Bruce A. Scruton The Knickerbocker News
Section: MAIN,  Page: 3A

Date: Tuesday, July 22, 1986

When you have trouble with your neighbors over who has the right to trade with the Indians, what do you do?

Three hundred years ago, it was simple. Get together 300 pounds, go see the governor and get yourself a charter. This particular charter, which has come to be known as the Dongan Charter, was the second one issued by Royal Governor Thomas Dongan that summer of 1686. The first one set up a government for New York City.

Albany's charter was personally brought home by the man who was made its first mayor, Pieter Schuyler. Three days after it was signed, on July 25, 1686, it was read to the inhabitants of what had become an important trading post to the English.

It was this lucrative fur trade with the Indians that the inhabitants of Albany wanted to protect when they asked for the charter.

Albany was 62 years old when it sought its charter. During much of those years, Albany had a running feud with the Van Rensselaers over ownership of the village, then known as Beverwyck, and the trade with the Indians.

In fact, the Van Rensselaers had sought their own royal charter from the Duke of York, who instructed then Governor Andros to issue a charter.

The order still stood when Dongan succeeded Andros, but he refused the Van Rensselaers' request. In 1685, he issued a patent for the Van Rensselaer Manor after the family gave up its claim to Albany.

Dongan visited Albany in the spring and met pleas from the citizenry for a charter, similar to the one he just issued to New York.

As originally defined by the charter, Albany extended 16 miles inland from the Hudson River and included the right to purchase 500 acres from the Indians in Schaghticoke and another 1,000 acres at Ticonnondoroge,

now Fort Hunter, Montgomery County.

In addition to the land, the charter, with an eye toward unknown treasures, granted "the royalties of fishing, fowling, hunting, hawking, mines, minerals and other royalties and privileges belonging or appertaining to the city of Albany, gold and silver mines only excepted."

The charter named names - conferring titles of mayor, aldermen, sheriff, clerk and chamberlain on various citizens. It also established that the positions be filled yearly on the feast day of St. Michael (Sept. 29), most by appointment by the governor or mayor. The aldermen were to be elected by the citizens of the respective three wards.

Should someone be elected or appointed to a government post and refuse, the charter directed the person be fined "such reasonable or moderate fines or sums of money as to their discretion shall be thought most fit, so as the said fine, penalty or sum for refusing or denying to hold and execute the office of mayor of the said city, do not exceed the sum of twenty pounds." For lesser offices, the fine was not to exceed 5 pounds.

The charter gave the citizens of Albany the right, for 21 years, to chop wood from any part of Van Rensselaer Manor "provided it be not within any fenced or enclosed land."

Among other rights was the "full and free license and liberty of fishing in Hudson's River," but only within the limits of Albany County.

While the right of self-government was given to the citizens of Albany, some royal approval still was needed. Local laws were only good for a year, "unless they shall be allowed and confirmed, by the Governor and Council, for the time being."

The mayor had the right to issue licenses to taverns and inns. Any money collected was to be for public use "without any account thereof to be rendered, made or done to his said Majesty, his heirs, successors or assigns, or any of his Lieutenants or Governbors of the said Province."

But most importantly, at least for the people of Albany, the charter granted the city exclusive trading rights with the Indians.

That exclusive trade zone extended to the north, east and west of Albany, "within the compass of his said Majesty's dominion here."

Dongan took note of Albany's respect within the Indian nations, extending back to the "several Governors, Generals and Commanders-in-Chief of the Nether Dutch Nation."

The charter notes Albany's trade with the Indians "hath returned vastly to the advancement of trade and the increase of his Majesty's revenue, and been the sole means, not only of preserving this Province in peace and quiet, whilst the neighboring colonies were imbrued in blood and war; but also of putting an end to the miseries those colonies labored under from the unsulting cruelty of the Northern Indians.

"Whereas, on the other hand, it has been no less evident, that whenever there has been any slackness or remissness in the regulation and keeping the Indian trade within the walls of the said city, occasioned by the encroachment of some persons trading with the Indians in places remote, some clandestinely, others upon pretense of hunting passes, and the like, the trade not only of the said city, but the whole Province, has apparently decreased, the King's revenue has been much impaired, and not only so, but this government has lost much of the reputation and management amongst the Indians, which it otherwise had enjoyed."