The name is applied to the colonial organization of those settlers in New Netherland to whom special privileges were granted. The Dutch West India Company at first paid little attention to the permanent settlement of its territory, but in 1629 issued by consent of the states general, the "freedoms and Exemptions" to the patroons of New Netherland. All members of the company who within four years established a colony of 50 persons over the age of 15 might select a tract of land outside of Manhattan Island. Over this territory, the patroon was given a monopoly of grinding, hunting, fishing, and mining. Authority over the towns which might spring was granted and also the first right of purchasing the produce of the tenants.
The first patroonships established were Zwanendal on the Delaware and Rensselaerwyck on the Hudson, which eventually extended 24 miles on each side of the river and the same distance back, covering most of what is now the counties of Rensselaer and Albany. In general, the patroon system was not successful. By the end of the Dutch period, all but two of the patroonships had been surrendered to the company.
When the English took possession in 1664, these principalities became English manors and others were created. The result was to establish a landed aristocracy, as the territory descended to the eldest son. In 1775, at the outbreak of the American Revolution, primogeniture and feudal tenure were abolished and manors became simply large estates subject to division.
In Rensselaewyck, the leases were perpetual, the rent payable in wheat, and in about half the leases, the patroon was to receive a quarter of the proceeds if there was a sale. In 1839, an attempt to collect back rents resulted in riots. In 1845, an "Anti-Rent" convention was held with 170 delegates in attendance. The legislature of 1846 abolished distress for rent, quarter sales, and all remnants of feudal obligations, and forbade the leasing of agricultural land for a longer period than 12 years.