Fort Orange became the first permanent settlement in New York. Dutch post was established in 1624, in the upper Hudson River Valley, near the site where Henry Hudson had dropped anchor in 1609 (current Albany). Captain Cornelis May brought a group of Dutch West India Company merchants to the west bank of the Hudson River, where they built a petite log structure close to the site of the abandoned, flood-damaged Fort Nassau (New York).
Among the first settlers were five women, four of whom reportedly were married on the voyage from Europe. They were primarily refugee Walloons, natives of the southern Netherlands (present-day Belgium), which at the time was occupied by Spain. Under the command of Adriaen Jorise, the settlers were paid employees of the company, and their job was to trade with the inhabitant population for furs. The Mahicans soon approached Fort Orange to open trade relations.
By spring 1625, Fort Orange sent some 1,000 otter and beaver pelts to the Netherlands. The Mohawks, one of the Iroquois Nations, moved to monopolize trade with the Dutch by driving off the Algonquian-speaking Mahicans. The company desires to maintain trade with both nations, and at times sold firearms to both, but could not control events.
As the two tribes fought to dominate the region, Dutch efforts to intervene only resulted in the murder of several traders. In 1626, Peter Minuit became director-general of New Netherland. Concerned about the safety of Fort Orange’s settlers, he ordered them to vacate the fort and move to farms around New Amsterdam, 125 miles downriver.
By 1628, most New Netherlanders lived at New Amsterdam, and only a couple dozen traders and a few soldiers remained at Fort Orange. Because of its location at the crossroads of native trade routes, Fort Orange became the center of the fur trade. The native people keenly traded with the West India Company because, contrasting the French and English, the Dutch were willing to sell them firearms. The fort’s traders brought in some 63,000 pelts between 1624 and 1632. In 1629, Kiliaen van Rensselaer instructed agents to purchase large tracts of native land along the Hudson and surrounding Fort Orange.
He established a patronship (a proprietary manor), called Rensselaerswyck. In the meantime, the West India Company ceded its trade monopoly, and individual traders settled around Fort Orange to conduct business. A settlement known as Beverwyck (Beaver Town) grew up around the post and attracted an assortment of European and native traders.
The traders of Rensselaerswyck and Beverwyck competed, acrimoniously, for the fur trade, and around 1644 Van Rensselaer employees built a trading post a few miles south of Fort Orange. By the 1640s, the wooden walls of Fort Orange had decayed from regular flooding and retained little defensive value. And only a token garrison occupied the fort. However, the surrounding traders maintained amicable relations with the Mohawks and the other Iroquois Nations during the Dutch-Indian Wars (1641–1664).
The traders continued to distribute firearms and accumulate furs. At various times during the hostilities, New Netherland officials and Native American sachems (chiefs) met at Fort Orange to conclude peace treaties. After van Rensselaer’s death in 1643 or 1644, his son, Johannes, appointed a new director, Brant Arentse van Slechtenhorst, who arrived in Rensselaerswyck in 1648 and pursued an aggressively expansionist policy. Van Slechtenhorst ordered the construction of new homes encroaching on Fort property.
Petrus Stuyvesant, director-general of New Netherland, ordered the garrison strengthened and the newly built buildings demolished. After years of contention, in 1652 Stuyvesant jailed the patrons’ director and declared Beverwyck the only legal community close to the fort. When the English landed on Long Island in 1664, Stuyvesant recalled the Fort Orange garrison to defend New Amsterdam.
After capturing New Amsterdam, English colonel Richard Nicholls sent George Cartwright to secure Fort Orange. Cartwright captured the fort without a fight and made treaties of friendship with the Mohawks and other native peoples. Cartwright changed the name of Beverwyck to Albany, and Fort Orange became Fort Albany. During the short Dutch reconquest in 1673, Fort Albany received the name Fort Nassau. Read More – Tuscarora War of 1711