Colonial Women – Part II

By Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

Due to the success of the musical about him, nearly everyone has been reintroduced to Alexander Hamilton. However, readers may not recognize the maiden name of his wife, Elizabeth Shuyler, who was born Aug. 9, 1757, and raised in Albany, N.Y.

Elizabeth, called Betsey, was the second daughter of Philip Schuyler and his wife Catherine Schuyler. When she was born, her father was a young captain under General Bradstreet, the quartermaster of the English army during the French and Indian War.

In her book “Dames and daughters of colonial days,” Geraldine Brooks writes “when she was only two months old, the frightful massacre of the German Flat occurred and the refugees fled to Albany.”

Brooks said that the Shuyler family sheltered the refuges in the barn of their home. After the war, they built their mansion, which still stands at 32 Catherine St. in Albany, N.Y. Brooks described the mansion, designed by Philip Shuyler, as magnificent and impressively placed on high ground with a view of the river. It was a long, two-storied home with a great large hall and rows of colonial pillars, Brooks said.

Philip Schuyler aspired to create a lovely country life in Albany for his family, and by Brooks’ account, he did.

“On all sides stretched the flourishing vegetable and flower gardens, the orchards and the vineyards, and the fields of flax and grain,” Brooks wrote. “The house overflowed with hospitality and generosity. … The Dutch kitchen was always redolent with the smell of delicious bread and cakes and pies.”

Brooks described candle dipping, cider making, soap making spinning, weaving and dyeing, orchard and crop harvesting along with outdoor festivities were part of the household’s seasonal routine.

However, education was also important to the family and when the time came, Elizabeth Shuyler and her sisters were sent to New York for school. Letters from relatives reveal they took to their studies, were healthy and made good progress there, Brooks said.

During her childhood, Elizabeth Shuyler had a close relationship with local Indians. In fact, she learned weaving, plaiting and other skills from them, Brooks said.

The high regard for Elizabeth and her family were evidenced by a story known to Brooks and retold in her book about Elizabeth Shuyler being named and adopted by the local tribe:

″‘All the chiefs and greatest warriors of the Six Nations,” says the chronicler, “had met in solemn council, row after row of fine specimens of manhood standing silently around an open space where a bit of greensward gleamed in the sunshine. Although they were dressed in all the barbaric pomp of war-paint, there was a peace on their faces as they stood awaiting the approach of a small group of whites — one or two officers in full uniform and a tall, commanding man in the prime of life, leading by the hand a slim girl of about thirteen dressed in white uncovered head and half-curious, half-frightened eyes. This man was Gen. Philip Schuyler, whom the Indians honored as they did no other white man; and they had met to offer him a tribute of devotion. At a sign from their great chief, their ranks parted to admit General Schuyler, who advanced into the open space, still leading his little daughter. There, with much pomp and many ceremonies, the child was formally adopted by the Six Nations, the chiefs ending the sacred rites by laying their hands upon her head and giving her an Indian name meaning ‘One of us.’”

Next week, we will take a look at Elizabeth Shuyler’s courtship, marriage and life as an adult.

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