Patroons

A patroon was a landowner in North American colony of New Netherland in the seventeenth century. Patroon is a Dutch word for patron or master, and patroons had all the rights, privileges, and obligations of feudal lords, including a degree of legal authority over those who lived on their lands. After the Englishman Henry Hudson sailed the Half Moon into New York harbor on behalf of the Netherlands, he reported his findings to his employer, the Dutch East India Company. The Estates General of the United Netherlands gave the New Netherland Company a monopoly on exploration and commercial development of the colony of New Netherland. The company developed a fur trade, but the government wanted increased settlement to counter its rival, England.

In 1623, a new charter company, the Dutch West India Company, settled thirty Walloon families on homesteads in lower Manhattan, on the western shore of Long Island, in Albany, and along the Delaware and Connecticut Rivers. As colonization was still too slow, in 1629, the company and government jointly issued the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions. The charter excepted Manhattan from the patroon system. In the rest of the New Netherland, individuals, with the permission of the governor and council, could claim large tracts of land. All they had to do was pay for transportation to the New World and settlement costs on their land for fifty adults within four years. They would then be patroons, with rights to claim up to 16 miles of riverfront on one side of a river or 8 miles on both sides, and as much contiguous property as the patroon wanted. To get more than the maximum 16 miles of waterfront, however, the patroon had to bring in more settlers. His land thus grew in proportion to the numbers of settlers beyond the original fifty.

On his land, the patroon had full title, legal authority, and absolute inheritance rights. His tenants could fish, hunt birds, or mill grain only with his permission. To enforce his rule, the patroon had the right to appoint magistrates and officers in any town he chose to establish. The patroon was to establish and document local government compatible with the Dutch government’s and the company’s rules. He had to select a deputy who met with the company director and council. And each estate had to provide an annual report to Manhattan for transmission to Amsterdam. Patroons also had to provide the people on their land with a teacher, a minister, and a medical person. The patroon had claim to a tenth of all products of his land. Rent was 500 guilders per year (approximately $200), and the tenants had to provide both quitrent (fixed rent) and some food products such as fowl and butter.

The most successful patroonship was the Rensselaerwyck, which eventually controlled counties near Albany, Rensselaer, and part of Columbia. Others were the Van Cortlandt manor, which included 85,000 acres, and the Livingston manor, which totaled 160,000 acres. Staten Island was totally the property of Cortnelis Melyn. Thomas Pell had Pelham, while Lloyd’s Neck belonged to James Lloyd. Fordham and Scarsdale were patroonships as well. The patroon administered justice through a court system he established. Settlers on his territory did have the right to appeal his decisions to the director and council on payment of up to fifty guilders (about $20).

For the first decade, the members of the patroon’s colony were exempt from customs and taxes. On the other hand, they could not leave the colony except by written consent of the patron, and the company promised to apprehend runaways. The company also promised to provide slaves, but at its convenience. And it demanded that all settlers outside of Manhattan had to compensate Native Americans appropriately for any land the settlers acquired. The company barred patroons from trading in furs, a company monopoly, except in territories where the company had no presence. Manufacture of woolen, cotton, or linen cloth, and weaving in general were prohibited, because they competed with Dutch industry. Punishment could include banishment. Within the limits, patroons could trade from Florida to Newfoundland, but they had to clear their cargoes through Manhattan and pay a 5 percent duty to the company before shipping cargo to Holland. Patroons also could fish and sell their catch to neutral countries; the duty was three guilders per ton. The company also provided defense against all enemies, outlandish and inlandish, and it fortified Manhattan.

In 1664, the Dutch lost New Netherland to the English, but the English recognized all Dutch titles. Because land was so abundant, many settlers rejected the patroon lands. For a small price, they could acquire native lands without all the rules of the patroon system. The attempt to maintain a feudal land system in an area of virtually unlimited land had little chance of success, and it was gradually phased out. John H. Barnhill See also: Dutch; Land and Real Estate; Landlords; New Netherland; Document: Rights and Privileges of Patroons (1629). Bibliography Kammen, Michael. Colonial New York: A History. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975. Rink, Oliver A. Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York. New York: Cornell University Press, 1986.

Patroons Photo Gallery



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