Secondary Source Review

Over the past week, I’ve attempted to continue explorations into general histories of daily life in the North American colonies during the eighteenth century. While this seems like quite a broad topic, I’ve also been supplementing it with articles specific to colonial New York and Albany. One of the articles was “A Middling Sort: Artisans and Merchants in Colonial Albany” by Stefan Bielinski. In this work, Bielinski establishes Albany as a critically important trade center under both Dutch and English control, and as a location that defined the settling and development of New York’s frontier.[1] He argues that the majority of Albany residents during the seventeenth century were deeply involved in the trade network that first created Albany in some way—if not directly trading, they were then secondarily involved with production of goods to enable or promote the trade system.[2] This trade network was originally based on fur, though by the early eighteenth century had transitioned to focus on grains and lumber.[3] With this transition in trade items also came a transition in roles, creating a distinct middling class of individuals who worked in support roles that Bielinski classifies as being “production-based.”[4] He follows these claims with detailed descriptions of the geographic development of Albany during the eighteenth century, going so far as to list different neighborhoods and the commercial ventures present in the different areas. Overall, he draws off census, tax, and trade records to create a social history of Albany that demonstrates its integral role in the greater New York community as a center of commercial and cultural trade.

Of particular interest in this piece is Bielinski’s reference to the Colonial Albany Project, a collaborative project that documented the details of individual lives of seventeenth and eighteenth century Albany residents. I wasn’t aware of this resource, though it may certainly be useful in my research this summer. I’m reminded of Donna Merwick’s book, Death of a Notary, which charts the life of a seventeenth century notary in Albany. It’s been years since I read this book, but I’m not curious to see what sources she used to complete this microhistory, and to see if this Project appears in her notes. The rest of Bielinski’s sources also relate directly to the social history of colonial Albany, both under Dutch and English rule, and document details of what everyday life was like in this important city. I’m excited to start tracking them down and exploring what they have to say.


[1] Stefan Bielinski, “A Middling Sort: Artisans and Merchants in Colonial Albany,” New York History 73, no.3 (July 1992): 262-263.

[2] Ibid., 264.

[3] Ibid., 266.

[4] Ibid., 276-277.

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  1. Melanie Kiechle

    Just popping in to say that these sound like great leads on everyday life. Bravo for finding them, and definitely follow them up!

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