The Albany Corporation

From People of Colonial Albany
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The so-called Dongan Charter of 1686 established Albany as a corporate entity. From that time on, the city's municipal rights and privileges have made its growth and development substantially different from that of the settlers and settlements of the surrounding countryside known as greater Albany County.

The city's governing body consisting of the mayor, aldermen, and assistants, was commonly referred to as the Albany Corporation. As time passed, these city fathers were more often called the Common Council. The mayor and recorder (deputy mayor) were appointed by the governor. The sheriff and the clerk (both of whom served the city and the county) also were appointed by the governor. After those provincial appointees, the officers of Albany's municipal government were chosen locally.

Two aldermen and two assistants were elected annually on September 29 by the principal (male and propertied) residents of each of the city's three wards. Aldermen usually were prominent and active merchants - most often under the age of fifty. These important personages attended regular meetings at city hall, served on functional committees, sat as magistrates, and served as Commissioners of Indian Affairs. These Albany mainliners represented the major families and constituted the functional backbone of "home rule" from 1686 on.

A chamberlain or treasurer was elected annually by the members of the council (usually on September 29). The chamberlain was the city and county's chief fiscal officer, handled all public funds and was bonded. He was charged with keeping records of all financial transactions. His duties were proscribed in the Laws of the city published in 1773. Anthony B. Bradt served as treasurer from 1698 until his death in 1722.

James Parker was confirmed as the first city marshall in 1686. That office was salaried and functioned as the council's sergeant-at-arms, services administrator, supply chief, and also as its messenger. Johannes Seeger held that post over four decades from 1730 to 1768 and was succeeded by his son. John Ostrander served as marshall during the early 1770s and into the first years of the Revolutionary struggle. Thomas Seeger (son of Johannes) served again from 1778 probably to 1784. Beginning in 1784, newcomer James Elliot held the office - at least thru 1792. Like most of his predecessors, he was paid twice a year in a number of ways.

Each year, the council appointed firemasters, constables, assessors, porters, a cryer (perhaps also called "bellman"), and other resident civil servants including watchmen, gatekeepers, and whippers. It also licensed cartmen, ferrymen, and other contractors to perform specified services for fees. These "city retainers" were the predecessors of today's civil servants. In that way, several dozen additional Albany families were tied directly to city hall.

Adult men born within the city of Albany were accorded the right to vote and to participate in business, production, and service activities. This right was called the "Freedom" of Albany. Newcomers also were required to possess the "Freedom" or else could be fined for ilegal trading. "Freedoms" were purchased or otherwise attained from the city council. This provision, however, seems to have been selectively enforced!

Early Albany's municipal government was participatory and ran without additional paid employees until the era of the American Revolution. Between 1775 and 1778, the incorporated city government suspended itself. The extra-legal Committee of Correspondence functioned in its place! Upon resuming operations in 1778, the corporation addressed an expanded municipal agenda with a more Albany city-based agenda.

We have begun to compile a roster of Albany officeholders from 1686 to 1800.