A patroon (from Dutch patroon, owner or head of a company) was a landholder with manorial rights to large tracts of land in the 17th century Dutch colony of New Netherland in North America (notably found in the Hudson River region of New York). By charter of 1629, the Dutch West India Company first started to grant this title and land to some of its invested members, encouraging immigration to America.
The deeded tracts were called patroonships and spanned 16 miles in length on one side of a major river, or 8 miles if spanning both sides. In 1640 the charter was revised to cut new plot sizes in half, and to allow any Dutch-American in good standing to purchase an estate.
The title of patroon came with powerful rights and privileges, similar to a lord in the feudal period. A patroon could create civil and criminal courts, appoint local officials and hold land in perpetuity. In return, he was commissioned by the Dutch West India Company to establish a settlement of at least 50 families within four years on the land. These first settlers were relieved of the duty of public taxes for ten years, but were required to pay the patroon in money, goods, or services in kind.
Patroonships were handed down in a few key families for generations undivided. The residents lived as tenants working for the patroon. Often patroonships had their own churches, community infrastructure and villages. The records of births and baptisms and marriages were often in Dutch.
The word patroonship was used until the year 1775, when the English redefined the lands as estates and took away the jurisdictional privilege.
The largest and only successful patroonship in New Netherland was Rensselaerwyck, established by Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. Rensselaerwyck covered almost all of present-day Albany and Rensselaer counties and parts of present-day Columbia and Greene counties in New York State, extending into the southwestern corner of Pownal, Vermont.
Other notable Dutch-American patroonships were:
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