“Take Philip Schuyler, the man is loaded!” So sings Aaron Burr on Broadway in the pop culture phenomenon Hamilton. The Philip Schuyler referenced in the play is General Philip Schuyler, one of four Major Generals of the Continental Army under George Washington during the American Revolution. Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler, General Schuyler’s second daughter. And, Burr was not wrong – Schuyler was not only a Revolutionary hero, but also a prominent, successful, and wealthy landowner in late 18th-century Albany County, New York. His country home (once part of his vast estate at Saratoga) is now preserved and open to the public as part of Saratoga National Historical Park (SARA) in Schuylerville, New York.
In 2013, NMSC archeologists rehoused a large collection of artifacts recovered during systematic excavations at the Schuyler House. This collection was truly swoon-worthy (and swoon we did!): beautiful, nearly complete ceramic vessels; matching sets of 200-year old wineglasses; goffering irons and carrier pigeon messages. Some of the objects date to the time of General Philip Schuyler’s residence, but many others date to the time of his grandson, Philip Schuyler II.
When Saratoga National Historical Park emerged victorious in our second annual Museum Madness competition this past March, NMSC staff traveled to Saratoga to meet with park curator Christine Valosin and discuss featuring the SARA museum collection on our social media platforms. Compared to his renowned grandfather, not much has been written about Philip Schuyler II. When Christine suggested a blog post about him and the artifacts associated with him from the Schuyler House archeology collection, we jumped at the chance to revisit some old and beautiful friends.
Today, the Schuyler House sits amidst idyllic, shady grounds. When we visited this past May, it was a lush, quiet place, with trees blowing in the breeze and the quiet rush of Fish Creek in the background. The stillness of the place, however, is in some ways a bit misleading. In traveling the Northeast you’ve probably seen the roadside signs pointing out that “History Happened Here.” This place deserves one with italics, exclamation points, and flashing lights (don’t worry, we’re not proposing such a thing). The story of the Schuyler House – or, the three Schuyler Houses – is remarkable. The story of Philip Schuyler II and the artifacts he left behind can only be understood through the lens of history, tradition, and family legacy that accompanies this special place.
The Schuyler House and Legacy
The first Schuyler House was built around 1720 by Johannes Schuyler and burned to the ground during a French and Indian attack in 1745, killing Johannes’s son Philip Schuyler (uncle of the Revolutionary War general) and several other local residents who had taken refuge there.
Upon inheriting the property, Philip Schuyler (the future Revolutionary War general) built a mansion on the site where the current house stands today. He established saw, grist, and flax mills on the estate, which buzzed for years with successful industry and commerce. Schuyler and his ventures were well-regarded in the community. One local resident called him “the oracle of our neighborhood.” (Brandow 261) Just prior to his surrender to the Army of the United States in October of 1777, British General Burgoyne spent a few nights in Schuyler’s Saratoga house, wining and dining by candlelight while his troops bunked on the cold ground outside. A few days later he ordered it and the surrounding outbuildings and fields burned to the ground.
The current Schuyler House was built by General Philip Schuyler in 1777, almost immediately after the destruction of his 1767 home. It was completed in about a month, a testament to the resilience and determination of the Revolutionary spirit. By 1787, General Schuyler’s eldest son and heir, John Bradstreet Schuyler (a Schuyler “brother” who did not make it into the play) was living in the house with his wife. John died in the house in 1795, when his young son Philip Schuyler II was only seven years old. After spending his boyhood away at school and college, Philip II chose to return to his ancestral homeland to raise his own children and carry on his family’s legacy of patriotism, industry, and hospitality. These three themes are represented in the archeological record of the Schuyler House.
Philip II followed in his grandfather’s enterprising and industrial footsteps when he took over the family estate in the early 19th century. He lived with his family at the Schuyler House from 1811 until 1837. He ran grist, saw, and wool fulling mills on Fish Creek, established a large cotton mill, operated a successful whiskey distillery and a large working farm, and promoted the construction of the Champlain Canal to carry manufactured goods from Schuylerville to New York. (He was busy!) Early 19th-century artifacts found near the Schuyler House indicate that Philip II’s commercial success allowed him and his family to live in comfort and high style.
According to historian John Brandow, “Philip Schuyler, 2d, and his charming wife maintained an ancient family reputation for hospitality.” (304) Brandow describes a constant stream of guests to the house, including President Martin Van Buren, a personal friend of Philip II. Saratoga Springs was quickly becoming a popular destination for 19th-century Americans who wished to soak in the pleasant and rejuvenating springs. Many visitors did not consider their trip complete without a stopover at the Schuyler House. Brandow again: “Dinner parties were frequently given here by the Schuylers at the then-fashionable hour of three or four o’clock.” (307) Complete sets of fine dishes and glassware found archeologically at the Schuyler House attest to the couple’s tradition of elegant entertaining.
At risk of sounding corny here, the Schuyler House archeology collection knocked our socks off when we worked on it in 2013. We typically process fragments of things, and wonder at what and where the rest of those things may be. This collection was full of complete and nearly complete vessels. We rehoused sets of blue and white Chinese export porcelain plates, purple transfer-printed toilet sets complete with soap dishes, and oh so many beautiful chamber pots! In total, the collection includes over 10,000 artifacts that we packed carefully into 76 archival boxes. Some of the material dates to the time of General Philip Schuyler, some to the Strover family that lived in the house after it passed out of the Schuylers’ hands in the late 1830s, and some to the time of Philip Schuyler II, his wife Grace, and their children. These artifacts reflect the traditional family themes of patriotism, industrial and commercial success, and hospitality carried on by Philip II during his time in the house.
Dishes and Glassware
One of my favorite objects in the collection is a pearlware saucer with a transfer-printed design called “Lafayette at Franklin’s Tomb,” in which the Marquis de Lafayette visits the grave of Benjamin Franklin. Lafayette came to America from France to fight with the colonists during the Revolutionary War. Early 19th-century Americans were fiercely proud of their new nation and its heroes (including adopted founding father Lafayette!), and had the goods to prove it. Patriotic symbols, scenes, and maxims were popular themes on dishes and other household items. This saucer, and the pitcher in the collection that bears the same pattern, date to the time of his grand tour of America in 1824-1825. The Marquis visited the Schuyler House in 1825. Picture this: Lafayette (at that point the sole surviving Major General of the Revolutionary War) sitting in the late General Schuyler’s parlor, shaking hands with his grandson, and sipping tea from a pearlware saucer.
The Schuyler House archeology collection includes several sets of fine teaware, dinnerware, and glassware. This elegant porcelain teacup and matching saucer, for example, is among several of its kind. We found this exact cup shape (look at the handles) in the 1820 shape book for the Spode factory, which was at that time known for its new and desirable bone china. One of these vessels bears a four-digit number on its base, which we believe to be a pattern number. It was common practice in Spode’s early days to mark pieces with only a pattern number, if at all. If these pieces are Spode porcelain, the gilding along the edges is most likely real gold. We read that Spode actually had a gold safe on site! Make no mistake about it folks, this is fancy stuff.
This set of wineglasses from the Schuyler House collection dates to ca. 1780-1820, which fits perfectly with Philip II’s occupation of the house. American painter Henry Sargent painted “The Dinner Party” in 1821, right around the time Philip and Grace were hosting their own mid-afternoon gatherings. If you look closely, you can see wineglasses similar to these on the table and in the hands of the guests.
The prosperity of the Philip Schuyler II family was not confined to the table. Archeologists found dominoes and what we believe to be a backgammon playing piece, indicating that Philip II may have enjoyed leisure games with his family and/or guests. Backgammon was popular among people of means in late 18th– and early 19th-America; Thomas Jefferson’s account books make reference to his own wins and losses in the 1770s.
Several artifacts suggest that lady of the house Grace Hunter Schuyler enjoyed the latest fashions as well as domestic pursuits considered appropriate for her sex and high class. The delicate sewing scissors were most likely used for sewing and embroidery, which every 19th-century lady loved, of course! After much contemplation, we hypothesize that the rectangular buckle may be from a dress like the one pictured below. In the 1820-30ss, fashionable women often wore dresses with sashes or belts ornamented with buckles in the front. This buckle is brass; we wonder whether Mrs. Schuyler may have had others of gold or silver for special occasions?
This family portrait painted at the Schuyler House in 1824 pictures Philip and Grace Schuyler with five of their young daughters. In this tranquil scene that denotes affluence and security, the young ladies’ dresses are trimmed with lace, and one reads a book while her sister plays the piano. These little girls are visible in the archeological record as well, where early 19th-century miniature teasets and children’s dishes attest to their growing up with fashionable toys and the time and space to play with them. (If you love this kitten plate as much as we do, read more about it in our 2012 blog post!)
Several wallpaper samples recovered at the Schuyler House date to the time of Philip II’s occupation. According to research conducted by park curator Christine Valosin, he and his wife installed new wallpaper in their country home pretty frequently (about every five years or so!). Historian John Brandow notes that Philip and Grace had new paper installed in the parlor in preparation for the marriage of his daughter, Ruth, in 1836. The archeology collection includes this fragment of a pressed glass curtain pin. Similar examples in the museum collection at Winterthur are dated to ca. 1825-1850. This object could date to the time of the Strover family, who moved in after the Schuylers, but it could also represent Philip II’s effort to spruce up his parlor before his daughter’s wedding day.
Take Philip Schuyler II, the man was loaded!
Artifacts excavated at the Schuyler House suggest that Philip Schuyler II maintained the wealthy lifestyle of his grandfather while striving to sustain his family’s ideals of Revolutionary pride, industrial and commercial success, and social hospitality. Philip II lost his estate when economic panic hit in 1837. Historian John Brandow wrote in 1900 that when the Schuylers left Schuylerville, “we have ever since had ‘Hamlet’ with Hamlet left out.” (310) The property had been in the family for 135 years, and the legacy of the Schuylers was forever ingrained in the landscape, character, history of the area. One of his daughters described Philip II weeping when he returned years later as a visitor instead of an owner.
One could argue that Hamlet without Hamlet (or Hamilton without Hamilton) would be a different story, but one full of interesting and worthy characters just the same. The archeological record at the Schuyler House documents the lives of many individuals and families of various races, backgrounds, and economic means. This collection has the potential to reveal information about black slaves working on the estate, laborers working in the mills and along the canal, domestic servants working behind the scenes to maintain the Schuylers’ fine quality of life, British and American soldiers during the American Revolution, and Native Americans inhabiting the area before and alongside the earliest Schuylers. The story of Philip Schuyler II and his wife and children is but one of many stories waiting to be explored.
For information on visiting Saratoga National Historical Park, please call the Visitor Center at 518-670-2985 or check our website at www.nps.gov/sara or on Facebook and Twitter: @SaratogaNHP
Hamilton, Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Inspired by the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.
Brandow, John Henry. The Story of Old Saratoga and History of Schuylerville. Albany: Brandow Printing Company, 1900.
Chaffers, William. Marks and Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain. Los Angeles: Borden Publishing Company, 14th edition.
Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. Penguin Books, 2005.
McCann, Jennifer. Completion Report, Archeology Backlog Cataloging, Saratoga National Historical Park, 2013.
Spode Shape Book, 1820. Spode Exhibition Online. http://www.spodeceramics.com/pottery/ceramics/shape-book-index
Starbuck, David R. The Schuyler House. In The Saratoga Campaign: Uncovering an Embattled Landscape. William A. Griswold and Donald W. Linebaugh, eds. University Press of New England, 2016.