Brief history of Philip Schuyler amid statue controversy

Regional News

Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler statue and Albany City Hall. (Craig Fildes / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The recent controversy over the statue of Major General Philip Schuyler, located outside of City Hall, has caused some officials and residents to look at our monuments in a new light. Last week the Saratoga County Historical Society at Brookside Museum hosted a town hall discussion on the removal of the statue.  

During the town hall, historians discussed the history surrounding Philip Schuyler, what slavery was like in New York, and how we should analyze historical monuments.  

Schuyler is known for fighting in the Revolutionary War. He was also a member of the Continental Congress, a U.S. Senator and a State Assemblyman. 

At the same time, the General had the highest number of slaves in Albany. Although his slaves mostly did what historians describe as “skilled labor,” and not traditional plantation work, they say in no way was this work any less violent, degrading and damaging.  

“Slavery is slavery is slavery is slavery. Whether it’s happening in 2020 or 1920 or 1720, it is the commodification of another human being, it is trading in the lives of other people for your own profit,” Dr. Jennifer Dorsey, Professor of History at Siena College, said.  

Dr. Melinda Lawson, Senior Lecturer in History at Union College, says that when talking about the removal of the statue, it’s important to look at the monument in the context of three eras.  

The first era is the period of history that the monument represents, in Schuyler’s case, that’s the Revolutionary War.  

The second era is when the monument was actually put up. The Schuyler statue went up in 1925. Lawson says it’s unlikely that building the monument generated any opposition back then because the population didn’t recognize how violent the institution of slavery was. She adds that even if the African American community was protesting the monument, it’s unlikely their voices would have been heard. Back in 1925, less than 2 percent of Albany’s population was African American. In the Albany area alone, there were 11,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan. 

The third era Lawson asks us to examine monuments through is the present day. She says it’s important to think about what monuments say about our values.  

“The thinking of taking the monument down is not the thinking of erasing history. Rather, it’s rethinking whether that person that was chosen to represent the community, in our case in 1925, whether that is still a person who still represents our community,” Lawson said. 

During the meeting, a descendant of the Schuyler family commented that if a monument is moved to a museum, it then would become a symbol for the elite. This because someone would have to pay to learn about our country’s history. 

At the meeting, the issue was also raised about contextualizing monuments. This would involve putting a plaque by them to provide further information about the figures and time period they represent, instead of tearing them down.  

The statue of Schuyler is slated to be removed from its location outside of City Hall, but there’s no word on where it will ultimately go.  

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