History From America's Most Famous Valleys
of Tryon County;
Border Warfare of New York,
During the Revolution.
By William W. Campbell
New York; Printed and Published by J. & J. Harper 1831
General Philip Schuyler
The following Biographical Sketch of Gen. Philip Schuyler is taken from the Address of Chancellor Kent before the New York Historical Society. It is a beautiful outline of the life of that distinguished man; and I trust that no apology is necessary for inserting it at length.
The Dutch family of Schuyler stands conspicuous in our colonial annals. Col. Peter Schuyler was mayor of Albany, and commander of the northern militia in 1690. He was distinguished for his probity and activity in all the various duties of civil and military life. No man understood better the relation of the colony with the Five Nations of Indians, or had more decided influence with that confederacy. He had frequently chastised the Canadian French for their destructive incursions upon the frontier settlements; and his zeal and energy were rewarded by a seat in the provincial council; and the house of assembly gave their testimony to the British court of his faithful services and good reputation. It was this same vigilant officer who gave intelligence to the inhabitants of Deerfield, on Connecticut river, of the designs of the French and Indians upon them, some short time before the destruction of that village in 1704. In 1720, as president of the council, he became acting governor of the colony for a short time, previous to the accession of Gov. Burnet. His son, Col. Philip Schuyler, was an active and efficient member of assembly, for the city and county of Albany, in 1743. But the Philip Schuyler to whom I particularly allude, and who in a subsequent age shed such signal luster upon the family name, was born at Albany in the year 1733, and at an early age he began to display his active mind, and military spirit. He was a captain in the New York Levies at Fort Edward in 1755, and accompanied the British army in the expedition down Lake George, in the summer of 1758. He was with Lord Howe when he fell by the fire of the enemy, on landing at the north end of the lake, and he was appointed (as he himself informed me) to convey the body of that young and lamented nobleman to Albany, where he was buried, with appropriate solemnities, in the Episcopal church.
We next find him, under the title of Col. Schuyler, in company with his compatriot, George Clinton, in the year 1768, on the floor of the house of assembly, taking an active share in all their vehement discussions. Neither of them was to be overawed or seduced from a bold and determined defense of the constitutional rights of the colonies, and of an adherence to the letter and spirit of the councils of the union. The struggle in the house of assembly, between the ministerial and the Whig parties, was brought to a crisis in the months of February and March, 1775; and in that memorable contest, Philip Schuyler and George Clinton, together with Nathaniel Woodhull of Long Island, acted distinguished parts. On the motions to give the thanks of the house to the delegates from the colony in the continental congress of September, 1774, and to thank the merchants and inhabitants of the colony, for their adherence to the non-importation, and the association recommended by congress, those patriots found themselves in the minority. But their courage and resolution gained strength from defeat.
On the 3d of March, Col. Schuyler moved declaratory resolutions that the act 4 Geo. III imposing duties for raising a revenue in America; and for extending the jurisdiction of Admiralty courts; and for depriving his majesty's subjects in America of trial by jury; and for holding up an injurious discrimination between the subjects of Great Britain and those of the colonies, were great grievances. The government party seem to have fled the question, and to have left in the house only the scanty number of nine members, and the resolutions were carried by a vote of seven to two. But their opponents immediately rallied, and eleven distinct divisions, on different motions,w ere afterward taken in the course of that single day, and entered on the journal; and they related to all the momentous points then in controversy, between Great Britain and the United Colonies. It was a sharp and hard fought contest for fundamental principles; and a more solemn and eventful debate rarely ever happened on the floor of a deliberative assembly. The house consisted on that day of twenty-four members, and the ministerial majority was exactly in the ration of two to one; and the intrepidity, talents, and services of the three members I have named, and especially of Schuyler and Clinton, were above all praise, and laid the foundation for those lavish marks of honor and confidence which their countrymen were afterward so eager to bestow.
The resistance of the majority of the house was fairly broken down, and essentially controlled by the efforts of the minority and the energy of public opinion. A series of resolutions, declaratory of American grievances, were passed, and petitions to the king and parliament adopted, not indeed in all respects such as the leaders of the minority wished, (for all their amendments were voted down,) but they were nevertheless grounded upon the principles of the American Revolution. They declared that the claims of taxation and absolute sovereignty, on the part of the British parliament, and the extension of admiralty jurisdiction, were grievances, and unconstitutional measures; and that the act of parliament, shutting up the port of Boston, and altering the charter of that colony, also was a grievance.
These were the last proceedings of the general assembly of the colony of New York, which now closed its existence for ever. More perilous scenes, and new and brighter paths of glory, were opening upon the vision of those illustrious patriots.
The delegates from this colony to the first continental congress in 1774, were not chose by the general assembly, but by the suffrages of the people, manifested in some sufficiently authentic shape in the several counties.
The delegates to the second constitutional congress, which met in May, 1775, were chosen by a provincial congress, which the people of the colony had already created, and which was held in this city, in April of that year, and had virtually assumed the powers of government. The names of the delegates from this colony, to this second congress, were John Jay, John Alsop, James Duane, Philip Schuyler, George Clinton, Lewis Morris, and Robert R. Livingston; and the weight of their talents and character may be inferred from the fact, that Mr. Jam, Mr. Livingston, Mr. Duane, and Mr. Schuyler, were early placed upon committees, charged with the most arduous and responsible duties. We find Washington and Schuyler associated together in the committee, appointed on the 14th of June, 1775, to prepare rules and regulations for the government of the army. This association of those great men, commenced at such a critical moment, was the beginning of a mutual confidence, respect,and admiration, which continued, with uninterrupted and unabated vividness, during the remainder of their lives. An allusion is made to this friendship in the memoir of a former president of this society, and the allusion is remarkable for its strength and pathos. After mentioning General Schuyler, he adds, "I have placed thee, my friend, by the side of him who knew thee; they intelligence to discern, they zeal to promote thy country's good, and knowing thee, prized thee. Let this be thy eulogy. I add, and with truth, peculiarly thine--content it should be mine to have expressed it."
The congress of this colony, during the year 1775 and 1776, had to meet difficulties and dangers almost sufficient to subdue the firmest resolution. The population of the colony was short of 200,000 souls. It had a vast body of disaffected inhabitants within its own bosom. It had numerous tribes of hostile savages on its extended frontier. The bonds of society seemed to have been broken up, and society itself resolved into its primitive elements. There was no civil government, but such as had been introduced by the provincial congress and county committees, as temporary expedients. It had an enemy's province in the rear, strengthened by large and well-appointed forces. It had an open and exposed sea-port without any adequate means to defend it. In the summer of 1776, the state was actually invaded, not only upon our Canadian, but upon our Atlantic frontier, by a formidable fleet and army, calculated by the power that sent them, to be sufficient to annihilate at once all our infant republics.
In the midst of this appalling storm, the virtue of our people, animated by a host of intrepid patriots, the mention of whose names is enough to kindle enthusiasms in the breasts of the present generation, remained glowing,unmoved, and invincible. It would be difficult to find any other people who have been put to a severer test, or on trial gave higher proofs of courage and capacity.
On the 19th of June, 1775, Philip Schuyler was appointed by congress the third Major General in the armies of the United Colonies; and such was his singular promptitude, that in eleven days from this appointment, we find him in actual service, corresponding with congress from a distance, on business that required and received immediate attention. In July, 1775, he was placed at the head of a board of commissioners for the northern department, and empowered to employ all the troops in that department at his discretion, subject to the future orders of the commander in Chief. He was authorized, if he should find it practicable and expedient, to take possession of St. Johns and Montreal, and pursue any other measure in Canada having a tendency, in his judgment, to promote the peace and security of the United Colonies.
In September, 1775, Gen. Schuyler was acting under positive instructions to enter Canada, and he proceeded, with Generals Montgomery and Wooster under his command, to the Isle au Noix. He had at that time become extremely ill, and was obliged to leave the command of the expedition to devolve upon Gen. Montgomery. The latter, under his orders, captured the garrisons of Chambly and St. Johns, and pressed forward to Montreal and Quebec. Montreal was entered on the 12th of November, 1775, by the troops under the immediate orders of Montgomery, and in the same month a committee from congress was appointed to confer with General Schuyler, relative to raising troops in Canada for the possession and security of that province. His activity, skill, and zeal, shone conspicuously throughout that arduous northern campaign; and his unremitting correspondence with congress received the most prompt and marked consideration.
While the expedition under Montgomery was employed in Canada, Gen. Schuyler was called to exercise his influence and power in another quarter of his military district. On the 30th of December, 1775, he was ordered to disarm the disaffected inhabitants of Tryon County, then under the influence of Sir John Johnson; and on the 18th of January following, he made a treaty with the disaffected portion of the people, in that western part of the state. The continental Congress were so highly satisfied with his conduct in that delicate and meritorious service, as to declare, by a special resolution, that he had executed his trust and fidelity, prudence, and dispatch; and they ordered a publication of the narrative of his march in the depth of winter, into the regions bordering on the middle and upper Mohawk. The duties imposed upon that officer were so various, multiplied, and incessant, as to require rapid movements sufficient to distract and confound an ordinary mind. Thus, on the 30th of December, 1775, he was ordered to disarm the Tories in Tryon County. On the 8th of January, 1776, he was ordered to have the river St. Lawrence, above and below Quebec, well explored. On the 25th of January, he was ordered to have the fortress of Ticonderoga repaired and made defensible, and on the 17th of February, he was directed to take the command of the forces, and conduct the military operations at the city of New York. All these cumulative and conflicting orders from Congress, were made upon him in the course of six weeks, and they were occasioned by the embarrassments and distresses of the times.
In March, 1776, Congress changed their plan of operation, and directed Gen. Schuyler to establish his head quarters at Albany, and superintend the army destined for Canada. He was instructed to take such orders as he should deem expedient, respecting the very perplexing and all important subject of the supplies for the troops in Canada, and those orders as to the supplies were repeated in April, and again in May, 1776. The duty of procuring supplies, though less splendid in its effects, is often more effectual to the safety and success of an army, than prowess in the field. Gen. Schuyler, by this thorough business habits, his precise attention to details, and by his kill and science in every duty connected with the equipment of an army, was admirably fitted to be at the head of commissariat; and he gave life and vigor to every branch of the service. His versatile talents, equally adapted to investigation and action, rendered his merits as an officer of transcendent value.
On the 14th of June, 1776, he was ordered by Congress to hold a treaty with the Six Nations, and engage them in the interest of the colonies, and to treat with them on the principles, and in the decisive manner, which he had suggested. His preparations for taking immediate possession of Fort Stanwix, and erecting a fortification there, received the approbation of Congress, and their records afford the most satisfactory evidence that his comprehensive and accurate mind had anticipated and suggested the most essential measures, which he afterward diligently executed throughout the whole northern department. But within three days after the order for the treaty, Congress directed his operations to to different quarter of his command. He was ordered, on the 17th of June, to clear Wood Creek, and construct a lock upon the creek at Skeensborough, (now Whitehall,) and to take the level of the waters falling into the Hudson at Fort Edward, and into Wood Creek. There can be no doubt that those orders were all founded upon his previous suggestions, and they afford demonstrative proof of the views entertained by him, at that early day, of the practicability and importance of canal navigation. He was likewise directed to cause armed vessels to be built, so as to secure the mastery of the waters of the northern lakes. He was to judge of the expediency of a temporary fortification or entrenched camp on the heights opposite Ticonderoga. Captain Graydon visited Gen. Schuyler early in the summer of 1776, at his head quarters on Lake George; and he speaks of him, in the very interesting Memoirs of his own life, as an officer thoroughly devoted to business, and being, at the same time, a gentleman of polished, courteous manners. On the 1st of August following, he was on the upper Mohawk, providing for its defense and security, and again in October we find him on the upper Hudson and calling upon the Eastern States for their militia.
There can be no doubt that the northern frontier, in the campaign of 1776, was indebted for its extraordinary quiet and security, to the ceaseless activity of Gen. Schuyler. At the close of that year he was further instructed to build a floating battery on the lake, at the foot of Mount Independence,and also to strengthen the works at Fort Stanwix.
In the midst of such conflicting and harassing services, he had excited much popular jealousy and ill will, arising from the energy of his character, and the dignity of his deportment. He was likewise disgusted, at what he deemed injustice, in the irregularity of appointing other and junior officers in separate and independent commands within what was considered to be his military district. He accordingly, in October, 1776, tendered to Congress the resignation of his commission. But when Congress came to investigate his services, the found them, says the historian of Washington, far to exceed in value any estimate which had been made of them. They declared that they could not dispense with his services, during the then situation of affairs; and they directed the president of Congress to request him to continue in his command, and they declared their high sense of his services, and their unabated confidence in his attachment to the cause of freedom.
A governor and legislature were chosen in the summer of 1777, and in that trying season, there was not a county in this state as it then existed, which escaped a visit from the arms of the enemy. To add to the embarrassment of our councils in the extremity of their distress, the inhabitants of the northeast part of the state, (now Vermont,) which had been represented in the convention, and just then engrafted into the constitution, under the names of the counties of Cumberland and Gloucester, renounced their allegiance, and set up for an independent state. On the 30th of June, in that year, they were knocking at the door of Congress for a recognition of their independence, and an admission into the Union.
The memorable campaign of 1777, was opened by an expedition of the enemy from New York to Danbury in Connecticut, and the destruction of large quantities of provisions, and military means collected, and deposited in that town. In the northern quarter, Gen. Burgoyne advanced from Canada through the lakes, with a well appointed army of 10,000 men; and for a time he dissipated all opposition, and swept every obstacle before him. Gen. Schuyler was still in the command of the whole northern department, and he made very exertion to check the progress of the enemy. He visited in person the different forts,and used the utmost activity in obtaining supplies, to enable them to sustain a siege. While at Albany, (which was his head quarters, as previously fixed by Congress,) busy in accelerating the equipment and march of troops, Ticonderoga being assailed, was suddenly evacuated by Gen. St. Clair. Gen. Schuyler met on the upper Hudson the news of the retreat, and he displayed, says the candid and accurate historian of Washington, the utmost diligence and judgment in that gloomy state of things. He effectually impeded the navigation of Wood Creek. He rendered the roads impassable. He removed every kind of provisions and stores beyond the reach of the enemy. He summoned the militia of New York and New England to his assistance,and he answered the proclamation of Burgoyne by a counter proclamation, equally addressed to the hopes and fears of the country. Congress, by their resolution of the 17th of July, 1777, approved all the acts of Gen. Schuyler, in reference to the army at Ticonderoga. But the evacuation of that fortress excited great discontent in the United States, and Gen. Schuyler did not escape his share of the popular clamor, and he was made a victim to appease it. It was deemed expedient to recall the general officers in the northern army, and in the month of August he was superseded in the command of that department by the arrival of Gen. Gates. The laurels which he was in preparation to win by his judicious and distinguished efforts,and which he would very shortly have attained, were by that removal intercepted from his brow.
General Schuyler felt acutely the discredit of being recalled in the most critical and interesting period of the campaign of 1777; and when the labor and activity of making preparations to repair the disaster of it had been expended by him; and when an opportunity was opening, as he observed, for that resistance and retaliation which might bring glory upon our arms. If error be attributable to the evacuation of Ticonderoga, says the historian of Washington, no portion of it was committed by Gen. Schuyler. But his removal, though unjust and severe as respected himself, was rendered expedient, according to Chief Justice Marshall, as a sacrifice to the prejudices of New England.
He was present at the capture of Burgoyne, but without any personal command; and the urbanity of his manners, and the chivalric magnanimity of his character, smarting as he was under the extent and severity of his pecuniary losses, as attested by General Burgoyne himself, in his speech in 1778, in the British House of Commons. He there declared, that, by his orders, "a very good dwelling house, exceeding large store houses, great saw mills, and other out buildings, to the value altogether, perhaps of 10,000 pounds, belonging to Gen. Schuyler, at Saratoga, were destroyed by fire, a few days before the surrender." He said further, that one of the first person he saw after the convention was signed, was Gen. Schuyler, and when expressing to him his regret at the event which had happened to his property, Gen. Schuyler desired him "to think no more of it, and that the occasion justified it, according to the principles and rules of war. He did more," said Burgoyne, "he sent an aid-de-camp to conduct me to Albany, in order, as he expressed it, to procure better quarters than a stranger might be able to find. That gentleman conducted me to a very elegant house, and, to my great surprise, presented me to Mrs. Schuyler and her family. In that house I remained during my whole stay in Albany, with a table with more than twenty covers for me and my friends, and every other possible demonstration of hospitality."
I have several times had the same relation, in substance, from Gen. Schuyler himself, and he said that he remained behind at Saratoga, under the pretext of taking care of the remains of his property, but in reality to avoid giving fresh occasions for calumny and jealousies, by appearing in person with Burgoyne, at his own house. It was not until the autumn of 1778, that the conduct of Gen. Schuyler, in the campaign of 1777, was submitted to the investigation of a Court Martial. He was acquitted of every charge with the highest honors, and the sentence was confirmed by Congress. He shortly afterward, upon his earnest and repeated solicitation, had leave to retire from the army, and he devoted the remainder of his life to the service of his country in its political councils.
If the military life of Gen. Schuyler was inferior in brilliancy to that of some others of his countrymen, none of them ever surpassed him in fidelity, activity, and devotedness to the service. The characteristic of his measures was utility. They bore the stamp and unerring precision of practical science. There was nothing complicated in his character. It was chaste and severe simplicity; and, take him for all in all, he was one of the wisest and most efficient men, both in military and civil life, that the state of the nation has produced.
He had been elected to Congress in 1777, and he was reelected in each of the following years. On his return to Congress, after the termination of his military life, his talents, experience, and energy, were put in immediate requisition; and in November, 1779, he was appointed to confer with General Washington, on the state of the southern department. In 1781, he was in the senate of this State; and wherever he was placed, and whatever might be the business before him, he gave the utmost activity to measures, and left upon them the impression of his prudence and sagacity. In 1789, he was elected to a seat in the first senate of the United States, and when his term of service expired in Congress, he was replaced in the senate of this State. In 1792, he was very active in digesting and bringing to maturity that early and great measure of state policy, the establishment of companies for inland lock navigation. The whole suggestion was the product of his fertile and calculating mind, ever busy in the schemes for the public welfare. He was placed at the head of the direction of both of the navigation companies, and his mind was ardently directed for years towards the execution of those liberal plans of internal improvement. In 1796, he urged in his place in the senate, and afterward published in a pamphlet form, he plan for the improvement of the revenue of this State, and in 1797, he plan was almost literally adopted, and to that we owe the institution of the office of Comptroller. In 1797, he was unanimously elected by the two houses of our Legislature, a Senator in Congress; and he took leave of the Senate of this State in a liberal and affecting address, which was inserted at large upon their journals.
But the life of this great man was drawing to a close. I formed and cultivated a personal acquaintance with General Schuyler, while a member of the Legislature, in 1792, and again in 1796; and from 1799 to his death, in the autumn of 1804, I was in habits of constant and friendly intimacy with him, and was honored with the kindest and most grateful attentions. His spirits were cheerful, his conversation most eminently instructive, his manners, gentle and courteous, and his whole deportment tempered with grace and dignity. His faculties seemed to retain their unimpaired vigor and untiring activity; though he had evidently lost some of his constitutional ardor of temperament and vehemence of feeling. He was sobered by age, chastened by affliction, broken by disease; and yet nothing could surpass the interest excited by the mild radiance of the evening of his days.
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