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.

Van Rensselaer Patroonship

In 1629, the Dutch West India Company (WIC), a chartered trading company, instituted a system for establishing permanent colonies in the New World Dutch holdings of New Netherland. The system granted large tracts of land to investors, or patroons as they were called, who agreed to settle fifty colonists on their land in four years time at their own expense.

The Dutch diamond merchant, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, who was also a director of the WIC, selected a large tract of land that bordered both east and west banks of the Hudson River (then known as the North River) around the site of Fort Orange, the present location of Albany. Even though Van Rensselaer received the land from the WIC, he was also obliged to purchase it from the Native inhabitants. By 1631, Van Rensselaer’s agent, Bastiaen Jansz Krol, concluded negotiations with the Mohican Indians to purchase the land that became known as Rensselaerswyck.

The WIC granted several other patroonships throughout the Hudson River valley, but Van Rensselaer’s was the only one to survive beyond the takeover of the colony by the English in 1664. English Governor Thomas Dongan ensured the survival of the patroonship by granting patents for the Van Rensselaer land and simultaneously creating the manor of Rensselaerswyck. All land in the manor belonged to the Van Rensselaer family, while those who lived and farmed the land were merely tenants who owed annual rent to the Van Rensselaers. This feudal system led to conflict known as the Anti-Rent Wars years later following Stephen Van Rensselaer III’s death in 1839.

The ornate bronze cannon that descended through the Van Rensselaer family was cast in 1630 for Kiliaen Van Rensselaer by the famous Dutch gun and bell founder Assuerus Koster. It may have come to New Netherland with the first group of Van Rensselaer colonists who arrived in the area in 1630.

Van Rensselaer Cannon

Cast by Assuerus Koster, Amsterdam, Netherlands


Bronze, with wood and iron carriage

Courtesy of New York State Museum, H-1937.4.1

Renselaerswyck Map

Gillis Van Scheyndel

1631 or 1632

Ink on vellum

Courtesy of New York State Library

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