Knickerbocker's History of New York/Book III/Chapter V

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Chapter V[edit]

It has already been mentioned that, in the early times of Oloffe the Dreamer, a frontier post, or trading house, called Fort Aurania, had been established on the upper waters of the Hudson, precisely on the site of the present venerable city of Albany, which was at time considered at the very end of the habitable world. It was, indeed, a remote possession, with which, for a long time, New Amsterdam held but little intercourse. Now and then the "Company's Yacht," as it was called, was sent to the Fort with supplies, and to bring away the peltries which had been purchased of the Indians. It was like an expedition to the Indias, or the North Pole, and always made great talk in the settlement. Sometimes an adventurous burgher would accompany the expedition, to the great uneasiness of his friends; but, on his return, had so many stories to tell of storms and tempests on the Tappan Zee, of hobgoblins in the Highlands and at the Devil's Dane Kammer, and of all the other wonders and perils with which the river abounded in those early days, that he deterred the less adventurous inhabitants from following his xample.

Matters were in this state, when, one day, as Walter the Doubter and his burgermeesters were smoking and pondering over the affairs of the province, they were roused by the report of a cannon. Sallying forth, they beheld a strange vessel at anchor in the bay; it was unquestionably of Dutch build, broad-brimmed and high-pooped, and bore the flag of their High Mightinesses at the masthead.

After a while a boat put off for land, and a stranger stepped on shore, a lofty, lordly kind of man, tall and dry, with a meager face, furnished with hug mustachios. He was clad in Flemish doublet and hose, and an insufferably tall hat, with a cocktail feather. Such was the patroon Killian Van Rensellaer, who had come out from Holland to found a colony or patroonship on a great tract of wild land, granted to him by their Hight Mightinesses the Lords States General, in the upper regions of the Hudson.

Killian Van Rensellaer was a nine day's wonder in New Amsterdam, for he carried a high head, looked down upon the portly, short-legged burgomasters, and owned no allegiance to the governor himself; boasting that he held his patroonship directly from the Lords States General.

He tarried but a short time in New Amsterdam merely to beat up recruits for his colony. Few, however, ventured to enlist for those remote and savage regions; and when they embarked, their friends took leave of them as if they should never see them more; and stood gazing with tearful eyes as the stout, round-sterned little vessel ploughed and splashed its way up the Hudson, with great noise and little progress, taking nearly a day to get out of sight of the city.

And now, from time to time, floated down tidings to the Manhattoes of the growing importance of this new colony. Every account represented Killian Van Rensellaer as rising in importance and becoming a mighty patroon in the land. He had received more recruits from Holland. His patroonship of Rensellaerwick lay immediately below Fort Aurania, and extended for several miles on each side of the Hudson, beside embracing the mountainous region of the Helderberg. Over all this he claimed to hold separate jurisdiction independent of the colonial authorities at New Amsterdam.

All these assumptions of authority were duly reported to Governor Van Twiller and his council, by dispatches from Fort Aurania, at each new report the governor and his counsellors looked at each other, raised their eyebrows, gave an extra puff or two of smoke, and then relapsed into their usually tranquillity.

At length tidings came that the patroon of Rensellaerwick had extended his usurpations along the river, beyond the limits granted him by their High Mightinesses, and that he had even seized upon a rocky island in the Hudson, commonly known by the name of Beern or Bear's Island, where he was erecting a fortress, to be called by the lordly name of Rensellaersteen.

Wouter Van Twiller was roused by this intelligence. After consulting with his burgomasters, he dispatched a letter to the patroon of Rensellaerwick, demanding by what right he had seized upon this island, which lay beyond the bounds of his patroonship. The answer of Killian Van Rensellaer was in his own lordly style, "By wapen recht!" that is to say, by the right of arms, or in common parlance, by club-law. This answer plunged the worthy Wouter in one of the deepest doubts he had in the whole course of his administration. In the meantime, while Wouter doubted, the lordly Killian went on to finish his fortress of Rensellaersteen, about which I foresee I shall have something to record in a future chapter of this most eventful history.