Biographies compiled by Fort Stanwix NM staff
Patriot Leaders of New York
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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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 resolution...to 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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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.
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.
Benedict Arnold 1741-1801
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.
Goose Van Schaick 1736-1789
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.