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General Schuyler and the Tories

by Benson J. Lossing

The Tories of the Revolution were the most bitter and annoying foes of the patriots who were struggling for their independence. The relation of the Whigs and Tories was that of belligerents in a civil war—cruel and uncompromising.

General Philip Schuyler, whose sleepless vigilance acquired for him the title of "the Eye of the Northern Department," was the terror of the Tories in Northern New York, from Sir John Johnson down to Joe Bettys. Schuyler was, for a long time, commander of the Northern Department. In 1781 he was not in military command. He lived at his country-seat at Saratoga a part of the year, and the rest of the time at his fine mansion situated in the southern suburbs of Albany. The British, under Burgoyne, having destroyed his mansion at Saratoga, and that place being exposed to incursions of the British and Indians, he made his residence permanently at Albany.

Early in August, 1781, an attempt was made by some Tories and Indians to capture him, that he might be used in exchange for some prominent British prisoner, and also to get rid of the watchfulness of that dreaded "Eye." In Saratoga lived a man named Walter Myers, who knew Schuyler well. He had eaten at his table in Albany, and knew the character of his house and its surroundings. Myers had joined the Tory Rangers of Colonel Robert Rodgers—a famous partisan on the northern frontier. The British authorities in Canada employed Myers, who had become a captain under Rodgers, to seize General Schuyler, Governor Clinton, and other prominent patriots in the region of the Hudson River, as far down as Poughkeepsie. Myers was at the head of the party of Tories and Indians above alluded to, who attempted to carry off Schuyler. I will let the General tell the story of that attempt in the following letter to General Washington, dated "Albany, August 8, 1781." I copied it from the original:

"On Saturday, the 29th, while with the commissions for detecting conspiracies, I received information that a certain Captain Myers, of Rodgers's Rangers, from Canada, lurked in the vicinity of this place, with an intent to take or assassinate me. This corroborated intelligence given to General Clinton by a person escaped from Canada. On the Monday following I was informed by a Tory (whose gratitude for favors received surmounted the influence of his principles) that a reward of 200 guineas had been offered by the government in Canada to bring me there.

"On Sunday last, Major McKinstry wrote me by express from Saratoga that a party under Captain Jones had ambushed some time about Saratoga, that he had certain intelligence that I was their object, and that another party was down here with the same intentions. I took every precaution, except that of requesting a guard from General Clinton.

"Last night, about nine o'clock, Myers, with about twenty others, made the attempt. He forced the gate of a close court-yard, and afterward my kitchen door, from which servants, who had taken alarm, flew to their arms, and by a gallant opposition at the door of my house, afforded me time to retire out of my hall, where I was at supper, to my bedroom, where I kept my arms. After having made prisoners of two of the white men, wounded a third, and obliged the other to make his escape out of the house, some surrounded it, and others entered it. Those in the quarter exposed to my fire immediately retired. Those who had got up into the saloon to attempt, I suppose, the room I was in, retreated with precipitation as soon as they heard me call, 'Come on, my lads! surround the house; the villains are in it.' This I did to make them believe that succor was at hand, and it had the desired effect. They carried off two of my men, and part of my plate. The militia from the town and some of the troops ran to my assistance, and pursued the enemy, but too late to overtake them."

Thirty years ago, Mrs. C. V. R. Cochrane, of Oswego, the youngest child of General Schuyler, told me the story substantially as it is told here. Her father also related that when the family fled up stairs from the hall, in affright, the baby was left behind in the cradle. Mrs. Schuyler was about to rush down stairs for the child, when the General interposed, saying, "Your life is more valuable." Her daughter Margaret, then about twelve years of age, hearing this, ran down for the baby, snatched it from the cradle, and started up the stairs with it. An Indian threw a tomahawk at her. It grazed the infant's head, cut a hole in Margaret's dress, and lodged in the mahogany stair rail. That infant became Mrs. Cochrane, and Margaret became the wife of Stephen Van Rensselaer, the Patroon, at Albany. The mansion yet stands; and well up the stairway may be seen the scar made by the keen blade of the tomahawk in the rail.