Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, the son of Hendrick van Rensselaer and Maria Pasraat, was born near Hasselt, Overijssel, Netherlands, about 1585. His father died while he was still young, and he was sent to apprentice under his uncle in the diamond merchant business. He merged his uncle's business with his cousins in 1612, and it became very profitable.

When the Dutch West India Company was founded in 1621, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer was among the original 19 original founders. He contributed 6000 guilders to the cause. On the 19th of November, 1629, Kiliaen assembled a group of men and sent them up the North (Hudson) River to the Fort Orange colony (present day Albany, New York).

Kiliaen was granted land on both sides of the river, named it the Colony of Rensselaerswijck, and became the first Patroon of New Netherland. In exchange for the land grant, he agreed to bring at least 50 settlers to the colony within four years. The land included large portions of present day Albany, Rensselaer, and Columbia Counties, excepting Fort Orange. Kiliaen had great difficulty attracting farmers to the colony, and took him ten years to bring over the required amount of settlers.

His idea had been that Fort Orange and Rensselaerswijck would work together to survive and make a profit. Fort Orange would provide protection from tribal raids while the settlers would supply the fort with food and materials. He hired the settlers, bought them tools, and sent building materials for settlements. He also up a feudal system, in which the settlers would send back excess goods grown on the farmland, and profits from the fur trade. While the colony was not extremely profitable, it was the most economically viable of the patroonships handed out by the Dutch government.

Kiliaen never went to Rensselaerswijck, instead remaining in the Netherlands to manage his other business affairs. He sent over many administrators to help run the colony, and kept a careful eye on the reports that would come back. Because of this, he became involved in constant quarrels between farmers about profits and the payment of rent.

At his death in 1644, about 100 settlers occupied the colony of Rensselaerswijck. His sons continued to manage the land grant, which remained more-or-less intact until 1787.

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