Patriot Leaders of New York

a sketch of a man in a powdered whig. He has high eyebrows, a nice coat on, and a distinct looking nose.
Philip Schuyler

National Archives

Philip Schuyler 1733-1804

Philip Schuyler came from a prominent Dutch family in the Albany area. During the French and Indian War, he served first as a captain then as a major of the New York troops fighting alongside the British. In 1768, he became a member of the provincial assembly, and he advocated for the constitutional rights of the colonies. In 1775, Schuyler became a delegate of the Second Continental Congress. When war came, Schuyler sided with the Patriots and was commissioned a Major General on June 19, 1775. In addition to his military duties, he also served as an Indian Commissioner, as the Americans attempted to gain the support of the Six Nations Confederacy against the British. Schuyler was in command of the "Northern Department," which included the area Fort Stanwix occupied. In 1776, he issued the initial orders to have the fort reoccupied and repaired by the Americans. The fort was renamed Fort Schuyler in his honor, by the first American garrison.

When the fort was under siege in August 1777, Schuyler, though hard pressed by British Gen. John Burgoyne's invading army, detached a part of his force under Benedict Arnold to march up the Mohawk Valley and come to the aid of the fort. It was this action by Schuyler that finally caused the British to end the siege and retreat. Some of Schuyler's actions during this period came into question however, and he was replaced by Gen. Horatio Gates. Gates thus claimed the honor of victories over Burgoyne's army at the Battles of Saratoga, though it was Schuyler's work that has made those American victories possible. Wanting to clear his name, Schuyler demanded a hearing and was eventually cleared of all charges.

Upset over the continued allegations made against him, Schuyler tried to resign from the army, and was finally granted his request in 1779. He resumed his work in politics and continued to serve as an Indian Commissioner for the rest of the war. In 1798, Schuyler was elected to serve as a United States senator, thus helping manage the new country he had helped to create.

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Jacket of superfine blue wool lined with linen & faced with red trim. It has silver buttons backed with bone &  silver lace on the buttonholes
Continental Army uniform coat worn by Colonel Peter Gansevoort of the 3rd Regiment of the New York Continental Line. He wore this coat during his command of Fort Stanwix, New York, in 1777.

Division of Military History and Diplomacy, National Museum of American History

Peter Gansevoort 1749-1812

Peter Gansevoort was born in Albany in 1749. His military career began in 1775, when he accepted a lieutenant's commission in the Albany County Militia. When Continental troops were raised for the invasion of Canada, Gansevoort traded his militia commission for that of a major in the 2nd New York Regiment. That fall, Gansevoort was promoted to the rank of colonel and given command of the 3rd New York Regiment. In the spring of 1777, the 3rd NY was ordered to Ft. Schuyler (Stanwix).

Col. Gansevoort commanded the fort during a 21 day British siege in August of 1777. He refused to surrender the post, and in response to a British summons for surrender said: "...It is my determined defend this fort and garrison to the last extremity..." Gansevoort's determination won out in the end, and the British were forced to retreat back to Canada. From the fall of 1777 through 1778, he divided his time between command of the fort and time in Albany with his new bride, Catherine (Van Schaick).

The 3rd NY spent the winter of 1778-79 posted at various points between Saratoga and Schenectady. In 1779, Gansevoort and his regiment took a role in the Sullivan-Clinton expedition against the British allied Six Nations. A bout of illness kept him in Albany during the winter of 1779-80, and he did not rejoin his regiment until the spring of 1780. In July of 1780, Gansevoort's regiment made up part of the garrison at West Point. Later that year he was placed in temporary command of the New York Brigade. In the fall of 1780, the 3rd NY was stationed at various points throughout the upper Hudson Valley, with Gansevoort's headquarters at Ft. Saratoga. With the consolidation of 1781, Gansevoort's regiment was absorbed into the 1st NY Regiment and colonel's commission was abolished. Gansevoort then accepted the rank of brigadier general, commanding the Albany County Militia. He held this post until 1809.

After the war, Gansevoort concentrated on rebuilding the family fortune. In 1788, Gansevoort became an Indian Commissioner; and in 1790, became Sheriff of Albany County. In 1800, he was appointed a U.S. Military Agent, and in 1809, a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army. During the winter of 1811, Gansevoort contracted various illnesses that shattered his health. Brigadier General Peter Gansevoort died on July 2, 1812 at the age of 68.

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A man in a fine thick wool blue and light yellow jacket points off into the distance, his other arm on the hilt of his sword
Colonel Marinus Willett. Oil on canvas, by artist Ralph Earl (1751–1801) ca. 1791, almost a decade after the war's end.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bequest of George Willett van Nest, 1916

Marinus Willett 1740-1830

Marinus Willett was born on July 31, 1740 in Jamaica, Long Island. His first military experience came during the French and Indian War. In 1758, Willett received a commission as an officer in a New York provincial regiment, which would bring him into contact with the Mohawk Valley for the first time. During that year, Willett worked on the initial construction of Fort Stanwix.
With mounting tensions between England and the 13 Colonies, Willett was an active member of the New York City Sons of Liberty. When New York raised five regiments in 1777, Willett received the rank of Lt. Col. in the 3rd New York Regiment. As the 3rd NY garrisoned Ft. Schuyler (Stanwix) in April 1777, Col. Peter Gansevoort took command of the regiment and Willett became his second. In 1775, he participated in the attempted American invasion of Canada. Thus began Willett's second tour of duty in the Mohawk Valley.

During the British siege of Ft. Schuyler in August 1777, Willett led a successful attack against the Indian and loyalist camps that greatly demoralized the Indian forces with the British. Shortly after this, Col Gansevoort sent Willett through British lines to find reinforcements. This was also a success. Willett remained at the fort until 1778, when he took leave to join the main army under General Washington. Over the next three years, Willett was involved in several different military actions, including a return to Fort Stanwix to serve under Col. Goose Van Schaick during 1779 expedition against the Onondagas.
a fine sword hilt with decoration, the same is in the painting above.
The smallsword of Colonel Marinus Willett; Made by C. Liger (recorded ca. 1770–1793);

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bequest of George Willett van Nest, 1916

In 1781, Gov. George Clinton of New York appealed to Willett to take command of all the American troops in the Mohawk Valley to deter the numerous Indian and loyalist raids. Counter-attacks led by Willett were partially successful, leading to the death of notorious loyalist leader Walter Butler. In 1783, Willett carried out one of the last military operations of the war, a surprise attack against British held Oswego. The attack failed when Willett's force, being led by an Oneida scout, became lost in the dark as they approached the fort.

With the end of the war, Willett returned to New York City, where he served two different terms as sheriff, and in 1807, a one-year term as mayor. Col. Marinus Willett died on August 22, 1830 at the age of 90. Recognizing the contributions he had made to his country, over 10,000 people mourned the death of this patriot.

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profile of a man with. he has a bold chin, distinctive nose, and striking eyes. he is dressed in military regalia
Benedict Arnold: The only man to serve as a General on both sides of the American Revolutionary War.

National Archives

Benedict Arnold 1741-1801

Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich, CT in 1741. He was the great-grandson of the Rhode Island governor of the same name. As a young man during the French and Indian War, he enlisted in the New York Militia twice, and twice deserted; each time under pressure from his family to complete an apprenticeship as an apothecary under his uncles at home. Arnold's parents died when he was 21 and he moved himself and his sister to Hew Haven, CT, where he opened a small store. He became one of the most successful merchants of the coast, owning ships that sailed from the Caribbean to Canada. In 1767 he married Margaret Mansfield, who bore him three sons.

In 1775, Arnold rode as captain of his Connecticut Militia Company to Cambridge, MA to address what had just happened at Lexington. While there he proposed to officials a return attack on the British. In 1775, he was granted permission to lead a force to British Fort Ticonderoga in New York, and capture it. Along the way he encountered Ethan Allen, and the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont, on the same quest. After much argument the two decided to share command; on May 3 they were able to capture the fort with little alarm, as the commander had few guards patrolling the grounds that night. Arnold's party then proceeded from Fort Ti to Crown Point and captured it much the same. If that wasn't enough, the men then captured Fort George (also in the Champlain Valley) all by the end of June 1775. Arnold's wife died that same month.

Although this success was considered a great one, Arnold was, in his opinion, forced from command of these new American posts. This did not hinder his ambition. In September 1775 Arnold participated in the American invasion of Canada, per orders of Gen. Washington. Though the attempt at adding a "Fourteenth Colony" failed with a desperate attack on Quebec, Arnold was considered by most to have served valiantly as a brilliant tactician and hero after being wounded in the leg during battle. For this he was promoted to brigadier general. In the summer of 1776 Arnold's skills as a strategist were once again called upon as he was placed in charge of a new American Naval Fleet in Lake Champlain. His orders from Gen. Horatio Gates were to defend the area and attack only if attacked. Upon learning of a British naval force under Guy Carleton settling in the northern end of the lake, Arnold took his fleet and stationed it towards Valcour Island in October. Several days of battle ensued. Arnold was not able to do much damage to the veteran British fleet. He only saved many of his men after grounding and burning their ships. Yet, in Gates' eyes, he had disobeyed orders by conducting an offensive maneuver.

Now at odds with not only his superiors, but with Congress over promotions he did not receive, 1777 became Arnold's year to prove himself. The first chance came in August, when Gen. Philip Schuyler ordered him to march west from Albany to prevent a force under British commander Barry St. Leger from over-whelming the beleaguered troops at Fort Schuyler. Arnold was able to turn St. Leger's superior force against him by blackmailing a loyalist man into spreading rumors amongst the Indians about his coming. St. Leger's allies retreated leaving him with no support; he ordered the retreat of his Regular force before Arnold ever arrived on August 21. As Arnold returned to Albany the Northern Army, now under command of Gates, was bearing down for a defensive against John Burgoyne to the north near Stillwater, NY. After the battle at Freeman's Farm and an argument with Gates about whether or not to attack the shaken British force, Arnold was relieved of command. On Oct. 7, Burgoyne struck again closer to the American lines. Seeing the enemy entrenched, Arnold rode to the field of battle to lead an American attack that captured an enemy stronghold all against Gates' orders. This minor victory however, led the Americans to gain the position they needed on the field to force a British surrender. Arnold was wounded in the same leg that suffered injury in Canada. Scorned by Gates, but officially thanked by Washington and Congress, he was promoted to Major General and sent to Philadelphia to recover, as he could not command the field.

While there he married Peggy Shippen, a girl with loyalist sentiments who bore him four sons. She is most famous though, for putting him in contact with the British commanders he would later side with. As allegations of his loyalties and conduct surfaced he requested a change of command that would put him back in New York in command of West Point, a well fortified American stronghold along the Hudson River, which he would later try to deliver into the hands of the British. Its capture would have been a great blow to the Americans. Although, he was unable to deliver this prize, Arnold was rewarded by them with a commission as a brigadier general in the British Army, a pension, funds for lost property, and command of deserters and Tories. The reasons for his change of sides have been, and will be, the subject matter of much speculation, conversation, and endless books.

It has been said that had Benedict Arnold died at the Battles of Saratoga, he would have been considered as one of America's greatest heroes. Instead, he died in England in June of 1801 as Gen. Washington's most brilliant tactician and America's worst betrayer.

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Goose Van Schaick
Goose Van Schaick's signature

Fort Stanwix National Monument Collection

Goose Van Schaick 1736-1789

Goose Van Schaick was born in Albany, NY in 1736. His father, Sybrant, was mayor of Albany from 1756-1761. Goose became a Lt. in the 1756 Crown Point expedition, and captain of militia in the capture of Ft. Frontenac under Bradstreet in 1758. By the end of the French and Indian War he had also served as a Lt. Col. for the 2nd NY Provincials and 1st NY Regiment.

In June of 1775 Van Schaick became Col. in the 2nd NY Regiment. He and his men joined Montgomery as part of the American invasion of Canada. Early next year, 1776, he was commissioned commander of the 1st NY Regiment while at Johnstown in the Mohawk Valley. He was wounded at Ticonderoga in 1777 and commanded a brigade during the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. Around the same time he also became a brother-in-law to young Col. Peter Gansevoort as his sister Catherine became Gansevoort's new bride.

What he might be best known for is his raid against the Onondagas while under command of Fort Stanwix in April of 1779. This preceded the Clinton/Sullivan Campaign of that year. Van Schaick left the fort with approximately 550 men, marched through the surrounding Onondaga territories for five days and 180 miles, was able to considerably disable the Nations forces for making war, captured 37 prisoners, 100 muskets, and never lost a single person before returning to the gates of the fort. He was given the Thanks of Congress on May 10, 1779 for his actions.

Van Schaick remained in command of Albany during the Clinton/Sullivan Campaign before marching south to participate in the Yorktown Campaign. On October 10, 1783, he was breveted Brig. Gen., and one month later he retired from the American Continental Army. According to most sources, Goose Van Schaick died on July 4, 1789.

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a balding man with brown hair sits hunched over a white pipe. He is wearing a brown vest with a collar.
General Nicholas Herkimer of the Tryon County Militia

Photo courtesy of Oneida County Historical Society

Nicholas Herkimer 1728-1777

Herkimer's father had established himself as a successful trader and businessman amongst the Palatine Germans in the Mohawk Valley. Nicholas followed in his father's footsteps and eventually had a thriving farm and business. In addition to his trade operations, Herkimer also made money portaging boats and goods over the "Little Falls" area of the valley for a fee.

During the opening hostilities between England and the colonies, Herkimer was made Colonel of the Canajoharie Regiment of the Tryon County Militia. When Sir John Johnson fled to Canada in 1776, Herkimer was appointed to be Brigadier General of the four Regiments of Tryon County Militia. He would be using the experience he had gained as a militia lieutenant fighting with the British during the French and Indian War. This time however, he would be siding with the rebels and fighting against the British.

Learning that Fort Schuyler was besieged by St. Barry Leger's forces, Herkimer gathered together around 800 men of the Tryon County Militia and some Oneida Indians to march to the relief of the fortress. St. Leger learned of Herkimer's advance and sent a portion of his army, made up of loyalists and Indians, to halt him. Herkimer and his troops were ambushed near the Oneida village of Oriska (Oriskany) on August 6, 1777. Wounded in the leg early in the fighting, the brave Palatine continued to calmly direct his troops as he smoked his pipe. The battle raged on for hours as former friends, family, and neighbors fought savagely against one another. Finally, St. Leger's forces retreated back to the fort. The militia had failed to reach the fort, but they had stood fast and held their ground.

Once home, it was determined that Herkimer's leg need to be amputated. A novice surgeon performed the amputation and infection soon set in. Ten days later, while Herkimer was reading from his beloved family bible, the hero of the Mohawk Valley died.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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