SCHUYLER, PETER, military officer; b. 1710 in Bergen County, New Jersey, son of Arent Schuyler and Swantie Dyckhuyse; m. to Hester Walter and after her death to Mary —; had one daughter by his first marriage; d. 7 March 1762 after a long illness at his home near Newark, New Jersey.
On the death of his father in 1730, Peter Schuyler inherited a large house and grounds in Elizabethtown (Elizabeth, N.J.), 787 acres of land, and one-third of the considerable profits from the copper mine his father had developed and operated. Schuyler’s estate increased considerably upon his marriage to Hester Walter, the daughter of a rich New York merchant and business associate of his father. On his estate he maintained a park and a garden which the Reverend Andrew Burnaby described in 1760 as containing “a very large collection of citrons, oranges, limes, lemons, balsams of Peru, aloes, pomegranates, and other tropical plants.”
In April 1746, amid continuing hostilities between England and France, Governor Lewis Morris of New Jersey received orders from the secretary of state for the southern department, the Duke of Newcastle, to raise troops as part of an English expeditionary force gathering at Albany, New York, for “the immediate reduction of Canada.” The governor’s council recommended that Peter Schuyler, “a Gentleman . . . of good Estate & Reputation,” be given command of the New Jersey forces, known as the “New Jersey Blues,” and Schuyler was appointed colonel. Although the campaign envisioned by Newcastle came to nothing, Schuyler gained valuable experience as a commanding officer. The forced idleness at Albany from September 1746 on, the inadequate supplies, and the lack of pay caused discontent amongst all the provincial troops. In the spring of 1747, the president of the New Jersey Council, John Hamilton, received word from Schuyler that the Jersey troops had mutinied and threatened to quit “if they do not Receive his Majesty’s Pay that was Promised. . . .” To avoid further trouble, Schuyler used his “own private Creditt to procure money for the Pay of the Jersey Companys,” an action which brought him a reprimand from New York Governor George Clinton, who was commander of all the troops at Albany; Clinton felt that such generosity encouraged discontent among the other provincial troops. The only military action seen by the Jersey Blues was in relieving the fort at Saratoga which was besieged by the French about the end of June 1747. Schuyler returned to New Jersey in November 1747 and dismissed his troops.
In 1754, with the outbreak of skirmishes leading to the Seven Years’ War, Schuyler, as “an Officer of known Courage and Experience,” was again appointed to command the Jersey forces. From June 1755 through the end of the year, Schuyler served along the New York-Canada border under General William Shirley. He won the respect of both Shirley and Colonel William Johnson* of New York. In April 1756, Shirley ordered Schuyler’s regiment (about 500 men) to Fort Oswego (Chouaguen) to join an already heavy concentration of provincial and British troops. Oswego soon came under attack by forces under Montcalm and with the death of the fort’s commanding officer, James Mercer, a council of officers decided to surrender – a decision Schuyler evidently opposed. According to Montcalm, on 14 August “they gave themselves up as prisoners of war, to the number of 1700, including 80 officers and two English regiments. . . .”
From the fall of Oswego until October 1757, Schuyler was a prisoner of the French. He was taken to Quebec, where he occupied himself with two principal activities: gathering military intelligence, which a fellow prisoner, Joseph Morse, transmitted to British authorities in October 1757, and making himself guardian to other English prisoners. He sent back estimates of the number of troops in Canada, and noted that provisions in the colony were scarce. At his own expense, “this public spirited Gentleman” (as fellow prisoner Robert Eastburn described Schuyler) relieved the plight of many unfortunate prisoners; he loaned money to some and purchased others from their Indian captors. He was a close friend in Quebec of Robert Stobo and was later thanked by the Virginia House of Burgesses “for his unparalleled Tenderness and Humanity” to Stobo and others; subsequently he was reimbursed for some of his expenses. In October Governor Pierre de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil granted Schuyler parole to return to his home “to obtain funds to enable [him] to live in Canada.” Schuyler was accorded a hero’s welcome, not for his military accomplishments but for his “great Support of many English Prisoners, without whose Assistance several of them would have been reduced to the greatest Extremities.”
While on parole, Schuyler complained to William Pitt that he was “Impatient of Confinement, . . . [when my] Country needs [my] best Service.” But despite Pitt’s concern and the repeated efforts of General James Abercromby*, no exchange could be arranged. In an angry letter to Abercromby in June 1758, Vaudreuil recalled Schuyler, who returned in August authorized to negotiate prisoner exchanges. With the fall of Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ont.) to the English at the end of August, an exchange was arranged. The fort’s commander, Pierre-Jacques Payen* de Noyan, and the garrison were exchanged for Schuyler and 114 persons, including 25 women and children, many of whom Schuyler purchased “out of his own private Purse” from the French or their Indian allies.
During 1759–60 Schuyler was under the orders of General Jeffery Amherst* at Crown Point, New York, and in the Niagara area, and entered Montreal in September 1760 with the conquering English armies. He returned to New Jersey in November 1760 and died in the spring of 1762. A notice in the Pennsylvania Journal at the time of his capture aptly summarizes Schuyler’s career: he was “a brave and loyal Subject, who despised his own Ease, and all the Delights of an affluent Fortune, for the Service of his Country.”
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