Hamil- Fam: Peggy Schuyler’s Romance

I wrote earlier about Hamilton’s advice on finding a husband to his sister-in-law, Margarita (Peggy) Schuyler and wanted to share a little more about Peggy’s daring elopement with her distant relative, 19 year old Stephen Van Rensselaer III in 1783.

According to an account by Maunsell Van Rensselaer, Stephen “was in love with Margaret Schuyler, daughter of the General, and although only nineteen was anxious to get married.  To this the father objected, and the young couple settled the matter by getting married without delay.”

In A Place in History: Albany in the Age of Revolution, 1775-1825 Warren Roberts writes:

“Margarita climbed out of her second-floor room in her father’s mansion to elope with her 19 year old husband.  She was 25 and six years older than her husband.”

James Peale painting of Margarita Schuyler from Wikipedia

Van Rensselaer’s cousin Killian Van Rensselaer was General Schuyler’s private secretary. According to Annals of the Van Rensselaers in the United States: Especially as They Relate to the Family of Killian K. Van Rensselaer:

“The general’s temper was none of the mildest, and he was greatest enraged at this defiance of his paternal authority, and vented his wrath upon his secretary, accusing him of having aided the escapade.”

Stephen was a wealthy orphan who had just graduated from Harvard College a year before the couple was wed, but had not yet attained his majority and come into his inheritance.  Because of his young age, mutual friends expressed concern that the marriage between Peggy and Stephen would fail.  Harrison Gray Otis, a friend of Van Renesselaer’s, wrote  to Killian Van Rensselaer :

“Stephen’s precipitate marriage has been to me a source of surprise and indeed of regret.  He certainly is too young to enter into a connection of this kind; the period of his life is an important crisis; it is the time to acquire Fame, or at least to prepare for its acquisition.  It is the time to engage in a busy life, to arouse the Facultys into action, to awake from a lethargic Inattention, which is generally the consequence of youthful pleasures, and make a figure upon the active Theatre.  Instead of this our friend has indulged the momentary impulse of youthful Passions, and has yielded to the dictates of Remorseful Fancy.”

StephenVanRensselaerIIIPortrait.jpg
Gilbert Stuart portrait of Stephen Van Rensselaer III from Wikipedia

Fortunately for the couple, Otis’ fears were unfounded.  Mary Gay Humphreys wrote in her biography of Catherine Schuyler:

“The young couple, handsomely entrenched in wealth and position, were doubtless speedily forgiven, as well they might be.  Neither fame nor happiness passed by their married life, which was only too brief.  Mrs. Stephen Van Rensselaer, the wife of the Patroon, is still the lively Peggy, the favorite of all the dinner-tables and balls.”

In a letter to Angelica Schuyler Church, Alexander Hamilton described having dinner with Peggy and Stephen in 1794:

“Your sister Margaret is also wonderfully restored. She and Mr. Rensselaer supped with us — She never was in better spirits. The sight of these friends has diminished though not dissipated a sadness which took possession of my heart on my departure from New York. I am more and more the fool of affection and friendship. In a little time I shall not be able to stir from the side of my family & friends.”

Interestingly, Van Rensselaer had played an important role in the elopement of Peggy’s sister, Angelica in 1777.  The couple had exchanged vows in Van Rensselaer’s home, and he reportedly helped convince Angelica and Peggy’s father, General Philip Schuyler, to accept the newly married couple.  Little did General Schuyler know that six years later, the boy Patroon would be eloping with another one of his daughters!

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