1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Van Rensselaer, Stephen

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VAN RENSSELAER, STEPHEN (1764-1839), American political leader and soldier, “last of the patroons,” was born at New York City on the 1st of November 1764. He was fifth in descent from Killian Van Rensselaer (c. 1580-1645), the original patroon of Rensselaerwyck, New York, who acquired his large estates between 1630 and 1637. Stephen was graduated at Harvard in 1782. In 1780-90 he was a member of the New York Assembly, and from 1791 to 1795 served as a member of the state Senate. He was lieutenant-governor of New York (1795-1801) for the two terms in which John Jay was governor. In 1801 he presided over the state constitutional convention, and from 1808 to 1810 was again in the Assembly. He was an ardent promoter of the Erie Canal, and as a commissioner to examine the proposed route, &c., he reported favourably to the Assembly in 1811. In the second war with Great Britain he commanded the First Division of the detached militia of the state of New York, with the rank of major-general, and on the 13th of October 1812 was defeated at the battle of Queenston Heights. As he was a Federalist he was severely criticised and censured for this defeat and resigned from the army. At the close of the war the Erie Canal project was renewed, and from 1816 till his death he was a member of the board of canal commissioners, and for nearly fifteen years was its president. In 1818 he was again elected to the Assembly; in 1819 he became a regent of the State University of which he was for a time chancellor; and in 1821 he was a delegate to the New York constitutional convention. From 1822 to 1829 he was a member of the National House of Representatives,[1] and there voted for John Quincy Adams for the presidency, and served as chairman of the committee on agriculture. In 1820-23 he sent out at his own expense Professors Amos Eaton (1776-1842) and Edward Hitchcock to make extensive surveys, results of which were published as An Agricultural and Geological Survey of the District adjoining the Erie Canal (Albany, 1824). In 1824 he founded a school in Troy which was incorporated two years later as the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He died at Albany, New York, on the 26th of January 1839.

See D. D. Barnard, A Discourse on the Life, Services and Character of Stephen Van Rensselaer (Albany, 1839).


  1. He succeeded his cousin, Solomon Van Rensselaer (1744-1852), who was in the regular army in 1792-1800, who had fought under General Anthony Wayne at Maumee Rapids in 1794 and under Stephen Van Rensselaer at Queenston Heights in 1812, and who was in the House of Representatives in 1819-1822.