DONGAN, SCHUYLER, LIVINGSTON: AN EARLY TRIO OF INFLUENCE

Judy Shepard Staff writer
Section: TRICENTENNIAL,  Page: T18

Date: Sunday, July 6, 1986

When Thomas Dongan, Britain's appointed governor of the colony of New York, granted Albany its charter in 1686, he chose Pieter Schuyler as the city's first mayor and Robert Livingston as its clerk.


These two influential Albany men were brothers-in-law; intermarriage in the tiny river town was so prevalent, it sometimes seemed almost everybody was related. Schuyler was 29 when he became mayor. Born in Albany of Dutch settlers Philip and Margarita Van Slichtenhorst Schuyler, he was already a leader in the community and a colonel of the local militia.


According to Stefan Bielinski, a historian who directs the Colonial Albany History Project and author of a book about the Dongam Charter, the Indians liked Schuyler, or Quidor, as they called him, and visited him in his home at the southeast corner of what is now State and Pearl streets.


Schuyler was to serve as mayor with a single interruption until 1694. By 1720, he had retired, and lived until his death in 1724 at the Schuyler family farm north of town known as the Flatts.


Pieter was not the only member of the Schuyler clan to play a central role in early Albany.


Captain Johannes Schuyler, Pieter's younger brother, led a military expedition to Canada at age 22.


At 27, Johannes married Elizabeth Staats Wendell Schuyler, a wealthy 41- year-old widow, the daughter of Major Abraham and Catharina Ten Broeck Staats.


At the time of his marriage, Johannes Schuyler was beginning a lengthy term as alderman of the city's first ward, and served as mayor of Albany from 1703 to 1706.


His wife Elizabeth's first husband was with Johannes Wendell, a former mayor. They lived on on State Street. When she married Johannes Schuyler, they established their home on the just a few doors down from her former home.


Elizabeth raised 17 children, including two stepchildren from her first husband's first marriage.


Robert Livingston lived diagonally across from Pieter Schuyler in a building that also served as his Albany office.


This was later to be known as Elm Tree Corner because of a great elm there, planted either by Robert, his son or grandson Philip.


Livingston had taken the time to learn the Iroquois language, worked closely with the British at the fort and had already held the job of town clerk as well as secretary to the Indian commissioners.


Livingston was the son of a Presbyterian minister and a native of Scotland. He had come to Albany 10 years earlier as secretary to Nicholas Van Rensselaer.


Nicholas had come to Albany in 1674 to take over management of the patroonship and to serve as associate pastor of the Dutch church.


Nicholas was the younger brother of Jeremias Van Rensselaer, son of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, the first Patroon. It was Jeremias who built the first Van Rensselaer manor house in 1660 near Fort Orange. The house was destroyed by the flood of 1665, and a year later he built a second house two miles to the north next Patroon Creek, where he had built saw and grist mills.


In addition to his clerical and business duties, Nicholas wasted no time finding himself a bride; in 1675, a year after his arrival in Albany, he married Pieter Schuyler's older sister Alida. Alida was she was 19, Nicholas, 39.


According to historian Shirley A. Rice, who researched and wrote a 1986 calendar, "Woman of Colonial Albany," for the Colonial Albany Social History Project, things did not go well for the young bride. Her husband proved to be mentally unstable; in short order he managed to offend the British by his attempts to annex Albany for the patroonship and the members of his congregation, who accused him of heresy and stripped him of his clerical powers.


By 1678, Nicholas was dead, and Alida a widow at age 22. She petitioned to be made executrix of his estate, which was granted in 1679.


Confronted with the legal and commercial complexities of the estate, Alida turned to turned to Robert Livingston, her husband's secretary, for help, and, in 1679, they were married.


So Livingston became Pieter Schuyler's brother-in-law.


Already a prominent businessman through his huge contracts with the British for food for the troops, Livingston went on to increase his fortune through extensive business dealings up and down the river. He was soon the richest man in Albany; by 1693 he owned 162,240 acres in nearby Columbia County.


He paid a lot of taxes, generously contributed to the Dutch Refored Church, and drew a salary of the manor of Rensselaerswyck.


Livingston travelled often on public and private business; it was he who negotiated the charter with Dognan.


During his lengthy business trips, Alida managed their large landholdings, including Livingston Manor, their estate on the east side of the river 40 miles south of the city. The two kept in touch by letters written in Dutch.


Their estate produced pewter, beer, cloth, bricks, lumber and flour. Their yachts ferried furs and wheat to New York, returning with sugar, nails and gunpowder.


Alida also found time to raise seven children, and it was her grandson Philip Livingston, born in the family townhouse at the corner of State and Pearl streets in 1716, who is generally believed to have planted the famous old elm tree on the corner.


Philip married Christina Ten Broeck of Albany in 1740. She was the daughter of Col. Dirck Ten Broeck, mayor of Albany from 1696-97, and the sister of Gen. Abraham Ten Broeck, who built the mansion still standing in Arbor Hill.


The Ten Broeck family had been in Albany before 1662. Abraham was the first president of Bank of Albany, a Revolutionary War hero, and the 28th mayor.


Like his grandfather, Philip was active in politics, business and civic affairs in the state and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.


In choosing Pieter Schuyler and Robert Livingston to rule the young city, Gov. Dongan drew on his years of experience as a seasoned soldier and well-travelled military governor.


Dongan had served King James II, whom he had served when the latter was the Duke of York, in the Stuart family's struggle to regain the English throne, finally accomplished in 1660.


An Irish-born Roman Catholic, Dongan was a career soldier, and was rewarded for his service with a series of commissions. He was appointed military governor of the North African territory of Tangiers in 1698.


After the British took control of the Dutch colony of New Netherland in 1664, King Charles II gave the province to his brother James, then Duke of York and Albany.


In 1683, Dongan was sent to New York as governor. When James succeeded to the throne of England in 1685 after his brother's death, Dongan was commissioned as the colony's first royal governor.


Dongan was a successful governor, working well with the established Dutch interests and encouraging settlement of Long Island and the Hudson Valley.


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