New York state: Southerners of the North (part 1)


Above: Philipse Manor Hall, Yonkers (NY) 

Colonial and early-Independence New York State has sometimes been described as a quite peculiar state where large landowners behaved almost as if they were in Virginia or South Carolina. This State has even been called the most Southern state of the North. To a large extent this is a result of the peculiar colonial history of the state of New York, more specifically the manorial land tenure system that was created by Dutch settlers in the 17th century. The so-called patroonships, created in the 17th century, survived well into the 19th century until about 1845.  In big Dutch estates in the Hudson River Valley Dutch settlers in the 17th century established these specific type of estates designed by the Dutch West Indies CompanyThe patroonships formed a coherent land title system which resulted from a mixture of Roman-Dutch company law and feudal law adapted to the specific conditions of the Dutch colony of
New Netherland. The system was created by the Dutch West Indies Company in 1639 and lasted until its abrogation in 1845. Thus patroonships existed for more than two centuries in a region central to the colonial era up to the early days of the
United States. The fact that the system  survived two transfers of power, from the Dutch to the British (1667) and from British to the
U.S. (1776-1781) indicates the robust nature of this land title system.   
Why is it important to focus on an archaic land-tenure system? Quite some essays have been published about the patroonships by American authors. Also, several Dutch scholars have studied it from a Dutch-colonial perspective. Yet, in spite of this excellent work to my knowledge the patroonships have not been placed in their American context, and by that I mean the
Americas, North and South and its Atlantic context. Below I will attempt to describe how the patroonships developed over time.
Orginally the patroonships were grants by the Dutch West India Company on whose behalf the colony of New Netherlands was formally founded. Through the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions of 1629, the Dutch West India Company (DWIC) granted land to some of its members. The DWIC itself was a company in the almost modern sense of the word and it had members comparable to present-day shareholders. The purpose of the patroonships was to encourage immigration to the newly founded colony of
New Netherland in a time when the still dominant native population still posed a real threat to the colony’s existence. In the mid 17th century
New Netherland consisted of only around 5,000 colonists. The continuous lack of immigrants was a major threat to all colonies on the eastern shores of the American continent. 

The word ‘’patroon’’ means owner of a company or business in 17th century Dutch. It also designates an overseer or a head of an organisation in general. The patroonships are often considered as remnants of European feudalism. Colonists owed perpetual fealty to the patroon and were obliged to pay perpetual rent. These elements can certainly be considered as feudal, and many services in kind as traditionally linked with European feudalism were not implemented in the colony. Patroons had powerful rights and privileges similar to a lord in feudal times. He could create civil and criminal courts and appoint officials. As briefly mentioned above, a major concern of the Dutch West Indies Company was the survival of its colony. In order to stimulate immigration to the colony the patroons were commissioned to establish a settlement of at least 50 families within four years.  As tenants, the first settlers were relieved of the duty to pay taxes for ten years, but were required to pay the patroon money, goods and services in kind. Over time, the patroonships evolved into true manorial estates with complete communities with churches, schools and many other amenities. The patroons could make their own rules and run their own manorial courts. There is however little evidence that such courts functioned. From Dutch to British colony Governor Thomas Dongan, the governor of British New York from 1684-1688, did not break with the Dutch colonial practice of granting large pieces of land indicates how firmly rooted the patroonship system must have been by the 1680′s. It was in under his governance in 1685 that the patroonship of Van Rensselaer was granted. It became an English manor of about 850,000 acres. Not all patroons belonged to the Dutch establishment of the former Dutch colony. Patroonships had by that time already become almost aristocratic. Important families such as the Livingstones and the Philipse family ruled their manors in an almost feudal fashion.  ( continued in PART 2:

Some of the sources I used:  The History of American Law


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