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Historic Houses

Where Colonel Peter Schuyler, A Hero of the French and Indian War, rivaled in his mode of living the Schuylers of Albany

From Historic Houses of New Jersey by W. Jay Mills, 1902
Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2002

The Passaic River, sometimes called the Avon of New Jersey, formerly held many old homesteads on its banks, interesting in their histories. A few of them, somber and melancholy tragedies in rotting timber and above its once silvery waters, now polluted by refuse from the great factories of Newark and Paterson, but most of them are remodeled or are destroyed and forgotten.

One among the former, whose original grandeur is still a memory, is fair Petersborough, the home of Colonel Peter Schuyler. It was erected about 1735, of bricks imported from Holland, and in its day was the finest of all the residences facing the Passaic.

Colonel Peter Schuyler was famed in the Canadian campaigns against the French and was a son of Arent Schuyler, the first owner of the Schuyler plantation in New Jersey. He was also a nephew of Peter Schuyler, favorite at the court of good Queen Anne. It is recorded that he so ingratiated himself in the royal lady’s favor that she offered to knight him, and presented him with a velvet-lined trunk of plate and some diamond ornaments. The title he refused, quaintly expressing himself that it might make his ladies vain, but the plate and diamonds he accepted, and portions of the gift are still in the possession of his descendants.

In Arent Schuyler’s time the famous Schuyler copper-mines were discovered. An old slave, who was plowing not far from the first homestead, which is still standing in a modernized condition, turned up a heavy green stone, and, wondering at its oddity, took it to his master. Schuyler sent it to New York to be analyzed, and it was found to contain a large percentage of copper. This find opened up a great source of wealth to the family. Like the good fairy in the tale, Schuyler told his slave to wish for three things which were possible, and he would procure them for him. The poor old slave asked, first, that he might always live with his master; secondly, that he might have all the tobacco he could smoke; and thirdly, that he might have a gaudy banyan or dressing-gown like his master’s. “Oh, ask for something of value,” Schuyler said to him, so the story goes; and the black man, after hesitating a few minutes, replied, “Well, give me a little more tobacco.”

John Schuyler, Peter’s brother, inherited the Schuyler homestead and copper-mines at New Barbadoes Neck. (The first steam-engine west of the Hudson River was erected here. It was a Newcommen engine, and, according to Dr. Franklin, cost one thousand pounds. It was in use in 1755, and destroyed at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.) He had machinery brought from England to facilitate operations, and shipped great quantities of ore to Bristol, to be made into copper pans and kettles. Most likely many of them found their way again to the Colonies and were used by the good housewives of New Jersey.

There are traditions that the Schuyler brothers were often called by the neighboring residents, the “Schuyler Kings.” From the luxury with which they were surrounded, and their elegant style of living, they rivaled their famous Albany cousins, and even their sovereign, George II., who was more frugal in expenditure than many a rich commoner of his reign.

Petersborough proper, like noblemen’s seats of the period, was surrounded by many smaller buildings, including, so an old description says, “An overseer’s house, coach-house, boat-house, greenhouse, ice-house, stables, barns, negro quarters, and summer-houses.” The large park was stocked with deer and rare varieties of game, and the gardens were filled with shrubs and trees imported from England.

Elegant furniture and articles of virtue graced the interior of Petersborough. But few known pieces remain to testify to its departed grandeur. In the rooms of the New Jersey Historical Society, at Newark, there is a most curious and interesting portrait of Colonel Peter Schuyler, painted very much in the early manner of Benjamin West, and dubbed “the Portrait with the Spectre.” Standing directly in front of it one sees a grand and noble-looking man in the uniform of the “Jersey Blues,” with a face that is calm and benign. Viewing it at an angle, this face is entirely obliterated and in its place is a youth’s face, lean and ferret-like, of a gray hue, which matches his wig and piercing eyes. There is something very unreal and ghostly about it, so much so that even the librarian, who has it for a constant companion, declares that nothing would induce her to remain in the room alone with it after dusk.

It has been said that Colonel Peter Schuyler once lived at Elizabethtown; and this may be true, as he owned the large residence there which had formerly belonged to Governor Philip Carteret. This mansion was sold to him, or his father,-historians differ on the point,-by Colonel Richard Townley, who married Elizabeth Carteret after the death of the governor. Peter Schuyler converted it into a tavern, and as” The Ship” it became a noted gathering-place for the aristocrats of the beautiful town named after the lovely wife of Sir George Carteret, of whom the indefatigable gossiper, Samuel Pepys, wrote in his diary as a most virtuous lady.

Great entertainments took place at Petersborough in its early days, but none could have been more interesting than the welcome-home fete which occurred there when the aged hero returned from Quebec, in 1757, a prisoner of war on parole. His brave qualities and his goodness to the men under his command in the disastrous northern campaign were lauded to the skies, and wherever he went in the months following he was greeted with plaudits as flattering as those lines presented to him by a young lady of Princetown:

Welcome, Schuyler, every shepherd sings,
See, for thy brows, the laurel is prepared.

Colonel Peter Schuyler had one child, a daughter, who married Archibald Kennedy, Earl of Casselis and a gentleman of great wealth. He was the owner of the estate known as “the Duke’s Farm,” at Ahasimus, and a fine mansion on Broadway, New York City. After Schuyler’s death, in 1762, Petersborough came into his possession, and became widely known in Revolutionary times as Kennedy’s farm.

Archibald Kennedy was very intimate with the Kearney family, who lived at the old Kearney manor house close by. This aged homestead is now owned by a descendant of the Kearney family, Mrs. Susan Grand d’Hauteville, of the Chateau d’Hauteville, par Veley, France, who has carefully preserved its interior and exterior as she knew it in her youth. He is also said to have been an intimate friend of John Rutherford, who built the recently destroyed Egerston Manor at Boiling Springs, now Rutherford, one of the greatest seats of hospitality in New Jersey. (Egerston Manor, of Rutherford, New Jersey, was named after a family seat of the Rutherfords, in Scotland. It was much frequented by Chief Justice John Jay when in search of relaxation from his judicial labors.)

After the war, Kennedy’s farm was cut up and sold off in small portions, and today the beauty of the spot where Colonel Peter Schuyler rivaled the Schuylers of Albany in his elegant mode of living has entirely disappeared.

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