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Letter Jan Baptist Van Rensselaer to Jeremias Van Rensselaer, Sept 1657

Letter from Jan Baptist van Rensselaer to Jeremias van Rensselaer
New York State Library, NYSL_sc7079-b01-f20_ncn
Document Description
Letter from Jan Baptist van Rensselaer to Jeremias van Rensselaer, September, 1657.
[                                                  ] van Baerle in the Meulen [   ] casks of tobacco to mother [          ].
I asked you to let me know whether cousin Hans paid theorder to Steenwyck or not and to advise me at the same time how much the tobacco weighed, of which you make no mention. Do not forget to have the tobacco weighed, as I wrote you before.
As to the voyage which you intend to make in going with the General to the South River, I wish you good luck and commend you to God. It was not convenient for me at this time to come down, otherwise I would have done so and brought with me what you ordered and what I am now sending down in Sander's yacht, to wit, boots and spurs, saddle and bridle, innocent and leather doublet, Jan Saterdagh and baldric, which you can demand from the skipper, paying him for the freight.
Your horse is still sleek and fat. The tobacco begins to ripen. Claes de Wael has weeded it. I bought a Negro of Madam, the widow of Roodenburgh, deceased. Be pleased to inquire about it and to select one of the best. Look for one who is quick in his movements and sound of limb. Then describe him and the Madam will send him up the river with others.
Ending herewith, I commend you, after greetings to SrOloffStevense and his wife, to the protection of the Lord and remain,
Your affectionate brother
                     J. B. VAN RENSSELAER
In Rensselaerswyck
prmo September 1657
MonsrJeremias van Rensselaer
in New Amsterdam
  • What crop does the author talk about in the letter?
  • Why might the patroon have people growing tobacco in his colony? What might he do with it?
  • The author gives some suggestions about selecting “one of the best” “Negroes”. What is he referring to?

Historical Context
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 Kiliaen 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.
Essential Question
What role did farming play in the life of the colony at Rensselaerswyck?
Check for Understanding
Imagine you are a farmer in Rensselaerswyck in the early years of settlement. Write a letter to your family back in the Netherlands describing your daily life and work.