On October 28, 2018, the Lower Manhattan Historical Association (LMHA), the Sons of the Revolution of the State of New York, the New York Veteran Corps of Artillery, and various French civic and military groups will hold the Sixth Annual Saratoga/Yorktown celebration in the cemetery at St. Paul’s Chapel and at Trinity Churchyard.
This celebration is intended to honor the American victories in the two most important battles of the American Revolution — the Battles of Saratoga on October 17, 1777 and the Battle of Yorktown on October 19, 1781. It is also intended to honor three important Revolutionary War figures connected with those battles who are buried in Trinity Churchyard — General Horatio Gates, Alexander Hamilton, and Marinus Willett.
Both Gates and Hamilton are buried within 50 feet of one another. However, although each played a significant role in American and New York City history during the Revolution and for more than 25 years thereafter, they were not friends. In the almost thirty years after they first met. They were usually bitter rivals.
Although few historians today recognize it, their ultimate and probably most significant and historically important conflict arose in the New York City elections of 1800, which resulted in the election of Thomas Jefferson as President. This local election would reshape the politics of the country for the next generation, and the politics of New York City for the next 150 years.
1. Backgrounds of Gates and Hamilton
Both Gates and Hamilton were from somewhat unusual backgrounds for men who would become major figures in the American Revolution and the period thereafter. Gates was almost thirty years older than Hamilton, although he outlived him by two years, dying of natural causes in 1806 at the age of 78, whereas Hamilton was killed in 1804 at the age of 47 in a duel with then Vice President Aaron Burr.
Gates, was born in 1728 to a lower middle class family in Malden England, where his parents were the chief domestic servants to the Duke of Leeds. He spent approximately 25 years in the British army primarily as a supply officer stationed in New York City and other places in the American colonies. He was present in 1754 at General Braddock’s disastrous campaign near Pittsburg during the French and Indian Wa. There as the quartermaster general to the British troops he first encountered a young colonel in the Virginia militia named George Washington.
As he progressed through the ranks, he hoped for further advancement, but with the Peace Treaty of 1763, the British army was downsizing. In order to move to higher levels at the time one needed either high social position or significant money of which Gates had neither. After spending some years in London waiting for a better position in the late 1760’s, he retired from the British army in disgust, and in 1772 at the age of 43 decided he would try his luck in America. He bought a farm in Western Virginia near George Washington’s brother Sam and settled into the life of a retired farmer on the American frontier.
However, he retained a keen interest in the developing controversy between the colonies and England, He was very much in sympathy with colonies fight for independence, as he had developed a distinct antipathy to the British aristocratic system. In April 1775, he went to see his neighbor’s brother George Washington, who had recently been appointed by Congress to lead the Continental army, to volunteer his services for the patriot cause. Washington apparently remembered Gates administrative skills in Braddock’s campaign and asked him to come up to Boston as the adjutant General of the American army (the key administrative position). By all accounts he there performed invaluable services in organizing the rag tag Massachusetts militias into a more professional army. His abilities in this regard came to the attention of important Massachusetts politicians such as John and Samuel Adams to whom he became an informal military advisor.
Although in an administrative position, he ambitiously sought an actual fighting command. At one point was placed in charge of all American forces in Canada, but there were no such forces after Richard Montgomery’s defeat at the Battle of Quebec they then ran into a jurisdictional dispute over who was to be in command In Northern New York State, with Phillip Schuyler, the wealthy upstate New York landowner who was in charge of the New York militias.
Congress ultimately initially resolved this controversy in favor of Schuyler (whose daughter Betsy Schuyler would later marry Alexander Hamilton)
2. Gates Placed in Command of the American Army at Saratoga
In the spring and summer of 1777 the British assembled a 12,000 man force including regular British and Hessian troops, Canadian loyalists and native American allies to come down the water corridor from Canada through lake Champlain and Lake George to Albany. The commander of this force was gentleman Johnny Burgoyne, the highly decorated and experienced general who the King and the British war department considered to be one of England’s best commanders. Burgoyne and Gates had known each other when they as young trainees in England were inducted into the same regiment.in the British army on the same day almost thirty years earlier.
After Fort Ticonderoga fell to the British in July of 1777 virtually without a fight, from the American point of view the situation could not have been worse. With the British in control of New York City after Washington’s disastrous defeat in 1776 and soon to take over Philadelphia after the Battle of Brandywine, it was generally believed that if Burgoyne successfully reached Albany (which seemed likely), the Continental cause would be lost. The Continental Congress, led by John Adams, the Chairman of its Committee of War, thus decided by a vote of 11 to 1 to replace Schuyler with Gates as the commander of all American troopsin the North. The British were amazed that the Americans would at such a critical juncture put their army in charge of a passed over former British supply officer who had never attained a rank higher than major in their army, had extremely limited combat experience, and only been permanently residing in the colonies for five years.
Two months later on October 17, 1777, Burgoyne surrendered his entire 10,000 man force to General Gates at Saratoga in what was the most stunning American victory of the Revolutionary War and its turning point. For more than 200 years there has been a debate about whether Gates or subordinate officers such as Benedict Arnold or Daniel Morgan are really responsible for the victory. However, any fair assessment must recognize that Gates was the commanding officer and had designed the successful strategy which led to the British defeat.
3. Gates Meets Alexander Hamilton
It was immediately after Gates victory at Saratoga that he first met Alexander Hamilton, then George Washington’s young aide. Hamilton’s background was in many ways even more unusual than Gates. Whereas most American revolutionary was leaders such as Washington, Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson were from extremely wealthy families, Hamilton was just the opposite. He was born in 1757 on the Carribean island of St. Nieves where his father was not married to his mother, and abandoned her when he was quite young.
His mother died when he was 12 and he went to work in a local counting house, where he showed considerable business ability. When he was 17, a local patron sent him up to New York, where he enrolled as a student at King’s College (today Columbia) of New York, and at the beginning of the revolutionary War he become a captain in charge of an artillery company of Columbia students, After Washington’s disastrous defeat at the Battle of Brooklyn as the army was fleeing north George Washington noted that Hamilton’s company stood out in its ability to cover the army’s retreat. Washington asked him to serve on his personal staff, and he soon became Washington’s key aide in handling his correspondence with other generals and others.
After Gates victory at the Battle of Saratoga, Washington needed a significant portion of the 18,000 troops under Gate’s command to join him to defend his remaining army in Pennsylvania.
Gates was reluctant to give up that many troops, and Washington asked Alexander Hamilton his 21 year old aide to go visit Gates and in effect order him to comply with Washington’s command. Hamilton firmly told Gates that he was acting on behalf of Washington, the commander in chief, and that Washington required him to surrender over key regiments of his army. Having just won the most important battle of the American Revolution, Gates was not happy with this order and was particularly disturbed that it was being delivered by a 21 year old aide, whom Gates found quite arrogant. Nevertheless, Gates reluctantly complied. Washington was reportedly delighted with the way Hamilton handled this delicate assignment, and increasingly would rely on him for other sensitive matters. The matter did not, however, improve relations between Washington and Gates, and apparently engendered a dislike between Gates and Hamilton which would persist for the next 27 years.
In the period immediately after the Battle of Saratoga, Gates was appointed by Congress to be the head of a Board of War to examine the American conduct of the War. At the time there were a number of Washington partisans including Alexander Hamilton and later Washington biographers who accused Gates of being part of a so-called Conway cabal in which he allegedly schemed unsuccessfully to place himself at the head of the army over Washington.
4. Gates Defeat at the Battle of Camden in 1780.
In 1780 Gates was given an independent command of an army in the South where the British had refocused their activities. Gates army was disastrously defeated by Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Camden in which he was accused of cowardice for running away from the battlefield allegedly to obtain reinforcements. Hamilton quipped that it was amazing that a man of Gates age (52) could run away so quickly and so far from the battle. Gates reputation never fully recovered from this defeat at Camden. To many at the time and since, the disastrous defeat at Camden overshadowed his victory at Saratoga.
Meanwhile Alexander Hamilton’s military career flourished as Washington appointed him to make the critical assault on Redoubt No. 10 at the Battle of Yorktown, which Washington correctly realized would greatly assist his reputation as a military hero after the War.
After the Revolutionary War ended on Evacuation Day November 25,1783, Gates returned to his farm in West Virginia. His first wife and 20-year-old only son had died suddenly at the end of the Revolutionary War. With his military reputation destroyed by his defeat at Camden, and haunted by allegations that he had intrigued to replace Washington, Gates at first he stayed on his farm in Virginia apparently depressed and allegedly drinking heavily.
By contrast, Alexander Hamilton’s post war career in New York City flourished in the years after War. Now ensconsed as a member of the politically and socially prominent Schuyler family, he became a prominent member of the New York Bar, founded the Bank of New York, New York’s only bank, and was leader in the effort to have the Federal Constitution ratified by New York State. In 1789, Washington appointed him the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, in which capacity he brilliantly pursued policies based on his study of the banking systems of England and Holland that revived the American economy and form the basis for the American economy today. By the end of the Washington administration he was the leader of the Federalist party both in New York City and nationally, and many considered him poised to be a future President of the United States.
5. Gates Remarries and Moves to New York City
Gates then successfully executed at a strategy that would bring him back to prominence. After unsuccessfully trying to woo Janet Livingston Montgomery, one of the wealthiest woman in New York, he met and married Mary Vallence, a 46 year old very wealthy widow living in Virginia. In 1790, when he was 62, he and Mary sold their residences in Virginia and moved to New York City, buying an estate called Rose Hill near present day 23rd Street. In post Revolutionary War New York City he found there were many more Revolutionary War veterans who fondly remembered his role as the commanding general at Saratoga and fewer who had first hand knowledge of his defeat at Camden. In fact in 1791 the New York City Council even held a ceremony to welcome him to the City and he and his wife Mary became over time somewhat more active in the City’s social and civic life. He maintained an active interest in veterans affairs and later served as the head of the New York State chapter of the Society of Cincinnati, a fraternal group of of prominent Revolutionary War veterans. He was also visited by a number of prominent social and political figures such as Thaddeus Kosciusko, the polish patriot who had built the fortifications at the battle of Saratoga and had an extended stay at his estate in the 1790’s with him and his wife. Other visitors included Thomas Paine, John Adams, and Aaron Burr with whom he formed a close friendship.
Politically his views veered toward the Democratic Republicans party of Jefferson against the Federalist party headed by Alexander Hamilton. At the time, however, the Federalist party of Hamilton, John Adams, Philip Schuyler and John Jay was very much predominant in New York City politics. Hamilton’s Bank of New York had a monopoly on banking, and despite the favorable economic times for the elite, many Revolutionary War veterans, particularly enlisted men, were beginning to feel left out of the City’s prosperity.
Gates became sympathetic to these Revolutionary War veterans facing difficult times, who began to congregate in a civic organization called the Tammany society.
With the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which made it a crime to criticize the President John Adams, protests against Adams and Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist party accelerated. The newly formed “Democratic” party with Thomas Jefferson as its presidential standard bearer announced it would challenge President John Adams and the Federalists in the elections of 1800. In this election, the New England states were likely to go for Adams and the Southern and Western states for Jefferson. The key battleground state was New York whose State Assembly would select electors to the electoral college. Historically, New York City, the home of Hamilton, had been strongly Federalist, and counties upstate had been anti-federalist. If the Democratic party could score an upset in New York City, Jefferson would be elected President.
However, with strict property qualifications for voting at first it appeared unlikely that the Federalists could be defeated. Aaron Burr the key Democratic party strategist sought to recruit as candidates for the New York State Assembly celebrities like Gates who would symbolize the democratic ideals of the American Revolution.
Although clearly in sympathy with the Jeffersonian cause, Gates at first protested that at the age of 72 he was too old to get involved in electoral politics in New York City, where had resided for less than 10 years. He also had another personal problem. John Adams had initially been his key supporter to be the commander at the Battle of Saratoga, and notwithstanding his political differences with Adams at the moment they had remained friends for the past 22 years. However, given the stakes facing the country, he ultimately agreed to run for the New York State Assembly on the Tammany ticket from the district where he lived.
Gates and the Democratic party won a resounding upset victory in the New York City elections of 1800 swinging the national election to Thomas Jefferson and the local elections to the Tammany Democrats. The importance of this local election and Gates role in it cannot be overstated. The defeat of the Federalist party in the New York City elections of 1800 destroyed any hope of Hamilton advancing to the Presidency. and within 20 years the Federalist party would exist only in the history books. The politics of the nation shifted for the next generation from the more aristocratic federalists to the more democratic Jeffersonians. Similarly locally the Tammany Society (later the predominant influence in Tammany Hall and the New York State Democratic party) would rule New York City for the next 150 years.
In 1804, after his death int he duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s funeral was one of the largest in the City’s history, and a large tomb to hold his remains was erected on the south side of Trinity Churchyard.
General Gates died in 1806 at the age of 78 and was also buried in Trinity Churchyard. In his Will he requested that he not have an elaborate funeral. He was then largely forgotten, so much so that his grave was “lost’ in Trinity Churchyard sometime in the 19th century.
More than a hundred years later, Charlotte van Horne Squarcy, a member of the New York City DAR discovered on all night July 4 walking tour that General Gates’ grave was unmarked. She interested Denise Van Buren, the then New York State Regent of the DAR who made it her regents project to convince Trinity Church to have a marker to General Gates placed in the Churchyard. On October 21, 2012 more than 150 people, including the Vicar of Trinity Church and senior officers of the National DAR attended a ceremony dedicating the plaque in Gates honor. The remarking of General Gates grave after almost 200 years was the catalyst for the current annual Saratoga/Yorktown celebrations in Trinity Churchyard.
This year the ceremony will be held partially in the cemetery at St. Paul’s Chapel because of the heavy construction underway at Trinity Church. We urge you to join us on the afternoon of October 28, 2018 for this event.
Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull 1806.
Jerry Kaplan says
Terrific informative article!