New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects

New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects


Each region of the nation has its own distinctive history and identity. The New York’s Capital Region—consisting of Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga Counties—is no different. But what best identifies the region? What events, objects, people, and ideas have contributed to its character and uniqueness?

To learn the answers, we presented these questions to the numerous museums, historical organizations, libraries, and residents of the Capital Region. The fifty objects that were ultimately selected present an exciting history of the Capital Region, including well-known favorites but also unexpected surprises. Some of the fifty objects characterize very broad topics like the textile industry and the Hudson River School of art, while others embody large populations of people who shaped the character of the region, such as the Dutch and the Iroquois. Many objects represent specific people or events, such as writer William Kennedy and the Battle of Saratoga. In some instances, the objects represent themselves, like the GE Monitor Top refrigerator and Albany’s beloved Nipper statue. A complementary image accompanies each of the fifty objects, providing context and additional information.

Overall, the fifty objects clearly demonstrate that this narrowly circumscribed part of New York State has played an astonishing role in shaping the history of the nation and, in several instances, the world beyond the confines of our national borders.

Anti-Rent Movement

The patroon system instituted by the Dutch West India Company in 1629 offered large land grants to investors to encourage settlement of the New Netherland colony. Patroonships effectively established a feudal system whereby only the patroons and their families owned the land. All others who inhabited patroon lands were merely tenants required to pay annual rents. In most cases they were never given the opportunity to purchase the land they farmed. The Van Rensselaer patroonship, which covered about 750,000 acres in Albany and Rensselaer Counties, was the largest.

Stephen Van Rensselaer III, known as the “good patroon,” was casual about collecting rents, but at his death in 1839 his will specified that all back rents were to be collected immediately. Efforts to collect these back rents made delinquent farmers desperate. They organized a political movement known as the Antirenters Party and formed local associations including the Grafton Anti-Rent Mutual Protection Association.

When Sheriffs were sent to collect rents, farmers resisted by disguising themselves as Indians. They wore masks, dressed in calico cloth, and sounded tin dinner horns to summon neighbors for help. The resistance occasionally became violent and some fatalities occurred. In 1844, about thirty Anti-Rent “Indians” approached Elijah Smith of Grafton, who was cutting wood for the patroon. A heated exchange occurred and Elijah was shot and killed. The Anti-Rent movement began to subside in the 1850s but occasional protests and violence continued into the 1880s.

The “Down with the Rent” banner, the only Anti-Rent banner known to survive, belonged to Peter T. Hydorn, a Grafton resident and documented member of the Grafton Anti-Rent Mutual Protection Association. It remained in his family until 1955 when his granddaughter discovered it folded in an old chest of drawers.

“Down with the Rent” Banner

Possibly by Peter T. Hydorn, Grafton, New York

c. 1840–1845

Stenciled paint on cotton fabric

Courtesy of Grafton Community Library

Mass Convention

July 24, 1856

Engraver: Daniel St. John

Medium: Ink on paper

Dimensions: 21 H x 15 ¾ W

Credit: Albany Institute of History & Art, Posters and Broadside Collection

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