The History of Columbia County by Gil Leach

Columbia County was broken out of Albany County on April 4, 1786 to provide government services at a closer point to the population. Albany, an original county established in 1683, included nearly all of Columbia as well as many other of today's counties. Albany County's southern border, east of the Hudson River, was along the Roeliff Jansen Kill with Dutchess County to the south. In 1717, this border was changed to the southern limit of the Patent given to Robert Livingston in 1686. Part of this Patent was originally in Dutchess County, which until 1713 received its governmental services from Ulster County, across the Hudson River. The line was moved to provide Livingston with services from the well established courts in the village of Albany.

Prior to the establishment of counties in 1683 by Governor Dongan, governmental services were obtained in New Amsterdam (New York) and Fort Orange (Albany). With the establishment of the Counties, services became available at the various County Seats. But New York and Albany continued to be used for these services by some families well into the 18th century. Researchers looking for Probate and Deed records should also check these locations for early records. For additional information on the 13 original counties and how they were later divided, see the NYGenWeb page.

The County Seat for Columbia was originally at Claverack, but was moved to Hudson in 1805. The county is 35 miles north to south and 18 miles east to west. Its center is about 125 miles north of New York City and 30 miles southeast of Albany.

The land that is now Columbia County was involved in some very early history. Henry Hudson, on September 17, 1609 came ashore to visit and eat with the Indians at about the place where the Kinderhook Creek runs into the Hudson. By 1612 a lively trade was established with the Indians, and that continued on a regular basis.The Dutch settlers in the region were able to maintain peace between the Mohawks and the Mohicans for 20 years after Hudson's first voyage.

Settlement in Columbia began soon after the establishment of Fort Nassau by the Dutch in 1614. The Village of Valatie claims establishment in 1618, though this settlement was probably not continuous. Fort Orange and New Amsterdam were established in 1624. Traders and travellers between these points on the Hudson River frequently stopped along the shores of Columbia. Small settlements sprang up to provide aid and goods to these ships.

The regions around Claverack were purchased from the Indians in 1649, and Kinderhook in 1667. Typically, settlement occurred earlier than the purchase, and the granting of the Patents after the purchase. These two areas grew with primarily Dutch settlers and a few other Europeans with them, notably German and English. In 1664, the English took over New Netherland and renamed it the Province of New York. New Amsterdam was renamed New York and Fort Orange was renamed Albany. With this change came many more English settlers to provide the government and to settle the land.

One of the most significant early settlements was in 1710, when about 1200 German Palatines were brought to Livingston Manor. This location was then part of Dutchess County, and is now the town of Germantown. They were brought as indentured servants by England's Queen Anne and New York's Governor Hunter to make tar from the pine trees in the Catskill Mountains. About an equal number were settled on the west bank of the Hudson. Sweeden had a world monopoly on tar for Naval Stores, and it was important for England to be able to make their own. The project failed, however, and in October, 1712, the Palatines were set free of their indentures, but given none of the land promised at the start. About two thirds of the new settlers went to other locations including Albany, Schoharie, New York City, Long Island, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But, about one third remained in the area and many descendants populate the Columbia and Dutchess region today.

Early settlement of Columbia was primarily along the Hudson River, the best means of transportation at the time. Gradually, the settlement moved eastward to take advantage of the land. It was not until about 1730 that migration to Columbia came from the east. By 1750 the need for additional land had forced migration into New York from Connecticut and Massachusetts in spite of the rugged mountainous terrain. These new immigrants to Columbia were predominantly English with a significant Quaker community among them.

By the time Columbia was established as a county, the Revolution had ended. After that point, the population and immigration trends were similar to the rest of America. Dutch immigration had ended abruptly after the English took over New York. Germans and some other Europeans continued to come to America to join earlier immigrants and take advantage of the promise that the New World held.

The western third of Columbia County is relatively flat with excellent farm land, a use that continues today. The center third of the county has a range of hills and mountains, and to the east exists a wide valley. Along the Massachusetts border there is a sharp mountain range containing the highest peaks in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Population centers in Columbia County continue today along the earliest travel routes and settlement areas. To travel through this predominantly rural county one would see little change from the early settlement era.