Traders and Culture: Colonial Life in America


The lives of people who settled in the Hudson Valley in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, and the Native Americans who lived alongside them, are illuminated for students through the exploration of the Albany Institute’s collection of paintings, account books, furniture, ceramics, maps, metal ware, documents, tools, and more.

New York State Standards:

Grades 3–8

The Visual Arts:

  • Creating, Performing, and Participating in the Arts
  • Knowing and Using Materials and Resources
  • Responding to and Analyzing Works of Art
  • Understanding the Cultural Dimensions of Art

Social Studies:

  • History of United States and New York
  • Geography
  • Economics

English Language Arts:

  • Reading: Informational Text
  • Writing: Text Types and Purposes
  • Speaking and Listening: Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas


Students will:

  • Identify the cultures of people who settled in the Hudson Valley in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries (Knowledge)
  • Compare and contrast the cultures of the Native Americans to those of the Europeans who settled in the Hudson Valley.
  • Discuss colonial life and culture through paintings, artifacts, furniture, and decorative art objects in the Traders and Culture Gallery (Comprehension)
  • Describe colonial artifacts in the “touch collection” (Comprehension)
  • Distinguish among the various cultural contributions that helped shape New York State (Analysis)
  • Interpret documents and museum exhibits about the opening of the Hudson Valley to foreign ideas, styles, and beliefs. (Application)
  • Compose a poem about an artifact, using personification (Synthesis)

Web Resources:

A to Z Teacher Stuff  
Numerous lesson-plan ideas for all grade levels.

American Architecture Digital Archive
This site gives an overview of architecture styles of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Pictures and locations are included and give an idea of how architecture evolved from colonial times to the present.

Colonial Kids Zone
A fun and interactive site for all ages detailing professions, customs, and daily life in colonial times.

New Netherland Virtual Tour 
Explore the Dutch colony founded on the east coast of North America in the seventeenth century—which stretched from Albany to Delaware—through maps, pictures, and extensive information.

The North American Indian
Edward S. Curtis's photographic images of 1907–1930

Virtual Jamestown
Lesson plans and ideas based on the town of Jamestown. Muster records, census listings, maps, lists of indentures, and court records are included on the main page.


Henry Hudson, master of the Dutch East India Company’s ship, the Halve Maen (Half Moon), seeking a Northwest Passage to China, reached the neighborhood of Albany on September 19 and remained until September 23.

Dutch merchants from Amsterdam send ships up the Hudson to trade for furs

Fort Nassau built on Castle Island, near the mouth of the Normanskill.

New fort built on mainland, near mouth of Normanskill, after Fort Nassau is carried away by ice floes.

Dutch West India Company formed to develop trade in what is now America.

Eighteen families settle around Fort Orange, which is built near the river within the present bounds of Albany. More settlers arrive with livestock in 1625.

Kiliaen van Rensselaer and others granted leave by the West India Company to establish a colonie or patroonship here. Eventually, the van Rensselaer property would total approximately 700,000 acres—most of modern Albany, Rensselaer, and Columbia counties.

Domine Megapolensis, first Dutch minister, arrives. First ferry across the Hudson River to the Green Bush from Fort Orange established.

Two citizens are appointed by magistrates to oversee the building of a schoolhouse. Adriaen Jansen is the first schoolmaster.

Director of New Netherland Pieter Stuyvesant creates the free village of Beverwyck (which is later renamed Albany).

Dutch Reformed blockhouse church built in middle of Broadway and State Streets, fortified with cannons on the roof.

Record beaver-skin trade; more than 57,000 skins shipped to Holland.

First stockade built around the town and fort, as a result of fears aroused by Indian wars.

New Netherland is taken over by the English. Beverwyck renamed Albany for the new proprietor of the colony, James, Duke of York and Albany.

Dutch regain the colony from the English; the town is renamed Willemstadt. The English regain the town in November 1674.

French from Canada and their Native American allies burn the town of Schenectady, twenty miles northwest of Albany. Sixty people die, and twenty-seven are carried into captivity among the Native Americans.

The population of Albany County is 379 men, 270 women, and 803 children.

Pieter Schuyler escorts four Iroquois leaders to England, where they are received by Queen Anne.

The population of Albany County totals 3,029 people, 458 of whom are slaves.

Governor Burnet reports that Indians are bringing furs to trade from “above a thousand miles to Albany from Mislimakenak which lies between Lac Supérieur (Lake Superior) and Lac Huron (Lake Huron).”

The French and Indian War, between the French and British and their Indian allies, begins. Survivors of the massacre at Fort William Henry on Lake George pack Albany with refugees.

Albany County’s population has grown tremendously. There are now 42,706 people in the county, 3,877 of whom are black. In 1772, Albany County is subdivided into Albany, Tryon, and Charlotte counties.

Mother Ann Lee comes to Albany from England and forms a religious sect that will become commonly known as the Shakers. The Shaker order will spread as far north as Maine as south as Kentucky, and still has a few members today.


Artifact: Any object made by humans showing workmanship or artistic endeavor. Artifacts are often included in museum collections.
Beverwyck: The name of the settlement at what is now Albany, named Beverwyck (or “beavertown”) in 1652.
Culture: The concepts, habits, skills, arts, and institutions of people in a specific period in history.
Fort Orange: The earliest settlement in what is now Albany. Settled by the Dutch in 1624.
History: A chronological record of true stories about the past, usually including how and why something happened.
Iroquois: A group of Native American tribes in upstate New York, with a common language and heritage, who formed a confederacy of mutual protection and support. The tribes were the Oneida, Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora (the last being an eighteenth-century addition).
Limner: A term used to denote colonial Dutch painters. The verb “to limn” is an old term meaning to paint in fine detail.
Northwest Passage: From the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, colonial powers from Europe believed that China and India could be reached by going north from Europe over Russia and west around North America. Henry Hudson was looking for the Northwest Passage when he sailed up what is now called the Hudson River to what is now Albany.
Patroon: A proprietor of certain tracts of land with manorial privileges granted under the Dutch governments of New York and New Jersey.
Settler: One of the first people to move into and develop a new territory.
Trade: Business of exchanging commodities by barter or sale. In early Albany, the primary trade item was beaver skins.


Books for Teachers

Barbara Graymont, Indians of North America: The Iroquois, NY: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.

Benkin, Carol. First Generations: Women in Colonial America. Hill and Wang, 1997.

Bennett, Allison P. The People’s Choice: A History of Albany County in Art and Architecture. Purple Mountain Press, Ltd., 1995.

Charlotte Wilcoxen, Seventeenth Century Albany: A Dutch Profile, NY: Albany Institute of History and Art, 1981.

Earle, Alice Morse. Costume of Colonial Times: New York. Empire State Book Co. Gale Research Co., 1974.

Goodwin, Maud W. Dutch and English on the Hudson: A Chronicle of Colonial New York, 1991.

Hetzel, June. Colonial America: History thru Art. Creative Teaching Press, 1996.

Hollowell, George R. and Jonathan Tenney, eds. History of the County of Albany, NY, from 1609 to 1886. New York: W.W. Munsell and Co., 1886.

Hughes, Robert. American Visions: The Epic History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

Kammen, Michael. Colonial New York: A History. Oxford University Press, 1996.

Matson, Cathy D. Merchants and Empire: Trading in Colonial New York.

Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

McEneny, John J. Albany: Capital City on the Hudson. North Country Books, 1999.

Miller, John C. The First Frontier: Life in Colonial America. University Press of America, 1986.

Taylor, Dale. Everyday Life in Colonial America. F & W Publications, 1997.

Waite, Diana S. Albany Architecture: A Guide to the City. North Country Books 1993.

Wroth, Lawrence C. The Colonial Printer, Dover Publications, 1995.

Books for Students

Bruchac, Joseph. The Arrow Over the Door. New York: Dial Publishing, 1998.

Chi Delta Chapter of Phi Alpha Theta. A Student’s Guide to Historic Albany, University at Albany, 1985.

Connie Porter. Meet Addy: An American Girl, Pleasant Company, 1994.

David C. King. American Kids in History: Colonial Days, Willey Trade Publishers, 1999.

Fitzpatrick, Shannon. Colonial America: History through Art. Creative Teaching Press, 1996.

Forest, Heather. The Baker’s Dozen: A Colonial American Tale. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1988.

Goodman, Joan Elizabeth. Beyond the Sea of Ice: The Voyages of Henry Hudson. New York: Mikaya Press, 1999.

Jeanne Winston Adler, ed. In the Path of War: Children of the American Revolution Tell Their Stories, Cobblestone Publishing Co., 1998.

Sterman, Betsy. Saratoga Secret. New York: Dial Books, 1998.

Valerie Tripp. Felicity Saves the Day, Pleasant Company, 1992.

Valerie Tripp. Felicity’s Surprise, Pleasant Company, 1991.

Valerie Tripp. Happy Birthday, Felicity, Pleasant Company, 1992.

Valerie Tripp. Meet Felicity: An American Girl, Pleasant Company, 1991.

Whitehurst, Susan. The Colony of New York. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2000.

Wyeth, Sharon Dennis. Once on This River. New York: Knopf Publishing, 1998.