Philip Schuyler Biography

Philip Schuyler, an American military general and politician, is best known for his contributions during the American Revolutionary War. As a Major General of the Continental Army, he played a crucial role in the victory at the renowned Battle of Saratoga. Hailing from a prominent family of Dutch descent, Schuyler had an impressive political career, serving in the New York General Assembly, Continental Congress, and as a US senator from New York. Additionally, he held the position of the first New York State Surveyor General. Despite being replaced as the commander of his army before the Battle of Saratoga, Schuyler’s strategic planning greatly influenced the successful defense. His military experience also included fighting in the French and Indian War. Furthermore, Schuyler made significant contributions to industry, having established the first flax mill in the United States and investing in the lumber and timber sector.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Philip John Schuyler
  • Died At Age: 70
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Catherine Van Rensselaer (m. 1755–1803)
    • Father: Johannes Schuyler, Jr.
    • Mother: Cornelia van Cortlandt
    • Children: Angelica, Catherine, Cornelia, Elizabeth, John, Peggy, Philip, Rensselaer
  • Born Country: United States
  • Died on: November 18, 1804
  • Place of Death: Albany, New York, United States
  • U.S. State: New Yorkers

Childhood & Early Life

Philip John Schuyler was born on November 20, 1733, in Albany, Province of New York, British America, into the prominent and wealthy family of Johannes Schuyler Jr. and Cornelia van Cortlandt Schuyler. He descended from affluent Dutch-American landowners, also known as patroons. His grandfather, Peter Schuyler, was Albany’s first mayor.

Schuyler lost his father when he was 8. Schuyler initially attended the public school in Albany and was later taught by tutors at the Van Cortlandt family estate situated in New Rochelle.

In 1748, Schuyler started studying at the New Rochelle French Protestant Church with Reverend Peter Strouppe and focused on French and math. While at New Rochelle, he became part of trade expeditions, meeting Iroquois leaders and learning the Mohawk language.

Early Career

In 1755, Philip Schuyler began his military career by joining the British Army, during the French and Indian War. He was named Captain by his cousin, Lt. Governor James Delancey. He was later given the authority to strengthen the fortifications north of Albany.

Schuyler fought in the battles of Lake George, Ticonderoga, Oswego River, and Fort Frontenac. In 1756, he went to Oswego with British Colonel John Bradstreet and learned the business of military supply. The same year, Schuyler was elected as assistant alderman for the first ward to the common council and sealed the contract to operate the ferry connecting Albany and Greenbush.

Following the war, he was sent to England to settle Bradstreet’s war expenses reimbursement claims. From 1760 to 1763, Schuyler remained in England.

After moving back to the US, he began managing a few farms and businesses in New York, including a lumber business based in Saratoga. In 1767, Schuyler served as the colonel and commander of a militia district regiment. The following year, he joined the New York Assembly and continued to serve until 1775, when it was replaced by the Provincial Congress.

In May 1775, Philip Schuyler was a delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Following this, he became part of a committee meant to write down the rules for the army, with George Washington.

On June 25, 1775, soon after the American War for Independence broke out, he was assigned the command of the New York Department of the Continental Army by General Washington. Schuyler supervised the plotting of the invasion of Canada.

However, he was soon taken ill and showed signs of symptoms of gout and pleurisy. He switched the command to General Richard Montgomery. What followed was a horrible defeat, while Montgomery died on the battlefield.

Following this, Schuyler’s forces retreated, leading to the loss of Fort Ticonderoga to the British army. Schuyler, as a result, faced a court martial inquiry and even lost some of his command. However, Schuyler was later acquitted.

In early 1776, he and his men marched into Johnstown, seizing the military stores occupied by Sir John Johnson. Schuyler’s elitist background, however, had made him quite unpopular with the forces from New England.

Battle of Saratoga and Later Life

When Major General Horatio Gates assumed he would be asked to command Schuyler’s forces of the Northern Department, Schuyler complained to the Continental Congress. The Congress initially supported Schuyler, following which he and Gates had to work together in planning their strategies for the Battle of Saratoga. However, on August 19, 1777, just a month before the battle, the Congress replaced Schuyler with Gates.

During the Battle of Saratoga (1777), Schuyler gathered troops from northern New York to help the Americans snatch their final victory. He also negotiated with the Iroquois, or the Haudenosaunee, to prevent them from helping the British. Philip Schuyler’s wife, Catherine, burned their crops near the battleground, to alert his men of the British Army’s arrival. Following the surrender of the British, Schuyler hosted British General John Burgoyne as a POW at his mansion in Albany.

Burgoyne was quite pleased with Schuyler’s hospitality. After a long fight with the Continental Congress regarding his court martial and amid personal attacks, Schuyler resigned as major general in April 1779. Following this, Schuyler served in the Continental Congress for two more sessions, in 1779 and 1780.

From 1780 to 1784, Philip Schuyler was part of the New York State Senate, while from 1781 to 1784, he was the first New York State Surveyor General. He served the State Senate again from 1786 to 1790 and championed for the adoption of the US Constitution.

In 1789, he was named a US Senator, representing New York, in the First United States Congress. He served till March 1791. From 1792 to 1797, he served the State Senate. In 1797, Schuyler was again elected to the US Senate. In January 1798, he resigned due to ill health.

In the 1790s, Schuyler focused on constructing a state-wide canal system, contributing to the construction plans of the Champlain and Erie canals. In 1784, when New York State formed its Board of Regents, Schuyler joined it. In 1794, he co-established Union College.

Personal Life and Legacy

Philip Schuyler married Catherine Van Rensselaer on September 13, 1755. Catherine was part of New York’s landed aristocracy and a descendant of Killian van Rensselaer, who established the Dutch colony Rensselaerswyck. The couple had 15 children, of which only 8 survived to adulthood. Schuyler’s youngest daughter, Catherine, had George and Martha Washington as her godparents at her baptism in 1781. Schuyler is also remembered as the father-in-law of Alexander Hamilton, the first US Secretary of the Treasury, who married his daughter Elizabeth.

Schuyler’s original country house was destroyed by General John Burgoyne’s army in September 1777. The British Army had seized the house during the battle of Saratoga and had then burned it down when they retreated. The house was then rebuilt in late 1777, over a period of 29 days, using glass, nails, and other material recovered from the burned site.

After the war ended, Schuyler expanded his Schuylerville estate and added slaves, tenant farmers, and mills for flax, flour, and lumber. His flax mill was apparently the first in the US. He also built many schooners on the Hudson River, naming the first Saratoga.

On November 18, 1804, Schuyler passed away. He was initially buried in the vault of General Abraham Ten Broeck. His body was later transferred and buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery.

A lot of places in the US bear his name, such as the town and village named Schuyler and Schuylerville, respectively, in New York. There are counties in New York, Illinois, and Missouri, named after him. He also appears in John Trumbull’s 1821 painting Surrender of General Burgoyne and in sculptor J. Massey Rhind’s work Major General Philip Schuyler. A character in the Broadway musical Hamilton (2015) was based on him.

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