Rochefoucauld visits the Saratoga Battlefield

Schuyler House, Schuylerville
Schuyler House, Schuylerville

I have seen John Schuyler, the eldest son of the General; for a few minutes I had already conversed with him at Skenectady, and was now with him at Saratoga. The journey to this place was extremely painful, on account of the scorching heat, but Saratoga is a township of too great importance to be passed by unobserved. If you love the English, are fond of conversing with them, and live with them on terms of familiarity and friendship, it is no bad thing, if occasionally you can say to them, “I have seen Saratoga.

As the Duke de la Rochefoucauld traveled through upstate New York in 1795 (finding Albany somewhat inhospitable and missing some business opportunities), he visited Saratoga and noted its tremendous importance as the place “where the independence of America was sealed.” There he visited John Schuyler, whose dwelling-house still stands eight miles north of the battlefield. John was the son of General Philip Schuyler, who had substantial holdings in Saratoga; John managed them until the very year of Rochefoucauld’s visit; he died in August of that year, aged only 30.

You see the spot, where General Burgoyne surrendered up his sword to General Gates; where the man, who two months before had threatened all the rebels, their parents, their wives, and their children with pillage, sacking, firing, and scalping, if they did not join the English banners, was compelled to bend British pride under the yoke of these rebels, . . . This memorable spot lies in a corner of the court-yard of John Schuyler; he was then a youth, twelve years old, and placed on an eminence, at the foot of which stood General Gates, and near which the American Army was drawn up, to see their disarmed enemies pass by. His estate includes all the tract of ground, on which both armies were encamped, and he knows, as it were, their every step.

Rochefoucauld expressed astonishment that the site itself was, to that point, unmarked:

It is a matter of astonishment, that neither Congress nor the Legislature of New York should have erected a monument on this spot, reciting in plain terms this glorious event, and thus calling it to the recollection of all, who should pass this way, to keep alive the sentiments of intrepidity and courage, and the sense of glory, which for the benefit of America should long be handed down among Americans from generation to generation. The English would not have suffered a similar occasion to pass unimproved. John Schuyler at least should have relieved the modesty of government, were it only by marking the spot with a plain, simple stone, which no American would behold but with those brave and glorious feelings, which might be turned to the greatest advantage to the state.

It took a little while. The site wouldn’t fall to control of New York State until 1927, and became a National Historical Park in 1938.

Schuyler was, according to Rochefoucauld, then managing an estate of about 1500 acres, “five hundred of which are completely cleared of wood.” He said it primarily produced Indian corn, and that there was a corn mill and two saw mills. “John Schuyler makes more hay, than is necessary for the use of his farm; but by a calculation, founded on indolence rather than mature deliberation, it appears to him more profitable to sell the hay, than to fatten cattle.” Despite the size of the estate, it was noted that the aggregate of his taxes (including poor tax and county assessments to built a court-house and jail) didn’t exceed $35 a year.

John Schuyler received me in a manner extremely hospitable and polite. He is a young man of good sense, and mild, amiable manners, constantly engaged in the management of his affairs, which, we understood, he conducts with prudence and punctuality. He is married to a daughter of Mr. Rensselaer [Elizabeth Van Rensselaer, daughter of Stephen Van Rensselaer II], who passes all her time at their own house, which is a very handsome mansion, but without any neighbours. She sees no company, but her relations, who now and then pay her a visit. Her husband, on whom she doats [sic], is frequently absent; she complains with much meekness of this solitary life, yet bears it, occupied with her children and the management of her household. She is charitable, good, and universally respected.

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