In 1630, a diamond merchant named Kiliaen van Rensselaer purchased a tract of land from the Mohican Indians and established the Manor of Rensselaerswijck. This land consisted of over one million acres in the Upper Hudson River Valley. Originally, 10 farmers settled on the manor. The settlement grew to over 200 farmers and traders only 20 years later, and flourished for almost 200 years under the Van Rensselaer family.
The Van Rensselaer family retained ownership of this land until 1860. They kept detailed documentation of the manor’s affairs throughout their ownership. This collection of papers now resides at the New York State Library. The letters, contracts, bills, maps, personal accounts, and other documents paint a vivid image of daily life in one of the earliest American settlements.
Unfortunately, due to the ravages of time and the disastrous Capitol fire of 1911, many of these papers are damaged and too delicate for handling. Some documents are so fragile that they are unavailable for research or study.
In 2007, the library was awarded a “Save America’s Treasures” grant to help restore and preserve the most threatened items of this collection. The Friends raised $12,500 to support the project. Over 1000 pages were restored.
The Friends are continuing to support the library in its efforts to preserve this collection.
In addition to the Van Rensselaer Manor papers, the Friends of the New York State Library paid to have the ca. 1632 Van Scheyndel map of Rensselaerswyck conserved and framed to improve public access.