The name of Philip Schuyler adds another to the list of distinguished men indebted largely to maternal guidance. To his mother, a woman of strong and cultivated mind, he owed his early education and habits of business, with that steadfast integrity, which never faltered nor forsook him. His wife, the beloved companion of his maturer years - cherished his social virtues and added lustre to his fame. Those who shared his generous hospitality, or felt the charm of his polished manners, were ready to testify to the excellence of her whose gentle influence was always apparent. A brief notice of her is all that can here be offered.
Catharine Schuyler was the only daughter of John Van Rensselaer, called Patroon of Greenbush, a patriot in the Revolutionary struggle, and noted for his hospitality, and for his kindness and forbearance towards the tenants of his vast estates during the war. It cannot be doubted that the recent anti-rent struggles, which have almost convulsed the State of New York, can be traced to the amiable but injudicious indulgence of this great landholder and his immediate heirs.
The qualities which in some cases shone in remarkable acts were constantly exercised by Mrs. Schuyler in the domestic sphere. At the head of a large family, her management was so perfect that the regularity with which all went on appeared spontaneous. Her life was devoted to the care of her children; yet her friendships were warm and constant, and she found time for dispensing charities to the poor. Many families in poverty remember with gratitude the aid received from her; sometimes in the shape of a milch cow or other article of use. She possessed great self-control, and as a mistress of a household, her prudence was blended with unvarying kindness. Her chief pleasure was in diffusing happiness in her home.
The house in which the family resided, near Albany, was built by Mrs. Schuyler, while her husband was in England, in 1760 and 1761. It had, probably, been commenced previously. The ancient family mansion, large and highly ornamented in the Dutch taste, stood on the corner of State and Washington streets in the city. It was taken down about the year 1800. It was a place of resort for British officers and travellers of note in the French war. Fourteen French gentlemen, some of them officers who had been captured in 1758, were here entertained as prisoners on parole. They found it most agreeable to be in Schuyler's house, as he could converse with them in French; and his kindness made them friends. In 1801, when Mrs. Schuyler and some of her family visited Montreal and Quebec, they were received with grateful attention by the descendants of those gentlemen.
Near Saratoga, the scene of General Schuyler's triumph, he had an elegant country-seat, which was destroyed by General Burgoyne. It was one of the most picturesque incidents of the war, that the captive British general with his suite, should be received and entertained, after the surrender at Saratoga, by those whose property he had wantonly laid waste. The courtesy and kindness shown by General and Mrs. Schuyler to the late enemy, and their generous forgetfulness of their own losses, were sensibly felt and acknowledged. Madame de Riedesel says their reception was not like that of enemies, but of intimate friends. "All their actions proved, that at sight of the misfortunes of others, they quickly forgot their own." This delicacy and generosity drew from Burgoyne the observation to General Schuyler, "You are too kind to me, who have done so much injury to you." The reply was characteristic of the noble-hearted victor: "Such is the fate of war; let us not dwell on the subject."
The Marquis de Chastellux mentions that just previous to this visit, General Schuyler being detained at Saratoga, where he had seen the ruins of his beautiful villa, wrote thence to his wife to make every preparation for giving the best reception to Burgoyne and his suite. The British commander was well received by Mrs. Schuyler, and lodged in the best apartment in the house. An excellent supper was served him in the evening, the honors of which were done with so much grace, that he was affected even to tears, and said, with a deep sigh, "Indeed, this is doing too much for the man who has ravaged their lands, and burned their dwellings." The next morning he was reminded of his misfortunes by an incident that would have amused any one else. His bed was prepared in a large room; but as he had a numerous suite, or family, several mattresses were spread on the floor for some officers to sleep near him. Schuyler's second son, a little fellow about seven years old, very arch and forward, but very amiable, was running all the morning about the house. Opening the door of the saloon, he burst out a laughing on seeing all the English collected, and shut it after him, exclaiming, "You are all my prisoners!" This innocent cruelty rendered them more melancholy than before.
Thus were even the miseries of war softened by Mrs. Schuyler's graceful courtesy; while the military renown won by her husband's illustrious services was associated with remembrances of disinterested kindness bestowed in requital for injury. In reverse, her resolution and courage had been proved equal to the emergency. When the continental army was retreating from Fort Edward before Burgoyne, Mrs. Schuyler went up herself, in her chariot, from Albany to Saratoga, to see to the removal of her furniture. While there, she received directions from the General, to set fire, with her own hand, to his extensive fields of wheat, and to request his tenants, and others, to do the same, rather than suffer them to be reaped by the enemy. The injunction shows the soldier's confidence in her spirit, firmness, and patriotism.
Many of the women of this family appear to have been remarkable for strong intellect and clear judgment. The Mrs. Schuyler described in Mrs. Grant's memoirs was a venerated relative of the General. He lost his admirable wife in 1803. Her departure left his last years desolate, and saddened many hearts in which yet lives the memory of her bright virtues. One of her daughters, Mrs. Alexander Hamilton, now resides in Washington, D. C., and another at Oswego.