Hamilton Signs with General Phillip Schuyler, Eliza Hamilton, Angelica & John Church,
and Many More
This deed is signed by Revolutionary War Major General Philip Schuyler and his six surviving children: sons Philip Jeremiah Schuyler and Rensselaer Schuyler, and daughters Angelica Church, Elizabeth Hamilton, Cornelia Morton, and Catherine Malcom—along with their husbands John B. Church, Alexander Hamilton, Washington Morton, and Samuel B. Malcom. The Schuylers’ two children who lived to adulthood but died by this time, Margarita “Peggy” Schuyler Van Rensselaer and John Bradstreet Schuyler, were each represented by their only children, Stephen Van Rensselaer Jr. and Philip Schuyler Jr. Two of Catherine Van Rensselaer Schuyler’s brothers and several descendants of her other two brothers also signed. This type of document is the only kind to have these family signatures in one place.
This transaction’s history starts with Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, a diamond and pearl merchant from Amsterdam who became a founder and director of the Dutch West India Company, and the only patroon successful in establishing American settlements. (Patroonships were large grants of land with manorial rights granted to encourage Dutch colonization and settlement in New Netherland.) After the English assumed control and New Netherland became New York in the seventeenth century, Rensselaerswyck became an English manor containing all of the land around and south of Albany, New York, along both sides of the Hudson River. The lands descended in the Van Rensselaer family.
In October 1802, Hamilton met with representatives of tenants of Van Rensselaer lands. The tenants claimed parcels of land around Hillsdale, New York, which the Van Rensselaer heirs also claimed as part of their estate. In 1803, the New York legislature passed a law to appoint commissioners to settle the disputes. The commissioners viewed the land in question and received evidence and testimony. The commissioners issued their final opinion on March 17, 1804, valuing the parcels individually. An attorney for the Hamilton heirs drew up deeds for individual parcels that totaled approximately 13,000 acres, ranging in size from less than an acre to almost three hundred acres. This deed conveyed nearly 75 acres to David Spencer in Hillsdale for $5.50 per acre, or $412.02.
As heirs to the Van Rensselaer land, twenty-six individuals had to sign each deed. The paperwork involved in these transfers continued into 1805 and perhaps beyond, but only the earliest deeds have the signatures of Alexander Hamilton and Philip Schuyler, both of whom died in 1804. The only other known surviving deed is also dated May 23, 1804, and is at Columbia University. Alexander and Eliza Hamilton signed this deed in New York City on May 25, 1804, fewer than seven weeks before Alexander Hamilton’s death.