Albany, N.Y. – On May 5, the New York State Museum will open an ongoing exhibition highlighting never-before-displayed artifacts from Fort Orange, the 17th-century precursor of the state’s capital city. The exhibition, titled “a small fort, which our people call Fort Orange,” examines the momentous archaeological discovery of the fort in 1970, as well as the lasting impact of Dutch settlement of New York 400 years ago. The title is taken from The New World by Johannes De Laet, a director of the Dutch West India Company, recorded in 1625.
The exhibition is supported as part of the Dutch Culture USA program by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York and in partnership with Historic Albany Foundation.
“The Fort Orange exhibition provides a fascinating glimpse into the past,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. “Through exploration of historical artifacts, images, and film, we gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for the earliest settlers of New Netherland. This exhibition is an educational opportunity for adults, children, and students to learn about the impact of the Dutch settlement in the Albany region by connecting it to our way of life in the present day.”
“Learning about the past is always important in moving forward,” said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “The Fort Orange exhibition provides a valuable opportunity to learn about the early 17th century Dutch settlement that played a role in shaping the history of Albany. I encourage educators to use this exhibition to teach our students, especially those in the Capital Region of New York, about our rich local history.”
“This exhibition is just the beginning of our work in telling the story of New York’s colonial history and how our settlement by the Dutch has shaped not only our local character but aspects of state and even national character that we think will surprise and delight our visitors,” said Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education and State Museum Director Mark Schaming. “The Fort Orange collection, together with so many in the Museum’s world-class holdings, serves as an unrivaled research and educational resource in telling the unique history of New York State.”
“We at the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York are delighted with the rich artifactual evidence of Dutch heritage found here,” said Consul General Dolph Hogewoning. “We follow with great interest and eagerness the advances made in understanding the essential role that the Dutch people had in shaping colonial-era New York.”
In addition to select artifacts from the 36,000-object Fort Orange archaeology collection, the exhibition will include film footage from the 1970 excavation and information gleaned from four decades of historical and archaeological research, including renderings of the fort by historical artist Len Tantillo. Dutch ceramics on loan from the Albany Institute of History & Art bring life to the story.
Fort Orange was the first permanent Dutch settlement in New Netherland, built as a trading post by the West India Company in 1624 at the present-day location of Albany, making the city the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States, north of Virginia. Fort Orange was located at the nexus of the lucrative beaver-pelt trade. Between 1624 and 1664, the fort’s role in the development of New Netherland evolved from a point of contact and trade between Native Americans and Europeans, to an enclosure with dwellings and private enterprises, and finally an abandoned space consumed by the development of Albany.
Centuries later, Fort Orange on the surface had long disappeared. But in a six-month period between 1970 and 1971—just months ahead of Interstate 787 construction—a small archaeology team from the State Historic Trust (predecessor to the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, or OPRHP) headed by Paul Huey made remarkable discoveries about life in the Dutch colony. In 2016, the collection was transferred from OPRHP to the New York State Museum, where it is available for further scientific study and the education of future generations.
The State Museum is a program of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education. Located at 222 Madison Avenue in Albany, the Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It is closed on the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Admission is free. Further information about programs and events can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the Museum website.
Jonathan Burman or Jeanne Beattie