Who was Kiliaen van Rensselaer?
by Tom Visée
From the recent Past President of NAHC Tom Visée comes news that the birthplace of New Netherland Patroon Kiliaen van Rensselaer in Hasselt, Overijssel, will be converted into a museum.
Van Rensselaer played an important role within the Dutch West India Company, which focused on the colonization of America, among other things. RTV Oost writes that the diamond merchant, who lived between 1586 and 1643, is particularly well known in the U.S.
“Sometimes Americans stand at our doorstep, having read in a travel guide that this must be Kiliaen”s birthplace,” Vanneau Foundation president Dario Usai tells the regional broadcaster.
“They may be surprised that it is still just a residential house. But soon we will be able to receive visitors and show them the house.”
The Vanneau Foundation aims to preserve and maintain Dutch cultural heritage. The property in Hasselt is the foundation’s first major purchase. Usai does not yet know exactly what the museum will look like. “The house is still occupied right now. Once the transfer has been made, we can start working out our ideas.”
Kiliaen van Rensselaer
Kiliaen van Rensselaer (1586-1643) was born in Hasselt. At 16, he left to live with an uncle in Amsterdam, a jeweler. In Golden Age Amsterdam, Van Rensselaer quickly became wealthy in the diamond trade. With his wealth, he was one of the major moneylenders and also an administrator of the Dutch West India Company (WIC), which, in addition to New Netherland, focused on trade and shipping to West Africa and North and Latin America.
In 1629, the WIC established the “Freedoms and Exemptions,” which introduced a new form of colonization. These regulations allowed the formation of patroonships, a colony under the administration of a patroon. The patroonship system was probably devised by Van Rensselaer
himself. Through this system, he also established his own colony in present-day New York State: Rensselaerswyck, which eventually came to comprise a million acres.
In 1664, the area fell into British hands. The British renamed the area Albany, now the capital of New York State. Members of the influential New York Van Rensselaer family are direct descendants of Kiliaen van Rensselaer. Between 1789 and 1842, descendants of Van Rensselaer held numerous political offices, including congressmen Stephen and Jeremiah.
According to Usai, the property is still in excellent condition. “The previous residents took good care of it. It was thoroughly restored in the 1950s, 1960s, and fortunately many elements have been preserved.”
As an example, Usai mentions the beamed ceilings, antique leaded window panes, and the small Delft blue tiles in the hall. “It’s all been there for more than five hundred years.” The foundation hopes to open Van Rensselaer’s birthplace to the public in 2024.
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