Friday, December 2, 2016

Who Were "The Servants"? Lisbon, Dick, and Bob

by Ian Mumpton

Sir-                                                                                                                             Dec. 27 1771
The horse sleds have drawn thirty four pieces of pitch pine timber since you left this. Lisbon Dick and & Bob have cut them, they have Also cut twenty large pitch pine logs… I am this Day going with the three Horse sleds to the Mill at Batskill to Ride Logs there… The ice has broke the upper flud [sic] Gates of the Mill Race but has done no Damage to the Race. Neither Grist Mill nor Saw Mill Gone any since Saturday Last on account of the Cold…                                                        I am Sir your Hlb Serv                                                                                 Ph Lansingh

In addition to his land speculation and the management of his farming property in Albany and Saratoga, Philip Schuyler derived a significant income from the operation of grist, flax, and lumber mills at his Saratoga estate, the refined output of which was sold at good profit in New York City and the sugar-producing islands of Jamaica and Antigua. The above letter, written by Philip’s overseer Philip Lansingh, reveals that men enslaved by the family were tasked with supplying the sawmill with cut timber.

Philip Schuyler's Mills at Saratoga,
from Benjamin Lossing's Pictorial Field Book of the American Revolution
Three men are mentioned by name, Bob, Dick, and Lisbon. While the specific details of the lives of the enslaved are often lost to history, there are enough references to these individuals in Schuyler’s papers that we can begin to restore a few glimpses of their identities.

For example, at some point in the last weeks of December 1771, these three men were sent out from the Schuyler’s Saratoga estate to cut timber. It was a cold day, based on Lansingh’s descriptions of ice damage to the mills, with at least enough snow on the ground to warrant the use of horse-drawn sleds. Fortunately for Dick and Bob, they had newly soled shoes to protect against the snow; both men are listed in a family business receipt for shoe repairs dated December 16th of that year. It is not clear why Lisbon did not receive new shoes or shoe repairs at that time. Perhaps his shoes were deemed to be in good enough condition at the time as to not need repairs.

The trees that they had been sent to cut were Pitch Pine. Pitch Pine was sought after for a variety of uses, principally for construction as the pitch from whence it derived its name provided lasting protection against damp conditions. However, it can be difficult to harvest for timber as the trunk rarely runs in long, straight sections suitable for milling (largely due to the tree’s ability to grow in poor, sandy soil and to send out new shoots if the main trunk is damaged). Despite this, Lisbon, Dick, and Bob were able to cut thirty four sections suitable for milling, as well as a number of large logs. These logs were probably sections too knotted or bent for milling, but which could be turned into firewood; an ever-necessary commodity.

It is possible that these same men not only cut the wood, but brought it to the mill themselves. With the ground frozen solid and snowed over, large horse-drawn sleds were used to transport the timber. While Lansingh does not specify who actually drove the sleds, Lisbon and Dick are both mentioned in other Schuyler documents as carters or wagoners, conveying goods and people for the Schuyler family. Lisbon in particular is mentioned in at least four other sources, always in regards to his driving goods back and forth between Albany and Saratoga. These men’s ability to drive carts and sleds was a large part of their value to the Schuylers, as this was a specialized skill-set that involved being able to work with draft animals, manage tack and harness, and maintain the carts and sleds in their charge.

Lansingh’s letter to Schuyler, while brief and focused on reporting mill activity, offers a surprisingly specific look into the daily lives of Dick, Bob, and Lisbon. Bob unfortunately seems to disappear from the historical record after this letter. Dick and Lisbon however can be traced a bit farther. As mentioned, both are referenced as driving carts for the Schuyler family over the years. Dick was still enslaved by the Schuylers in 1787 when it appears that he suffered from a prolonged illness for which he was treated three different times by Dr. Samuel Stringer, who prescribed the patented cure-all of Turlington’s Balsam. He also disappears from the historical record at this point, and it is unclear whether he recovered from his illness. Lisbon seems to have been transferred to Philip Schuyler’s oldest son, John Bradstreet Schuyler, in 1787 when Philip gave his son control of the Saratoga estate, but reverted to Schuyler’s possession upon the death of young “Johnny” in 1795. He is last referenced on January 18th, 1796, twenty five years after the letter from Philip Lansingh.

Stay tuned as we continue our efforts to uncover the lives and the identities of the approximately thirty people of African descent who made up the enslaved “servants” of the Schuyler family. Want to learn about other aspects of the Schuyler family history as well? Check out our other series on this blog as we explore Philip Schuyler’s military career, share information on site collection objects, parse out fact from fiction with Mansion Mythbusters, and document all of the exciting restoration work currently taking place at the site. Next on the docket: Part Two of Three in the Mansion Mythbusters series on Alexander Hamilton and Slavery coming on Wednesday. Did you miss the first one? Click here to get caught up! Also, keep your eyes peeled for an article on Angelica Schuyler and her contributions to military intelligence.


  1. Very interesting, thanks! So Anthony must have been a carter/driver later on.

    1. I don't have the references in front of me, but I believe that Anthony/Tony/Tone (if all are the same person) overlaps in service with some of the references here. While not all of the men enslaved under Schuyler have the skill set for driving, those that do were highly valued and are also the most frequently mentioned in letters since the letters would often herald the arrival of people or goods that the recipient should expect. With an estate as large and complex as Schuyler's in Saratoga, he would have had multiple drivers employed such that he could send multiple errands at a time. Likely, the driving was also just one among numerous tasks these men were performing, as evidenced by Lisbon, Dick and Bob also cutting the wood here.