Schuyler, Philip John

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Schuyler, Philip John

SCHUYLER, PHILIP JOHN. (1733–1804). Continental general. New York. Scion of one of New York's most ancient, honorable, and well-heeled Dutch families, Philip Schuyler was connected by marriage to just about all the others. Born in Albany, New York, 10 November 1733, Schuyler was commissioned as a captain at the beginning of the Seven Year's War, fought at Lake George on 8 September 1755, and almost immediately thereafter showed the military inclinations that were to characterize his Revolutionary War career—he became a logistician.

Even before 1755 Schuyler had had his first attack of rheumatic gout, a hereditary disease that troubled him throughout his life and that may well have inclined him toward army administration rather than field commands. After the action at Lake George, he was detailed to escort the French prisoners of war to Albany. Having handed over the prisoners, he married Catherine Van Rensselaer on 17 September, and then rejoined his unit. He established a military depot at Fort Edward, and the next spring served under Colonel John Bradstreet in carrying provisions to Oswego. Resigning his commission in 1757, he kept up his commissary interests and derived a substantial income from provisioning the army. In 1758 he returned to military service as deputy commissary with the rank of major, taking part in the unsuccessful attack on Fort Ticonderoga and the capture of Fort Frontenac. During 1759–1760 he operated from Albany, provisioning General Jeffery Amherst's forces. Schuyler had become a close friend of Bradstreet, with whom he sailed to England in February 1761 to settle his accounts with the War Office. At the end of the last colonial war, he was therefore a man with rich experience in provisioning field forces.

Coincident with the Peace of Paris in 1763, Schuyler settled his father's estate, inheriting thousands of acres in the Mohawk and Hudson valleys. In addition he received from his uncle, Philip, the old Schuyler homestead near West Troy and, his favorite heritage, lands in the Saratoga patent (a territory measuring about six square miles along the Hudson River). He became an efficient manager of these lands and a happy family man.

Elected to the state assembly in 1768, Schuyler proved to be an ardent Patriot but an opponent of the radical Sons of Liberty and other advocates of mob action. Because he was a commissioner in the boundary dispute with Massachusetts and New Hampshire over the region that later became Vermont (which always found in favor of the large New York landowners), many of his fellow New Englanders came to distrust Schuyler as a self-interested elitist. When the Continental Congress started naming generals, one of the top ones had to be from New York, and on 15 June 1775 Schuyler became a major general and commander of the Northern Department. Of Commander in Chief George Washington's generals, only Artemas Ward and Charles Lee ranked above Schuyler.

In preparing for the invasion of Canada, this austere Dutch patrician showed his good and bad qualities as a senior commander. Knowing the importance of logistics, he was slow getting started, and he had only the half-hearted support of the New Englanders at the outset. He further alienated these republicans by his personal manner and by his insistence on discipline. When he finally took the field to lead his troops down Lake Champlain into Canada, he almost immediately was prostrated by rheumatic gout. General Richard Montgomery took command of the field army, and Schuyler directed the forwarding of supplies from Albany. He also negotiated the neutrality of the Indians who comprised the Six Nations, an important requisite to the invasion of Canada.

The events leading to Schuyler's downfall at the hands of Congress started on 9 January 1777, when the delegates voted to dismiss Dr. Samuel Stringer, who served as the director of hospitals in the Northern Department. Schuyler vehemently protested this interference in his command. Congress reprimanded Schuyler in an insulting fashion and ordered Horatio Gates north to take over as commander of the American forces then (March 1777) at Ticonderoga. Schuyler visited Washington's headquarters early in April to protest this action, and then went to Philadelphia, where he won the first round of this dispute with Congress As a result, that body clarified Gates's status as subordinate to Schuyler. Given the alternative of accepting this position or resuming his post of adjutant general, Gates left the Northern Department and rushed to Congress to lodge his own complaint.

Schuyler returned to find his army weak and demoralized. Except for his indecisiveness in connection with the defense of Ticonderoga, Schuyler's generalship in the initial stages of General John Burgoyne's offensive was sound. After abandoning Ticonderoga to the British, Schuyler sent Benedict Arnold to lift the siege of Fort Stanwix, acted with intelligence to slow down Burgoyne's advance, and frantically attempted to raise troops to confront the British. But the loss of Ticonderoga was enough to rally his enemies in Congress. On 4 August 1777 the delegates ordered Gates to relieve Schuyler. It was more than a year before Schuyler had the satisfaction of being acquitted by a court-martial (in October 1778) of charges of incompetence. On 19 April 1779 he resigned his commission.

Although he left the army under humiliating circumstances, Schuyler continued to serve the American cause. He remained on the Board of Commissioners for Indian Affairs and performed valuable service in reducing the ravages of the border warfare along the Iroquois frontier. In 1779 he advised Washington on the campaign by Generals John Sullivan and George Clinton against the Iroquois. The British thought highly enough of his work at negating their Indian alliances that they made three attempts at kidnapping Schuyler.

Having already served in the Second Continental Congress (1775) and again in 1777, Schuyler returned as a delegate from New York in 1779–1780. Near the end of this service, he prepared a report on depreciated currency and the issue of new bills of credit that was adopted with only slight modifications. From 13 April until 11 August 1780 he was chairman of a committee at Washington's headquarters, assisting the latter in reorganizing the army's staff departments and working out a scheme for effective cooperation with the French expeditionary forces. From 1780 until 1798 he held public office continuously at the state and federal level, highlighted by two short terms in the first U.S. Senate (1789–1791, 1797–1798). As an adherent of a strong central government, Schuyler supported the federal Constitution as well as New York's abandonment of its claims to Vermont. During his many terms in the state senate, he firmly advocated internal improvements that would enhance New York's commercial development, serving as the president of the state's canal company from 1792 until his death on 18 November 1804.

SEE ALSO Burgoyne's Offensive; Canada Invasion; Gates, Horatio.


Bush, Martin A. Revolutionary Enigma: A Reappraisal of General Philip Schuyler of New York. Port Washington, N.Y.: I. J. Friedman, 1967.

Gerlach, Don R. Philip Schuyler and the American Revolution in New York, 1733–1777. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964.

――――――. Proud Patriot: Philip Schuyler and the War of Independence, 1775–1783. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1987.

Tuckerman, Bayard. Life of General Philip Schuyler, 1733–1804. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1969.

                             revised by Michael Bellesiles

Philip John Schuyler

views updated Jun 11 2018

Philip John Schuyler

The American Revolutionary War general Philip John Schuyler (1733-1804) was a leader in the political and commercial life of his state and nation.

Philip Schuyler was born in Albany, N. Y., on Nov. 11, 1733, into an old, aristocratic Dutch family, one of the colony's largest landholders. He received an excellent education. After commanding a company of New York militia in the French and Indian War, he managed the large estate left him by his father in the Mohawk and Hudson River valleys.

At the same time, Schuyler was active in supporting the colonial cause in the controversy with Great Britain. He argued the colonial position in the provincial Assembly in 1768 and went to the Second Continental Congress in May 1775 as delegate from New York. There he served with George Washington on a committee to make rules and regulations for the army. In June 1775, shortly after the Revolution began, Congress appointed him a major general, one of four to serve under Washington.

Schuyler's assignment was to command the Northern Department (consisting of New York) and to prepare an attack on Canada. After raising and supplying an army and strengthening Ticonderoga and Crown Point on the route north, he was forced by ill health to turn over command of the troops to Gen. Richard Montgomery. The attack failed, and Schuyler was given much of the blame. He had, actually, delayed too long in ordering the army to get under way and had been too slow and deliberate in executing his plan, but the true cause of the defeat lay in factors beyond his control. He also made some bad decisions during the course of the campaign of British general John Burgoyne in northern New York in 1777; one of these contributed to the loss of Ft. Ticonderoga, an American stronghold. Accusations of incompetence were leveled against him, along with a rumor of intrigue with the enemy. In 1778 Schuyler demanded a court-martial to air the charges. He was acquitted that October but felt it best to resign his commission.

After leaving the army, Schuyler was active in politics, holding office continually until 1798, when illness forced his permanent retirement. He served as state senator for 13 years and for 3 years as U.S. senator from New York under the new Federal Constitution, in whose creation he had played a leading role with his son-in-law, Alexander Hamilton. Schuyler died in Albany on Nov. 18, 1804.

Further Reading

The best biography of Schuyler is Benson J. Lossing, The Life and Times of Philip Schuyler (2 vols., 1872-1873). Bayard Tuckerman, Life of General Philip Schuyler (1903), is good for Schuyler's military phase. For special aspects of Schuyler's life see George W. Schuyler, Colonial New York: Philip Schuyler and His Family (2 vols., 1885), and Don R. Gerlach, Philip Schuyler and the American Revolution in New York, 1733-1777 (1964).

Additional Sources

Taormina, Francis R., Philip Schuyler: who he was, what he did, Schenectady, N.Y.: F.R. Taormina, 1992. □

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