After New Netherlands was taken over by the British, its name changed to New York and New Jersey. The royal governor Benjamin Fletcher (governed 1692 – 1697, and who made New York City a safe place for pirates) handed out vast estates in exchange for bribes. For example, for a bribe of £100 a Captain John Evans was given a huge territory forty miles one way and thirty miles another on the west bank of the Hudson River. By Fletcher’s grant Peter Schuyler, Godfrey Delius and associates conjointly secured a grant fifty miles long in the Mohawk Valley. Here was the origin of the wealth of the Schuyler family, which later, directly and indirectly, was such an important factor in influencing the course of the Federal Constitutional Convention and that of the Supreme Court of the United States.
In the time between the fall of New Netherlands in 1664 and the arrival of reform governor Richard Coote, 1st Earl of Bellomont, in 1698, and especially during the time of the previous governor Benjamin Fletcher (1692 – 1697), “the province was a great resort of random adventurers, loose livers, and all that class of haphazard fellows who live by their wits, and dislike the old fashioned restraint of law and gospel,” wrote Washington Irving, in Tales Of A Traveller. “Among these, the foremost were the Buccaneers.”
But where do pirates end and patroons begin? In the abovementioned time frame, pirates and patroons merged via corrupt government. Benjamin Fletcher was colonial governor of New York from 1692 to 1697. Under Col. Fletcher, piracy was a leading economic development tool in the city’s competition with the ports of Boston and Philadelphia. New York City had become a safe place for pirates.
Today as well, when corrupt corporations have merged into an incompetent government, the isle of Manhattan has become a leading economic development tool, via its Wall Street. But did the vast riches of the patroons of yesteryear in fact “trickle down” to their feudal subjects?
In those olden days, Robert Livingston bent with the breeze, and changed his politics depending upon which way the wind blew. He held lucrative government positions, and was an army contractor. The saying was current of Livingston that he made his fortune “by pinching the bellies of the soldiers.” Livingston colluded with Captain Kidd, the memorable pirate, and was a usurer as well. By about 1728, Livingston was a patroon with an estate 16 miles long by 24 miles wide. There he exercised feudal jurisdiction.
All these feudal estates meant less land for common people. They appealed to Lord Bellomont for greater fairness, but Bellomont soon found that the members of the New York Assembly were often the very landed magnates he sought to overthrow. The settlers could get no land while the patroons luxuriated on fantastically huge estates. The colonists wanted to become more than tenants of the landgraves. Bellomont applied for either an act of the British Parliament or an order from the British king for the confiscation of the extravagant and corrupt grants given by Fletcher and other previous governors. Unless, wrote Bellomont, the power of patroons such as those like Livingston were reduced, “the country is ruined.”
Patroons such as Frederick Phillips and his son Adolphus were not “trickling down” their omnivorous fortunes to the average colonist. The Phillips family had received an immense grant of land in what is now Putnam County, New York. From this already enormous beginning, Frederick Phillips branched out into employing Captain Samuel Burgess as a slave trader. Burgess voyaged to Madagascar to trade with pirates there, and soon turned pirate himself. Snatching African natives from the vicinity, Burgess sailed back to Phillips with the swag. Eventually, Captain Burgess met death in Africa from being poisoned while carrying off slaves. John Jacob Astor, through a U.S. Supreme Court decision, later obtained part of the Phillips estate.
It was more of The Remonstrances, this time from Lord Bellomont to Britain instead of from Dutch colonists to Holland, which in turn pressured the New York Assembly to annul at least two of Fletcher’s corrupt land grants. However most of these extensive patroonships remained intact and caused popular uprisings in later generations. (Further background: Return of the Dutch West India Company, Ersjdamoo’s Blog, November 7, 2014.)
And where does it all lead, when corrupt corporations (pirates) merge with an incompetent government? Among other things, it leads to inherited political dynasties, such as Clinton and Bush. Do we really want a new political aristocracy, including Lords and Ladies Clinton and Bush? In bygone days, the great landed estates obtained by fraud enabled the land magnates to set themselves up as the exclusive lawmaking and juridical class. Some land magnates usurped the law-making power by putting provisions in their land grants guaranteeing to each Proprietor the privilege of sending a representative to the New York General Assembly. This meant that these patroons became hereditary legislators.
(Source: History of the Supreme Court of the United States, by Gustavus Myers. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1912)