Schuyler Sisters – Your Gal Friday

Your Gal Friday is covering the five amazing sisters from the Schuyler family. Today the Schuyler’s are most famous from the Hamilton musical featuring Angelica, Eliza and Peggy. In their real life, the Schuyler family has been in America since the 1650’s cementing themselves as one of the most influential in America’s founding. Even though these women couldn’t actively participate in politics like their fathers, brothers and husbands, they found a way to have their voices heard.  This is the real life history and legacy of your gals, the Schuyler Sisters.

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Early Life

In September 1755, Philip Schuyler married Catherine “Kitty” Van Rensselaer in Albany, NY. Catherine was a descendant of Kiliaen van Rensselaer, one of the founders of New Netherlands. Philip, also a descendant of Dutch immigrants, fought in the French and Indian War, was a General in the American Revolution, and held state and federal positions. They were one of the wealthiest families of that time.

Phillip Schuyler

They had 15 children together, however only eight would survived to adulthood.

  1. Angelica born February 20, 1756
  2. Elizabeth “Eliza” born August 9, 1757
  3. Margarita “Peggy” born September 19, 1758
  4. John born 1765
  5. Philip born 1768
  6. Rensselaer 1773
  7. Cornelia born 1776
  8. Catherine born 1781

Despite the unrest of the French and Indian War, which was fought in part near their childhood home, the gals childhoods were spent comfortably. They learned to read and sew from their mother.

The three oldest sisters came of age during the troubled times leading up to the American Revolution and met many of the prominent revolutionary leaders. Because of her father’s rank and political stature, the Schuyler house in Albany was the scene of many meetings and war councils. Benjamin Franklin stayed briefly with the Schuyler family while traveling.

Angelica

Angelica_Church_by_Richard_Cosway,_circa_1790The oldest Schuyler sister was 19 years-old when The Revolutionary War broke out in 1775. War tensions were generally not a time for a young woman to be worrying about finding a husband, especially a war against an established empire and who knows if this American experiment will work. However….

In 1776 John Barker Church visited the Schuyler house. John was a rich, British-born, and working to selling arms the American and French armies. On paper he was a great match for the first-born Schyler, no matter which way the revolution went. But his journey to America was, well, a little suspect. His first business in London went bankrupt and he might have been in America to avoid his creditors. Because of this, no one thought Papa Schuyler would approve the marriage, so Angelica and John eloped in 1777. They moved to Boston and Angelica became pregnant with her first child all before Hamilton even entered her life.

Over the next few years, John and his business partner secured contracts to supply the French and American forces. They made a lot of money.

After the war in 1783, Angelica and her family, of then, four children moved to Paris where John was the U.S. Envoy to the French Government. In Paris, Angelica would become friends with Benjamin Franklin, Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson –  we wonder if she talked to him about including women in the sequel?  

A few years later, the family would buy land in England and make John would make a successful run for Parliament. Angelica entertained, flirted, and was captivated by Princes, Kings, party leaders, playwrights and painters. One interesting painter she sponsored was John Trumbull. Odds are you know his paintings.

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Trumbull’s friendship with Angelica, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson allowed him to rise to great acclaim.

Angelica visited America in 1789 for the inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States.

Angelica and her family would move back to NY between 1797 and 1799. In this time Angelica’s son Philip planned a village along the Genesee River in NY. He named the town Angelica, after his mother. The design was to like Paris with a circular road and streets radiating out to form a star. Ironic when you think of the Hamilton Musical logo.

There is a an odd lack of information about Angelica from her return to America until her death in 1814. So we looked at what her husband was up to  –  and oh my goodness! There was a 1799 duel between Angelica’s husband and Aaron Burr and it gets a little weird. 

So John Barker Church, Angelica’s husband, is one of the founding directors of the Manhattan Company, an idea spearheaded by Aaron Burr. The plan was to bring fresh water to Manhattan as sanitation was terrible. But that wasn’t really the plan. The real plan was a create a bank to rival The Bank of New York, which Hamilton helped start. People would invest in the clean water idea and then because of a loophole Burr wanted to exploit, he would invest that money and receive the dividends to create a powerful bank. The Manhattan Company never created a fresh water system, it became Chase Manhattan Bank and today it’s still going and known as J.P. Morgan Chase.

John Barker Church accused Burr of taking bribes in the creation of the Manhattan Company and challenged him to a duel in Weehawken, NJ. John had bought a pair of dueling pistols in England. There are conflicting reports on which pistol’s Burr used but John most likely used his own. The two men fired and both lived. John apologized to Burr and the matter was done. But the John Barker Church’s dueling pistols have a little more history…   

When Hamilton’s son Phillip challenged George Eacker to a duel in 1801, he borrowed Uncle John’s guns. In turn, when Burr challenged Hamilton to duel in 1804, Hamilton used the same guns.

The guns are now the property of – and on display – at J.P. Morgan Chase NYC headquarters, the bank that Aaron Burr formed.

Alexander-Hamilton-Aaron-Burr-Duel-Pistols-JP-Morgan-Chase-Bank-270-Park-Avenue-NYC-2

The dueling pistols used by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, located in JP Morgan Chase headquarters 277 Park Avenue, New York City. Photo via Aaron Burr Association

What Angelica thought about all this crooked business and dueling, we don’t know but the next years it’s just a terrible time for the family;  Angelia’s sister dies, her nephew, Philip, dies in a duel, her mother and father die, and Hamilton dies in a duel. After all that sadness, there’s the weird war of 1812 between America and Britain. It’s a lot for any family to process.

Angelica Church passed away in 1814 at the age of 58. She was buried in Trinity Church in lower Manhattan near Eliza and Alexander Hamilton. Her husband moved back to England and died 4 years later.

Eliza

Elizabeth_Schuyler_Hamilton

In Morristown, New Jersey in early 1780, Eliza met Alexander Hamilton. After leaving Morristown, Eliza remained close with Hamilton, the two often writing letters back and forth. With Papa Schuyler’s blessing, the couple was married on December 14, 1780 at the Schuyler Mansion.

Shortly after their honeymoon, Hamilton was stationed in New Windsor. Eliza joined him and bonded with Martha Washington at camp. 

As Hamilton’s political career grew, Eliza aided him in his writing. Soon Eliza had to move back to Albany and soon realized she was pregnant with their first child Philip. The couple would have 7 more children as well as adopting Fanny Antill after her mother died. 

The Hamilton’s were noted to be a very social family. Alexander and Eliza often attended balls and the theatre. When Hamilton was appointed by George Washington as the first Secretary of the Treasury on September 11, 1789, her social life increased even more so. 

Eliza was pregnant with their sixth child when the Reynolds Pamphlets were published in 1797. This an admission of an affair by Alexander Hamilton but a rejection that he stole money from the government to cover it up. “It was the first political sex scandal, and quite extraordinary that such a thing could happen in the new nation,” said Valerie Paley, the NY Historical Society’s chief historian. “It was widely publicized and printed,” she says, “and it did ruin his political career. But he thought he could preserve something of his reputation by exposing everything.”

More on the Reynolds Pamphlet history from Vulture.com 

Eliza and Hamilton would remain married and interestingly the next child born after the scandal was named after Eliza. 

In 1801 their eldest son, Philip, was shot by George I. Eacker during a duel. Philip challenged Eacker because of a speech that criticized his father. He died at Angelica and John Church’s home with his parents by his side.

Two years later on July 12, 1804, Hamilton died during a duel with Aaron Burr. Eliza was beside him as he died. His final letter to Eliza incase he died read:

“The consolations of Religion, my beloved, can alone support you; and these you have a right to enjoy. Fly to the bosom of your God and be comforted. With my last idea; I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world. Adieu best of wives and best of Women. Embrace all my darling Children for me. Ever yours”

It was a bad couple of years for the Hamilton’s, in fact, Eliza’s daughter Angelica ended up living the rest of her life being cared for in a home because she could not handle what had happened.

After all of that death, Eliza was left to pay off her husband’s debts. Their large home was lost in a public auction shortly after Alexander’s death. Luckily, Eliza was able to purchase it back later on.  Whenever critics wrote poorly about Alexander Hamilton, Eliza was there to defend him.

In 1805, Eliza joined the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children, and a year later she helped to found the Orphan Asylum Society, which was the first private orphanage in New York City. She served as the agency’s director for nearly three decades, and it still exists today, as a social service organization called Graham Wyndham. In its early years, the Orphan Asylum Society provided a safe alternative for orphaned and destitute children, who previously would have found themselves in almshouses, forced to work to earn their food and shelter.

1-GW_Scan18_Donkey.tif-1024x796

First private orphanage in NYC founded by Isabella Graham, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, and Graham Windham Credit: Graham Wyndham

Elizabeth_Schuyler_Hamilton,_1825_painting_by_Henry_InmanDedicated to preserving his legacy, Eliza, with the help of her son John Church Hamilton, organized all of Hamilton’s letters, papers, and writings. She worked hard to have his biography and writings published. Eliza even wore a small package around her neck. It contained pieces from a sonnet that Alexander had written her when they had been newly married.

Eliza, during her nineties, moved to Washington D.C. to help Dolley Madison who was raising money for the Washington Monument. She was very dedicated to charity work throughout her lifetime.  On November 9, 1854 at ninety-seven, Eliza died in Washington D.C. Eliza was buried beside her husband and sister, Angelica, in Trinity Church in New York.

Peggy

Margarita_Peggy_Schuyler_(wife_of_Stephen_Van_Rensselaer_III)Born Margarita, “Peggy” was the 3rd born daughter. When she was 25 years old she married Stephen Van Rensselaer III.

The Van Rensselaer’s were wealthy landowners of Dutch ancestry and their family was tied to Philip Livingston a signer of the Declaration of Independence. But Stephen was 19 and he was also a distant cousin. So Papa Schuyler didn’t approve the marriage and like her sister Angelica did, they eloped.

When Stephen turned the ripe old age of 21, he was now responsible as the Lord of the Van Rensselaer Manor left to him by his late father.

A month before the Battle of Yorktown, 1781 there’s an interesting story in a book The Schuler Mansion at Albany: Residence of Major-General Philip Schuyler written by Georgina Schuler and published in 1911. It talks about what might be family legend and it might be true…

A group of Tori’s in the Mohawk Valley were employed to kidnap prominent citizens and bring them to Canada and hold them for ransom. The Schuyler sisters father, General Schuler was on the list. He was warned and hired guards. The General and his family were in the front hall, 3 guards were resting in the grass, 3 more were resting in the basement. A stranger came to the back gate and asked one of the servants if he could speak to the General. This didn’t sound good so the house doors were shut and locked and most of the family ran upstairs. When the assailants burst open the doors, Momma Schyler realized baby Catherine was still downstairs in her cradle. The General stopped her from going downstairs but Peggy ran down instead.

She grabbed her infant sister and rushed back up to the stairs. A Native American, who was with the Tori’s, saw her and threw a tomahawk at her, barely missing the baby, slicing her dress and landing in the stair railing. This didn’t stop her, but a Tori who thought she was a servant stopped her and asked where General Philip was. Peggy said (according to legend) “Gone to warn the town.” The attackers stole some things, retreated, and later kidnapped another man in town (General Gordon) and brought him to Canada. So good on Peggy for some quick thinking and saving her family.  

Peggy and Stephen had 3 children together but in a heartbreaking turn of events, only one lived to see adulthood.

Peggy is noticeably vacant in the second act of the play. In fact the actress who plays Peggy takes on the role of Maria Reynolds in the second act. This is because the real life Peggy got sick and died at the age of 42 in 1801. Hamilton was there when she died. He wrote to Eliza, “On Saturday, my dear Eliza, your sister took leave of her sufferings and friends, I trust to find repose and happiness in a better country.”

Peggy was first buried in the Van Rensselaer estate but later moved to Albany Rural Cemetery.

Cornelia

CorneliaAccording to traditional (romantic) sources, Cornelia’s courtship and marriage were fraught with drama. Because of her father’s objections, the couple eloped. In October 1797, Cornelia married New Jersey native Washington Morton. Cornelia and Washington had five children together. 

When her mother died in 1803 she was named among the children and heirs in the will filed by her father. She was to receive a proportional share of his substantial estate including a portion of the Saratoga Patent. 

At that time, these Morton’s were living among his family at Greenwich – a family estate two miles from New York City.

Cornelia Schuyler Morton died in Philadelphia in June 1808 at the age of 32. The news of the day reported,  “Her worth is very highly extolled.” 

Catherine

Catharine VR S by RobereCatherine was last child born and the youngest sister. George and Martha Washington were her sponsors when she was baptized. 

When she was 22, she married Samuel Bayard Malcolm. The couple would have four children together. 

Samuel wrote several books and was the secretary for (then) Vice President John Adams. Samuel died the same year as Angelica in 1814. 

Catherine married a second time to James Cochran. But he was her first cousin. James was a lawyer and a member of congress from Montgomery County.

In the book, A Godchild of Washington by Katharine Schuyler Baxter, there is an account of a relative that remembers Catherine and says about her, “I was very fond of her. She was the most intellectual, attractive, charming woman I ever knew.”

In the podcast, Leah and Phoebe talk about what legacy the Schuyler sisters left behind as well as a personal family connection for Leah. Listen here.

 

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ABOUT YOUR GAL FRIDAY

Your Gal Friday is a weekly podcast about female leaders, innovators and rule breakers.  Your hosts, Dr. Leah Leach & Ms. Phoebe Frear, talk about the life and legacy about a gal as well as what they have learned from her.

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