Hudson didn't want river, but found Troy anyway

Par-TEE! A century ago, Troy was a-rockin’ with parades, speeches, banquets, bunting, fireworks. The 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration honored the tri-centennial of Henry Hudson’s trip up his namesake river, and the centennial of Robert Fulton’s 1807 steamship journey on said river. (Alas, the celebrations this time around were so low-key as to be all but unnoticed.)

The Dutch hired Hudson, an Englishman but experienced explorer, to find an imagined all-water “northwest passage” to the Orient. Hudson ignored rivers, knowing they dead-end upland. But the Hudson River fooled him, it was different. It’s an estuary, a flooded river—little discernable current, saltwater-filled at its lower end, tides as far north as Troy.

At 160 miles upstream, realizing the river was petering out, Hudson turned back. But Hudson had found not a passage to get to another continent, but a viable and valuable passage to get into this one. The river’s sluggish flow afforded easy sailing upstream. The river also breeched the vast Appalachian chain, an otherwise continuous mountainous ridge from Georgia to Maine. The Hudson River Valley connects to Lakes George and Champlain to the north, the Mohawk River and Great Lakes to the west. The Capital District arose at the vital crossroads of this early transportation network.

By the way, Hudson was promptly arrested when he returned to London for having sailed under another country’s flag.

In 1629, the Dutch West India Company began selling vast tracts of the land claimed by Hudson. The new landlords were called patroons, a Dutch word akin to the English “patron” (from the same Latin root for “father.” ). One such investor was wealthy diamond-merchant Kiliaen van Rensselaer, who purchased something like one million acres covering both sides of the river. The area was called Rensselaerswijck—in English, Rensselaerswick or Rensselaerswyck.

Now a clustering of houses or villas is termed a village, contracted as “wich” or “wick” such as Greenwich, Sandwich, or Brunswick (literally “Brownvillage”), the latter just up the road on Rt. 7. So I would think “wijck” is the Dutch equivalent. Dutch words are tantalizingly close to English, with just enough difference to catch us off guard—the “oo” in “patroon” or the “aer” ending of “Rensselaer.”

The venture was so profitable that the van Rensselaers became one of the 10 richest families in America. Three centuries later, in 1824, Kiliaen’s descendent Stephen founded you-know-what.

So Henry’s journey 400 years ago this year led to Kiliaen’s patroonship, led to Stephen’s school, which led to the Rensselaer Union and The Poly in which you read these words. Thus it is Hudson whom you can thank whenever you encounter trouble in spelling your alma mater’s name.