Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Van Rensselaer, Killian

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VAN RENSSELAER, Killian, colonist, b. in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1595; d. there in 1644. He was descended from a long line of eminent citizens of Amsterdam, was carefully educated, and became a wealthy pearl and diamond merchant in his native town. He took an active part in the formation of the West India company, placed several of his vessels at the disposal of the corporation, and twice advanced money to save its credit. He sent an agent to the New Netherlands to trade with the Indians for land on the west side of Hudson river, from twelve miles south of Albany to Smack's island, “stretching two days into the interior,” soon afterward concluding the purchase of all the land on the east side of that river, both north and south of Fort Orange, and “far into the wilderness.” This great feudal estate included the entire territory that is comprised in the present counties of Albany, Columbia, and Rensselaer, and was named Rensselaerswick. He colonized it with laborers and emigrants, whom he sent out in his own ships with provisions and implements of warfare and industry. Van Rensselaer remained in Holland, but managed his affairs through a director. In 1640 he sent Adrian Van der Donck to be sheriff of the colony, and subsequently Dr. Johannes Megapolensis “for the edifying improvement of the inhabitants and Indians thereabouts.” To obviate, as much as possible, the dangers of life among the latter, he required that all his colonists, except the farmers and tobacco-planters, should live near each other, so as to form a church neighborhood. At his death his estate descended to his eldest son, Johannes; but the latter, being under age, was placed under the guardianship of Johannes Van Wely and Wouter Van Twiller, who rendered homage to the states-general in the name of their ward. But the colony had in reality become an independent power, and was regarded as injurious to the rights of the province. The West India company became jealous for their privileges, and in 1648 Peter Stuyvesant, then governor of New Amsterdam, went with a military escort up the Hudson river, ordered that no buildings should be erected within a prescribed distance of Fort Orange, and in many ways attempted to cut off the powers of the patroon of Rensselaerswick. A bitter controversy with Brandt Arent Van Slechtenhorst, the director, ensued, but in 1674 the West India company confessed that Stuyvesant's aggressions were unwarranted and in violation of the colony's charter. While this controversy was in progress, Jan Baptist Van Rensselaer, the second son of the first patroon, came to this country as the representative of his brother Johannes, his commission as director dating 8 May, 1652. He retired in 1658, worn out by controversies with Stuyvesant, and was succeeded by his brother Jeremias. Jan Baptist built the Van Rensselaer mansion, and brought from Holland massive and elaborately carved furniture, large quantities of silver plate, and many portraits of his ancestors. The manor house, in internal improvements and finish, resembled the Holland homestead. The lord of the manor resided there with his tenantry, maintaining the authority of a landed lord in Europe. The second patroon, Johannes, never came to this country. —

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Killian's third son, Jeremias, b. in Amsterdam, Holland, about 1632; d. in Rensselaerswick, N. Y., in October, 1674, was in charge of the colony for sixteen years. He was treated with respect and courtesy by Stuyvesant, by whom, when the province was threatened by the English, he was invited to New Amsterdam to preside over the convention that assembled there, to take measures of defence. When the English gained possession of New Netherlands in 1664, he took the oath of allegiance to the Duke of York. According to the terms of surrender, he was left in peaceable possession of the colony, and conducted its affairs without interference from the new government. He was confirmed in most of his rights and privileges, and the colony was erected into a manor and governed according to English rule. The village of Beverwyck, which had grown up under the shadow of old Fort Orange, was detached from the manor, and incorporated into the city of Albany. Van Rensselaer soon acquired reputation as an executive officer; his correspondence, which is still preserved by his descendants, is a valuable record of events, and attests his great energy and business-like qualities. He also wrote to Holland minute accounts of various occurrences in this country under the pen-name of the “New Netherland Mercury.” He preserved peace with the neighboring Indians, and so attached them to him that they guarded his estates as carefully as they did their own. He married Maria Van Cortlandt. Jeremias was succeeded by his nephew, Killian, son of Johannes. His patent was issued in 1685, under the title of first lord of the manor, and third patroon. By this patent the heirs in Albany relinquished to the heirs in Holland all title and right to the land in Holland, and the Hollanders gave up all the Albany settlement. Killian died without issue, and was succeeded by Jeremias's son, Killian, second lord of the manor, b. in Rensselaerswick in 1662; d. there in 1719. He was an officer of militia and a magistrate, represented the manor in the assembly in 1693-1704, and was a member of the council from the latter date until his death. In 1705 he conveyed Claverack, or the “lower manor,” to his brother, Hendrick. He married Maria, daughter of Stephen Van Cortlandt. — Jeremias's brother, Nicholas, clergyman, b. in Amsterdam about 1638; d. in Albany, N. Y., in 1678, was the fourth son of the first patroon. He was liberally educated in Holland, and studied theology there, but began a tour of Europe before taking his degree. In Brussels he met Charles II. of England, who was then in exile, and Van Rensselaer predicted to him that he would be restored to the throne. He subsequently went to England as chaplain to the Dutch embassy, and the king, recognizing him and recollecting his prediction, gave him a gold snuff-box with his likeness in the lid, which is still in possession of the Van Rensselaer family. After the Dutch ambassador left Great Britain, Van Rensselaer was licensed by Charles to preach to the Dutch congregation at Westminster, was ordained a deacon in the English church, and appointed lecturer at St. Margaret's, Lothbury. When Sir Edmond Andros was commissioned governor of the New Netherlands, in 1674, Van Rensselaer accompanied him to this country, bearing a letter of recommendation from the Duke of York, in which he requested that Van Rensselaer be placed in charge of one of the Dutch churches in New York or Albany when there should be a vacancy. He became colleague pastor of the church in Albany shortly after his arrival, and in September, 1675, was invited by the governor to preach in the Dutch church in New York; but the pastor, William Van Nieuwenhuysen, absented himself from the service, and forbade Van Rensselaer's baptizing any children that might be presented for that ordinance. Subsequent events proved that Van Nieuwenhuysen rejected his ordination as not being in conformity with the order of the Dutch churches, nor with the terms of the treaty. Van Rensselaer referred the matter to the governor and council, and the trial was considered of much importance by both the church and the civil authorities, since it involved their privileges and rights, as defined in the articles under which the province was surrendered to the English. Nieuwenhuysen and his consistory presented a written answer, which was rather in justification of the former's conduct toward Van Rensselaer than a formal answer to the question why he should not be allowed to preach. The matter was passed over, and Van Rensselaer returned to his charge in Albany; but in 1676 he was thrown into prison, “for some dubious words spoken in a sermon,” Jacob Leisler and Jacob Milburne making the complaint. He appealed to the governor and council, and gave a bond of 1,500 guilders to prosecute the matter to the end. Leisler failed to furnish the bond that was required of him, a warrant was issued for his arrest, and the churches and people were thrown into a ferment. At last a court was held at Albany, before which Van Rensselaer and Nieuwenhuysen appeared with papers and witnesses. After a review of the whole case, they were told by order of the governor “to be reconciled according to Christian love and duty.” They answered, “With all our hearts,” and the court ordered the parties to “forgive and forget,” and that Leisler and Jacob Milburne pay the whole costs, as giving the first occasion for the differences. Van Rensselaer again resumed his charge, but a year later he was refused a seat among the elders. It was resolved that he have a suitable one behind the magistrates, but in 1677 he was deposed by the governor, “on account,” say the Reformed church authorities, “of his scandalous life”; but this is not substantiated by unprejudiced witnesses. He left no children. — His wife, Alida, was the daughter of Philip Schuyler, and subsequently married Robert Livingston. — Killian's grandson, Stephen, inherited the manor, removed the old house, and in 1765 built the present mansion, seen in the illustration. He governed under the title of the seventh patroon. He married Catherine Livingston, daughter of Philip Livingston, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and with his father-in-law “sternly opposed the encroachments of the crown.” —

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Their son, Stephen, eighth patroon, b. in New York, 1 Nov., 1765; d. in Albany, N. Y., 26 Jan., 1839, was graduated at Harvard in 1782, and the next year married Margaret, daughter of Gen. Philip Schuyler. He was always addressed by courtesy as the patroon, although with the establishment of the colonial government he lost his baronial rights. After leaving college he entered at once on the improvement of his splendid although somewhat diminished estates, and, to induce farmers to settle on his lands, placed rentals so low that they yielded only one per cent, at a fair valuation. In consequence he soon had 900 farms of 150 acres each under cultivation. Having secured his patrimony, he entered politics, and, as a great landholder and at the same time an ardent patriot, was destined to bridge the chasm between the two opposite political systems. He was chosen to the assembly in 1789 as a Federalist, became a leader of that party, was state senator in 1791-'6, lieutenant-governor in 1795, and in 1798 and 1808-'10 was in the assembly. He became major of militia in 1786, colonel in 1788, and major-general in 1801. He was one of the first to propose the establishment of a canal between Hudson river and the great lakes, was appointed in 1810 a commissioner to report to the assembly on the route, and made an investigating tour of it the same year, the report of which was favorably received in 1811; but the project was delayed by the beginning of the second war with Great Britain. In 1812 he was appointed to command the U. S. forces on the northern frontier. Although he opposed the war as premature, he at once organized a militia force that was sufficient in numbers to overrun the province of Upper Canada. But he had no regular soldiers, and his officers were deficient in both courage and military skill. On 13-14 Oct., 1812, he fought the battle of Queenston Heights. The importance of that place arose from the fact that it was the terminus of the portage between Lake Ontario and the upper lakes. Gen. Van Rensselaer had minute information as to the situation and strength of each post of the enemy on the western bank of Niagara river, and his force numbered 6,000 men. The immediate command of the attacking party was assigned to Lieut.-Col. Solomon Van Rensselaer, who, on the morning of 13 Oct., with 300 militia and 300 regulars, under Lieut-Col. John Chrystie, crossed the river. After a brilliant attack by Van Rensselaer, who received wounds that compelled him to withdraw, Capt. John E. Wool assumed command and stormed and captured the heights. The next day British re-enforcements, numbering 1,300 soldiers and 500 Indians, arrived under command of Gen. Roger H. Sheaffe. The militia on the American shore could overlook the battle-field and see the approach of Sheaffe; but when Gen. Stephen Van Rensselaer attempted to move them across the river to the support of the American force, they refused to stir. The law provides that militia shall not be compelled to serve beyond the bounds of their state against their will. They fell back on this privilege, and Van Rensselaer was powerless to induce them to fight. The Americans on the heights were unable to hold their position, and on the afternoon of 14 Oct. surrendered in a body. In his official despatches Gen. Van Rensselaer ascribes the disaster to the refusal of the militia to go to the aid of the captors of the heights. He was severely censured for his tardiness in making the attack, and the fact that he was a leader of the Federalist party, and opposed to the war, increased public dissatisfaction. On 24 Oct. he resigned his command and left the service. At the close of the war he again became canal commissioner, and chairman of the commission. When the Erie and Champlain canals were completed in 1825 he had been president of their boards for fourteen years. He was chosen to the assembly in 1818, served in the State constitutional convention in 1821 and in congress in 1823-'9, having been elected to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Solomon Van Rensselaer. In that body he earnestly supported John Quincy Adams for the presidency. He became a regent of the University of New York in 1819, and was subsequently its chancellor until his death. He promoted the interests of the State agricultural society, and was its president in 1820. Under his direction and at his expense Prof. Amos Eaton made a geological survey along the line of the canal from Albany to Buffalo, N. Y., in 1821-'3, and of another line that began in Massachusetts. From the data collected in these surveys he became convinced of the need for further technical education; to supply which he founded Rensselaer polytechnic institute at Troy, defraying for a long time half of its expenses. Yale gave him the degree of LL. D. in 1825. Gen. Van Rensselaer was tall, of commanding presence, and had dark, expressive eyes. He was the patron of benevolent objects. His second wife, whom he married in 1802, was Cornelia, daughter of Chief-Justice William Paterson, of New Jersey. He published “An Agricultural and Geological Survey of the District adjoining the Erie Canal” (Albany, 1824). — His eldest son, Stephen, the last patroon, b. in Albany, N. Y., 29 March, 1789; d. there, 25 May, 1868, was graduated at Princeton in 1808, and inheriting the manor by his father's will, at his death became the last patroon. During the anti-rent troubles in 1839 he sold his townships, and at his death the manor passed out of the hands of his descendants. He was an accomplished gentleman of the old school, and served as major-general of militia. He married Harriet Elizabeth, daughter of William Bayard, of New York. —

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Another son of Gen. Stephen, Cortlandt, clergyman, b. in Albany, N. Y., 26 May, 1808; d. in Burlington, N. J., 25 July, 1860, was graduated at Yale in 1827, studied at Union theological seminary, Prince Edward county, Va., and at Princeton theological seminary. He was a missionary to the slaves in Virginia in 1833-'5, was ordained the latter year, became pastor of the Presbyterian church in Burlington, N. J., in 1837, of the 2d Presbyterian church, Washington, D.C., in 1841, and agent of Princeton theological seminary in 1844, raising $100,000 for its endowment. He was secretary of the Presbyterian board of education in 1846-'60, and founded and edited the “Presbyterian Magazine” and “The Home, the School, and the Church.” The University of New York gave him the degree of D. D. in 1845. Much of his large fortune was devoted to benevolent objects and to the religious enterprises of the Presbyterian church. After his death, selections from his published writings appeared under the title of “Miscellaneous Sermons, Essays, and Addresses,” edited by his son, Cortlandt Van Rensselaer (Philadelphia, 1861). — Another son of Stephen, Henry, soldier, b. in Albany, N. Y., in 1810; d. in Cincinnati, Ohio, 23 March, 1864, was graduated at the U. S. military academy in 1831, but resigned from the army the next year and engaged in farming near Ogdensburg, N. Y. He was a member of congress in 1841-'3, having been chosen as a Whig, and in 1855-'60 was president of mining companies. At the beginning of the civil war he was appointed chief-of-staff to Gen. Winfield Scott, with the rank of brigadier-general, and he became inspector-general with the rank of colonel on the retirement of Gen. Scott, served in the Department of the Rappahannock in April and August, 1862, subsequently in the 3d army corps, and in the Department of the Ohio from 17 Sept. until his death. — The elder Stephen's brother, Philip S, mayor of Albany, b. in Albany, 15 April, 1767; d. there, 25 Sept., 1824, became mayor of Albany in 1799, and held office for nineteen years, the longest service of any mayor of that city. He was a public-spirited, energetic officer, and active in promoting educational, moral, and religious interests. He married Ann Van Cortlandt. He was president of the Albany Bible society for many years, a trustee of. Union, and a founder of Albany academy. — Gen. Stephen's kinsman, Jeremiah, congressman, b. in New York in 1741; d. in Albany, N. Y., 22 Feb., 1810, was graduated at Princeton, in 1758, actively supported the Revolution, and was a member of the 1st congress, serving in 1789-'91. He was a presidential elector in 1800, and lieutenant-governor of New York in 1800-'4. He was active in the promotion of schemes for internal improvement, and a member of the Inland navigation company, of which Philip Schuyler was the first president. — The second son of the first Jeremias, Hendrick, landowner, b. near Albany, N. Y., about 1667; d. there in July, 1740, was the founder of the Claverack branch of the Van Rensselaer family. He received as his portion of his grandfather Killian's estate what was known as the Claverack patent, containing about 62,000 acres of land in Columbia county, and 1,500 acres out of the manor proper, opposite the city of Albany. He built a substantial brick house on the latter estate and one at Claverack, which is still standing. He was employed in many public capacities, being mayor of Albany, commissioner of Indian affairs, and a representative in the assembly. In 1698 he bought from the Schaghticoke Indians a tract of six square miles on Hoosac river, for which he procured a patent. This purchase interfered greatly with the city of Albany, and, Van Rensselaer declining to sell his patent to the council, the controversy became a state affair. In 1699 the dispute was amicably settled and he passed his patent over to the city. His wife was a granddaughter of Anneke Jans Bogardus, through whom their descendants became heirs to Trinity church farm. — His grandson, Henry Killian, soldier, b. near Albany in 1744; d. in Greenbush, N. Y., 9 Sept., 1816, commanded a New York regiment during the Revolution, was wounded at the capture of Gen. Burgoyne, and carried the ball in his body for thirty-five years. In July, 1777, he was attacked by a large force near Fort Ann, and made a brave resistance, but, learning of the abandonment of Fort Ticonderoga, withdrew after receiving another severe wound. He was subsequently a general of militia. —

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His son, Solomon, soldier, b. in Rensselaer county, N. Y., 6 Aug., 1774; d. in Albany, N. Y., 23 April, 1852, entered the service, 14 March, 1792, as a cornet of cavalry. He became captain, raised a volunteer company, and, pushing through the wilderness, joined Gen. Anthony Wayne in Ohio in the Miami campaign. At the battle of Maumee Rapids in August, 1794, he made a brilliant and effective charge against the savages, and was shot, it was supposed fatally, through the lungs. A litter was sent to take him from the battle-field, but he refused to be laid upon it. “You young dog, then how are you going?” exclaimed Gen. Wayne. “I am an officer of the cavalry, and I shall go on horseback,” was his reply. “You will drop by the road,” said Wayne. “If I do, just cover me up and let me die there,” said Van Rensselaer. He was mounted on his own charger, as he desired, and one of his own dragoons, on either side, supported him five or six miles. When his cousin, Stephen, became brigadier-general of the forces of the north in 1812, he became adjutant-general of New York militia, and negotiated the important agreement by which Lake Ontario was granted by the British during an armistice as a public highway for purposes of transportation of American troops and stores. At the assault of Queenston Heights, 13 Oct., 1812, he commanded the attacking party, was the first to spring ashore, on a large rock at the foot of the rapids, and with 225 men, formed under a fierce fire, climbed the bank and routed the enemy at the point of the bayonet, but fell with several wounds. He served in congress in 1819-'22, having been chosen as a Federalist, and was postmaster at Albany in 1822-'39. He accompanied Gov. George Clinton to Ohio in 1824 in the interest of the Erie canal, and was one of the delegates from the state of New York at its opening on 4 Nov., 1825. In 1797 he married Harriet, daughter of Col. Philip Van Rensselaer. He published a “Narrative of the Affair at Queenston” (New York, 1836). See “A Legacy of Historical Gleanings,” by his daughter, Mrs. Catherine Van Rensselaer Bonney (Albany, N. Y., 1875). — Henry's brother, Nicholas, soldier, b. in Rensselaer county, N. Y., in 1754; d. in Albany, N. Y., in 1848, was a colonel in the Revolution, and served with gallantry on the heights of Stillwater. After the surrender of Gen. Burgoyne he was despatched by Gen. Horatio Gates to announce the news at Albany. — Another brother of Henry, Killian K, congressman, b. in Rensselaer county, N. Y., in 1763; d. in Albany, 18 June, 1845, after receiving a thorough education entered the law, and attained reputation at the bar. He was chosen to congress as a Democrat in 1800, and served by re-election till 1811. — Another great-grandson of the first Jeremias, Robert, soldier, b. in Claverack, N. Y., in 1741; d. there, 11 Sept., 1802, was a general of militia during the Revolution, and commanded the force that pursued and defeated Sir John Johnson on his Mohawk valley raid in 1780. For a full history of the Van Rensselaer family, see “Colonial New York,” by George W. Schuyler (2 vols., New York. 1885).