Van Rensselaer, Stephen

Stephen Van Rensselaer III, (b at New York, NY, 1 Nov 1764; d near Albany, NY, 26 Jan 1839). Stephen Van Rensselaer grew up in the Van Rensselaer manor in the Upper Hudson River region of New York State. He graduated from Harvard College in 1782. He married Margarita, daughter of General Philip Schuyler, and they had three children. After her death in 1801, he married Cornelia Paterson, daughter of the governor of New Jersey. Together they would have ten children born between 1803 and 1820.

On reaching his 21st birthday, Van Rensselaer assumed the title of the family estate, called Rensselaerswyck or "Van Rensselaer's Manor." This large estate had originally been granted to the Van Rensselaers in 1629 by the Dutch West India Company. When Van Rensselaer became the “patroon” (landowner) of the manor, he was by far the wealthiest individual in the Albany area and his estate was served by 15 slaves. In 1786 he gained a commission as a major in the New York state militia and by 1801 rose to the rank of major general. New York’s Governor Tompkins, a Republican, offered Van Rensselaer, a member of the opposition Federalist party, command of the US Army of the Centre. He commanded the army that invaded Upper Canada on 13 October 1812 but its defeat at the Battle of Queenston Heights ended his military career. In 1813 he ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York.

Stephen Van Rensselaer had served in the New York State Assembly (1789-91) and Senate (1791-96), and as lieutenant governor of New York State (1795). After the war he served on the canal commission from 1816-39 and sat in the US House of Representatives from 1822-29. He was regent of the University of the State of New York from 1819-39 and, with Amos Eaton, the founder of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Upon his death he was remembered in local lore as "the last patroon" or "the good patroon."

Author: Wes Turner

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