Fort Nassau

fort nassau google earth wolcott

The spot identified by John Wolcott as the former location of Fort Nassau.

Today's moment of nerding out on local history: A research says he has determined the location of Fort Nassau, the first Dutch settlement in what is the place we all now call Albany. The place said to be the site: a spot at the north end of a rail yard at the Port of Albany, just to the east of I-787.

John Wolcott says he was able to pinpoint the location of Fort Nassau by studying different maps, some that date back to the 17th century. It was a 1910 map that he says allowed him to coordinate the maps and pinpoint the fort's location.

Fort Nassau was built in 1614 on an island (called Castle Island) in the Hudson River (then called the North River by the Dutch). By 1618 a couple of floods had convinced the Dutch that maybe that wasn't the best spot. Fort Orange was then constructed on the west bank of the river in 1624 (close to what's now downtown Albany).

Castle Island no longer exists -- the water separating it from the shore was filled in. The spot is now part of the Port of Albany, and more specifically, is controlled by Global Partners, which has been using the port as a distribution node for oil by rail.

Said Wolcott today in a press release:

"If we can test the site, and if it's proven that some serious history can be uncovered, then the property should be acquired by the public or an academic institution so that a careful archaeological excavation can be conducted without a construction deadline. It could be an excellent site for further study as well as a tourist attraction of international multicultural significance."

Though Fort Orange -- and Fort Nassau -- often get attention when the local history of Albany is told, there is said to have been an even older structure built by Europeans in what is now Albany. In 1540 it's thought that French fur traders traveled up the Grande River (their name for the Hudson) and set up some sort of fortified trading post on what would be known as Castle Island. (It was -- surprise -- destroyed by a flood.) In fact, the "castle" in the island's name referred to ruins of that fort.

image: John Wolcott/Google Earth


Oh please, don't put a shovel in the ground along the Hudson. It will either come up with contamination, Indian relics or something that will prevent any future improvement or development of that area. If it means the current iteration of 787 must be changed, however, go right ahead!

Um, Ace, I think coming up with Indian relics is the point.

Now if anyone would tell me how to pronounce Nassau...

AOA was the first media outlet to cover this story. Now it's gone nation-wide via the Associated Press:

Historian: Location of 1614 Dutch fort pinpointed
Associated Press, Aug. 20

Why was this not published in a peer-reviewed journal? A press release is a strange way to go.


Wolcott just finished his findings last Friday. He has submitted them for peer review and peer reviewed journals are welcome to asses the findings as presented. That takes a good deal of time, however.

Meanwhile, he announced his findings were "coming soon" in January when Global Partners announced they were going to place oil boilers in the vicinity where he was working to pinpoint the location of the old fort.

After that, the New Netherland Institute announced it would be hosting its 37th annual seminar on... the 1614 location of Fort Nassau. (Wolcott is not among the invited presenters).

THEREFORE... it was necessary to release the information to the general public NOW (so that other historian peers can review and discuss Woloctt's findings now before the seminar) and so the general public is aware of his findings NOW before the site is destroyed by further construction on this spot.

Does that satisfactorily answer your questions/comments?

When it comes to these valuable heritage sites, there are more than just academics (and academic procedure) to consider.

Albany has consistently and systematically destroyed its colonial sites for decades.

There will be a "peer review" coming. In the meantime, the public and other historians have been notified through the press.

Note: Last paragraph, AP article: "Global Partners had planned to build a crude oil facility where Wolcott says the fort was located. The company changed those plans, saying it would renovate an existing building for the project. The move came after Wolcott and fellow local historian Don Rittner said any new construction could destroy historical artifacts from Fort Nassau."

The original January press release, prompted by necessity, is here:

Monday's press release is here:

Wolcott's short essay for general audience publications is here:

The accompanying maps, charts and graphics are here for download and republication:

It's all there now for public review. With time to act (or not act)

Someone asked why not a peer reviewed journal first? Oh please? What does that prove? Nothing. How arrogant. Wolcott has been conducting research for over 50 years and never been proven wrong. It was Wolcott who found the location of Fort Orange and after top State officials told him he was wrong, he of course was proven right and some people made a career out of his research. Original research does not have to be published in peer review journals to make it authentic. If anyone wants to prove Wolcott wrong go right ahead. We both welcome the opportunity to be proven wrong. The only way you can do that is by actual archeology not peer review journals. It's very easy for armchair historians and archeologists to pontificate but there are those of us who don't mind getting a bit dirty and doing the real work. I'm not saying that Tim is proposing that but those of us who have been in the trenches for years we get our dander up when we hear that kind of nonsense :)

The news is breaking overseas now. Here's a Dutch newspaper article that just appeared in "De Telegraaf":

Google translation of the article:

Wed 20 Aug 2014, 22:15

'Spot 17th century Dutch fort USA found'

ALBANY - An American historian says he has found a Dutch fort from the 17th century in the United States the place. It would go to Fort Nassau, built near the Hudson River 400 years ago. Reported that American media.

Historian John Wolcott has found no trace of the historic Dutch settlement from 1614. But by studying old maps, also from the 17th century, he thinks he's right.

The fort was then on Castle Island in the Hudson, but that no longer exists. The land now belongs to the Port of Albany. Wolcott hopes archaeologists at the designated place to do research.

Thanks Duncan. That answered my question.

Here's why you do peer review. Two words: cold fusion.

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