On 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.
On 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.
After 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.
General 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.
Note: there is a plaque at SUNY Plaza, State and Broadway, marking the spot where Burgoyne made his entrance into Albany.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor