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Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage northward ended near Albany, where the river that bears his name became impassible for his ship. His Dutch sponsors built Fort Nassau on Westerlo Island in 1614, serving as an administrative outpost for the fur trading ventures of the Dutch West India Company in Manhattan. Ice and floods damaged this first fort, which was first relocated around 1615 to land at the mouth of the Normans Kill, then replaced by the larger Fort Orange further north in 1623. Begun as an outpost of Manhattan, Fort Orange was to become a permanent settlement, with Dutch and French Huguenot families among its first inhabitants.
The Dutch encouraged settlement through the manor system, with tenant farmers paying rent to the Manor of Rensselaerswyck, purchased by the Van Rensselaer family in 1629 and covering most of what is now Albany and Rensselaer Counties. The West India Company formally established the village of Beverwijck in 1652, independent of the Manor. In 1664 when the Dutch surrendered to the British without a battle, King Charles II granted territory including New Netherland, New England, Long Island and Delaware to his royal brother James, the Duke of both York and Albany. Thus Beverwyck became Albany and New Amsterdam became New York. Albany remained under British rule until the American Revolution.
Albany County was the northernmost and least developed of the ten original counties created within the Colony of New York on November 1, 1683. Undefined on the north and west, its eastern portion included much of Vermont and the southern area reached Dutchess and Ulster Counties. In 1772, Albany County was divided into thirds, with the northwest portion named Tryon County (later Montgomery) and the northeast area called Charlotte (renamed Washington.) During the next three decades, six new counties would be created from Albany County's much-reduced territory, the last, Schenectady County, in 1808.
In 1686 Governor Thomas Dongan granted a charter to the City of Albany. Albany County's other cities were chartered late in the nineteenth century. Soon after, settlers had spread throughout the County, and most of the present County towns were established, beginning with Watervliet in 1788.
In 1754 at the Stadt Huys (City Hall) leaders of the several colonies met to develop a common defense against the French. The document identified as The Albany Plan of Union was drafted with Benjamin Franklin as one of the chief authors. However, it was never adopted by Parliament. Between 1757 and 1763 Albany became the hub of military planning during the French and Indian War, although the French never invaded the city.
With increased economic and political tensions between the colonies and sovereign England, Albany supported the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. During the war years (1775-1783) because of its central location on the Hudson River, Albany was a useful supply center as well as a focal point for military planning. Albany native Philip Livingston was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Among those involved in the military campaigns were Albany's sons, Generals Philip Schuyler, Peter Gansevoort and Abraham Ten Broeck. At what is known as the war's turning point, with Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga, Burgoyne became a prisoner guest at the Schuyler Mansion (now a state historic site). It was a mansion that played host to many notables of the era including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and Aaron Burr.
With the formation of a state government, New York's legislature first met in Kingston, and continued to convene annually in New York City and Albany. In 1797 the decision was made to establish Albany as its permanent capital.
The first commercial enterprise in Albany County was the fur trade, but with the founding of the Manor of Rensselaerswyck, agriculture became the leading economic activity, centered on wheat for local consumption and export to New York City. Sheep and dairy farming became important after the construction of the Erie Canal in the 1820's and the railroads in the 1830's and 40's. These events enabled wheat farmers in the western part of the State and Nation to compete with those in the east, and local farmers turned to more profitable ventures in dairy and cattle-raising. The waterways, railroads and highways of Albany County have been the backbone of its success, first in trading, then in manufacturing, and finally in government, banking, retail commerce, and the burgeoning nanotechnology industry.
During the 19th century, the city's population continued to expand with a variety of ethnic groups from Europe, the majority of which were Irish, German and Jewish. Albany became a city of craftsmen and limited manufacture with politics playing an ever-vital role in the community.
Among those for whom politics was more than a passing phase was Martin Van Buren. He was the founder of the Albany Regency, the first political machine and he went on to become president of the United States. In holding elective office was Ira Harris and behind the scene politician and publisher Thurlow Weed. In addition to Van Buren spanning the 19th and 20th centuries among the governors who advanced to the presidency were Grover Cleveland, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Not a governor, but U.S. president whose gravesite is located in Albany Rural Cemetery, was Chester A. Arthur. Although Governor Charles Evans Hughes did not become president, he served as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
For over 200 years, Albany has been New York's capital. The County is also a center for banking, retail, non-profit organizations, railroads, and international trade via the port of Albany. The City of Albany is the County seat and largest community, followed by the suburban towns of Colonie, Guilderland, and Bethlehem. Seven other towns and two small cities complete the picture of the county that lies at the junction of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers.
In 1624, French Walloons set up a colony named Fort Orange for the House of Orange, the royal family of The Netherlands. By 1629 the Dutch West India Company had established a trading post at Fort Orange, later proclaimed the Village of Beverwyck by the governor in 1652. The City of Albany received its charter on July 22, 1686. Because of its location along the Hudson, Albany became a military hotspot in the latter half of the 18th century during the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. Albany became the capital of New York State in 1797 and since then has been the home of numerous governors and others who would go on the become presidents of the United States. More history on the City of Albany can be found on their website.
On March 17, 1795, a settlement known as Beaverdam separated from the Town of Rensselaerville and became the Town of Berne. Birthplace of Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. Bradley, who in 1886 cast the deciding vote to elect Rutherford B. Hayes as president rather than Samuel J. Tilden. More about the history of Berne can be found on the Berne Historical Project website.
The Town of Bethlehem was incorporated in 1793 on the west bank of the Hudson River, just south of the City of Albany. Henry Hudson's ship, the Half Moon, arrived in Bethlehem in mid-September of 1609. Learn more about Town of Bethlehem history on their website.
The Town of Coeymans was named after Barent Pieteres Koijemans who arrived here from Holland in 1639 and purchased the land that was to become Coeymans in 1672. Learn more from the Town of Coeymans.
Located at the mouth of the Mohawk River where it joins the Hudson River, the City of Cohoes was developed on land bought in 1630 by Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, a director of the Dutch West India Company. In the mid-1800's, Cohoes leveraged its location by the powerful Cohoes Falls to fuel an industrial boom that led to a population expansion from 150 in 1840 to over four thousand only ten years later. Click here for more about the history of Cohoes from their website.
The Town of Colonie was formed in 1895 and received its name from the Dutch "Colonye" meaning the settlement outside the city. The name can be traced to maps used by the Dutch patroons in the 1600's. People unfamiliar with the area usually pronounce the name the same as the word "colony"; however, correct pronunciation puts the emphasis on the last syllable. You can learn more about the history of the Town of Colonie from its town historian's web pages.
The Village of Green Island is comprised of three islands, surrounded by the Hudson and Mohawk rivers. In the late 1600's and early 1700's, the land was owned by Colonel Kiliaen Van Rensselaer and called "Manor Rensselaerwycke." Findings of skeletons and arrowheads in the 1800's have led historians to believe that part of the French and Indian War may have been fought where the Troy-Green Island Bridge is today. Learn more about the history of Green Island from their website.
Incorporated in 1803, the Town of Guilderland dates back as a pioneer settlement in the 1700's. Guilderland's earliest industries included the Hamilton Glass Works established in 1785. By 1800, Guilderland also had a clothing factory, a button factory, a knitting mill and a grist mill that employed early pioneers in the settlement nearby. Learn more about Guilderland's history from their website.
The Village of Menands was incorporated in 1924 and named for the French horticulturist Louis Menand, who had settled in the area with his wife in 1842. Menands lies within the Town of Colonie. You can learn more from the Menands Village historian's web pages.
Originally called "Coeymans Junction" because of the meeting of the new railroad lines there, the Village of Ravena changed its name in 1894 because it was frequently confused with nearby Coeymans Landing. A mile west of the Hudson River, Ravena, which lies within the Town of Coeymans, was officially incorporated in 1914. You can learn more from their website here.
Located in the southwest corner of Albany County, the land that would become the Town of Rensselaerville was a part of the Manor of Rensselaerwyck dating back to 1629. However the land was so inaccessible it wasn't settled until after the Revolutionary War, when tracts of land were offered free - for the first seven years - to anyone willing to develop the land. When rent became due, it was perpetual and binding on all future purchasers of the property. These types of land transactions, where the sale was never completed, led to the Anti-Rent Rebellion of 1839-89 and influenced the wording of the federal Homestead Act that opened the west for settlement. You can learn more about the history of Rensselaerville by visiting their website and clicking "History" in their menu.