SKENE, PHILIP. (1725–1810). Loyalist. Born in London on 9 January 1725, Skene entered the First Royal Regiment in 1741 and was in the Battles of Cartagena, Porto Bello, Dettingen, Fontenoy, and Culloden, where he was wounded. In 1750 he was promoted to lieutenant and in 1756 to captain. He served under William Lord Howe in the failed attack on Ticonderoga in 1758, again being wounded. The following year he acted with great heroism during General Jeffrey Amherst's capture of Ticonderoga and prevented the explosion of the fort's powder magazine. For this action he was promoted to major and took part in the subsequent operations against Martinique and Havana. In 1762 he was made provost marshal of Havana.
With Amherst's support, Skene in 1759 received the first of several land grants that would eventually total fifty thousand acres on Lake Champlain. In 1763 he brought 270 veterans of the Cuban campaign to Wood Creek, settling them as his tenants. He founded Skenesboro (later Whitehall), New York, in 1765 and was named colonel of militia in 1768, selling his British officer's commission the following year. Part of his domain lay in the Hampshire Grants (later Vermont), and in the controversy between New York and the region's settlers, Skene sided with New York. In this matter he shared cause with Philip Schuyler, whom he had known during the campaigns of 1758. By 1774 he had a flourishing little wilderness empire with sawmills, foundries, and shipyards, and he planned to end the land dispute in the Green Mountains by creating a new colony based at Skenesboro. Skene went to England that year, gaining appointment as lieutenant governor of Ticonderoga and Crown Point as the first step toward the creation of a new province.
But events interfered with his plans. After Ethan Allen captured Ticonderoga on 10 May 1775, he sent a force to seize Skenesboro, taking Skene's son and daughters prisoner. When Skene landed in Philadelphia in June 1775, he was immediately arrested and sent to internment in Connecticut. He was exchanged in October 1776 and returned to England, then coming back to join Burgoyne's offensive on Lake Champlain. Although he expected to assume his duties as governor of the region, he became Burgoyne's principal Loyalist adviser and in this capacity—much resented by the other Loyalists—he took part in subsequent military operations. Skene gave Burgoyne two disastrous pieces of advice: that most New Yorkers were loyal to the crown and would rise up to join Burgoyne as he advanced, and that the British forces should march overland to the Hudson via Skenesboro rather than taking the quicker and easier route on Lake George. Many contemporaries became convinced that Skene made the latter recommendation in order for Burgoyne's forces to build a road from Ticonderoga to Skenesboro. The ensuing military route through the woods and swamps became known as Skene's Road. He accompanied the Bennington raid in August 1777 and showed personal courage in the portion of that operation known as Breymann's defeat, escaping in the confusion and finding his way back to Burgoyne's main force.
Skene was paroled in 1778 and returned to England. The following year New York confiscated his property, for which he received £20,350 from the crown. Skene spent the remainder of his life in England, dying there on 9 June 1810.
Morton, Doris Begor. Philip Skene of Skenesborough. Granville, N.Y.: Grastorf Press, 1959.
revised by Michael Bellesiles