Who Fought the War?

Albany people and the Revolutionary army

from
The Other Revolutionaries
by
Stefan Bielinski


Even before the signing of the peace treaty, the revolutionaries turned their attention to distributing the tangible fruits of their awesome victory. In 1782, the New York State legislature identified those who would be eligible to receive bounty lands in reward for service to the revolutionary cause. Basic lists of those judged deserving were the membership rolls of the county militia regiments. Additional bounty lists and subsequent grants further rewarded service in the New York Line and in other parts of the Continental army. The Albany County militia was represented by seventeen regimental rosters. A bounty list for the First Regiment identified many of the patriots who lived in the city of Albany. Three hundred eighty-five names appeared on the First Regiment bounty roster. Those names roughly represented the community's male members who were between the ages of sixteen and sixty during the struggle. With the obvious exceptions of major military leaders, virtually all of the able-bodied men of the community who could be identified as friends of American liberty were included on the First Regiment land bounty list.1

These were the active revolutionaries - those who fought for liberty and helped achieve American independence. But not all of them were soldiers in the revolutionary armies. Nor did all of them march with the Albany militia. The First Regiment bounty roster also included those who had worked for the political revolution and also those who fought the war on the homefront supplying and supporting the American cause with the resources and services that enabled American forces to combat the British. But who in particular was judged by the new government as a fighter for American liberty? This chapter will begin systematically to address the question of "Who were the Revolutionaries?" by approaching it from the vantage point of the Albany community in order to evaluate the price of liberty in terms of its drain on Albany's human resources and its strain on the community economy.

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Most studies of New York during the American Revolution have included some consideration of Albany's role in the war. Historians have agreed that Albany was a hotbed of revolutionary activity and generally they have painted a picture of a strategically located community imperiled by the British, Tories, and Indians, inundated by soldiers, and transformed into a military base, supply center, and hospital. They have pointed to the wartime exploits of its military leaders, to the fervor of its active and assertive committee network, and have presented anecdotes that have helped sustain the mystique of Albany's iconoclastic nature. Unable to find heroic deeds for its rank-and-file people, the community's traditional historians mostly have ignored their wartime activities.2.

Those perceptions of Albany were based on a number of logistical as well as historical factors. First, the upriver community was a comparatively safe place and the principal patriot stronghold between the British in New York City and in Canada. Albany was located at an important interior crossroads and a critical transportation interchange. By the 1770s, Albany was the established regional center and offered a range of human resources not otherwise available north of New York City. And Albany people were not unfamiliar with the dangers and exigencies of wartime conditions -- having experienced them several times during the preceding colonial wars. However valid, those facts have been interpreted mostly from the papers and accounts of the important outsiders who stopped in wartime Albany. At the same time, those external and top-down perceptions and the scholarship they have inspired tell us very little about the actual community or its people. Utilizing community-based resources and focused on the lives of those actually living in Albany during the era of the Revolution, this chapter will begin to address the wartime experiences of the rank-and-file community by visiting each Albany home. That analysis begins with a discussion of the soldiers.

The city contributed a large number of officers to the Revolutionary army. With no more than 500 men aged twenty to fifty living in the community at the beginning of the war, more than fifty Albany residents were commissioned as officers by the Continental Congress, New York State, or by another revolutionary body. With some exceptions, these officers were Albany's native sons all of whom were born between 1730 and 1760. They came from the community's business families; a few had served in the last colonial war; most had some experience in the militia. None of them were professional or career soldiers.

Nevertheless, Albany officers were well-represented among the legendary heros of the Revolution. That recognition begins with the careers of Philip Schuyler, Goose Van Schaick, and Abraham Ten Broeck -- sons of the city's most prominent and traditional families, major players in regional business enterprises, and veterans of the last colonial war. Those attributes and experiences qualified each of these native sons for important wartime responsibility. They served well -- making major contributions to the winning of the War for Independence. Understandably pre-occupied with their wartime commands at the regional, state, and county levels respectively, they would not be able to focus much on community-level concerns. However, as the principal figures in extensive military and supply networks, their needs and concerns reached deeply into the Albany community.

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The eldest son of an Albany mayor, Goose Van Schaick also represented one of the community's first families. His military career began in 1755 when the eighteen-year-old Albany boy was commissioned a lieutenant in twenty-one-year-old Philip Schuyler's company of New York troops. By 1758, he was a captain and veteran of two major campaigns and was on his way to help take Fort Carillon from the French. In a skirmish near Lake George, Van Schaick was struck in the face with a musket ball. Rising above a disfiguring wound that ultimately would claim his life, Van Schaick led his company through the disastrous campaign and subsequent actions as well. Leadership ability and administrative skills brought him two more promotions. By the end of the war, Lt. Col. Goose Van Schaick was among the most experienced and highly regarded New York soldiers.

But this pre-eminent officer was primarily a businessman. Raising a family in his new home on Market Street, by 1775 he was the central figure in a family business network which exported farm and forest products from extensive Hudson Valley land holdings. Courted by the British who recognized his potential usefulness, Goose Van Schaick had declared early for the American cause. A signer of the Sons of Liberty constitution in 1766 and a member of the city Committee of Correspondence, he was appointed colonel and called on to raise and equip an infantry regiment by the New York Provincial Congress. Philip Schuyler placed him in command at Albany with orders to forward men and supplies to the northern front. Filling out his regiment with the young men of the community as well as with more general recruits and ever in need of supplies and provisions, the colonel was called on daily to balance wartime priorities with the rights and well-being of his neighbors - the people of Albany. From his Albany headquarters, Van Schaick commanded the "First New York Regiment" whose companies were assigned to duties and outposts across the new state. A constant test of his commitment and contacts was to maintain the regiment's strength of more than 450 officers and men and to have them properly outfitted and supplied. In 1778, the First New York marched to Valley Forge, took part in the Battle of Monmouth (New Jersey), was deployed in the lower Hudson Valley, and against the Iroquois in the upper Mohawk Valley, By 1780, the regiment had returned to Albany where the Van Schaick focused on recruiting and supply -- serving as the Continental army administrator for the Northern Department. Passed over for promotion and suffering from progression of a now cancerous facial condition, Goose Van Schaick nevertheless commanded his regiment in the Hudson Valley until the army was disbanded in June 1783.

Abraham Ten Broeck was the leader of the Albany County Militia. Like his boyhood friends, he came from an elite New Netherland family and was the son of an Albany mayor. His business education began in the New York commercial house of his sister's husband, Philip Livingston. After visiting other American cities to enhance his understanding of colonial trade, he returned to Albany to pursue a mercantile career. In 1763, he married the daughter of the Van Rensselaer patroon and was named trustee and administrator of Van Rensselaer manor on the death of Stephen Van Rensselaer II in 1769. Before the war, he was one of Albany's leading developers - opening up lots near the northern city line, overseeing construction of the north dock, building roads from the city into Watervliet, and engaging tenants on behalf of the Van Rensselaers. Many of these new people found additional work in his mills, lumberyard, and stables.

More so than Schuyler or Goose Van Schaick, Abraham Ten Broeck was essentially an Albany figure who served on the city council, was an active member of the Albany Committee of Correspondence, and was named mayor of Albany following the death of John Barclay in 1779. This lumber magnate engaged in a variety of related businesses which with many public offices made him the most visible community member. At the same time, he acted as administrator of the surrounding Van Rensselaer manor from 1769 to 1784. Ten Broeck also served at the provincial level - representing Rensselaerswyck in the colonial Assembly, and was elected to all four Provincial Congresses. He was appointed to the Continental Congress in 1775, and was chosen president of the New York State Convention in 1777. He later served as an Indian Commissioner, in the state Senate, and in the judiciary. Despite scant actual military experience, this wealthy Albanian was promoted through the provincial militia ultimately attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In 1775, he was named colonel of the Albany County militia and then Brigadier General - with his command ultimately extended to Dutchess and Ulster County as well.

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Despite a deep pool of manpower within the general population, the strength of the Albany militia was repeatedly sapped by the exemption of many of the community's craftsmen and artisans from active duty and their assignment to work activities by General Ten Broeck. Some of them were replaced by even younger sons and by newcomers. But mostly, the city and Watervliet regiments in particular remained chonically understaffed.

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The city of Albany contributed important parts to the American war effort. Some of its principal personages made outstanding leadership contributions to the winning of the war. Others served in the rank-and-file of the revolutionary armies at the continental, state, and local levels. Some Albany boys saw active duty - fighting in pitched battles from Montreal to Yorktown. Yet why were so few of their older brothers and fathers and so few of the newly arrived residents of the community called on to march with the revolutionary armies? The next chapter will look more closely at the contributions of an even larger group of Albany revolutionaries.

The Other Revolutionaries table of contents



notes

These excerpts are taken from a draft chapter last revised in January 1998. It focuses on Albany people in the military during the Revolutionary War. They are presented here to provide a broader perspective on the subject. Consider this essay to be in-progress!

1 New York in the Revolution as Colony and State (Albany, 1904), 221-22. Albany people were called to organize into militia companies on May 3, 1775. Except for the British sympathizers and adherents, unconnected migrants from other states, the most unsuitable foreigners, invalids, the very old, and Blacks, the First Regiment roster almost perfectly comprehends the community's at-risk male population from Abbott to Zabriskie. An assessment roll for March 1779 named 616 householders in the city. The difference of 231 people between the First Regiment bounty list and the assessment roll being made up of women householders (72), officer/householders, older men, foreigners and newly arrived, Blacks (2), and those who could not be called friends of Liberty.

2 The most focused of the scholarly accounts of Albany in the Revolution come from Alice P. Kenney - foremost historian of the New Netherland Dutch. Her Bicentennial booklet, Albany: Crossroads of Liberty (Albany, 1976), encompassed her earlier work on the Gansevoort family, on loyalists, and on Dutch culture. However, Crossroads of Liberty is mostly about the regional theater and does not reach beyond the community's elite residents. Kenney's overall approach to the eighteenth century is summerized in Stubborn for Liberty: The Dutch in New York (Syracuse, 1975). Don R. Gerlach's two volumes on Philip Schuyler and the American Revolution in New York, 1733-1777 (Lincoln, NE, 1964) and Proud Patriot: Philip Schuyler and the War of Independence, 1775-1783 (Syracuse, 1987), are tightly focused on Albany's leading revolutionary and say surprisingly little about Schuyler's city or the activities of his neighbors. The eye-opening The American Revolution in New York: Its Political, Social and Economic Significance prepared by the Division of Archives and History (Albany, 1926), was my bible in early years. Despite the broad claim of its sub-title, like The Bible it has proven inadequate. Edward Countryman's A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760-1790 (Baltimore, 1981), is the most comprehensive and interesting published treatment of the era. But because of a broad synthetic sweep, it sheds little new light on life in Albany. The antiquarian Albany histories produced by Howell and Tenney, Joel Munsell, Cuyler Reynolds, and Arthur Weise cited in Sources on the People of Colonial Albany: Narrative Sources, compiled by Tricia A. Barbagallo (Albany, 1992), represented essential readings (and for that matter the only narratives available twenty years ago) for my earlier work on Abraham Yates, Jr. They too are preoccupied with larger military concerns. However, they have been comprehended, corrected, and mostly superceded by the works cited above and by this study.

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first posted: 9/10/01; last revised 4/25/02