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The Schuyler Mansion
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General Philip Schuyler
"Second only to Washington in the service he rendered the American Colonies."
Philip Schuyler of the Pastures.
The artist John Trumbull, painting the scene of General Burgoyne surrendering his sword to General Gates at Saratoga on October 17, 1777, included one person whose plain, brown civilian suit makes him a dim figure amid the colorfully uniformed assemblage. That person was Major General Philip Schuyler of Albany, and his comparative obscurity in Trumbull's painting is, in a way, symbolic, for today he is a dim figure in American history. The general, whose bronze statue stands before Albany's city hall, is unknown now to the average American and is brushed off by the more scholarly as of secondary importance. Yet in his own time he was outstanding in New York's political, economic, military, and social life for more than 40 critical years. His career has national importance primarily because of his military command of the northern frontier in the Revolution, because of his support of a strong central government and the Federal Constitution, and because of his influence in the Federalist administration during 12 years of the Republic. Daniel Webster once described Schuyler as " second only to Washington in the service he rendered the American Colonies."
There are, however, several reasons for Schuyler's obscurity today. In the first place, he was bitterly, though unjustly, blamed by the Americans for the loss of the fortress at Ticonderoga at a tense and crucial moment in 1777. Again, reflecting the dislike New Englanders of Schuyler's own time felt for this Dutch New Yorker, 19th-century New England historians neglected him. He was regarded as an overly severe disciplinarian and was further resented because of his support of New York's claim to the "New Hampshire Grants" (later Vermont). And, lastly, Schuyler's modern obscurity can be partially, at least, attributed to the fact that no biography of him, with the exception of a brief memoir by his contemporary and friend. Chancellor James Kent, was undertaken until almost 70 years after his death. Those who knew him intimately and could tell the story he had failed to write - he left behind no diary or autobiography - were by then long gone. His letters and papers, too, have been much scattered, and no really adequate biography of him has yet been written..
But let us start Philip Schuyler's story at the beginning. He was a descendant in the fourth generation of that Philip Pieterse Schuyler who had arrived about 1650 in New Netherland from Holland, destined to found a powerful and wealthy family. The later Philip was born on November 10, 1733. His father, Johannes Schuyler, died when the boy was 8 years old. His mother, Cornelia, was a member of the noted Van Cortlandt family of New York City. The boy's birthplace, a brick mansion with pointed, stepping-stone roof, stood on the southeast corner of what are now State and Pearl Streets in Albany. We have little knowledge of Schuyler's early years in this house.
His youngest daughter, Catharine, as an old lady, remembered that her father was a man of powerful, muscular frame, rather slender, a bit under 6 feet tall, energetic in movement, with dark brown hair. The Trumbull miniature, a bust portrait, shows Schuyler with flowing, powdered hair, but otherwise bears out his daughter's description of him as having dark, brilliant eyes; being powerful and muscular, but slender; having an erect and commanding posture; and dressing fashionably.
The 18th-century historian William Smith, writing of education in early New York, said he knew of only 13 young men in the year 1750 who held bachelor's degrees. So it is not surprising to find that Philip Schuyler did not attend college. At about the age of 15 he was sent to a school kept by the Reverend Mr. Stouppe, a Swiss Huguenot, at New Rochelle in Westchester County. There, Schuyler learned to speak French, a not too common accomplishment in New York at that time. There, too, he formed a lifelong friendship with a fellow student, John Jay. His interest in mathematics, so characteristic of his orderly, organizing mind, is said to have been aroused by Mr. Stouppe. But he did not stay long at this school. By summer of 1751, when he was 18, we find he had returned to Albany and embarked on a trading and hunting expedition deep into the wilderness of the upper Mohawk.
In 1754, the famous Albany Congress brought together representatives of the colonies to concert measures against the French and Indians. In the following year, young Philip Schuyler was commissioned by the governor to raise a company to go with Major General William Johnson against Crown Point. After his participation in this campaign, he returned to Albany in charge of French prisoners. In 1756, Schuyler was appointed to the staff of Colonel John Bradstreet and charged with carrying provisions to Oswego. He soon demonstrated a talent for handling supplies.
Above painting depicts the Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, 1777. By John Trumbull (1756-1846). An "X" marks Philip Schuyler in Civilian clothes.
Mrs. Ann McVickar Grant, who lived during these years with Philip Schuyler's " Aunt Schuyler " at "the Flatts," the ancestral home near Watervliet, later wrote that the young man's Aunt and Uncle Schuyler had recommended him to Bradstreet since:
They well knew that he possessed qualities which
might not only render him a useful servant to the public, but clear his way
to fortune and distinction. His perfect command of temper, acuteness, and
dispatch in business, and in the hour of social enjoyment, . . . made him
a great acquisition to any person under whom he might happen to be employed.
This the penetration of Bradstreet soon discovered.
(Ann McVickar Grant, MEMOIRS OF AN AMERICAN LADY, New York, 1836, p. 179)
<-General Philip Schuyler (1733-1804) A portrait by J. H. Lazarus in Schuyler Mansion, a copy of a Trumbull Miniature.
It was during a furlough in his military service that Philip Schuyler found time to be married. A record in the Schuyler family Bible, which is today one of the treasures of Schuyler Mansion, reads: " In the Year 1755, on the 17th of September, was I, Philip John Schuyler, married (in the 21st Year, 9th Month, and 17th Day of his Age), to Catherine Van Rensselaer, aged 20 Years, 9 Months, 27 Days. May we live in peace and to the glory of God."
The bride was the daughter of Colonel Johannes Van Rensselaer, patroon of the Greenbush manor, whose home, Fort Crailo, a fortified dwelling, still stands just across the river from Albany. This marriage further linked two of New York's great landholding families, already joined by a number of intermarriages. Handsome, popular, and socially well connected, the young couple, like many other newlyweds, had little money, although Schuyler had been given a large tract of land in Saratoga by an uncle. The bride and bridegroom made their first home in his mother's North Pearl Street house, where two of their children were born.
Little remains in Catherine Van Rensselaer's handwriting to tell her thoughts or give a glimpse of her daily life. It must have been a busy one, for others have written of her industrious and thrifty supervision of a large and important household, her kindness to the needy, and her courage in times of peril. A portrait of Mrs. Schuyler shows a woman in middle life, of great beauty and presence. Eleven children were born to the couple, six girls and five boys, of whom eight lived to reach maturity.
The French and Indian War virtually ended with the surrender of Montreal by the French in 1760, although a treaty of peace was not signed until 1763. After the fall of Montreal, Schuyler settled down at " The Flatts " and began to put his business acumen and managerial ability to good use on the property at Saratoga which had been given him by his uncle. He built a sawmill there and, later, ships to carry lumber and foodstuffs down to New York. An industrial center sprang up on his land (today's Schuylerville); a smithy was built; wool and flax were grown and manufactured into cloth. The years passed, and Schuyler grew wealthy.
Meanwhile, Bradstreet, by now a general, asked Schuyler to go to London to act as his agent in settling commissary accounts with the War Office. Young Kitty and Philip Schuyler had completed arrangements to build a new home a short distance south of Albany, across the Beaver Kill, a stream which once flowed along the route of today's Beaver Street in Albany. There already were three young daughters: Angelica, who was destined to be the wife of a member of the British Parliament, John Barker Church; Elizabeth, who married Alexander Hamilton; and Margaret, later the wife of Stephen Van Rensselaer, the patroon. When Bradstreet, an intimate friend of the family, offered to aid Mrs. Schuyler in supervising the building operations, Schuyler sailed for England in February of 1761.
Sailing in a packet sloop up the Hudson River in the summer of 1762 on his return from England, Philip Schuyler saw for the first time the beautiful Georgian house that today is called "Schuyler Mansion." Although the labor of slaves had been used in addition to that of carpenters of the British army, idled by peace, whom Bradstreet put on the job, the house was far from finished when Schuyler returned from London. A letter written at a later date by Alexander Hamilton tells how things stood on that summer day in 1762: ". . . only four apartments were finished, two on the first and two on the second floor ... no other part of the house was floored except with unplanned boards . . ."
Young Schuyler had not been idle in London. Naturally, he had much in mind the new house being built on the bank of the Hudson. And there is still preserved in the New York Public Library a long list in the young traveler's own handwriting, headed " Invoice of Sundries Sent to America." He carefully mentioned the cost of articles, from whom they were purchased, and even, in some instances, the packaging and shipping fees. One item proves feminine entrepreneurs, contrary to modern belief, were not unknown in 18th-century London. It reads, " Bought of Ann Davis 1500 feet of best London Crown Glass," for which the cost was " 68 pounds, 15 shillings."
Philip Schuyler called his new home " The Pastures," because his land lay just south of the city's communal pasturing grounds. Albany, even after the Revolution, was still a stockaded city with herdsmen caring for cattle outside the walls each day. The mansion faces the New England hills and in Schuyler's time commanded a view of the highway from the east. It stands atop a gentle slope rising above the west bank of the river. The house is 63 feet wide by 48 feet deep of rose-red brick, a building material much used in Dutch New York, with double-hip roof enclosed by a wooden railing. This balustrade, the outside shutters, and other exterior trim are painted white. The six-sided vestibule which now leads to the front door was not originally a part of the house. The large attic, with dormer windows, is substantially a third floor and was used during the occupancy of the house by the Schuylers as sleeping quarters for the children and for some guests, although today the room partitions have been removed. The deep walls of the brick house permit the use at every window of inside or wainscot shutters which fold against the jambs. The cellar underlying the entire house is lighted by small windows at ground level.
Typical of the two-chimney, center-hall houses built in America after 1750, each floor has two rooms, about 18 by 19 feet, on either side of wide corridors. The entrance hall, 48 feet long by 20 feet wide and 12 feet high, is divided toward the rear by a pilaster-supported doorway with a decorative fanlight of leaded panes. The first level flooring of wide pine boards, oil treated, is a modem replacement. Upstairs, the pine floors are original to the house.
At "The Pastures," as in other important 18th-century homes, cooking was done in buildings separate from the main house to keep out odors and excessive heat and to reduce the fire hazard. However, this kitchen and the detached barns, slave quarters, and smokehouse once at the rear of the house were removed long ago.
<- Mrs. Philip Schuyler (1734-1803) By Thomas McIlworth, c. 1762-67)
In 1737, when John Hancock built his house in Boston, his "joiner" used the device, then new in the colonies, of spiral, called "swash," turnings for the slender balusters of his stair railing. Full directions for this had been given by Joseph Moxon in his MECHANICK EXERCISES . . . APPLIED TO THE ART OF TURNING (London, 1694). After the building of Hancock's house, "roped-turned" spindles, so-called, three to a step generally and each with a different twisted pattern, were used on dozens of New England staircases. Thus John Gaborial, Schuyler's master carpenter from Boston, was well acquainted with the style and made the Schuyler stair balusters almost identical with those in the Hancock house. By an odd coincidence, John Hancock's mahogany dispatch box is today in the room that was General Schuyler's study.
John Gaborial wrote a businesslike contract in a clear hand. For " turner's work and wood "in" making 1 large door frame and panel door, 15 sash trams, 7 pair outside shutters and 34 sashes "the charge was "£20, 8s." Carpenters were paid "7s., 6d." and "8s., 6d." per day. Gaborial's early bills were presented to Nicholas Bayard, who apparently did the accounting for the 1,425 pounds sterling Bradstreet had advanced Schuyler for initial expenses. And so the house was built. Socially and politically active, Schuyler served several terms in the New York Provincial Assembly, although his attendance was intermittent. In the early 1770's, he suffered several attacks of a painful disease - possibly either gout or arthritis - which plagued him all his life. The decade 1765-75 was the time when George III and his blundering ministry at Whitehall were experimenting with various financial expedients to make the American colonies pay for some of the debts incurred during the recent war. Schuyler in the Assembly was frankly critical of these <- General Schuyler's Summer Home, Schuylerville, NY. measures. He must have known days of heart-searching before he made the difficult decision to break with his Loyalist friends and join in the rebellion against British rule.
After his appointment on June 15, 1775, as one of the four major generals under Washington and his assignment to command of the Northern Department, Schuyler held several other commands in the American Revolutionary War. One of these was of the expedition against Quebec. The New England troops who formed part of that expedition disliked serving under him because he was a New Yorker, a " Dutchman," and, to these early proponents of " leveling," a " somewhat haughty and overbearing person." Ill health compelled him to give up the immediate command to General Richard Montgomery, and although his skillful handling of the provisioning of the troops was an important factor in Montgomery's success at Montreal, the ultimate failure of the Canadian offensive discredited Schuyler with the New Englanders.
Another of Schuyler's commands was the defense of New York against General Burgoyne's invasion in 1777. Back in October of 1755, the French began to build the great fort which was to command the route between Lake Champlain and Lake George. When the fort was finished, they called it Carillon because of the musical sounds of the nearby stream that flows into Lake Champlain. When the English captured the fort in 1759, the fort was renamed Ticonderoga. Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys took it for the Americans early in the Revolutionary War. Thereafter, the people of the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys looked to Ticonderoga as their bulwark against the great army England began assembling in Canada during the unusually mild winter of 1776-77.
The British plan was to penetrate New York from the north and south simultaneously, down Lake Champlain and up the Hudson Valley, while a Hanking force moved in from the west. Early in May 1777, the new commander, Major General John Burgoyne, arrived in Quebec from London. He was an elegant and witty aristocrat, a man of fashion ("Gentleman Johnny," his troops called him), but a mediocre general. At dawn on June 20, the general march was beaten on the drums of the vast encampment at Quebec, and the long-awaited invasion began.
The task of meeting this major threat fell upon Philip Schuyler. On the morning of July 5, 1777, General Arthur St. Clair, who was in charge of Ticonderoga in Schuyler's absence, looked up to catch his first glimpse of red-coated troops swarming about artillery on Sugar Loaf Hill. This position commanded the whole of the American works at Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. There was nothing for St. Clair to do but give up the fort, and the troops fled with considerable loss of stores and some men. New York was bitter.
Schuyler was reprimanded, and his command was given to General Gates. He demanded a court-martial to clear his name. After much delay, Congress granted his request, the charge being " neglect of duty." The court met at Pawling in Dutchess County, and Schuyler was acquitted " with honor." The prosecution attempted to prove that he should have been at Ticonderoga on July 5; Schuyler proved that he had provisioned and manned the fort to the best of his ability. After the court-martial, Schuyler voluntarily resigned his commission (hence, Trumbull's portrait of him in civilian dress at Saratoga in October 1777), but he continued to serve the Continental Army.
<- Dark-Eyed Betsy Schuyler, the General's second daughter, lived for 50 years after the death of her husband, Alexander Hamilton, from his wound recieved in the 1804 duel with Aaron Burr at Weehawken. Painting by Ralph Earl (1751-1801).
In December of 1780, Elizabeth Schuyler's marriage to General Washington's brilliant young aide, Alexander Hamilton, was not only a notable event in the life of Schuyler Mansion but gave Philip Schuyler a son-in-law with whom he was to have close personal and political relationships throughout the rest of his life.
After the war, Schuyler became a New York State senator. A leader of New York's Federalist Party, he was an ardent advocate - with Hamilton who lived at "The Pastures" for months at a time and wrote some of his important papers there - of the new Federal union. On the evening of July 29, 1788, when word reached Albany that the convention at Poughkeepsie had ratified the Constitution, candles blazed in celebration from every window of the Schuyler home. With Rufus King, Schuyler represented New York in the first Senate of the United States.
When word of Alexander Hamilton's death after his duel with Aaron Burr at Weehawken in July 1804 reached the elderly and ailing Schuyler in Albany, it was a hard blow. Mrs. Schuyler had died early in the previous year. Mrs. Hamilton visited Albany late in the summer of 1804, and her father wrote her early in November, after she had returned to New York:
That your afflictions, my dear, dearly beloved child, have added to mine, was the natural result of a parent's tenderness for so dutiful and affectionate a child, as he invariably experienced from you. My affliction, has, however, been mitigated, by the favor of Divine Providence in preserving your life, and in enabling me to administer every possible consolation; and it will be no small one to you to be informed that since my last letter to you I have no gout. . . . Indeed, I am not without hopes of being able to visit you in the winter, if there should be sledding.
He died 2 weeks later.
Today this gracious home of the Schuyler's is a romantic survival in the crowded south-end section of Albany. Shrunken to a half acre is the 10- or 12-acre estate of smooth lawns and flowering shrubs. Its air of antiquity has been carefully preserved by a painstaking job of research and restoration. But dinner with Madeira is no longer served at Schuyler Mansion. Here, instead, is a feast for the spirit amid the air of boundless and tranquil hospitality which pervades the old house.
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