Van Cortlandt, Philip

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Van Cortlandt, Philip

VAN CORTLANDT, PHILIP. (1749–1831). Continental officer. New York. Born in New York City on 21 August 1749 to great privilege, Van Cortlandt was the eldest son of Pierre Van Cortlandt (1721–1814), who was the first lieutenant governor of New York (elected in 1777 and periodically reelected for eighteen years), and Joanna Livingston. Van Cortlandt spent the ten years preceding the Revolution on the family estate, where he surveyed, disposed of tracts of land that had been part of the original manor, and operated mills for his father. In April 1775 he attended the Provincial Convention and the next month was selected as a representative from Westchester County to the first Provincial Congress of New York.

Commissioned lieutenant colonel of the Fourth New York Regiment on 18 June 1775, he reached Albany about the end of August with four companies but was prevented by sickness from participating in Montgomery's wing of the Canada invasion. He served on Washington's staff for a short time before being commissioned colonel of the Second New York Continental Regiment on 21 November 1776. This vacancy resulted from the defection of Rudolph Ritzema to the British. Philip joined his unit at Trenton the day after the battle and commanded it the rest of the war. Ordered to Peekskill, he was moving north to oppose St. Leger's expedition when Benedict Arnold's success in August 1777 led to his being attached instead to the main northern army. His regiment took part in both Battles of Saratoga, coming up among the last to reinforce Arnold at Freeman's Farm and serving in Poor's brigade in the battle of 7 October. He rejoined the main army for winter quarters at Valley Forge. His regiment was stationed in Ulster County, New York, and as part of Clinton's division accompanied Sullivan's expedition against the Iroquois in 1779. He sat on the court-martial of Arnold (26 December 1779–26 January 1780) and, in disagreement with the majority sentence of a reprimand, felt that Arnold should be dismissed from the service. In the spring of 1780 he was sent to Fort Edward, New York, and later in the year was ordered to Schenectady, where the Second, Fourth, and Fifth New York Continentals were consolidated under his command. In June 1781 he was ordered south to join the forces preparing to march against Cornwallis in Virginia, and in the Yorktown campaign he was conspicuous for bravery and resourcefulness while serving under the Marquis de Lafayette. He was breveted brigadier general on 30 September 1782 for his performance at Yorktown.

After the war, Van Cortlandt was a commissioner of the appropriation of Loyalist lands in New York. As a delegate to the Poughkeepsie convention in 1788, Van Cortlandt opposed his father and his political ally, Governor George Clinton, and voted for ratification of the federal Constitution. After sitting in the state assembly in 1788–1790 and the state senate in 1791–1793, he entered the U.S. House of Representatives in December 1793 and served seventeen years, though—having become a Jeffersonian and supporter of slavery—he won some narrow victories, one by just thirteen votes. Undistinguished as a congressman, he lost his seat in the 1808 election after he had first voted for and then against Jefferson's Embargo Act. He emerged from retirement to accompany Lafayette on a large part of his triumphal tour in 1824 and died at his manor on 5 November 1831.

SEE ALSO Arnold, Benedict; Border Warfare in New York; Ritzema, Rudolphus.


Judd, Jacob, ed. and comp. The Van Cortlandt Family Papers. 4 vols. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Sleepy Hollow Restorations, 1976–1981.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles

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