Captain Jacob Van Aernam

Captain Jacob Van Aernam was the leader of patriot forces in the Helderberg area during the American Revolutionary War as well as a wealthy landowner.  Captain Jacob Van Aernam was descended from Jan Dirkszen Van Aernam, a Dutchman and one of the earliest settlers in the Altamont area. His name actually means “John, son of Richard. From the Arnem province of Gerdland, Holland”.  Jacob Van Aernam had large landholdings in the area.  Van Aernam rented land from the wealthy Dutch patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer.  The rent agreement called for “18 bushels of good, clean merchantable wheat, and four fat fowls . . . and perform one service with a carriage and horse . . .” .  Like many land owners during that time period, Van Aernam also owned slaves.  One local legend claims that a slave named Sam saved his master from a band of Tories when the two of them were working in the Van Aernam peach orchard.

Jacob Van Aernam served in company of militia under Lt. John M. Veeder and Ensign Gerret Banker of the Colony of Rensselaerwyck.  He proved his ability to such a degree that he was made captain of the 3rd Regiment of the Albany County Militia under Col. Phillip B. Schuyler.  The 3rd Albany Regiment was in active service from October 8, 1779 to November 4, 1781.  While the Helderberg area did not host any major battles against the redcoats, the region was faced by a threat from within.  Van Aernam’s primary concern would be rooting out Tories.  Tories were American colonists still loyal to Britain and King George.  Tories would often act as spies and saboteurs and provide supplies to the British troops, undermining the revolutionary forces from within.  Van Aernam was put in charge of rooting out Tories in the Helderberg area in cooperation with the Albany County Commissioners for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies.  It is fortunate that the minutes of the Albany County Commissioners and of the Albany Committee of Correspondence have been preserved so well.  Here are some excerpts:

“This Committee having received information that a number of disaffected Persons skulk in and about the Helleburgh and by various indirect and insidious ways and means induce many of the well meaning tho’ misguided Inhabitants to enter into Combinations against the Liberties and Independence of the States.  To prevent practices so detrimental to the safety of the State and to support in those parts the Friends to the Country in the enjoyment of their Libety and property.”

 “Resolved, that Col. Peter B. Vroman of the Regiment of the District of Schoharry be ordered and he is hereby ordered to draft 50 Men under command of proper Officers to march immediately to the House of Jacob Van Aernam.  And also That 100 Men of the Militia of this County already drafted be ordered on the said service.”

 “Resolved, farther, that Col. Roseboom and Capt. John Price and the Committee of the Manor of Rensselaerwyck or a Sub Committee thereof, and one or more of the Committee of Schoharry be a Committee of this Board, and that they repair to the Helleburgh, and they are hereby empowered to take the direction of the Said Militia and by their assistance to approach all and every such person or persons as they have sufficient Cause by proof to suspect Inimical to the Liberties of this State and forthwith to Convey them to the Goal of this County, and that they march and station the said Troops at such places as they may Judge necessary to obstruct and defeat the proceedings of such Traitors.”

Rangers under Van Aernam’s command would take Tories or other people committing traitorous acts and bring them to Van Aernam who would in turn bring them before a board to be examined.  One suspected Tory spy, Jacob Schell, even surrendered himself to Van Aernam on the Van Aernam farm.  Van Aernam’s patriotism didn’t stop at rooting out Tories, though.  Van Aernam wrote letters to his superior officer requesting that he and his men provide military aid in one of the Revolution’s local battles.  The Commissioners for Conspiracies had a great deal of confidence in Captain Van Aernam.  On July 1, 1778, this was recorded in the Commission’s minutes:

“Resolved that Capt. John Ryley with the Party of Rangers under his Command go to the Helleberg- he will there endeavor to make strict Enquiry for such Persons as are dangerous to the State and if he should find any he is to bring them to us, he will when he arrives at the Helleberg consult with Capt. Jacob Van Aernam and take his directions.”

Captain Jacob Van Aernam died in 1813.  He was buried in a plot near the railroad tracks that go through Altamont.  Two historical markers commemorate this local patriot.  One marker on Route 156 marks the site of his family home and another one on Brandle Road marks his burial place.

Begley, Alice C.  Historic Markers in the Town of Guilderland, Albany County, New York.  Guilderland, New York: Town of Guilderland, 1994.  Print.

Gregg, Arthur B. Old Hellebergh: Scenes from Early Guilderland.Albany, New York: Guilderland Historical Society, 1975.  Print.


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