Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Many Graves of Philip Schuyler

by Jessie Serfilippi

Philip Schuyler's grave
 in Albany Rural Cemetery.
There are many questions and myths surrounding the journey Philip Schuyler’s body took after his death in 1804. Some people believe there was a burial vault on Schuyler property that both he and Catharine were interred in. Others believe he was placed in the Van Rensselaer vault upon his death.
In reality, there was no Schuyler vault, and the Van Rensselaer vault was not Schuyler’s first resting place. This begs the question: where did he go?

When Philip Schuyler died at the Schuyler Mansion on November 18, 1804, he was eulogized throughout Albany and beyond. One newspaper laments: “At Albany, on Sunday evening, at 6 o’clock, P.M. after a lingering illness, Gen. PHILIP SCHUYLER, in the 73rd year of age,­­-- As an officer of Superior merit, a most valuable citizen, and enlightened and able statesman, his loss is deeply regretted.” The Boston Gazette reports his death “At Albany, on 18th inft. Gen. PHILIP SCHUYLER, aged 73.” While both of these newspapers cite him as being 73 at the time of his death, he was actually days shy of his 71st birthday. An Albany newspaper still incorrectly cites him as being 71, but spends half a column extolling him:

Albany, November 22, 1804.
IT is with deep regret that we announce the death of the Hon. MAJOR GENERAL PHILIP SCHUYLER, on Sunday evening last, in the 71st year of his age… A man eminent for his useful labours, in the military and civil affairs of our country. Distinguished by strength and intellect, extensive knowledge, soundness and purity of moral and political principles. He was an active, not a visionary patriot. He was wise in divising [sic], enterprising and persevering in execution of plans of great and public utility. Too intelligent to found his notions of political or civil government, upon the perfectibility of man, or upon any other views of the human character, than those derived from the experience of ages: And too honest to tell the people, that their liberties could be preserved in any other way, than by the wholesome restraints of a constitution and laws, energetic, yet free.
In private life, he was dignified but courteous; in his manners, hospitable; a pleasing and instructive companion; ardent and sincere in his friendships; affectionate in his domestic relations, and just in his dealings.
                                     The death of such a man is truly a subject of private and public sorrow.
On Wednesday his remains were entered, with military honors, in the family vault of the Hon. ABRAHAM TEN BROECK.

It is from this obituary that we learn two important facts about Schuyler’s death: he received military honors at his funeral and he was buried in the Ten Broeck family vault.

The military honors Philip Schuyler received upon his death were not unlike what deceased veterans receive today. Schuyler’s casket was draped with the American flag, then decorated with fifteen stars instead of today’s fifty. He also would have been honored with three volleys over his gravesite. This tradition originates from a signal used during ceasefire in battle to let the opposing army know all the dead have been removed from the field and the fighting may continue. It likely serves as a sign of respect for deceased veterans both now and during Schuyler’s time.

After the funeral, Schuyler’s body was placed in Abraham Ten Broeck’s vault, which sat some distance behind the Ten Broeck mansion on the north side of Albany. Schuyler was the first to be interred there. He was followed by Abraham himself in 1810, the Ten Broeck’s daughter, Margaret, in 1812, and Abraham’s wife, Elizabeth, in 1813.

While Schuyler’s body rested there peacefully for some years, that changed in the late 1830s. According to Theodore H. Fossieck, who writes twice about the vault and journey the bodies inside of it took for the Albany County Historical Association’s newsletters in August and September of 1989, the Ten Broeck’s vault fell into disrepair and collapsed in 1836.

Preceding the collapse of the vault was its journey through numerous different owners. The plot the vault sat on was sold three times between Elizabeth Ten Broeck’s death in 1813 and 1831. In addition to this, in the 1830s the City of Albany proposed the creation of three new streets in the area surrounding Ten Broeck’s former grounds, including the vault. The construction of these streets is what caused the grounds around the vault to erode, leading to its collapse in 1836.         

It is between 1839 and the late 1860s that the location of Schuyler’s body becomes somewhat of a mystery. The bodies in the Ten Broeck vault were moved by 1839, but the grounds of Albany Rural Cemetery, Schuyler’s current resting place, were not purchased until 1844. What lends further credence to the theory that Schuyler was not buried in Albany Rural until at least the late 1860s is that no General Schuyler grave site is mentioned in the first walking tour of the cemetery, which was published in 1858. Interestingly enough, there is a monument to different Schuylers mentioned in this first tour guide-- the Schuyler Brothers. While they are likely the first of the Schuyler clan to settle in Albany, who, exactly, they are remains unclear, and they are not mentioned in later guides of the cemetery. It is not until 1871, in another walking tour of the cemetery, that Schuyler’s grave site is mentioned. So where was his body for about fifteen to twenty years?

A letter from a Schuyler descendant to the Albany Rural Cemetery board of trustees provides a clue. In yet another walking tour of the cemetery published in 1893, the letter, written in 1869, from this descendant, Mrs. W. Starr Miller, is included. In it she refers to “the funeral of the late Patron Van Rensselaer.” The funeral she writes about is likely that of Stephen Van Rensselaer IV, sometimes known as the “young Patroon” or “last Patroon,” who died in 1868, one year before the letter is written.

Letter from Mrs. W. Starr Miller as published
 in 1893 walking tour of the cemetery.
The Van Rensselaer Manor Home.

In the letter she laments finding “the old family vault broken up,” and relays surprise when she discovered that its “contents had all been removed.” Among those remains said to be moved were “Gen. Schuyler, his wife and son, John Bradstreet Schuyler [who] had been placed, and interred in the Van Rensselaer lot […] without note or mark as to the spot, save the diagram of the lot [in Albany Rural]!”

The old family vault she refers to is likely the Van Rensselaer family vault, which sat on the Van Rensselaer Manor property in Albany. When the property was later surrounded by railroads the family abandoned it, and it was eventually dismantled in the early 1890s. But even as early as 1868—at the time of Stephen Van Rensselaer IV’s funeral—the vault which held the remains of the family had crumbled beyond repair.

It is with the help of this letter that the journey Schuyler’s body took after his death becomes slightly clearer. It seems as if, after his removal from the Ten Broeck vault in the late 1830s, he was placed in the Van Rensselaer family vault. He remained there until it became too unstable, and was then removed to Albany Rural Cemetery at some point before 1868, when Mrs. Starr Miller was present for Stephen Van Rensselaer IV’s funeral, and was placed in the Van Rensselaer plot at the cemetery with no headstone to mark his resting place. While so far the exact year when this transfer took place cannot be determined, it was at some point between 1858—when the walking tour that does not include him is published— and 1868.
Monument to Philip Schuyler as pictured
in 1893 walking tour of cemetery.

In 1870 Mrs. Starr Miller was granted permission by the Albany Rural Cemetery board of trustees to move Schuyler’s body to its current resting place within those grounds. She then commissioned the monument which still marks his grave site.

Where Catharine Van Rensselaer Schuyler’s body is remains somewhat of a mystery. If she actually was in the Van Rensselaer vault with her husband at the time of his removal then it is likely that she—and her son, Johnny Bradstreet, who was said to be buried there, as well—is still in the Van Rensselaer plot in Albany Rural, where her daughter, Margaret “Peggy” Schuyler Van Rensselaer, her husband, and his second wife, are buried. Also buried there is Abraham Ten Broeck, whose grave is marked not by a headstone, but by a flag holder that declares him a veteran of the Revolutionary War.

Philip Schuyler’s body went on quite the journey after his death in 1804, leading him from the Ten Broeck vault, then to the Van Rensselaer vault, and finally to Albany Rural Cemetery. Hopefully this is his final destination!

1 comment:

  1. The "Schuyler Brothers included in that 1858 walking tour guide refers to African-American riverboat Captain Samuel Schuyler and his family. Captain Samuel owned that white brick house with a belvidere at Westerlo Street and Ash Grove Place near the Mansion. They were prominent figures in the South End, but not the first Schuylers to settle in the area.

    Also, my recent research into why the Van Rensselaers moved their family tomb from their Manor to The Rural. It had not crumbled beyond repairs, but was still in use until a grim incident occurred: