THE RALLYING PLACE OF THE CONSTITUTIONALISTS
When Catherine Van Rensselaer married Philip Schuyler, on September 17, 1755, he was a, soldier who had been engaged in the campaign against the French at Crown Point. She was glad when he resigned, in 1756, but he returned to army life in 1758 and at intervals for more than twenty years he continued his military service. Two days after the Battle of Bunker Hill Congress made him a major-general. During his three years in the army of the Colonies, he was the subject of continual abuse on the part of those who felt that he had conducted carelessly his expedition to Canada and the campaign against Burgoyne. He was able to stand up against the public clamor because Washington had confidence in him and because he was twice given a clean bill of health by a court of inquiry.
During this season of misunderstanding he was sustained by his wife, who was a remarkable assistant both in his home and in public affairs. During the years when he was frequently incapacitated by gout she carried on much of his work for him, and so enabled him to maintain his place in the councils of the nation.
It was in 1760 that Mrs. Schuyler first showed her great executive ability. While her husband was absent in England, where he had been sent by General Brad-street, she superintended the erection of a new house, a spacious mansion of yellow brick that is today as staunch as when it was built.
From the beginning the Schuyler mansion, the home of the first citizen of Albany, was noted because of the boundless hospitality of its mistress. All were welcomed who sought its doors. One notable company was made up of nine Catawba warriors from South Carolina, who were on their way to ratify a covenant with the Six Nations at the close of the Cherokee War. They were met at the wharf by Major Schuyler and taken directly to the house.
Among the visitors to Albany in 1776 were three Commissioners appointed by Congress to visit the Army of the North, one of whom, Benjamin Franklin, was so wearied by the journey from Philadelphia that he was sincerely grateful for Mrs. Schuyler’s care. One of the Commissioners said later of General Schuyler, ” He lives in pretty style, and has two daughters, Betsey and Peggy, lively, agreeable gals.” He was delighted to learn that the motto of Philip Schuyler and his house-hold was, ” As for me and my house, we will serve our country.”
Another of the fortunate men who were privileged to be in the house for a season was Tench Tilghman, an aide-de-camp of General Washington. He wrote in his journal of ” Miss Ann Schuyler, a very Pretty Young Lady. A brunette with dark eyes, and a countenance animated and sparkling, as I am told she is.” Later he met ” Miss Betsey, the General’s 2nd Daughter.” ” I was prepossessed in favor of the Young Lady the moment I saw her,” he said. ” A Brunette with the most good natured dark lovely eyes I ever saw, which threw a beam of good temper and Benevolence over her entire countenance. Mr. Livingstone informed me that I was not mistaken in my Conjecture for she was the finest tempered Girl in the World.”
Tench Tilghman was to renew the acquaintance in 1779, when Betsey and her parents spent a few months in Morristown, New Jersey. Alexander Hamilton also was there, and he secured Betsey’s promise to be his bride.
The marriage took place at the Albany homestead on December 14, 1780. A few months later the young husband, having resigned from the army, was studying law in Albany and was a welcome addition to the Schuyler household.
Two years after the wedding came one of the incidents that has made the mansion famous. Because of the General’s influence with the Indian allies of the British, a number of attempts were made to capture him; the British wished to put him where he could not interfere with their plans. One summer day, when Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Hamilton’s sister Margaret, was in the house with her baby Philip, a party of Tories, Canadians, and Indians surrounded the house and forced an entrance. Mary Gay Humphreys, in ” Catherine Schuyler,” tells what followed :
” The house was guarded by six men. Their guns were in the hall, the guards being outside and the relief asleep. Lest the small Philip be tempted to play with the guns his mother had them removed. The alarm was given by a servant. The guards rushed for their guns, but they were gone. The family fled upstairs, but Margaret, remembering the baby in the cradle below, ran back, seized the baby, and when she was halfway up the flight, an Indian flung his tomahawk at her head, which, missing her, buried itself in the wood, and left its historic mark to the present time.”
After the attack on the mansion Washington wrote to General Schuyler, begging him to strengthen his guard. The following year the Commander-in-chief was a guest at the mansion, while in 1784 he spent the night there, after an evening consultation with Schuyler,. while Mrs. Washington visited with her friend Mrs. Schuyler.
Lafayette, Count de Rochambeau, Baron Steuben, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, John Jay, and Aaron Burr had a taste of the delights of life at the mansion. The latter was destined to defeat General Schuyler for reelection to the Senate, as he was to be in turn defeated by the General. The British General Burgoyne and his staff also were entertained in the mansion, after General Schuyler’s victory at Saratoga, and this in spite of the fact that much of the General’s property had been destroyed by Burgoyne’s order.
For many years the house was famous as the meeting place of the friends of the young nation. Frequent conferences were held in the library on the proposed constitution. It is said that many sections of the document were written there by Hamilton, and the steps of the campaign for the ratification of the document were out-lined within the historic walls. When, at last, the victory was complete, General Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton walked at the head of the gay procession that hailed the news with joy. The whole town was illuminated, but the most brilliantly lighted building was the old mansion.
During the years that followed General Schuyler’s health failed gradually, and he became more than ever dependent on his wife. When she died, in 1803, he did not know what to do without her. To Hamilton he wrote:
” My trial has been severe. I shall attempt to sustain it with fortitude. I hope I have succeeded in a degree, but after giving and receiving for nearly a half a century, a series of mutual evidences of affection and friendship which increased as we advanced in life, the shock was great and sensibly felt, to be thus suddenly deprived of a beloved wife, the Mother of my children, and the soothing companion of my declining years. But I kiss the rod with humility. The Being that inflicted the stroke will enable me to sustain the smart, and progressively restore peace to my wounded heart, and will make you and Eliza and my other children the instruments of my Consolation.”
General Schuyler died in November, 1804, four months after the duel with Burr in which Hamilton was slain.
The mansion in which he spent so many happy years was long an orphan asylum, but in 1911 it was purchased by the State. On October 17, 1917, it was dedicated as a State Monument.