Schuyler, Catherine van Rensselaer (1734–1803)

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Schuyler, Catherine Van Rensselaer (1734–1803)

American patriot and wife of a Revolutionary War general. Name variations: Kitty Van Rensselaer. Born Catherine Van Rensselaer on November 4, 1734, in Claverack, New York; died of a stroke on March 7, 1803, in Albany, New York; daughter of Johannes Van Rensselaer (an army officer) and Engeltie (Livingston) Van Rensselaer; married her distant cousin Philip Schuyler (a Revolutionary War general), on September 7, 1755; children: Angelica Schuyler (b. 1756); Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (1757–1854); Margaret Schuyler (b. 1758); John Bradstreet Schuyler (b. 1765); Philip Jeremiah Schuyler (b. 1768); Rensselaer Schuyler (b. 1773); Cornelia Schuyler (b. 1775); Catherine Van Rensselaer Schuyler (b. 1781).

Catherine Van Rensselaer, the first of six children of Engeltie Van Rensselaer and Johannes Van Rensselaer, was born into a distinguished Dutch family on November 4, 1734, in Claverack, upstate New York. Her father, an officer in the British Army and later a defender of the American struggle for independence, passed on to Catherine a strong dedication to their country. She was well educated in comparison with other women in America during the mid-18th century, and known as "delicate but perfect in form and feature." At age 20, she married a distant cousin, Philip John Schuyler, who was then a captain serving in the French and Indian War.

Together, the Schuylers represented two of New York's most prominent landholding families, but this did not automatically establish the couple's fortune. Catherine had her first two children while they were living with her mother-in-law in Albany, and she nursed the wounded when Philip's army was defeated at Ticonderoga during 1757. Several years later, she oversaw the early construction of "the Pastures," their own mansion just outside Albany, during her husband's absence. When Philip came into his inheritance, they used their now extensive landholdings to establish what would become the town of Schuylerville, complete with saw and grist mills, fields of flax and wheat, and a country house. Catherine was responsible for much of the town's development, including sharing with her husband the tasks of settling artisans and tenant farmers there.

In 1775, Philip was appointed by General George Washington as one of the four major-generals who would serve the Americans during the Revolutionary War. During the conflict, Catherine's patriotism and daring were on prominent display as British forces threatened the area around the Schuyler lands. At great danger, she traveled to their summer residence from Albany, replying to those who pleaded with her to turn back, "The General's wife must not be afraid." Once there, she burned her husband's extensive wheat fields to prevent the British from harvesting them. Her bold example convinced other area farmers to destroy their own crops.

Philip's election to Congress necessitated a move to Philadelphia, which was followed in the winter of 1779–80 by the family's relocation to New Jersey where he served as Washington's military adviser. Over the years, Catherine gave birth to a total of eight children, and followed her husband in his pursuit of a political career. Her daughter Betsey (Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton ) married Alexander Hamilton at the Schuyler family home in 1780, three years before the end of the war. Following 48 years of happy married life, Catherine died of a stroke in 1803.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Sally Cole-Misch , freelance writer, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan