General Philip Schuyler

 

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General Philip SchuylerSchuyler, PHILIP (JOHN), military officer; born in Albany, New York, November 22, 1733; inherited the whole of his father's estate, which he divided with his brothers and sisters, and also inherited from Colonel Philip Schuyler the Saratoga estate, which he afterwards occupied. He was a captain of provincial troops at Fort Edward and Lake George in 1755, became a commissary in the army the same year, and held the office until 1763. In 1756 Colonel John Bradstreet was sent by Shirley to provision the garrison at Oswego. With 200 provincial troops and forty companies of boatmen, he crossed the country from Albany, by way of the Mohawk River, Wood Creek, Oneida Lake, and the Oswego River, and placed in the fort provision for 5,000 troops for six months. He was accompanied by Schuyler, as chief commissary. His descent of the Oswego River had been observed by the French scouts, and when he had ascended that stream about 9 miles he was attacked by a strong party of French, Canadians, and Indians. These were driven from an island in the river, and there Bradstreet made a defensive stand. One of the Canadians, too severely wounded to fly with his companions, remained, and a boatman was about to dispatch him, when Schuyler saved his life. When, soon afterwards, Bradstreet abandoned the island, only one bateau was left. It was scarcely large enough to carry the colonel and his little band of followers. The wounded Canadian begged to be taken in, but was refused. "Then throw me into the river," he cried, "and not leave me here to perish with hunger and thirst." The heart of Schuyler was touched by the poor fellow's appeals, and, handing his weapons and coat to a companion-in-arms, he bore the wounded man to the water, swam with him across the deep channel, and placed him in the hands of a surgeon. The soldier survived; and nineteen years afterwards, when Schuyler, at the head of the Northern Army of the Revolution, sent a proclamation in the French language into Canada, that soldier, living near Chambly, enlisted under the banner of Ethan Allen, that he might see and thank the preserver of his life. He went to Schuyler's tent, on the Isle aux Noix, and kissed the general's hand in token of his gratitude.

Canadian Campaign

An influential member of the New York Assembly, Schuyler was chiefly instrumental in stimulating early resistance to British encroachments on the rights of the colonists. In the Continental Congress, in 1775, he, with Washington, drew up the regulations for the army, and he was appointed one of the first major-generals. Assigned to the command of the Northern Army, he was charged with planning and executing an invasion of Canada. An attack of gout prevented his conducting the campaign in person in the field, and after going with the army to the foot of Lake Champlain, he relinquished the command to GENERAL RICHARD MONTGOMERY, his lieutenant, and returned to Albany. He, however, addressed the inhabitants of Canada in a circular letter, written in French, informing them that "the only views of Congress were to restore to them their rights, which every subject of the British Empire, of whatever religious sentiments he may be, is entitled to; and that, in the execution of these trusts, he had received the most positive orders to cherish every Canadian and every friend to the cause of liberty, and sacredly to guard their property." The wise purposes of this circular were frustrated by the bigotry of General Wooster, who saw no good in Roman Catholics, and the dishonesty of Colonel Arnold, who cheated them.

On his recovery from his attack of gout he entered with zeal upon his various duties as commander-in-chief of his department and principal Indian commissioner. Annoyed by the insubordination and loose discipline of some of his troops —with interference with his authority and wicked slanders of men intriguing to put General Gates in his place—he offered his resignation; but the Congress, knowing his great worth, begged him to remain. General Gates, piqued by the omission of the Continental Congress to appoint him one of the major-generals in the army (June, 1775), but only adjutant-general, with rank of brigadier-general, indulged in unworthy intrigues for promotion. He was a favorite with some of the leading men in Congress from New England, and very soon a Gates faction appeared in that body. When disaster overwhelmed the American army in Canada he was sent thither, by order of Congress, to take command of it, and, because his power was independent while the troops were in Canada, he assumed that his command would be independent in any part of the Northern Department. When the troops were out of Canada he assumed that independence. Schuyler questioned his powers, and Congress was compelled to tell Gates that he was subordinate to Schuyler. Late in 1776 Gates repaired to the Congress at Baltimore and renewed his intrigues so successfully that, on account of false charges against Schuyler, he was appointed his successor in the command of the Northern Department in the spring of 1777. The report of a committee of inquiry caused Schuyler's reinstatement a few weeks afterwards. Gates was angry, and wrote impertinent letters to his superiors. He refused to serve under Schuyler, who had always treated him with the most generous courtesy, but hastened to the Congress, then in Philadelphia, and, by the misrepresentation of one of his faction, was admitted to the floor of that body, where he so conducted himself as to receive rebuke. A conspiracy for the removal of Schuyler and the appointment of Gates in his place soon ripened into action. The evacuation of Ticonderoga early in July (1777) was charged to Schuyler's inefficiency, and he was even charged, indirectly, with treason. So great became the clamor against him, especially from the constituents of Gates's friends in Congress from New England, that early in August those friends procured Schuyler's removal and the appointment of Gates to his place. The patriotic Schuyler, unmoved in his sense of duty by this rank injustice, received Gates kindly and offered his services to the new commander, who treated the general with the greatest coolness. The victories over Burgoyne soon ensued, the whole preparation for which had been made by Schuyler. Left thus without command, Schuyler's vigilance was of the utmost importance to the cause, and he was called "the eye of the Northern Department." His influence in keeping the Indians neutral was of incalculable importance to the American cause at that time. Schuyler resigned his commission in April, 1779. As a member of Congress (1778–81) he was very efficient in military affairs, and was appointed to confer with Washington concerning the campaign of 1780, especially in the Southern Department.

In the summer of 1781 Schuyler, withdrawn from military service, was at his home, just on the southern verge of the city of Albany. Plans had been matured for seizing him, Governor Clinton, and other leading patriots of the State. In August an attempt was made to abduct Schuyler by Walter Meyer, a Tory, who had eaten bread at the general's table. Meyer, at the head of a band of Tories, Canadians, and Indians, repaired to the neighborhood of Albany, where he seized a Dutch laborer and learned from him the precise condition of affairs at Schuyler's house. He was allowed to depart after taking an oath of secrecy, but, with a mental reservation, he warned the general, and Schuyler and his family were on the alert. Just at twilight of a sultry evening, a servant told the general that a stranger at the back gate desired to speak to him. He General Schuyler Mansion in Albanycomprehended the errand. The doors of the house were immediately closed and barred, the family went to the second story, and the general hastened to his room for his firearms. From the window he perceived that the house was surrounded by armed men. They were Meyer and his gang. To arouse his guard (three of whom were asleep on the grass) , and, perchance, to alarm the town, he fired a pistol from his window. At the same moment Indians burst open the doors below. All these movements occurred in the space of a few minutes. Mrs. Schuyler perceived that in the confusion in going upstairs she had left her infant (afterwards Mrs. C. V. R. Cochrane, of Oswego, N. Y., where she died in August, 1857) in the cradle below. She was about to rush to the rescue of her child, when the general restrained her. Her life was of more value than that of the infant. Her little daughter Margaret (afterwards the wife of Gen. Stephen Van Rensselaer, the "patroon") ran down the stairs, snatched the baby from the cradle, and bore it up in safety. As she was ascending an Indian threw a tomahawk at her. It went near the baby's head, through her dress, and stuck in the stair-railing. At the same moment one of the miscreants, supposing her to be a servant, called out, "Wench! wench! where is your master?" With quick presence of mind, she replied, "Gone to alarm the town." The Tories were then in the dining-room, engaged in plunder. The general threw up his window and called out, loudly, as to a multitude, "Come on, my brave fellows; surround the house and secure the villains who are plundering." The marauders retreated in haste, carrying away with them a quantity of silver-plate. Three of the guards fought lustily, but were overpowered and carried away prisoners. When they were exchanged the generous and grateful Schuyler gave each of them a farm in Saratoga county.

General Schuyler was one of the New York State Senators; one of the principal contributors to the code of laws adopted by that State; and United States Senator from 1789 to 1791, and again in 1797. He was an earnest advocate of internal improvements for the development of the resources of the country, and he is justly called the "father of the canal system of the United States." He was a man of large wealth. He owned a fine mansion in the then southern suburbs of Albany, and a plain one on his large estate at Saratoga. The latter, with its mills and other property, valued at $50,000, was destroyed by the British at the time of Burgoyne's invasion. He died in Albany, N. Y., November 18, 1804.

 

 

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