Peggy – Schuyler Sister

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Margaret “Peggy” Schuyler is a bit of a third wheel to her older sisters, Angelica and Eliza, in the Tony winning,  Hamilton: An American Musical. She doesn’t quite make it as far as Act II when the actress portraying her switches roles to play Maria Reynolds. A footnote in the recently published book, “Hamilton: The Revolution,” simply tells us, “Poor Peggy. She married well and died young.”

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Schuyler Mansion – Peggy’s home

There is, however, a bit more to her story. She was born Margarita Schuyler on September 25, 1758, the third of the eleven children of Philip Schuyler and his wife, Catherine “Kitty” Van Rensselaer (three did not live to adulthood). As a young woman, she would’ve have met such notable figures of her era, including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, James Madison, and “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne when the British General was a prisoner-guest at her father’s mansion after the Battle of Saratoga.

Peggy was described by her contemporaries as a charming young woman who was, as one of her mother’s biographers, stated “destined to further distinction.” In 1783, Peggy married the young Patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer III. The marriage took place in Saratoga where the Schuyler’s had a country house and was apparently an elopement. A good friend of the groom described it as “precipitate,” a “source of surprise,” and a “momentary impulse of youthful Passions.” Some felt that Stephen Van Rensselaer, who was just 19 and would take possession of the vast family estates until the age of 21, was simply too young to enter into any marriage, even though Margarita Schuyler was by no means an objectionable bride (despite being six years his senior). Her wedding dress, described a mauve silk with a brocade of “bright bouquets” and old point lace,” survived at least until 1893 when a brief account of it was published in a Niagara Falls newspaper.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz13233100_1007499685964960_6571754916468899130_nBy all accounts, the marriage was a success. Stephen celebrated his majority with grand celebrations at the Manor. The young Mrs. Van Rensselaer was known for being a pretty, charming figure in society. She and her husband were frequent guests at the New York City home of her sister, Elizabeth, who had married Alexander Hamilton in 1780. Peggy had three children, but only one – Stephen Van Rensselaer IV (known as the Last Patroon) – lived to adulthood.

Margarita Schuyler Van Rensselaer died on March 14, 1801. She was laid to rest in a private family vault on the grounds of the Van Rensselaer Manor House. In 1802, Stephen Van Rensselaer married Cornelia Paterson, daughter of William Paterson. In 1848, the old vault (which stood near modern day North Pearl and Pleasant Streets) was demolished. By then, it had received a century’s worth of burials, including Peggy’s parents and husband, as well as General Abraham Ten Broeck and several generations of Van Rensselaers. They were all removed to an underground vault in Lot 1, Section 14 at the Rural Cemetery. Above the vault is a large white marble monument. The east face of the monument bears the inscription “Margaret Schuyler Wife of Stephen Van Rensselaer Died March 14th, 1801.”

 

( from Paula Lemire’s  Albany Rural Cemetery – Beyond The Graves)

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The Mark of the Tomahawk.. the Schuyler Mansion Raid – August 7, 1781

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13876142_1051054354942826_8880993652076140849_nIf you were one of the thousands of children who passed through the Schuyler Mansion for about 80 years your biggest takeaway was probably the story of the Indian Raid and the very cool mark in the banister of the main staircase made by a tomahawk. It turns out, not so much.

Here’s the compelling version we learned as kids. According to the Schuyler Mansion Facebook page, “The legend developed from conflicting versions of the story told immediately after the event, as well as another version told in 1859 by the granddaughter of Philip and Catherine Schuyler’s youngest daughter, Catherine.”

In the story we were told as children, the attackers were: 2) Iroquois Indians allies of the British, or 2) Tories dressed as Indians, a la the Boston Tea Party, or 3) both. In any event, the family fled upstairs, but inadvertently left the youngest child, Catherine, behind in the tumult. Peggy (Marguerite), the youngest of the Schuyler sisters (the other 2 were Angelica and Elizabeth- married to Alexander Hamilton) ran back to rescue the infant. As Peggy ran up the stairs clutching her sister, one of the attackers flung his tomahawk. It sliced through her gown, tearing off a piece of the skirt and embedded itself in the staircase banister. If you were a kid, that was the most thrilling story. And you could touch the mark made by the tomahawk 200 years later, probably enlarged by the small hands of at least 4 generations of kids running their fingers across it.

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Now here’s the real story.

13934622_1051054381609490_2634052363573860262_nIn summer 1781, as the Revolutionary War wound down, there were a number of Tory loyalists and the British in Canada who concluded desperate times called for desperate measures. They hit upon the idea of kidnapping key patriot leaders, in an effort to demoralize the War effort, with a view to “trials” of the traitors and possible hanging. One of those targeted was Major-General Philip Schuyler of Albany. By July the plot was already in motion.

However, information about the proposed kidnapping soon reached the patriots and Schuyler was warned of the imminent danger, but he and his family remained at the Mansion, near the southern border of the City in an unpopulated area, with a minimal guard.

13934622_1051054381609490_2634052363573860262_nOn the night of August 7, a raiding party including British soldiers and Tories broke through the Mansion gates and launched an attack within the house itself while the family was eating dinner. Two white soldiers and one black servant (probably a Schuyler slave) attempted to repel the intruders. The household, which included Catharine Schuyler, the General’s wife, their daughter Margaret, several other children and a number of servants descended into chaos during what was a bloody and fierce attack. Schuyler went upstairs to find his pistol and faked out the attackers as they reached the second floor. He yelled “Come on my lads. Surround the house; the villains are in it”. Thinking they were outnumbered, the attackers retreated, leaving behind several of their own who were wounded, but captured two of the Schuyler guards and made off with some of the house silver.

Brigadier General Barry St. Leger, a British Officer in Canada, subsequently wrote: “The attack and defense of the house was bloody and obstinate, on both sides. When the doors were forced, the servants fought till they were all wounded or disarmed. The uproar of Mrs. Schuyler and the cries of the children obliged them to retire with their two prisoners being the only persons that could be moved on account of their wounds.”*

13882298_1051055374942724_1421897216117813669_nIn any event, we will never know how the gouge was made in the staircase, but it probably happened that night in 1781. And you can see it yourself. The Mansion is a NYS Historic Site and a National Historic Landmark, located at 32 Catherine St. in Albany NY. It was built in the 1760s by the Schuylers and is a wonderful example of Georgian architecture and design, interpreted in Colonial America. Its guests included Ben Franklin, British General John Burgoyne (defeated at the Battle of Saratoga). George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette. It was in the Mansion’s parlor that Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler 8 months before the raid in December, 1780. The Mansion is open May thru October, Wednesday- Sunday – 11AM to 5PM, with tours on the hour. A special tour, “When Alexander Hamilton Called Albany Home,” is held at 2 p.m. Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at the Mansion.

*Fryer, Loyalist Spy, The Experiences of Captain John Walton Meyers during the American Revolution (Brockville, Ontario: Besancourt Publishers, 1974),
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Albany Rural Cemetery’s Alexander Hamilton Connections

“We rowed across the Hudson at dawn.”

The Hamilton-Burr Duel took place on this date – July 11, 1804. While Hamilton is buried in Manhattan’s Trinity Churchyard, the Albany Rural Cemetery has several ties to the infamous duel.

Alexander Hamilton was, of course, married to Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler, daughter of one of Albany’s best known historical figures. General Philip Schuyler, who lost his 1791 Congressional re-election bid to Aaron Burr, died just four months after his son-in-law was killed. After having his grave moved several times over the years, he was laid to rest at Albany Rural in Lot 66, Section 29.

Eliza’s sister, Margaret “Peggy” Schuyler eloped with the young Patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer. She died at the age of 42 in 1801. She is buried in the Van Rensselaer vault in Lot 1, Section 14. Fans of the musical, Hamilton: An American Musical sometimes leave notes, flowers, and coins on the monument.

John Tayler, who served as Governor of New York for four months in 1817, and his son-in-law, Dr. Charles D. Cooper, are both buried in a family plot in Lot 15, Section 19. The comments by Hamilton which ultimately led to the duel were made at a dinner at John Tayler’s home and were reported to the Albany Evening Register (and reprinted in the New York Post) in a letter by Dr. Cooper. General Schuyler, who was also at the dinner with Hamilton, refuted the remarks in his own letters to both papers, but it did not prevent the duel.

Two decades after the duel, Aaron Burr resided in the mansion-turned-boarding house which today houses the Fort Orange Club. At the time, it was owned by the Soulden family. They are buried in Lot 22, Section 61.

General Philip Schuyler, Lot 66, Section 29
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Margaret “Peggy” Schuyler Van Rensselaer, Lot 1, Section 14
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John Tayler and Dr. Charles D. Cooper, Lot 15, Section 19

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From Paula Lemire’s Facebook Page  Albany Rural Cemetery – Beyond the Graves