Albany’s Whitehall Palace and Whitehall Road

The origins of Whitehall Rd. are somewhat murky, but it may originally have been a narrow track through the forest used by the Mahican Indians who lived along the Normanskill Creek. Its use as a dirt road for early colonial settlers probably dates back to the early 1700s. We know that about 1750 there was a barracks, stable and drill ground constructed for British troops during the French and Indian War near corner of Delaware Ave. (It’s location in old genealogies is identified as 150 yards west of Delaware Ave., on Whitehall Rd.)

In the late 1750s the site was enlarged by Col. John Bradstreet. Bradstreet was dispatched to Albany as deputy quartermaster for the British forces in North America. It was one of two storage depots – the other was in Halifax Nova Scotia, but Albany was the closest spot to the upstate frontier in the war with the French in Canada. (That’s probably when it acquired the name Whitehall. At that time Whitehall in London was the home of British government offices. The Albany site was often the home of British military government – where British commanders in North American, Lord Loudon and then Lord Amherst, and their officers often stayed while in Albany.

Bradstreet became great friends with General Philip Schuyler. The route from the Schuyler home on South Pearl and State St. and then new Mansion in the Pastures, would have lead down to “Whitehall Rd.” and then west to what is now Delaware Ave. (It became Second Ave. circa 1873.). It was the route used by Bradford and Schuyler used to travel to each other homes. The area west of Delaware Ave, intersection was called the Normanskill Rd. until about 1800.

At some point Bradstreet purchased the property from the Patroon (along with about another 20,000 acres scattered throughout the area) since it was part of the Manor of Rennselaerwyck. Despite his close relationships with American colonists, Bradstreet sided with the British in the Revolutionary War, and departed for New York City, where he died in 1774.

The property passed to John Bradstreet Schuyler (son of Philip Schuyler) in Bradstreet’s will. During the Revolution is was thought to be a hideout for Tories who came down from the Helderberg Mountains. Supposedly, this was the area where the British attackers massed before they invaded the Schuyler Mansion, attempting to kidnap General Philip Schuyler in 1781 (the raid that left the gouge in the Mansion staircase).

In 1789 the Broadstreet house and property were purchased by Leonard Gansevoort. He was from an old, and Albany Dutch aristocratic family and had amassed great wealth. He had a long career in politics and the law, had been a member of the Continental Congress, was the brother of the Revolutionary War General Peter Gansevoort (the “Hero of Fort Stanwix”), and the great uncle of author Herman Melville. Documents indicate that the legal work for the purchase was probably handled by Alexander Hamilton.

After a large fire swept through much of downtown Albany in 1793 destroying the Gansevoort home, they moved to the Whitehall property, Gansevoort enlarged it quite substantially, turning it into a proper mansion, designed for entertaining on a large scale. It was “statement” home meant to impress. It was immense (supposedly (100 ‘ x 70’), with two wings and four verandas on two stories running front and back. The Great Hall gave way to a grand dining room, a family dining room and a library; the other wing held reception rooms and a grand ballroom. Off to the side was the “Dood Kamer”, which, according to Dutch custom, was a room reserved for laying out the dead. The second floor including bedrooms and family sitting rooms. The Whitehall “Palace” as it came to be known was richly paneled with mahogany and other exotic woods. It was filled with imported china, silver, and silk and damask for drapes and upholstery. There were formal and wild gardens, riding trails and extensive farmland in the thousand acres surrounding the property. It was a self-contained compound, with many out buildings and stables. (Think of the historical documentaries about British grand houses – that was the Whitehall Palace. ) And to run the vast Palace, there were, in 1800, 13 people enslaved by Gansevoort.

In 1810 Gansevoort died and the property passed on to his daughter Magdalena, married to Jacob Ten Eyck. She continued her father’s lavish lifestyle for the next 20 or so years. There are stories of streams of carriages of the Albany wealthy making their way over the Bethlehem Turnpike (Delaware Ave.) to glittering events at the Palace. As Magadelena and Jacob grew older they remained in the house, but started to sell off their land. Many of the farmers who purchased the land over the years were German (Kobler, Friebel, Etling, Klapp, Werker and Swarts. If you look carefully you can still see 3 or 4 older residences in the neighborhood that were original farm houses.) By the mid-1830s the street name appeared on maps appears as Whitehall Rd, and extended to the New Scotland Plank Rd.

In 1883 the Palace burned to the ground; by then it was referred to as the Ten Eyck Mansion.

A smaller house was built at 73 Whitehall Rd., surrounded by an area then known as Ten Eyck Park/Whitehall Park. This area was bounded by what is now Matilda St., Ten Eyck Ave., and Whitehall Rd. In 1909 the building was the Washington Hotel, but has been a residence for the past century.

By 1911 the Whitehall Park Development for “working men” was established on Sard and McDonald Roads, and residential development in the Whitehall Rd. began in earnest and continued steadily for the next 50 years. Within 5 years that area, which had been part of the town of Bethlehem was annexed into the city of Albany. It would not be until the 1960s, after a number of annexations through the decades, that both sides of Whitehall Rd. from Delaware Ave. to New Scotland Ave. would become part of the city.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

The Schuylers, Guy Beattie, and Albany’s Forgotten Park

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This was the mansion at The Flatts , after the Dutch “DeVlackte,” later called Schuyler Flats and Schuyler Farm. It was situated on the west bank of the Hudson in what is now Menands (then West Troy), opposite Breaker Island (formerly two islands called Culyer and Hillhouse). For a century, from about 1711-1806, the main public road from Albany to Saratoga ran between the mansion and the river.

The Flatts was (were?)  owned and occupied by the Schuyler family for 250 years.

Because its history is so complex, and the Schuyler family history so confusing (how many of them were named Peter and Philip?!), I’ve broken it down into a chronology. Info gleaned from many sources. Please excuse the lack of annotation, I didn’t set out to write a term paper.

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Arent Van Curler

1630 – Arent Van Curler, a cousin of the first Patroon Van Rensselaer, arrives with the first colonists of the manor,  and is soon after made superintendent. He marries in 1643, and after a brief honeymoon in Holland, returns to work the farm.  He establishes the Flatts as the heart of the area’s fur trade.

1660 – Richard Van Rensselaer, a son of the Patroon, occupies the property.

1666 – He builds the main house.

1668 -The house’s roof caves in.

1670-  Richard VanRensselaer returns to Holland. The Flatts is sold to Col. Philip Pieterse Schuyler. Schuyler repairs the old house and cellar, and builds an additional structure to the north. This begins a long Schuyler lineage in the area.

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Col. Pieter Schuyler

1683 – Upon the elder Schuyler’s death, his son, Col. Pieter Schuyler (later the first mayor of Albany), inherits The Flatts.

1690 – General Fitz John Winthrop  sends the first detachment of his army from Albany for the invasion of Canada to the Flatts. The Flats become a staging ground for troops engaged in the French and Indian War, and many of their officers find entertainment. Here the gallant Lord Howe spends the night, and eating his breakfast on the march under Abercrombie to attack Ticonderoga. Here, the the barns are turned into hospitals for the defeated forces of Abercrombie.

1695 – Pieter leases it to his son Philip.

1711 – Col. Peter Schuyler, now married to Maria Van Rensselaer, the sister of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, moves to The Flatts.

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1720 – Philip Schuyler marries Margarita Schuyler, his cousin, whose father had for a number of years been the mayor of the City of Albany. Margarita is known during the latter part of her life as “Madame Schuyler.”

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Philip Schuyler

1724 – Upon the death of Col. Peter Schuyler, his eldest son Philip P. Schuyler becomes the owner of the Flats and the mansion.

1752- A serious fire nearly demolishes the mansion, which is then rebuilt by British soldiers.

1758 – Col. Philip Schuyler dies, survived by his kindhearted widow, by now known as  “Madame Schuyler” or “Aunt Schuyler.” The property is willed to her until her death when it is supposed to be passed on to her nephew, Peter Schuyler.

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“Madame/Aunt Schuyler”

Aunt Schuyler’s home becomes the place of gathering both men and supplies because it’s at the head of deep navigation of the Hudson and is convenient for those coming from New England either by way of Bennington or Kinderhook.

During this period, a large (100′ x 60′) barn that had been used for troop lodging and staging is torn down.

1771 – Peter Schuyler dies, his will naming his grandson, Stephen Schuyler, as eventual heir to The Flatts.

1774 – At The Flatts, Major  Peter Schuyler forms his plans for the Revolutionary War invasion of Canada.

1782 – With the passing of Margarita “Madame” Schuyler, The Flatts becomes the property of Stephen Schuyler, who has lived here since the 1740’s.

1808 – Philip P. Schuyler dies and is buried in the family plot.

1820 – The death of Stephen Schuyler leaves the property to Peter S. Schuyler , husband of Catherine Cuyler.

1832 –zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzto-let-1839b

Peter S. Schuyler leaves it to Stephen R. Schuyler. I’m not certain Stephen Schuyler lives in the mansion. In fact, this 1839 newspaper ad offers the place for lease. Not sure if there were takers.

(Year?) Stephen R. Schuyler leaves it to Richard Philip Schuyler.

1898 – Richard P. Schuyler dies. His widow, the former Susan Drake, remains in the house twelve more years.

1910 – Drake vacates The Flatts, ending the Schuyler era. She rents the place to Guy Beattie, a farmer who had been working the land for a while. Over the years, various parcels of the estate have been leased to farmers and loggers.

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Guy and Mary Ann Killough Beattie, with their granddaughters Rosamund Patricia Beattie and Linda Beattie. 1945.

1910-1948 The land is leased for farming and carnivals (Beattie’s Field”).

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Guy Beattie oversees circus setup. Photo from Brian Abbott’s website.

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The Flatts, 1942. Photo from Brian Abbott website

1948 – The Beatties sell the contents of their home and retire to Florida. Rivenberg opens the mansion as Sunny Crest Nursing Home.

1949 – Carnival operator James E. Strates buys Beattie’s 30-acre farm for $60,000. Schuyler Flats become the area’s home for the Strates Shows.

1957 – The State Chapter of the National Society of Daughters of Founders and Patriots of America, and Albany County Historical Society team up to recognize the historic site with a plaque. It’s affixed to the house, now painted white. Present at the unveiling are Susan Schuyler Cornthwait, 11, daughter of Mr & Mrs Schuyler Cornthwait, Hyde Park, Vermont, and Catherine Rhodes, 11, daughter of the Rev. James R. Rhodes and Mrs Rhodes of Slingerlands, both descendants of Richard P. Schuyler, last of the direct family line to occupy the house. The historical societies express hope that James E. Strates, who owns the property, might donate the house to the state. They neglect to ask him, though, and when interviewed, Strates admits no one even told him about the plaque.

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Plaque on the mansion, 1957. Photo from Brian Abbott website.

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In The End... All You Really Have Is Memories

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1967 -When Cohen Construction fails to deliver its part of the deal, Murray-Simon sues. Development plans go on hold, and the land is put up for auction.

1968- William A. Wells of Buffalo purchases the 50-acre plot for $600,000, the only bidder at a public auction for the land. He expresses a desire to build an office complex, apartment houses and commercial buildings.

1968 – In drawing up plans for the I-787/NY-378 interchange, the Department of Transportation makes accommodations to avoid the historic Schuyler site. It opens in 1970.

1970 – Colonie Town Board hearings proposes rezoning from business E to commercial-multiple housing. The potential developer wants to integrate apartment housing and a shopping center. Archeological surveys conducted on a proposed sewer line result in a more thorough excavation of the Schuyler House by Paul Huey, historical archaeologist for the Office of Historical Preservation. His discoveries cause a flurry of local media attention, and Colonie’s Town Historian, Jean Olten, lobbies for its purchase.

1975 – The Town of Colonie buys 2.5 acres to preserve for an historic park.

1990 – Albany County transfers an additional nine acres.

1992 – The National Park Service designates the site a National Historic Landmark.

1992-2002  -Spearheaded by Paul Russell, Conservation Officer with the Town of Colonie, the idea for a park moves from a concept to reality, The Open Space Institute funds acquisition of another twenty-odd acres.  The Town and the Hudson River Greenway contribute additional funds.

2002 -Schuyler Flatts Cultural Park opens. The plaque, rescued from the 1962 fire, is rededicated.

2016 – The remains of 14  unidentified Schuyler slaves found  on Flatts land were re-interred in St. Agnes Cemetery.

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Website for the park:
http://www.colonie.org/historian/historical/schuyler.htm

A descendant of Guy Beattie created a webpage about his great-grandfather’s tenure at The Flatts. It includes some wonderful photos.
http://brianabbott.net/projects/family-photos/then-and-now-photos/schuyler-flatts

The New Netherland Institute has a wonderful, multi-page article on excavations at The Flatts:

http://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org/history-and-heritage/digital-exhibitions/arent-van-curler-and-the-flatts/the-story/rediscovering-the-flatts/

There’s a nicely detailed article about the Schuyler burial ground at The Flatts here:

https://albanychurchgrounds.wordpress.com/the-schuyler-flatts-burial-ground/

Trivia:

  • The channel that formed Breaker Island was filled in by the construction of exit 7 of Interstate 787 with NY Route 378. The Hudson River remains on its east bank, with various creeks, ponds, small lakes, and marshes on the west side.
  • The Schuyler house was the prototype of the Vancour Mansion in Paulding’s “The Dutchman’s Fireside.”
  • Some think the arsenal was built at Watervliet because Troy was an important iron-producing city, but it’s quite possible that location was chosen because of Schuyler Flatts’ history as a strategically-situated arsenal.

Mrs. Anne Grant wrote a book about Madame Schuyler, called “Memoirs of an American Lady.”
In this passage she describes the interior of the mansion:

“It was a large brick house of two, or rather three stories (for there were excellent attics), besides a sunk story, finished with exactest neatness. The lower floor had two spacious rooms, with large, light closets; on the first there were three rooms, and in the upper one four. Through the middle of the house was a wide passage, with opposite front and back doors, which in summer admitted a stream of air peculiarly grateful to the languid senses. It was furnished with chairs and pictures like a summer parlor. Here the family usually sat in hot weather, when there were no ceremonious strangers.

“ One room, I should have said, in the greater house only, was opened for the reception of company; all the rest were bedchambers for their accommodation, while the domestic friends of the family occupied neat little bedrooms in the attics or the winter-house. This house contained no drawing-room — that was an unheard-of luxury; the winter rooms had carpets; the lobby had oilcloth painted in lozenges, to imitate blue and white marble. The best bedroom was hung with family portraits, some of which were admirably executed; and in the eating-room, which, by the by, was rarely used for that purpose, were some Scriptural paintings.

“ The house fronted the river, on the brink of which, under shades of elm and sycamore, ran the great road toward Saratoga, Stillwater, and the northern lakes; a little simple avenue of morella cherry trees, enclosed with a white rail, led to the road and river, not three hundred yards distant.”

[Note: All corrections are welcome. I am not a historian, just a curious researcher. Most of this information was completely new to me, so forgive me any lapses or errors.]

From Al Quaglieri’s blog Doc Circe Died for Our Sins

Why we don’t have a Queen and sing Rule Britannia

zzOn October 18, 1777 General Burgoyne (“Gentleman Johnny”), the British commander at the Battle of Saratoga, surrendered to the American General, Horatio Gates. Approximately 5,800 troops were taken prisoner, mostly British and Hessians. The Hessians were mercenaries- soldiers from the German State of Hesse-Cassel, furnished to the British for the American war under a financial agreement between with the Landgrave (sort of the Prince) of Hesse-Cassel) and the English government.

This was the turning point of the Revolutionary War, since the defeat of a massive British invasion force not only buoyed the confidence of the patriots, but was such a resounding victory it convinced the French they should assist the Americans and come to our aid. This proved to be a critical factor in our ability to win the War.

zzzzzzzzOn the same day about 5,000 British and German troops set off for Boston where they were to be held as prisoners of war. They became known as the “Convention Army” – based on the conventions (terms) of the surrender. They marched south to Kinderhook, bypassing Albany, and then east to Massachusetts. There are many stories about British and Hessian soldiers falling out of line along the route of march and becoming part of the population of Columbia County (where there was a large Palatine German population) and along what is Route 20 in Massachusetts today. (America has a rich and diverse gene pool.)

About 500 sick and wounded British and Hessian soldiers were transported to Albany to the colonial hospital (at about where Pine and Lodge streets intersect today). Even 4-5 months later, in March 1778 when the Marquis de Lafayette arrived in Albany, there were still British soldiers under care in Albany.

zzzAfter the surrender General Schuyler offered the hospitality of his Albany home to General Burgoyne and Baron von Riedesel (commander of the Hessian troops), as well as the Baroness and their 3 children who had accompanied him into the fight (The Baroness was quite astonished at such kindness, since British troops had burned Schuyler’s Saratoga home to the ground during the Battle). They left Saratoga on the 17th of October under a guard of 200 men led by Colonel Quackenbush and after 2 days reached Albany.

 

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zzzzzzzGeneral Burgoyne (more than a bit of a bon vivant) enjoyed his stay at the Schuyler Mansion after his long trek though the wilderness from Canada and was impressed by General Schuyler’s wine cellar and the graciousness and geniality of the General and Mrs. Schuyler. Some even say that the charms of General Schuyler’s daughter Eliza, who would later marry Alexander Hamilton, caught the eye of the well-known playboy and sophisticate. Accounts vary on the length of his stay; it could have been as short as several days or as long as fortnight before he was on his way to Boston along with the Baron. The Baroness remained longer at the Mansion and departed with her children around the end of October.

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Note: there is a plaque at SUNY Plaza, State and Broadway, marking the spot where Burgoyne made his entrance into Albany.

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Albany: Washington DID Sleep Here

Washington’s first visit occurred in early March 1781. It would have been in response to an invitation by General Schuyler to the Washington to serve as godfather to Schuyler’s youngest daughter. George and his wife Martha traveled to Albany from White Plains. Catherine (one of 15 Schuyler children) was christened on March 4, 1781 in the Dutch Reformed Church; George and Martha were 2 of several of Catherine’s godparents, including her older sister Peggy (the most neglected of the Schuyler sisters in “Hamilton”). *

wash 2 (2)In 1782 George Washington came to Albany. His visit was a big deal; the General finally accepted a long standing invitation from the Mayor. He came up the River by sloop from Newburgh on June 27, arriving at 6pm and was met by Mayor Abraham Ten Broeck, city aldermen and other city officials. The church bells in the city rang for 2 hours followed by resounding booms from a 13 cannon salute from Fort Frederick. The Common Council ordered the City to be illuminated and the Town Crier to notify residents of the General’s presence. Washington proceeded by carriage from the docks (just above the Pastures, about where Madison and Quay St. meet today) to the Stadt Huys (City Hall) on Broadway and Hudson (that would be the southern tip of the area on which the SUNY Admin building sits).
wash 3)At the Stadt Huys he was presented with a gold box and the “Freedom of the City” (tribute bestowed by a city council rooted in ancient English tradition).

 

wash 4After the ceremony the General proceeded by carriage to the Schuyler Mansion for dinner and a glittering reception. The next day he inspected Fort Frederick, at the top of State St. hill (where the Capitol is located today) and then came down the hill to address the faithful of the Dutch Reformed Church (a/k/a the Blockhouse Church) situated at State and Broadway. That night he attended a dinner a Hugh Denniston’s Tavern at Beaver and Green. The next morning he was off early to Saratoga, accompanied by phalanx of soldiers for meetings in the environs of Saratoga and the Mohawk River with the Tuscaroras and Oneidas, returned to Albany, and then departed for his headquarters down in the Hudson Valley.

wash 8On his next visit in July 1783 visit Washington arrived again from Newburgh and was accompanied by Governor George Clinton. They were honored at a reception at Hugh Denniston’s Tavern (apparently the hot spot of Albany). The General delivered a speech in which he said, “.. I cannot but take a particular interest in the anticipation of the increase in prosperity and greatness of this Ancient and respectable City of Albany..”. The Governor and the General then walked with General Schuyler up Pearl St. for dinner at the home of Jeremiah Van Rensselaer (brother of Mrs. Schuyler) on east side of N. Pearl (probably close to Pine St.).

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Washington and Clinton departed the next day, after staying the night in the Schuyler Mansion, for 19 day trip as far north as Fort Ticonderoga and as far west as Fort Schuyler (Rome , NY), returning to Albany in August, before heading back to Newburgh. The trip was especially because of the number of Native American  tribes visited throughout the Mohawk Valley

 

 

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* The first visit is subject of some debate. It’s recounted in the biography of Catherine Schuyler Malcolm by her daughter Katherine Malcom Baxter “A Godchild to Washington”, but other records for March, 1781 place Washington en route from White Plains to Newport to meet Admiral Rochambeau with the French fleet. But it’s not impossible he stopped in Albany before embarking on that trip.