Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

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

Chapter Six, Wartime Effort, 1777-1783

Indian Commissioner

After his removal from command of the Northern Department, Schuyler continued to make significant contributions to the war effort. Among these was his work as a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners. Recurrent threats to the frontier caused by the instability of Indian relations and the British in Canada kept the General well occupied from 1778 to the end of the war. In February 1778, in compliance with Congress's orders, he conferred with the savages at Johnstown and asked whether they would join the American cause. Not only would they not do so, but Schuyler also reported to Congress that the British had stirred up the Onondagas to the point where they were likely to turn hostile. It would be difficult even to keep the tribes neutral, and Schuyler feared an uprising against the New York-Pennsylvania-Virginia frontiers. He recommended carrying the war into Indian territory before the redmen began their ravages. Nothing was done that spring except to strengthen existing forts and build a new one in the Cherry Valley. Schuyler's recommended punitive expedition did not come until 18 months later, in 1779.

Meantime, Schuyler grew anxious lest his duties as Indian commissioner interfere with the congressional investigation of his 1777 record. If he left New York, he might be criticized for inattention to duty, while if he remained, it might appear that he was unwilling to face an enquiry. Hence he proceeded to settle the Indian situation as rapidly as possible, and he asked friends to move Congress to send further instructions that this was his first responsibility. In March 1778 at Caughnawaga, Schuyler and his fellow commissioners dealt with the Cayugas and Senecas. The Tryon County Committee was instructed to check incitement of Indians against whites who allegedly were Tories because such action could lead to further disorders. Furthermore, Schuyler won pledges from the Oneidas and Tuscaroras to support the patriots. However, these accomplishments were offset by Indian and Tory attacks in the Wyoming and Cherry Valleys in 1778. These forays were planned and led by John Butler, Joseph Brant, Sir John and Guy Johnson, and their retainers.

The events of 1778 prompted Schuyler and Washington to consider a winter expedition against the Indians. The Virginian would have placed Schuyler in command but the Yorker declined and Generals John Sullivan and James Clinton led the 1779 campaign against the Indians. Schuyler gave advice on the campaign and on proposals to invade Canada in 1780 and 1781. After the Sullivan-Clinton expedition, he urged that a general peace be negotiated with the tribes, but Congress delayed. When it considered requiring a cessation of Indian lands as the price of peace, Schuyler opposed the proposal lest it preclude an Indian agreement. Then fresh dangers on the frontier cropped up in 1780-1781.

In October 1780 Major Christopher Carleton with about 1,200 regulars, Tories, and Indians ranged within five miles of Schuyler's Saratoga house. Ballstown and Schoharie were burned, and the inhabitants fled from their homes. Schuyler called on the governor and militia commanders for troops, furnished military intelligence, and supplied the soldiers with foodstuffs. In November he urged a northern campaign to check the enemy lest the frontiers from New Hampshire to Virginia be abandoned, or so many troops deployed along them as to equal the forces required for invading Canada outright. No such campaign materialized. Unrest continued on the frontier in 1781. The Ross-Butler party raided in the Mohawk Valley and the British at Crown Point threatened the Saratoga settlements. The omnipresent frontier danger and reports of disaffection among upstate inhabitants and of British troop movements from Canada were proof enough of the need for action. But Schuyler could do little except keep the governor informed and warn Brigadier General John Stark at Saratoga to prepare countermeasures. Anxiety at Albany mounted in September 1781 as its citizens feared that lurking parties of the enemy might burn the town. They were left to their own resources because Washington had stripped the frontiers of men for his running thrust into the South where he defeated Cornwallis at Yorktown. By mid-September all was quiet except for small enemy parties operating in the back country, but the danger grew until by early October the enemy was on Lake Champlain in force. Schuyler also sent scouts to corroborate reports of a foray from the west. As the British moved south towards Saratoga, he called for the militia, and Governor Clinton ordered several units northward. The frontier dangers ended with news of Washington's victory at Yorktown, the approach of winter, and the concentration of American troops to check Colonel Barry St. Leger's British forces on Lake Champlain.

Washington and Schuyler maintained an active connection throughout the war. The Yorker was one of the Virginian's closest confidants and staunchest supporters, and he ably assisted his "amiable Chief" with information of enemy movements on the New York frontiers. Schuyler's system of intelligence reached into Canada with such effectiveness, and his work as Indian commissioner and support of the Superintendent of Finance and Quartermaster General was so substantial that the British tried to put him out of action. Up to January 1782 at least three parties had been sent from Canada to capture or kill him. When one of these bands raided Schuyler's Albany house on the evening of August 1, 1781, he hurried his family to safety and raised the alarm from an upstairs window, giving his would-be assassins or captors the impression that nearby forces were rallying to rescue him, and thus obliged them to flee. For months thereafter the General and his family kept an armed guard. Early in 1782 Schuyler assisted Washington with lesser military duties, including contracting supplies for northern New York posts. The two men shared a trip to Saratoga and Schenectady in late June 1782 when Washington came to Albany from his Newburgh headquarters. Interrupted by Washington's retirement to Mt. Vernon, Schuyler's contact with the Virginian was reestablished when the Chief became President and the Yorker entered the United States Senate.

Service in Congress

Between Schuyler's removal from command of the Northern Army in August 1777 and his election by the state legislature to Congress in October 1779, the General refused to accept office, notwithstanding his appointment as a special delegate to Congress in March 1778. Resenting being replaced as a delegate in October 1777, he thereafter refused further public service until cleared of charges of negligence for the loss of Ticonderoga. His choice as a special delegate was, however, the legislature's expression of confidence and a suggestion to Congress that it vindicate Schuyler and the state that had recommended him as major-general in 1775.

While Schuyler was working as Indian commissioner in 1778, Congress began to investigate his military record. Another committee was appointed to complete the investigation, and after Congress decided on a court martial in June, it took time for the harassed commander in chief to arrange it. Finally in October 1778, the court martial sat. Schuyler responded to the charge of neglect of duty (in failing to remain at Ticonderoga) with a review of his activities, of his continuous labors during the 1777 campaign, and of his attempts to conciliate the Indians. He pointed out that he could not have commanded the entire department effectively had he been confined at Ticonderoga by the British siege. (Indeed, Congress had released him from such a restraint in May 1777.) The court unanimously acquitted the General with the highest honor, but Congress delayed confirming the verdict until December 3. Finally, Schuyler's vindication was crowned by Congress's decision that, as a New Yorker must take a turn as president, Schuyler should have the chair. He never presided, but the honor was a signal recompense for the odium he had suffered.

As with the delays of investigating his military record, Schuyler had difficulty persuading Congress to accept his resignation as a major-general, which he had tendered in August 1777. Despite Washington's pleas and Congress's delay, the latter finally accepted it in April 1779. Then, in November 1779, Schuyler appeared in Congress to fill the vacancy in the New York delegation created when John Jay became minister to Spain. He was immediately set to work on a committee studying allowances for officers in the several army departments, one of the many groups that Congress used to conduct business. Finances were also high on Congress's agenda, and Schuyler became deeply involved in fiscal problems.

The winter of 1779-1780 was a particularly crucial time for continental finances, and Schuyler helped deal with the heavy demands on an empty treasury, the rise in prices, and the depreciation of the currency. Fiscal problems were also a part of Schuyler's assignment to committees to visit Washington, one in December 1779 and another in 1780. Military costs were such a pressing problem that an investigation of army expenses was assigned to a special commission with power to overhaul staff departments and to seek means of retrenchment, but it was forbidden to do this work in collaboration with Washington. Schuyler was chosen to the commission, but he refused to serve if it meant taking action independent of the commander in chief. Schuyler's political maneuvers finally led Congress to appoint a new committee to Washington's headquarters. He was made chairman in April 1780 and was given authority to work directly with Quartermaster General Nathaniel Greene and General Washington.

Before the "committee at headquarters" went on its way in April 1780, Schuyler also served with another group considering financial problems. In this endeavor he won approval or a plan to fix the currency at a given ratio, to retire it, and to issue new bills of credit bearing interest in specie, thus providing that there should "never be of old {currency} at 40 for 1 and new at par above ten Million In Circulation." Further, he helped pass a motion requesting the states to let Congress levy a one percent impost on imports and exports with the proceeds to be used to redeem the currency already issued. Meantime, he used personal influence to urge Albanians to send provisions to meet New York quotas, and in May he offered to borrow money on his own credit so boats for the army might be built at Albany.

State support of the military was a vexing problem for Schuyler's committee at Washington's headquarters, when, with John Mathews of South Carolina and Nathaniel Peabody of New Hampshire, Schuyler began his last service in the Continental Congress. After meeting at Morristown, the committee decided it needed additional powers, not only to reduce and rearrange the regiments, settle officers' pay, check accounts, and establish rules for the department of ordnance and military stores, but also to obtain enough men and supplies from the states to enable the army to cooperate effectively with expected French reinforcements. So urgent was the situation that Schuyler and his colleagues laid aside the business of reform and of reducing the army; instead they attempted to enlarge and strengthen it. They sent strongly worded letters to governors and legislatures, asking them to arouse their countrymen who, according to Schuyler, were "profoundly snoring amidst threatened ruin." Still, the actual accomplishments of Schuyler's committee were limited because Congress refused to delegate strong powers to Washington or the committee. Nor did Congress accept Schuyler's plans for allowing the quartermaster and commissary departments to purchase supplies on their own authority. When Nathaniel Greene resigned as quartermaster general in July 1780, Schuyler's committee took up cudgels for him, but Congress rebuked them for interfering in the matter.

The Schuyler committee continued its labors and its calls to the states for supplies were more zealously expedited and plainly phrased than Congress had been willing to make them earlier in the spring. Congress became suspicious of its vigor and .finally dismissed the committee. John Mathews asked Schuyler to return to Congress to help defend the committee's actions, but having gone home early in August 1780 to negotiate an Indian treaty and tend other business, Schuyler refused to return under the circumstances. He did not forsake Washington, although it appears Congress forgot the army. Early in 1781 Schuyler helped raise a public subscription of grain, meal, and cash to stave off a threatened mutiny of army regiments at Albany. In May he responded to Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris's call for flour, a task that again required the use of his personal credit. A month later he undertook an assignment from Washington to build and repair boats at Albany and Schenectady; these were needed for Washington's maneuvers against New York City before the Virginian moved the campaign into the South and defeated Cornwallis at Yorktown.

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