In 2016, I came across a burial index card for a woman identified as “Libbie,” a servant of the Schuyler family. At first glance, it seemed this might be the same Libby who is recorded as being a slave at the Schuyler Manison (The Pastures) in Albany as well as the family’s farm at Saratoga. The search for her headstone at Albany Rural Cemetery uncovered a different story.
In recent years, there has been much attention given to the slaves of the Schuyler family at The Flatts. In 2005, excavations at a commercial site across Broadway (Route 32) from the Schuyler Flatts Park uncovered the bones of slaves buried in a plot separate from the Schuyler family’s own burial ground.
A Chronology of The Flatts History
After a period of examination by experts at the New York State Museum, these remains were reburied in a special public ceremony at the historic Saint Agnes Roman Catholic Cemetery near their original resting place. The reburial took place on June 17, 2016.
The names of those slaves are unknown, their stories pieced together as much as possible from their bones and the circumstances of their original burial.
Just across the fence dividing Saint Agnes from the neighboring Albany Rural Cemetery, however, is the long-forgotten grave of a woman who was the last known slave of the Schuylers at The Flatts.
Located on the North Ridge at Albany Rural, the tilting headstone is small and almost completely illegible. The white marble has eroded to the point where its inscription is only visible through rubbings. A flag and Grand Army of The Republic marker misplaced from some other grave might give the impression that it is the burial place of a Civil War soldier; there are several Union veterans and one Confederate buried in the same section and it’s probably the metal G.A.R. marker was accidentally moved from one of the former.
Inside the Rural Cemetery’s office, the Single Grave Book identifies the grave as that of “Libbie” Schuyler. (Colored). Widow Schuyler’s servant. The entry is handwritten, the name “Libbie” is traced over in red ink.
A stamp on the page notes that “this record was made from the lot,” meaning it was transcribed from the headstone. However, when it was transcribed, a small, but significant mistake was made.
The front of the headstone reads, A Faithful Servant of The Schuyler Family Died Nov 24 1862. The curved top edge is carved with the name, LIBBIE.
Significantly, what appears to be an “L” is, in fact, an “S.”
The woman buried here is Sibbie (also known as Sibina or Sibby), the last documented slave at The Flatts.
The following obituary appeared in the West Troy Advocate in November, 1862.
“DEATH OF AN AGED COLORED WOMAN – Many of our citizens may have seen or heard of the infirm and decrepit colored woman living at the residence of Mrs. SCHUYLER – at the SCHUYLER homestead in Watervliet. She is now no more, death having closed her existence on Sunday night last. Her history is somewhat peculiar. She is supposed to have been born as a slave in Tarrytown Westchester Co. – her first “massa” being a man named Storms, by whom she was held for several years when she was sold to a family name VANDENBURGH then residing in Schaghticoke, Rensselaer Co. She lived here several years, when, about 60 years since, she became the property of the late Philip S. SCHUYLER, and was brought to this town where she has ever since resided. When the act abolishing slavery in this State took effect, she, of course, became free but she preferred to remain with her former master. SABINA – ‘SIBBY’ as she was called was thought highly of by the descendants of her former master, and by them for the past 12 years (during which time she has been almost entirely helpless) she has been tenderly cared for. Her age was not positively known but could have been very little, if any, short of 90 years. Her funeral took place yesterday afternoon and was quite largely attended. Her remains were interred in the cemetery.”
A search of census records from Westchester County shows several individuals named Storm or Storms who were slaveowners, including a Thomas Storm who had three slaves according to the 1790 census and one in the 1800 census. Another Storm is recorded as living in the Schaghticoke area, too. There is probably a familial connection which might have facilitated Sibina’s sale to the Vandenburghs. The possible buyer of Sibbie might have been one Lavinus (Livinus) Vandenburgh who is identified in census records as owning two slaves in 1790, but none after 1800. Another family connection may have played a role in her sale to the Schuylers; Philip S. Schuyler who purchased her was married to one Rachael Vandenburgh.
The Philip S. Schuyler who purchased Sibbie and brought her to The Flatts in Watervliet is not to be confused with his more famous cousin, General Philip Schuyler of Albany. Philip S. Schuyler was the son of Stephanus Schuyler and Engeltie Van Vechten. In 1810, Philip S. Schuyler is listed as owning four slaves there. One of those four slaves would have been Sibbie.
When the gradual abolition of slavery in New York State took full effect in 1827, Sibbie would have been emancipated. She remained with the Schuylers at The Flatts. By this time, she would have been between fifty-five and sixty-five years old. Perhaps starting a new live as a free woman of color would have been too great a challenge for her.
It appears that Sibbie stayed on as a servant to the “Widow Schuyler” listed in the Cemetery’s Single Grave Book. This “Widow Schuyler” is most likely Angelica Lansing, widow of Philip S. Schuyler’s son, Lucas. Lucas Van Vechtan Schuyler died in 1852 and Angelica lived with the extended Schuyler family at The Flatts as a widow until her own death in 1874. The name “Angelica Schuyler” appears frequently in city directories and other records from this period, but because of the tendency for some of Albany’s older prominent families to repeat names quite frequently (even withing the same generation), it’s difficult to say if any of these Angelicas are the same as the Angelica Lansing Schuyler at The Flatts.
By 1850, Sibbie’s health had begun to fail. The death notice stated that she had become “helpless” in her advanced age and that the Schuyler family cared for her “tenderly” for her final twelve years. The 1850 state census mentions her as one “Sylva Sabina” in the Schuyler household and gives her age as seventy-five. The 1860 federal census lists her as “Sibina Jackson,” colored, and gives her age as eighty. The origin of the surname Jackson is unknown at this time. It is the only instance where she is known by a last name and it is not known if she ever married. Also, it is not known if she was indeed eighty years old or this was an estimate of her age with her actual birth year being unknown. Her cause of death is also unknown, but it can be safely attributed to her advanced age.
By the time Sibbie died in 1862, the old slave burial grounds were not in use. The site where slaves had been buried was no longer part of The Flatts; it had been sold and redeveloped.
The Schuylers had a very old burial ground for the family close to their house, but by the 1860s, it was used infrequently. Lucas and Angelica were probably among the last buried there. In 1874, the same year Angelica Lansing Schuyler was buried there, publisher and historian Joel Munsell wrote that the old Flatts cemetery was in a neglected condition and that “the approach of streets and dwellings indicates an invasion at no distant day of this enclosure, and the removal of these bones and monuments to the cemetery over the way.” Some Schuylers, including Philip S. and Rachael, Lucas, and Angelica, were removed to new family plots at Albany Rural in the 1870s. In the 1920s, the remaining graves at The Flatts were indeed removed to Albany Rural and arranged behind the monument to General Schuyler in Lot 2, Section 29. Stephanus Schuyler and his wife, Engletie, are among those in Section 29
The original Schuyler Flatts burial ground
So, Sibbie, the last documented slave at The Flatts, was buried not buried at The Flatts which had been her home for six decades, but at the Albany Rural Cemetery. She was interred in Grave #1, Tier #1, Section 98 on the North Ridge.
Sibbie’s simple headstone was most likely purchased by the Schuyler family, perhaps by the Widow Schuyler. Over the years, the elements eroded the soft white marble so, when the inscription was transcribed to the Single Grave Book, her name was recorded as “Libbie.” With the misplacement of a G.A.R. marker, her grave became easily mistaken for a soldier’s and the grave of this former slave easily forgotten.
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Copyright 2017 Paula Lemire