Last week I drove to upstate New York for my annual writing retreat. On the way, I stopped off at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany. Philip Schuyler and his wife, Catharine van Rensselaer, lived in this house with their eight children. (They had a set of twins and a set of triplets that did not survive.) The eldest surviving child was Angelica. Another daughter, Eliza, married Alexander Hamilton. I’m researching Hamilton for an upcoming project. Have I mentioned I have the best job in the world?
There were only seven of us on the tour—me, a couple from Saratoga, and a family of four with two charismatic kids. The boy knew a lot about Revolutionary war battles, and the girl seemed interested in everything, which was a good thing, because I may or may not have co-opted the tour. Danielle, our tour guide, was wonderful and knowledgeable, but I always feel bad for tour guides when a writer, for instance, me, shows up for a tour. Obviously I didn’t feel bad enough, because I pestered Danielle with questions.
Unfortunately all the most interesting stuff (to me) about the house has not survived—namely, the slave quarters, the kitchen, and the necessary. But Danielle knew a lot about them, and answered my questions. And it was exciting to see the original portraits of Eliza
And Angelica (here she is with one of her ten children):It was cool to see field beds that can be broken down for travel, along with a bed key:Danielle obligingly held up a jar of leeches from Philip’s medical kit, so I could photograph it.
And here’s what may or may not be a cut from a sword or tomahawk on the banister. In 1781, a band of British soldiers and local loyalists, operating out of Canada, attempted to kidnap Philip Schuyler. In one version of the story, which Danielle says is difficult to verify, Peggy had just grabbed her baby sister Catharine from the cradle, en route to fleeing upstairs with her, when someone threw a tomahawk at her and missed.
Here’s another version of the thwarted kidnap attempt, which doesn’t include the dramatic last-minute rescue of a baby, but is still pretty exciting.