traders to traffic with natives in New Netherland, who send Hendrik Corstiaensen, of Amsterdam, in 1615, and he rebuilds the "castle," which the fur-traders of 1540 had erected on the island immediately south of Albany, calling it Fort Nassau, which was wrecked by the freshet of 1618, and abandoned.

The Dutch West India Co. was incorporated under the seal of Lords States-General of Holland, June 3, 1621, intending to colonize or trade in America. The Walloons, or persecuted French Protestants who had fled to Belgium, liked by the Dutch because of their thrift, petitioned this company, February 5, 1622, to be allowed to settle along the Hudson river. They were given permission in 1623, and in March, 1624, thirty families sailed on the New Netherland, commanded by Captain Cornelis J. Mey, and entered New York Bay in May. They proceeded up the river to the site of Albany; building Fort Orange close to the western shore, in command of which they placed Arien Jorise; but in 1629, the company abandoned sending settlers because of the heavy expense.

The Dutch West India Co. having abandoned the settlement policy, adopts the plan of allowing manorial grants, which is approved by the Lords States-General at Amsterdam, June 7, 1629. Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, Director of the Amsterdam Chamber and wealthy pearl merchant of that city, obtained on November 19, 1629, the first concession to establish a colony. He wrote at once to Sebastiaen Jansen Crol, at Fort Orange, to purchase a tract from the Mohawk Indians for him and his associates. The first lot of colonists sailed on The Unity (de Eendracht) Captain Jan Brouwer commanding, March 21, 1630. On July 27, 1630, Crol bought the tract on which Albany is built, extending it southward by purchases along the west shore from Beeren to Smacks Island, April 30, 1631. The Unity reached Manhattan Island May 24, 1630, and arrived at Fort Orange June 1st. The deed of the Indians, dated August 13, 1630, transferred the land on which Albany is built to Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, and in 1631 he formed a partnership with a limited number of Hollanders, who eventually withdrew their interest in the land. Jan Baptist Van Rensselaer was the first of the family to come to this country, arriving in 1651, and became "Director" of the Manor of Rensselaerswyck, May 8, 1652. He was the seventh child of Kiliaen, and never was the Patroon. The second Patroon was Kiliaen's second child, Johannes, never came to this country, and died in 1662 or 1663. The third Patroon was Jeremias Van Rensselaer, eighth child of Kiliaen, and he came to America to take up his residence in the Manor, marrying at New Amsterdam, July 12, 1662, Maria Van Cortlandt.

[Photo: Fort Crailo (Yankee Doodle house), erected by Hendrick Van Rensselaer, at Greenbush, opposite Albany.]

The name Beverwyck came into use when Director-General Pieter Stuyvesant, chief official for the Dutch West India Co. in New Netherland, with headquarters on Manhattan Island, visited Fort Orange on April 1, 1652, and proclaimed that the land built up about the fort be known as Dorpe Beverwyck.

The name Albany came into use for the first time on September 24, 1664. The English had coveted New Netherland, claiming it as a portion of the territory granted by Queen Elizabeth in 1584 to Sir Walter Raleigh, and also of right by the discovery of the Cabots in 1497. The Plymouth Colony had grown jealous, and influenced King Charles II., of England, who made a grant of the territory embraced in New Netherland (and more besides) to his brother, James, Duke of York and Albany, on March 12, 1664. The English fleet entered New York Bay August 26th, and it commander, Colonel Richard Nicolls, demanded of Director-General Stuyvesant that he surrender New Amsterdam. He made resistance as best he could; but signed the capitulation September 8, 1664, and Vice-Director La Montagne, for the Dutch West India Co. at Fort Orange, peacefully changed to the English rule, September 24, 1664.

But the name Albany was to give way in succession to Willemstadt. This it did on August 5, 1673. King Charles II., of England, broke the peace of Breda (July 31, 1667), by declaring war on March 17, 1672, against Dutch provinces. A Dutch fleet of twenty-three vessels,, with sixteen hundred men aboard, entered New York Bay on July 29, 1673, and demanded the surrender of Fort James. It was not many hours later that day that it complied, and when the news had time to travel to Albany, Lieutenant Salisbury concluded that Fort Albany was properly once more under the Dutch rule, so he acquiesced on August 5, 1673, and the place, to the south of Rensselaerswyck colony became known then as Willemstadt.

This change to Dutch rule did not endure a decade, for when the treaty of Westminster was signed, whereby the Dutch stipulated on February 19, 1674, that all lands, islands, cities and forts that they had captured from the English should revert to that nation, there was nothing else for the inhabitants of Willemstadt to do except conclude they were included within British territory, and the place was once more known as Albany. About a dozen years later, or July 22, 1686, Dongan granted the charter making Albany an incorporated city.

Pieter Schuyler, by the terms of the charter, became the first mayor. Thereafter the executive was appointed by the governor of the Colony of New York until after the Revolution, when the Common Council voted for mayor; but the charter election held May 5, 1840, inaugurated the election of that official by the people.

The city of Albany is located on the west bank of the Hudson River, about 142 miles north of New York City, along which river it extends for three or four miles, and its east and west direction is about the same.

[Drawing: Dutch Church in Beverwyck (Albany)]

The latitude of Albany is 42°, 39', 13" North. Its longitude is 73°, 46', 42" West of Greenwich, or 3°, 17', 15" East of Washington, and is but a fraction east of New York City. In time, Albany is 4 hours 55 minutes 6.8 seconds later than Greenwich, or 13 minutes 9 seconds earlier than Washington, and about 46.8 seconds earlier than New York City.

The river at Albany is only 2.6 feet above sea level, while the highest street elevation is 230 feet above this. The depth of channel permits vessels drawing 12 feet of water to dock there. It also has the mercantile advantage of two canals and five or more of the large steam railroads. The average date of opening of the river is March 17th, and the average closing date December 16th, making an average closed season of 90 days.

The average yearly temperature, based on government records for 30 years, is 48°. The highest temperature ever recorded there was 100° on July 3, 1898, and the coldest, minus 24°, on January 5, 1904. The average annual precipitation is 36.9 inches.

The population was 100,253 by the United States Census of 1910.


This town was formed March 17, 1795, from Rensselaerville, and from it Knox was taken off in 1822. It derived its name from Berne in Switzerland, the native place of Jacob Weidman, one of the first to locate there, and was settled largely by Germans, who leased farms from Patroon Van Rensselaer, beginning about 1750. Many of Scotch descent arrived during the Revolutionary period. It is the central of the three western towns of the county, and is bounded on the north by Knox, on the east by New Scotland, on the south by Westerlo and Rensselaerville, and on the west by Schoharie county. The Helderberg mountains, rising 1,200 feet above tide, extend along its eastern border. Berneville itself was once known as Beaver Dam, and was a stockadoed town. Area: 38,782 acres. Population, 1910 Census: 1,753.


This town was formed March 12, 1793, and from it New Scotland was taken off April 25, 1832, and the eastern part of Albany city on April 6, 1870. It was purposely given its Biblical name. It lies on the bank of the Hudson, east of the center of the county, and includes all islands west of the main channel, and is bounded on the north by Albany city, on the east by the Hudson river, on the south by Coeymans, and on the west by New Scotland. One of the islands was known as Castle Island, and it is believed that it was the site of the first settlement in the entire county, or rather that it was the site of a fort or trading-post built thereon by Dutch fur-traders under Skipper Corstiaensen, in 1614; but removed in 1617 further inland because of dangerous freshets in the spring. This island, of some size, was later known as Westerlo, and then as Van Rensselaer. It was settled by the farmer tenants of Patroon Van Rensselaer in 1630. Through it flows the Normans kil, a name derived from Albert Andriessen Bradt de Noorman, lessee of the land about the falls for mill purposes at a very early date. Area: 31,549 acres. Population, 1910 Census: 4413.


This town was formed March 18, 1791, from Watervliet. It was included in the grant to Van Rensselaer for the tract extending from Beeren Island northward to Cohoes; but quit-claimed in 1706 by him to Pieter Coeymans, who settled thereon in 1636, as a miller, and confirmed by Queen Anne, August 6, 1714. A portion was taken off for Westerlo in 1815. Its name was derived from the patentee. It is the southeast corner town in the county, including adjacent islands, and is bounded on the north by Bethlehem, on the west by Westerlo, on the south by Greene county, and on the east by the Hudson river. Through it flow the precipitous Coeymans and Haanakrois creeks, the Indian name of the former having been Oniskethau, and in the village of Coeymans the falls have a drop of seventy-five feet. Area: 30,408 acres. Population, 1910 Census: 4,252.


This city was formed from Watervliet, and was incorporated May 19, 1869; previously, since April 12, 1855, it had been an incorporated village of Watervliet. The name is of Indian derivation, Gahaoose, signifying canoe falling, or overshoot. Area, 1575 acres. Population, 1910 Census: First ward, 5,371; Second, 4,202; Third, 4,014; Fourth, 5,097; Fifth, 3,011; Sixth, 3,014; Total, 24,709.


This was once an incorporated town and village; but due to changes in formation of townships passed out of existence. Originally the term was applied to all the colonized territory of Rensselaerswyck; but later was limited to that portion lying outside of and to the north of Albany city; and for a long time its southern boundary was Patroon street, now Clinton avenue in Albany city, which was north of the stockades when they extended east and west a little north of the present Orange and Van Tromp streets. When Watervliet was formed, in 1788, Colonie became a part of it, and the indefinite area extended to the south so as to include Tivoli Hollow (through which the N. Y. Central railroad runs on its route to Buffalo), where the Patroons had their flour and saw-mills, as well as the Manor House, his agent's pretentious office, etc. It was set apart as a district, March 31, 1791, and again, by an additional Act, March 30, 1801. On April 9, 1804, it was incorporated as a village in the town of Watervliet, and organized as a separate town, April 11, 1808. February 25, 1815, it was divided and its legal existence terminated, by giving its territory to Albany city and Watervliet, the former portion becoming the old-time Fifth ward of Albany. On the last date mentioned, it had a population of 1,657.

[Editorial note: Colonie is again a town in present-day Albany County — see first Watervliet entry]


This town was formed February 26, 1803, from Watervliet. The name was derived from Guilderlandt in the Netherlands, whence had come many of its original settlers. The northwest portion of Albany city was annexed to this town, February 26, 1871. It is bounded on the north by Schenectady county, on the east by Watervliet and Albany, on the south by Bethlehem and New Scotland, and on the west by Knox. Area: 38,784 acres. Population, 1910 Census: 3,333, including Altamont village, with 674.


This town was formed February 28, 1822, from Berne. The name was derived from John Knox, eminent divine and Scotland's reformer. It is situated in the northwest corner of the county, and is bounded on the north by Schenectady county, on the east by Guilderland, on the south by Berne, and on the west by Schoharie county. The inhabitants forcibly resisted the posse comitatis in the anti-rent feud of 1839, when Van Rensselaer sought to collect rentals under the peculiar leases. Area: 26,402 acres. Population, 1910 Census: 1,007.

New Scotland

This town was formed April 25, 1832, from Bethlehem. It derived its name through the location there of a great number of settlers from Scotland. The first settler was Teunis Slingerland, a Hollander, who bought 9,874 acres there from the Indians, and erected mills. It is the central town of the county, and is bounded on the north by Guilderland, on the east by Bethlehem, on the south by Coeymans and Westerlo, and on the west by Westerlo, Berne and Knox. Area: 34,324 acres. Population, 1910 Census: 2,834, including Voorheesville, with 553.


This town was formed March 8, 1790. Berne was taken off March 17, 1795, and the western part of Westerlo on March 16, 1815. It is the southwestern corner town of the county, and is bounded on the north by Berne, on the east by Westerlo, on the south by Greene county, and on the west by Schoharie county. It was named in honor of Gen. Stephen Van Rensselaer, or for his family. Area: 37,354 acres. Population, 1910 Census: 1,609.


This town was formed March 7, 1788, and was the first incorporated town in Albany county, and it then included all of West Rensselaerswyck, and all of the present county excepting Albany city, as it was at the time of the Charter, in 1686. Its name is from the Dutch, signifying "water flood," as it was situated principally along the flats between the Hudson and Mohawk rivers, and large areas of it were inundated each spring. This caused the soil to be unusually rich, and it was consequently early settled upon. In 1809, Niskayuna, now in Schenectady county, was formed largely from it. Villages in it were incorporated as follows. Watervliet, March 30, 1801, changed to Colonie, April 9, 1804; became obsolete and was annexed to Albany city; Gibbonsville, April 23, 1824; changed to West Troy, April 30, 1836; Cohoes, incorporated April 12, 1855; changed to city of that name, May 19, 1869; Green Island, 387 acres, incorporated April 5, 1853. Within its limits are also Newtonville, named for John M. Newton, four miles north of Albany; Loudonville, at the same distance to the north of Albany; Menands, named after its first settler, Louis Menand, two miles north of Albany. It surrendered a large tract (105 acres) to the Federal authorities by the cession laws of 1830 and 1833, conditionally "for the purpose of erecting and maintaining thereon arsenals, magazines, dockyards and other necessary buildings," the first of which was erected thereon in 1814, under Col. Geo. Burnford. The Albany Rural Cemetery Association secured a large tract, about one mile long in its shortest direction, chartered April 2, 1841, and adjacent tracts were secured by St. Agnes' and the Anshe Emeth cemeteries. The State Fair Grounds occupied a large tract therein for years, until removed to Syracuse, and the Shakers established a settlement, or community, in 1776, under leadership of Mother Ann, a native of Manchester, Eng., who died there, September 8, 1784. Later changed name to Colonie. Area: 30,697 acres. Population, 1910 Census: 8,385.


Incorporated as a city on May 26, 1896. Population, 1910 Census: First Ward, 1,936; Second, 1,326; Third, 1,283; Fourth, 1,737; Fifth, 1,582; Sixth, 1,603; Seventh, 1,804; Eighth, 1,944; Ninth, 1,859. Total, 15,074.


This town was formed March 16, 1815, from Coeymans and Rensselaerville. It was named in honor of Dominie Eilardus Westerlo, who married Catherine Livingston, widow of Patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer, in 1775, and was minister of the Dutch Church in Albany, 1760-1790. It is located in the center of the southern border of the county, and is bounded on the north by Berne and New Scotland, on the east by New Scotland and Coeymans, on the south by Greene county, and on the west by Rensselaerville. It contains extensive quarries. Area: 35,976 acres. Population, 1910 Census: 1,237.

Albany City
Albany City
YearCityCountyStateUnited States

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