A Classification of American Wealth
History and genealogy of the wealthy families of America - Sponsors

 Part 1 : Colonial and Mercantile America  Part 2 : America in the Gilded Age
 Part 3 : America in the Twentieth Century  Encyclopedia of American Wealth

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  Part I-Chapter 1 : Patroons and Manor Lords  > Index and Introduction  :    « Previous   1 - 2   Next »

When what is now New York and New Jersey was under Dutch colonial rule, “patroonship” was introduced by the Dutch West India Company to reward the company’s important officers and directors with large tracts of land in America to do as they wished with, but also to develop the colonies. The first property attributed under patroonship was “Rensselaerwyck”, awarded 1630 to Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, a director and one of the founders of the company. Although Kiliaen Van Rensselaer never set foot on his property, his descendents made “Rensselaerwyck” the largest American land tract in private hands and kept it essentially intact for over two centuries. Patroonship involved not only ownership of the land but also the rights to establish colonies of tenants and rule over these colonies much in the same way as feudal lords did in Europe. Significantly the feudalistic rights going along with “patroonship” was worth more in these times than the property rights to the land, which was generally bought or taken from the Indian tribes at relatively little cost. Along with the rights went some responsibilities, the foremost being the assurance of the security of such settlements which would become easier by the years, as the Indian populations receded and left to go North and West, where they would soon be followed and displaced again by new waves of immigrants and fortune hunters.

The “Lords of Manors” were titles awarded to large landowners and other important colonialists by the English Crown granting much the same rights as the Dutch patroonships. The first such manor was “Pelham”, based upon a patent granted to Thomas Pell in 1666 by the colonial governor. A similar patent was granted to John Archer for the manor of “Fordham” in 1671. More would follow, including the largest and most famous, “Livingston Manor”, ceded to Robert Livingston in 1686 by Governor Thomas Dongan and later confirmed by James II. Building on the rights going along the title of manor lords, the Livingstons established what could well be considered America’s premier dynasty, producing many public servants, merchants as well as military and political leaders. The prolific Livingston clan would ally its own power by marriage to the foremost dynasties of colonial America, such as the Schuylers, Van Rensselaer and Van Cortlandt, and thus produce an interrelated aristocracy, the first to deserve that qualification in America. Other important manors were Lewis Morris’ “Morrisiana”, Stephanus Van Cortlandt’s “Cortlandt Manor” and Frederick Philipse’s“Philipsborough”.

The manorial system was built on feudal rights granted to the deserving (or to the influent) and the principles of primogeniture, where estates were left in entail to the eldest son who would in turn dispose of it in the same way. The younger sons were launched in a mercantile or academic career and left with smaller inheritances, while the daughters were provided for with ample dowries and well planned marital unions to peers. The system enabled the large estates to be essentially intact 100 years after their inception.

By the time of the American Revolution, some of these families would well adapt to the spirit of democracy and support the movement, as did the two Livingstons and Lewis who drafted or signed the Declaration of Independence. Others, like the Philipse, would side with Britain and see their properties seized by the new government. One fate would be reserved to all of them, the loss of their privileges and the dismantling of their estates in the first half of the 19th century, along with the rise of democracy, the development of commerce and the abolition of the principles of primogeniture and entail.

Patroons and Manor Lords  > Index and Introduction  :    « Previous  1 - 2  Next »   

Patroons and Manor Lords

Planter  Aristocrats

Shipping Merchants

The Landlords of New YorkCity

Bankers I

Early American Industrialists


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