Facts and Events
Kiliaen van Rensselaer (approximately 1586, Hasselt, Overijssel – buried 7 October approximately 1643, Amsterdam) was a Dutch diamond and pearl merchant from Amsterdam who was one of the founders and directors of the Dutch West India Company, being instrumental in the establishment of New Netherland.
He was one of the first patroons, but the only one to become successful. He founded the Manor of Rensselaerswyck in what is now mainly New York's Capital District. His estate remained throughout the Dutch and British colonial era and the American Revolution as a legal entity until the 1840s. Eventually, that came to an end during the Anti-Rent War.
Kiliaen van Rensselaer was born in the province of Overijssel to Hendrick Kiliaensz van Rensselaer, a soldier from Nijkerk in the States army of the duke of Upper Saxony, and Maria Alberts Pafraet, daughter of a printer in Hasselt. To keep from risking his life in the army like his father, he apprenticed under his uncle, a successful Amsterdam jeweler. He too became a successful jeweler and was one of the first subscribers to the Dutch West India Company upon its conception.
The concept of patroonships may have been Kiliaen van Rensselaer's; he was likely the leading proponent of the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions, the document that established the patroon system. His patroonship became the most successful to exist, making full use of his business tactics and advantages, such as his connection to the Director of New Netherland, his confidantes at the West India Company, and his extended family members who were eager to emigrate to a better place to farm. Van Rensselaer married twice and had at least eleven children. When he died sometime after 1642, two succeeded him as patroons of Rensselaerswyck.
Van Rensselaer's effect on the history of the United States cannot be underestimated. The American van Rensselaers all descend from Kiliaen's son Jeremias and the subsequent family is noted for being a very powerful and wealthy influence in the history of New York and the Northeastern United States producing multiple State Legislators, Congressmen, and two Lieutenant Governors in New York.