A Regal Home That Echoes a Distant Past
If you were family, you knew it as ‘ The Pastures.’ Completed in 1763, when Elizabeth Schuyler was merely six years old, long before she’d even met and eventually married Alexander Hamilton, Schuyler Mansion stood like royalty atop Albany’s prime real estate, overlooking the entire city.
The Georgian mansion was, undeniably, a regal sight for anyone approaching Albany in the late 1700’s. Historic photos and paintings show wide – open meadows surrounding the home, the tall grass meandering downwards, toward the banks of the Hudson River. Schuyler Mansion was an impressive estate and would have been the first thing one caught sight of.
I wandered slowly around the property, alongside an interesting group of history buffs. We were waiting for our tour guide to begin. I stood for a few moments on the front stoop and peered through heavy tree branches and shrubs. I wanted to catch a glimpse of the populated city below.
I couldn’t help but be aware of the landscape’s many changes over the past 250 years. The present-day face of downtown Albany was the total opposite of yesteryear, when Philip Schuyler and his family lived, thrived and died, under the roof of such a handsome estate.
Although Philip and Catharine Schuyler had 15 children, only eight of them survived to adulthood. Elizabeth was their 2nd born.
Eliza met Alexander Hamilton briefly in 1778, when he arrived on business and dined at Schuyler Mansion, called The Pastures by the family. It was later, in 1780, while she was at her aunt’s house in Morristown, New Jersey, that the two met again. It was love at first sight for her.
Hamilton was staying in Morristown as well, acting as one of George Washington’s aides-de-camp. Washington and his men were hunkered down for the long winter.
Even though some still say he sought to marry Miss Schuyler for money and influence, the love letters Alexander wrote beg to differ.
“ I have told you, and I told you truly that I love you too much…. You engross my thoughts too entirely to allow me to think of anything else – you not only employ my mind all day, but you intrude upon my sleep – I meet you in every dream…. ”
Gilder Lehrman Collection # : GLC00773
By April they were engaged and with the blessing of Elizabeth’s parents, the couple married in December of the same year. The emotional ceremony was performed in the living room of Schuyler Mansion. The formal wedding brought great joy to Philip and Catharine, as two of Elizabeth’s sisters had chosen elopement earlier, an action which hurt the Schuylers deeply.
Eliza and Alexander honeymooned at Schuyler Mansion for a short time, until Hamilton was called back to his military service, in January of 1781.
Schuyler Mansion Today
When I entered the Mansion, I couldn’t help but draw in a deep, jagged breath. The sight was so impressive. Not only were the two main rooms on the bottom floor huge, each about 18 by 19 feet, they flanked an open, center-hall that measured a stunning 48 feet long by 20 feet wide and 12 feet high. A sweeping staircase at the end of the corridor lead to the second floor, where the floor plan was pretty much the same.
While the size is typical of Georgian homes, the vision was overwhelming to me. I found my thoughts wandering towards the numerous military, business and family parties hosted within the mansion, during its days of grandeur. How many people could they fit in here?
George and Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and the Marquis de Chastellux were just a few of the many guests entertained at Schuyler Mansion. In 1777, British General John Burgoyne was actually held as a “prisoner guest” under its roof. I thought these colorful pieces of history were amazing!
The rooms were light and airy, with curtains and shutters at the large windows. Heavy furniture had been placed attractively around the area, serving as an invitation for guests to relax under the care of gracious hosts. It was easy to wonder about people who might have chatted over dinner and drinks. After all, the Mansion was the center for secret military meetings. Naturally, I thought about the famous political people who must have hobnobbed here, rubbing elbows with General Schuyler and other influential men.
I fell in love with the deep green walls of the library. I could see a fountain pen and lined paper, covered with Hamilton’s musings, spread out over the desk top. A pair of his eye glasses had been set down, nearby. I moved silently, back and forth, in front of family portraits displayed prominently on walls throughout the home. What were they thinking as they posed for the artist? Anything? Nothing?
Upstairs, the boys’ blue bedroom captured my attention. Maybe because I had two sons of my own. Our guide explained that this room and the girls’ bedroom were often shared with guests of the Schuylers. Typically, the children would give up their beds and sleep on the floor of the upstairs hall, while visitors would spend their night in comfort. I grinned, not at all sure that my boys would have given in that easily.
Over the next 24 years, Elizabeth and Alexander visited her childhood home often. At one point, the couple lived at The Pastures for nearly two years, before moving to their own home in New York City. Any time Hamilton needed to be in Albany, though, whether for political or other reasons, Schuyler Mansion was his home.
On November 23, 1801, an unbearable tragedy struck the family. Philip, the oldest son of Elizabeth and Alexander, was shot on a dueling field and later died, with his parents next to him. Two years later, Alexander died in the infamous duel against adversary Aaron Burr. On July 12th, 1804, this much admired man took his last breath, his beloved Elizabeth at his side.
His longtime friend, Gouverneur Morris delivered a moving oration at Trinity Church. He unashamedly talked about Hamilton and his impact, on all walks of life, to those who knew him. He expressed deep grief over how much Hamilton would be missed, in the bleak years to come, minus the gift of his presence.
By this time, Elizabeth had also lost her mother and father. She’d suffered the death of two siblings. Schuyler Mansion’s days of joy had certainly been cut short. The home was eventually sold, with remaining buildings on the property and land itself, split evenly between the surviving heirs.
Today, the mansion and Revolutionary War outpost offers daily tours to visitors in the area. If you go, walk through the well-kept rooms, listen to well-versed guides who impart the history of Schuyler Mansion and stories surrounding the people who lived there. It is a moving experience.
As your tour winds down, the room grows quiet. Everyone’s questions have been answered. Listen. You may hear the past; Soldier’s footsteps and men’s hushed whispers, ladies trilling laughter and the voices of children around you.
Perhaps you’ll hear the heart of Hamilton himself, speaking aloud words that he’d written to Eliza, only a week before his death. “With my last idea; I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world. Adieu best of wives and best of women. Embrace all my darling children for me. Ever yours, A H.”
Syrett, Harold, The Papers of Alexander Hamilton v26, p293
I believe a few of us heard voices from the past that day. I believe this; there is never an end to the echoes of such a love story.