Philip John Schuyler was born on November 20, 1733 in Albany, New York, to Cornelia Van Cortlandt and Johannes Schuyler Jr., the third generation of the Dutch family in America. Although family coming from humble origins, the family was already quite wealthy at the time of his birth. Philip’s grandfather, Peter Schuyler, was the first mayor of Albany.
Before his father died on the eve of his eighth birthday, Schuyler attended the public school at Albany. Afterward, he was educated by tutors at the Van Cortlandt family estate at New Rochelle. In 1748 he began to study with Reverend Peter Strouppe at the New Rochelle French Protestant Church, where he learned French and mathematics. While he was at New Rochelle he also joined numerous trade expeditions where he met Iroquois leaders and learned to speak Mohawk. He joined the British forces in 1755 during the French and Indian War, raised a company, was commissioned as its Captain by his cousin, Lt. Governor James Delancey and empowered to raise a militia company that would build fortifications north of Albany. Gaining experience against the French and the Indians in the battles of Lake George, Oswego River, Ticonderoga and Fort Frontenac prepared him well militarily. In 1756, he accompanied British officer Colonel John Bradstreet to Oswego learning the business of military supply and experiencing disappointment when that outpost fell to the French.
Philip Schuyler was married to Catherine Van Rensselaer, a great great grand-daughter of Killian Van Rensselaer, the original founder of the Dutch colony named Rensselaerswyck,. The couple was married on September 13, 1755. They had eleven children.
In Albany, in 1756 Schuyler was elected to the common council as assistant alderman for the first ward and was able to obtain the contract to operate the ferry that connected Albany with Greenbush. Philip Schuyler was elected to the New York General Assembly in 1768, serving until that colonial body disbanded, replaced by the Provincial Congress in 1775. It was in the Assembly that Philip Schuyler began to emerge as a leader of the opposition to British restrictions and constraints. Between the wars, his business involved the harvesting of farm and forest products on his extensive Hudson Valley estates and shipping them to New York on his own sloops and schooner. Just prior to the Revolution, at 43 years old, he was one of the wealthiest landholders in the region.
He was a delegate to the Continental congress that convened in Philadelphia in May, 1775, by which he was placed on a committee with George Washington to draw up rules and regulations for the army. In June 1775, he was appointed one of the four Major Generals of the Continental army by the Continental Congress. IN 1777, he accompanied George Washington from Philadelphia, and was assigned to command the Northern department of New York. Proceeding to Albany, he immediately engaged in the difficult task of organizing an army for the invasion of Canada. Troops were collected, but lack of arms, ammunition, and pay delayed any movement.. In August he went to Ticonderoga with the object of placing that fort and Crown Point in a state of defense. Schuyler's failing health, he was plagued by symptoms of gout and pleurisy, led to his transferring of command to General Richard Montgomery. He then returned to Albany, where he continued his exertions in raising troops and forwarding supplies to the army. After the death of Montgomery he made every effort to re-enforce the American army. Early in 1776 he directed an expedition to Johnstown, where he seized the military stores that had been collected by Sir John Johnson.
As department commanding general, he was active in preparing a defense against the Saratoga Campaign, part of the "Three Pronged Attack" strategy of the British to cut the American Colonies in two by invading and occupying New York State in 1777. In the summer of that year General John Burgoyne marched his British army south from Quebec over the valleys of Lakes Champlain and George. On the way he assaulted the small Colonial garrison occupying Fort Ticonderoga. When General St. Clair abandoned Fort Ticonderoga in July, the Congress replaced Schuyler with General Horatio Gates, who had accused Schuyler of dereliction of duty. When Schuyler demanded a court martial to answer Gates' charges, he was vindicated but resigned from the Army on April 19, 1779. He then served in two more sessions of the Continental Congress in 1779 and 1780.
Schuyler's original country home had been destroyed by General John Burgoyne's forces in September 1777. The British Army occupied the house during the battle of Saratoga, and burned it down upon their retreat. The current house (at Right) was built in November 1777 over 29 days and used salvaged glass, nails, locks and hinges recovered from the burned home.
After the war, he expanded his estate in Schuylerville to tens of thousands of acres, adding slaves, tenant farmers, a store, mills for flour, flax, and lumber. His flax mill for the making of linen was the first one in America. He built several schooners on the Hudson River, and named the first Saratoga.
He was a member of the New York State Senate from 1780 to 1784, and at the same time New York State Surveyor General from 1781 to 1784. Afterwards he returned to the State Senate from 1786 to 1790, where he actively supported the adoption of the United States Constitution.
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. After losing his bid for re-election in 1791 to Aaron Burr, he returned to the State Senate from 1792 to 1797. In 1797, he was elected 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.
General Philip John Schuyler passed away on November 18, 1804. He was buried with full military honors in the vault of General Abraham Ten Broeck. His remains were later re-interred in the Albany Rural Cemetery. In 1871, a Doric column of Quincy granite, 36 feet tall, was erected in his memory.