A statue of Philip J. Schuyler (1733-1804) has been removed from outside of Albany’s City Hall. Mayor Kathy Sheehan ordered the statue removed in 2020 because Schuyler was a slaveholder. Sheehan said at the time that removing the statue was one way to acknowledge the enduring legacy of slavery.
“Until recently, historians seldom mentioned Schuyler’s slaves, a startling and unpardonable omission to say the least,” Bruce W. Dearstyne wrote in the New York Almanack last year. Dearstyne was formerly on the staff of the Office of State History and the State Archives as well as a professor at the University of Maryland. “The history of Black people in New York State has received little attention, another serious deficiency. That needs to change,” he said.
The Schuyler statue, a gift to the city from Albany beer baron George C. Hawley, was dedicated by Mayor William S. Hackett on June 25, 1925. It has long been criticized for its placement in the middle of a busy intersection. Seventy years ago a plan to relocate the statue “where the public could have a chance to admire, without dangerous jaywalking” was “meeting with favor among influential persons,” according to a report in the June 1, 1952 Albany Times Union.
David Galin, a spokesman for Mayor Kathy Sheehan, said there had been “threats to topple the statue” since the worldwide protests following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in 2020.
“Any amateur effort to remove the statue likely would have been a major threat to the safety of anyone in the proximity to the statue,” Galin said in a statement to the press. “As it turns out, the statue was easily removed Saturday because it was not anchored to the plinth, and only gravity has kept it in place… [A] professional on the ground stated that it likely would have taken as little as a pick-up truck and a strong enough chain or strap placed around the top of the statue to topple it.”
On Tuesday Fort Polk in Louisiana was officially renamed for Sergeant Henry Johnson, an African-American hero of the First World War from Albany. The move comes after Congress authorized the Naming Commission to provide new names for U.S. military bases and other Department of Defense installations originally named after Confederate leaders.
A recent report issued by Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit art and history studio found that monuments and statues have always changed; monuments and statues overwhelmingly represent white males; the most common features of American monuments reflect war and conquest; and the story of the United States as told by our current monuments and statues misrepresents our history.
The study also found also found that 50% of the top 50 most memorialized people enslaved other people; only 10% of the top 50 most memorialized people are Black/Indigenous; and only 6% of the top 50 were women. More than 99% of monuments and statues have not been toppled or removed.
In 2011 the first monument to an individual person of color (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) was dedicated on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Suggestions for a new location of the statue include a museum and the Schuyler Mansion, which is located in Albany’s South End. The Mansion, built for Schuyler in 1763, was where he and his wife Catharine Van Rensselaer raised eight children, including Elizabeth Schuyler who married Alexander Hamilton there in 1780.
The Schuylers and Van Rensselaers were descended from affluent and powerful Dutch families. Schuyler Mansion was home to more than fifty enslaved people, servants, and artisans from 1763-1804.
Another option, raised by colonial historians, who generally support the statue being moved, is Saratoga National Historical Park. The park, managed by the National Park Service, preserves the site of the Battles of Saratoga, the first significant American military victory of the American Revolutionary War. Among the monuments there is one to Benedict Arnold which includes the form of his boot. Arnold played an important role in the battle, but it does not mention Arnold by name.
The Park also includes the Schuyler Estate in Schuylerville, the northern plantation and country home of Schuyler both before and after the Battles of Saratoga. The British burned the original house and its outbuildings during their retreat. The present house, erected in 1777 shortly after British General John Burgoyne’s surrender, was the center of Schuyler’s extensive farming and milling operations.
As a member of the Continental Congress, an influential New Yorker, and an experienced military officer, Schuyler was given the rank of major general on June 19, 1775 – making him third in command under George Washington and commander of the Northern Department of the Continental Army.
In the summer of 1777, as British forces overwhelmingly swept down the Lake Champlain and Upper Hudson River Valleys, Schuyler was blamed for the loss of Fort Ticonderoga and the American Army’s retreat and was replaced with General Horatio Gates on August 19, 1777, a month before the Battles of Saratoga. Schuyler helped the army from his mansion in Albany by forwarding supplies and encouraging reinforcements northward.
The plantation-style farm was originally part of the 1684 Saratoga Patent of 168,000 acres granted to seven New Yorkers (Schuylers owned 24,000 acres). Through inheritance and purchase the estate eventually came to Philip’s grandfather, Johannes Schuyler.
While in the care of Johannes’s oldest son, the farm was destroyed by a raiding party of Native Americans and French Canadians in 1745. Almost all of the plantation’s enslaved and free people (over 100) were captured and Johannes’s oldest son and heir to the Schuyler fortune was killed on the spot. Philip Schuyler became the family’s new heir.
Schuyler & Slavery
Philip Schuyler and his family, like many New Yorkers in the Colonial and Early Republic years relied upon the enslavement of men, women, and children of African descent as a basis of their wealth. Enslaved people cleared land, harvested trees, planted and harvested crops, fished, tended livestock, cooked, cleaned, served food and drink, and a myriad of other tasks.
As Philip Schuyler developed his inheritance starting in the 1760s, he also used enslaved people in his industrial developments including sawmills, a grist mill, and a linen mill. Between the Saratoga Estate and the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, there were typically 2-3 dozen enslaved people at any one time. Schuyler reported 14 enslaved people at the Saratoga Estate to the first federal census in 1790.
In that 1790 census, about 14% of New York families reported ownership of over 20,000 (about 6% of the state’s population) of their fellow humans, the largest population of any northern state. This averages out to 2.6 per enslaving household, so the Schuylers relied on unfree labor even more than most of their fellow New York slaveholders.
There is much we do not know about the people who were exploited on the Schuyler Estate. Saratoga NHP currently has a major study ongoing to learn more about slavery and the enslaved people there in anticipation of increasing the incorporation of their stories into the historic site’s interpretation.
The following names have been found in the family’s letters or records: Jacob, Harry, Peter, Lewis, Cuff, Dick, Jim, Patrick, Tom, Anthony, Claas, Cato, Britt, Phoebe, Bett, Pol, Jane, Dian, and Libey.
The end of slavery in New York came slowly. The first abolition law in the state was passed in 1799, during Philip Schuyler’s lifetime. However, it only freed people born after July 4th of that year, male children were freed by that law after they had turned 28, and females 25.
The State Legislature passed a second law in March of 1817 that would free any remaining enslaved people ten years later on July 4, 1827. When Emancipation Day finally arrived, around 4,600 people finally became free nearly three decades after passage of the initial law.
Illustrations, from above: The Philip Schuyler statue being removed by truck on June 10, 2023; a June 1, 1952 Time Union article calling for removal of Philip Schuyler statue to another location; the statue before its removal; Schuyler Mansion in Albany; and the Schuyler Estate at Saratoga National Monument.