The New York State Library's collection of the Van Rensselaer Manor Papers provides an extraordinary and priceless archive of the growth and history of the earliest permanently settled region of the United States. Voluminous letters, contracts, business transactions, records of material culture, personal stories, land transactions, maps, ledgers, and other papers document over two hundred years of daily life, from the earliest years of America's written history until the mid-19th century.
The Van Rensselaer Manor Papers reveal the successes and hardships of ordinary men, women, and children—wealthy and poor, master and slave. Letters, contracts, bonds, accounts, maps, ledgers, and other documents reveal details of contacts between colonists and Native Americans, the culture and traditions of the Dutch settlers of New Netherland, the establishment of great manorial estates under English colonial rule, and the business enterprises that made New York the "Empire State" of the American republic.
Portions of the Van Rensselaer Manor Papers were heavily damaged in the disastrous 1911 Capitol fire, and many documents in the collection are so fragile they cannot be made available for study and research. Nevertheless, these important papers document early land transactions and social interactions that continue to be the foundation of land titles and rights and other aspects of daily life in the region. Historians, genealogists, archaeologists, and lawyers researching land titles and Indian rights use them for research and study.
Many different spellings of the manor founded in the 17th century by Killiaen van Rensselaer can be found in the literature. Readers will find Rensselaerswyck, Rensselaerwyck, and Rensselaerswijk among them. For purposes of this Virtual Exhibit, Rensselaerswijck will be used. The exception is any spelling that occurs directly in or on an historical document or manuscript. In those cases, the spelling used by the author is retained.