Why is Albany Here?
Mohawk and Mahican peoples inhabited this region for thousands of years when the Dutch ship the Half Moon dropped anchor near this spot in 1609.
At that time, the world was in the midst of a "Little Ice Age," and beaver fur could be made into much-needed warm, water-repellent hats, muffs, and collars.
Beaver thrived here, and the Dutch staked claim to the bounty.
They forged alliances with Native peoples and established a trade center here on the bank of the Hudson River, first at Fort Nassau in 1614 and then Fort Orange in 1624.
In 1652 the village that had spread north and west of Fort Orange - today's downtown Albany - was named Beverwijck, or "Beaver District."
The Fur Trade
1. Mohawk men were the primary trappers in this region. During the winter, they spent months away from home, trapping beaver and otter. After the hunters returned home, Mohawk women scraped and processed the skins in the late winter and early spring.
2. Between May and November, traders brought the pelts eastward by canoe to today's Schenectady. From there, carrying packs of furs on their backs, they came on foot to Fort Orange and Beverwijck.
3. In late summer, Dutch traders shipped the pelts downriver to Manhattan, where they were loaded onto ships bound
for the Netherlands. In the peak years of the mid-1650s, tens of thousands of pelts were shipped from Albany annually.
4. From the Netherlands, pelts were sent to fur processors in Russia, then France or England, where they were fashioned into hats and clothing.
5. Beaver hats and clothes were exported across Eurasia and also back across the Atlantic to the Americas.
Trading Season in Beverwijck
During the summer trading season, Beverwijck swelled with visitors. Dutch traders from Manhattan and the Dutch Republic filled the many inns and taverns of early Albany.
The Mohawk and Mahican traders often slept in villagers' houses or in small outbuildings called wildenhuijsjes, meaning "little Indian houses," on villagers' properties, built especially to accommodate local traders.
Native peoples exchanged pelts for European goods, such as axes, knives, scissors, mirrors, mouth harps, shoes, and cloth, as well as beads and sewant or wampum, the shell-made currency.