Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Philip Schuyler and the Growth of New York, 1733-1804

Chapter One, Early Years


The Schuylers in New York

Philip Schuyler (November 10, 1733-November 18, 1804) was the fourth generation scion of one of New York's oldest, most honorable, and well-to-do families. Like many of these families, his own sprang from modest, even humble, origins. Gradually, marriage connections among the Schuylers, Van Cortlandts, De Lanceys, Livingstons, and Van Rensselaers, in addition to successful business enterprises, forged a gentry which ranked as the American version of aristocracy. Unlike other families, the Schuylers never held the title of manor lord or patroon, but all of them shared interests in property and civic affairs, and had unbounded ambition. And the New World offered them opportunity; access to public office was easy enough to spur on these parvenus in fortune-building and the enjoyments of political patronage.

The founders of the Schuyler line in America put down roots in about 1650 in the New Netherlands, when it was still a Dutch possession. They settled in the community which under English jurisdiction after 1664 took the name of Albany. At first their property holdings were modest, but over the years they added to their possessions. Typically Dutch, they engaged in trade and merchandising and soon made their way into the circles of town and provincial government. Although Philip Schuyler's heritage rested on Dutch foundations, it was influenced by English accretions following the English conquest of New Netherlands in 1664. From their vantage point in society and government some of the Schuylers procured large land grants, notable among which was Colonel Peter Schuyler's share in the Saratoga Patent of 1684.

Within the circles of political influence and power Philip Schuyler's father, grandfather, and great-grandfather served with varying degrees of distinction and authority. Philip Pietersen Schuyler, his great-grandfather, was a magistrate and inscribed a window in the Albany Dutch Reformed Church with his title, "Commissaris 1656." Philip's grandfather, Johannes Schuyler, enlarged the family reputation by serving as mayor of Albany, militia officer, Indian commissioner, alderman, assemblyman, and deacon and elder in the local church. His father, John Jr., was an Indian commissioner and Albany alderman. Although his life was cut short and his accomplishments were limited, John Jr. made an advantageous connection for the family when he married the daughter of Stephen Van Cortlandt first lord of Cortlandt Manor. This link brought thousands of acres of land to his children and also formed a connection to another prominent family, the De Lanceys.

Philip Schuyler's Youth

Philip Schuyler was left fatherless at the age of seven. His mother, Cornelia Van Cortlandt Schuyler, and his Aunt Margaretta, his father's sister, were influential in rearing him. He probably attended the Albany school for a time, but his major training was at home and at New Rochelle with a tutor, the Reverend Peter Stouppe. Schuyler's paternal grandfather doubtless set his example and encouraged the lad to develop virtues traditionally associated with Dutch business activity. A college education was not necessary, for what he needed to know as a merchant-landlord was available within the province.

Poor health plagued Schuyler all his life. His main malady was called "rheumatic gout," which he endured from youth. From time to time he suffered from pleurisy, fevers, and scorbutic eruptions and also from the drastic medical treatments (such as bleeding) then given for such illnesses. Chronic ill health probably contributed to a widely-held impression that Schuyler was old and fusty even in the prime of life, but the impression is superficial. Schuyler was energetic and spirited and, typical of youth, excited about the prospects of military service when the clouds of war descended on the colonies in 1754.

Rivalry between French and English colonists in the Ohio country in 1754 fanned into the Great War for the Empire when Britain resolved to defend her province and her claims to the American interior. In June 1755, Schuyler received a commission from his cousin, Lieutenant Governor James De Lancey, in return for raising a company of men. That summer his volunteers camped near Schuyler's Aunt Margaretta's home at the Flatts, north of Albany, before moving to Lake George, where he came under the command of William Johnson. Johnson won a baronetcy for his services to the Crown and, as imperial Indian superintendent and landed magnate of the Mohawk Valley, Sir William helped Schuyler get into the New York Assembly after the war.

Meantime, the war was not all fighting for young Schuyler. When the clash with French forces at Lake George came in September 1755, Schuyler was far from the battlefield, in Albany, being married to Catherine Van Rensselaer. It was a union of convenience and haste as well as romance and maturing companionship. His bride linked him to a great family, for she was a daughter of the Claverack branch of the patroonal clan. From that time the Albany captain shifted his labors from leading troops to collecting military stores. The birth of his first child, Angelica, in February 1756, signalled new responsibilities as head of a family.

During the winter of 1755-56 Schuyler's acquaintance with Colonel John Bradstreet began to develop into a deep friendship, based in part on common economic interest and ambition. Bradstreet was an adventurer. He served in the campaign against Louisbourg in 1745, and a decade later was given the task of preparing an expedition to Niagara and then of arranging supplies for the British forces on the New York frontier. Bradstreet made Schuyler his aide following their introduction by Schuyler's Aunt Margaretta. Schuyler's work with the deputy quartermaster, his service on the Albany city council (1756-58) and his appointments as commissioner of the excise on tea and commissioner for taking affidavits prepared him for a wider career in politics and war. This experience and Schuyler's labors in developing the family estate helped propel him into the provincial assembly in 1768.

Before the fighting was ended by the Peace of Paris in 1763, Schuyler had two other experiences involving the war and John Bradstreet. One was his trip to England in 1761-1762 to settle Bradstreet's accounts as deputy quartermaster general. The trip to England exposed Schuyler to the dangers of the sea, and when the packet boat on which he sailed was captured by a French privateer, it was held for ransom. Following this adventure he proceeded to the mother country, where he observed her society and politics at first hand. Schuyler's appreciation of his British heritage was evidently strengthened. Meantime, in Albany, John Bradstreet and Mrs. Schuyler supervised the construction of a new brick house. Named "The Pastures," the mansion became an attractive social center for distinguished guests who enjoyed its owners' widely-known hospitality. For over two hundred years it has stood as a handsome example of architectural grace and fashion and as a reminder of Schuyler's influence, substance, and pretensions to power.

While Schuyler was abroad, Bradstreet helped with building "The Pastures," and buttressed his protege's future as a landlord. Schuyler began to administer his family's estate as early as 1760. He used Bradstreet's loans and gifts of money to join other acquisitive petitioners for land grants. Their cooperation m such ventures continued until Bradstreet's death in 1774. Gradually Schuyler added to the family acres whose center was old Saratoga (now Schuylerville). These he acquired in 1763 when the ancestral holdings were divided with his sister and brothers. He did not benefit from primogeniture (the exclusive right of inheritance by a firstborn child), but inherited property through the wills of both his parents who preferred to divide their holdings among their children. In this way Schuyler's inheritance grew from tracts of between ten thousand and twenty thousand acres to several times that amount. Although he was an avid speculator, he was also greatly interested in estate development. From his houses at Albany and Saratoga he conducted business with the tenant farmers and the hired help who worked his mills for grinding grain, sawing timber, and processing flax. His Saratoga store benefited the tenants as well as his own purse. The lumber business brought him into contact with New York merchants. He sold fish from the Hudson, and probably had several river craft besides the schooner Saratoga, which John Bradstreet had built for him in 1761. This trade made possible the maintenance of close connections between the lower and upper reaches of the Hudson Valley, and like his landed property was a springboard for Schuyler's entry into provincial politics.

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