Removal of the Philip Schuyler statue

gift from George Hawley

One of the big local stories recently was the removal of the Philip Schuyler statue from the front of Albany City Hall early Saturday morning, June 10.

If you know who Philip Schuyler was, one or more of three things are likely. 1) You are or were from New York State’s Capital District, 2) you are a Revolutionary War buff, and/or 3) you are deeply familiar with the Broadway musical Hamilton.

Schuyler was given the rank of major general on June 19, 1775. “This made him third in command under George Washington and commander of the Northern Department of the Continental Army. But his military prowess was, at best, a mixed bag.

From Wikipedia: “He planned the Continental Army’s 1775 Invasion of Quebec, but poor health forced him to delegate command of the invasion to Richard Montgomery. He prepared the Continental Army’s defense of the 1777 Saratoga campaign.

“When General Arthur St. Clair Stir abandoned Fort Ticonderoga in July, the Congress replaced Schuyler with General Horatio Gates.” Schuyler helped the army from his mansion in Albany by forwarding supplies and encouraging reinforcements northward.


Gates “accused Schuyler of dereliction of duty. In 1778, Schuyler and St. Clair faced a court of inquiry over the loss of Ticonderoga, and both were acquitted. Schuyler resigned from the Continental Army in 1779.”

His second child, Elizabeth, married Alexander Hamilton, the future Secretary of the Treasury, in 1780.

Schuyler served as a New York State Senate member from 1780 to 1784, 1786 to 1790, and 1792 to 1797. He was New York State Surveyor General from 1781 to 1784. “In 1789, he was elected a U.S. Senator from New York to the First United States Congress, serving from July 27, 1789, to March 3, 1791.” He lost his bid for re-election to Aaron Burr but “was selected again to the U.S. Senate and served in the 5th United States Congress from March 4, 1797, until his resignation because of ill health on January 3, 1798.”

He died in 1804, the same year Alexander Hamilton was killed.


The New York Almanack tells more of the story.

“Philip Schuyler and his family, like many New Yorkers in the Colonial and Early Republic years, relied upon the enslavement of men, women, and children of African descent as a basis of their wealth. Enslaved people cleared land, harvested trees, planted and harvested crops, fished, tended livestock, cooked, cleaned, served food and drink, and a myriad of other tasks.

“As Philip Schuyler developed his inheritance starting in the 1760s, he also used enslaved people in his industrial developments, including sawmills, a grist mill, and a linen mill. Between the Saratoga Estate and the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, there were typically 2-3 dozen enslaved people at any one time. Schuyler reported 14 enslaved people at the Saratoga Estate to the first federal census in 1790.”

The statue

A bronze statue by sculptor J. Massey Rhind of Major General Philip Schuyler was erected outside Albany City Hall, dedicated on June 25, 1925. It is “approximately 114 in. tall and has a diameter of 65 in. The statue rests on a marble base which is approximately 87 in. tall and has a diameter of 115 in.” George C. Hawley presented it “in loving memory” of his wife, Theodora M. Hawley.

Interestingly, there was a push to move the statue before. “It has long been criticized for its placement in the middle of a busy intersection.  Seventy years ago, a plan to relocate the statue ‘where the public could have a chance to admire, without dangerous jaywalking’ was ‘meeting with favor among influential persons,’ according to a report in the June 1, 1952 Albany Times Union.”  This assessment continued to be true until the day it was removed. I never read the inscription because I was too busy ensuring I wasn’t killed by an automobile.

Changes in attitudes

In June 2020, Albany mayor Kathy Sheehan, who is white, first called for its removal “in the wake of reforms following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.” It wasn’t until March 2023 that she announced it would be taken down in weeks.

As it turns out, it was relatively easily moved because it “was not anchored to the plinth, and only gravity has kept it in place.” Fortunately, no one tried to topple the statue. “It likely would have taken as little as a pick-up truck and a strong enough chain or strap placed around the top of the statue to topple it.”

There is a vigorous debate about where the statue should be relocated. One suggestion is “the Schuyler Mansion, located in Albany’s South End. The Mansion, built for Schuyler in 1763, was where he and his wife, Catharine Van Rensselaer, raised eight children.

“Another option, raised by colonial historians, who generally support the statue being moved, is Saratoga National Historical Park. The park, managed by the National Park Service, preserves the site of the Battles of Saratoga, the first significant American military victory of the American Revolutionary War. “

A time capsule!

The removal of the statue revealed a time capsule. “Letters, an atlas, medals, and a 48-star American flag were among the contents.  A  sealed deed signed by  George Hawley… directs the contents be given to the current mayor to placed “‘in the custody of a historical society of the city of Albany which in his best judgement shall be best fitted to use and preserve the same.’”

“’To be placed by him’ — how cute,’” Kathy Sheehan said.

Several people, some of whom I know, believe the removal is “treasonous” and  “obliterating Albany’s history.”  Nope, I don’t buy it. Ultimately, I’m happy it’s being moved, less for historical reasons and more for the safety of pedestrians and for the sake of the statue itself.

Philip Schuyler: Hero, enslaver, statue

When you fly a flag, it has meaning.

Philip SchuylerThe folks at my church had a healthy conversation about Confederate monuments, and similar symbols last week. On ZOOM, of course. Here’s a pretty thorough assessment of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA. There are the whole point of Confederate monuments.

I love the issue of the Confederate statues and flags. There’s no ambiguity for me. My problem with the Confederate flag being removed from the Mississippi state flag is that it’s taken too long.

Frankly, I was unaware that military bases bore the names of Confederate traitors. Many veterans, military families, military leaders, and service people have called for the names to be changed. The Tweeter-in-Chief declared “I don’t care what the military says.”

But the discussion brought up two other angles that are more nuanced.


One is happening right in my city. The Philip Schuyler statue is to be removed from downtown Albany.

You fans of the musical Hamilton might be familiar with the man. He was Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law, the father of Elizabeth, and 14 others.

Philip Schuyler was “reportedly the largest owner of enslaved people in Albany during his time.” But he also was a hero of the Battle of Saratoga. The Revolutionary War might have ended in another way without his leadership.

What will happen to the statue? One choice is to move it to the Schuyler Mansion right in Albany, where the proper historic context might be provided. Perhaps the State Museum, also in the city. Schuylerville’s mayor is lobbying to take possession of the 9½-foot (3-meter) bronze statue. The village is 45 miles to the north.

Separate from politics, removing the statue will possibly provide a much better traffic flow at that location. That junction is reliably dangerous for pedestrians in particular.

Is that all there is?

A broader question involves statues vs. systemic change. How much of a difference does tearing down monuments really make?. The Washington NFL team is changing its long-criticized mascot, for instance. “Symbols can be an easy out for powerful institutions still resistant to undoing systemic inequalities. But taken as a whole… the growing collection of fallen symbols is a sign of true progress, an early victory in what will be a long fight for fundamental change.”

Now, “at the national level, little progress has been made so far on sweeping policy reforms that would bring criminal justice, economic, health, and educational systems in line with protesters’ demands.” Of course, symbolic change is comparatively easy. Systemic change is hard, in part because it’s more difficult to agree on how to facilitate it.

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