Revolutionary War Historical Article
George Washington's Generals
Major General Peter Gansevoort
by Donald N. Moran
Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the July/August 2007 Edition
of the Liberty Tree Newsletter
Peter Gansevoort was the son of Harme and Magdalena (Douw) Gansevoort, and was born in Albany, New York, on July 17th, 1749. The house he was born in was destroyed by fire in 1832 and is the site of the present Federal building. We know little of his early life other then he was upper middle class Dutch.
On July 19th, 1775; he was appointed by the Continental Congress a major in the 2nd New York Regiment. In August of that year he joined General Richard Montgomery and invaded Canada. On March 19th, 1776, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel because of his service in Canada. He successfully led the survivors of that ill-fated operation back to New York and safety. On November 21st following, he was again promoted to Colonel of the 3rd New York Regiment and commanded Fort George.
In April, 1777, he took command of Fort Stanwix (afterward called Fort Schuyler - Rome, New York), and successfully defended the Fort against the British under Colonel Barry St. Leger, which was the first phase of General John Burgoyne's plan to divide America. By denying Burgoyne his Western flanking movement he helped with the victory at Saratoga.
In spite of his being away from his Albany home, Peter Gansevoort managed to continue his courting of Catherine (Catrina) Van Schaick, the daughter of Wessel Van Schaick. They were married on January 12th, 1778. In the spring of 1779 Colonel Gansevoort was ordered to join General Sullivan in an expedition against the Indians in the western part of New York. At the head of a chosen party from the army he distinguished himself by surprising by the celerity of his movements the lower Mohawk castle, and capturing all the Indian inhabitants of the vicinity.
On March 26th, 1781 the State of New York appointed him Brigadier General of the State Militia, and then he commanded the militia in the Mohawk Valley during the worst of the Indian raids that devastated the area. The following year he was again promoted to Major General of Militia.
After the war he held a number of important offices, among which was that of commissioner of Indian affairs and building the frontier's forts.
He served as Sheriff of Albany County from 1790 to 1792, and a regent of the University of the State of New York from 1808 until the time of his death.
In 1809 Congress promoted him to Brigadier-General in the United States Army.
On November 8th, 1906, a statue of General Gansevoort was dedicated in the city park, Rome, New York.
New York State historian, Hugh Hastings was the keynote speaker. He concluded his remarks with this statement which says it all regarding the General.
"In these days an heroic defense of such conspicuous character would have met with the reward of a Brigadier-General’s commission at least. Upon the intrepid commander of Fort Schuyler, however, congress conferred the anomalous rank and empty honor 'Colonel Commandant of Fort Schuyler,' an absurd compliment of the record, for Gansevoort had held the rank of colonel since November, 1776, and been in command of the fort since April, 1777. General Gansevoort blocked the way of the triumphant invader like a wall of granite. His achievement is all the more creditable when we consider the delinquency of his superiors in estimating the true situation and the refusal of Tryon county to protect itself or to support him with reinforcements. The fall of Fort Schuyler would have been followed by the certain defeat of Gates, whose left and rear would have been absolutely unprotected before the New England troops could reinforce him. The defeat of Gates would have given the enemy complete control of the valley of the Hudson, would have meant the severance of New England from the rest of the confederacy, led to a cessation of hostilities and the restoration of the colonies to the mother country. The victory at Fort Schuyler paved the way for the final triumph on the heights at Saratoga, or, as it has been so aptly expressed, 'Without Fort Schuyler there would have been no Saratoga.' "
Peter and Catherine Gansevoort had children: Herman, born 1779, died 1862; married, 1813, to Catherine Quackenboss; Wessel, born 1781, died 1862; Leonard, born 1783, died 1821; married, 1809, to Mary A. Chandonette: Peter, born 1786, died 1788; Peter, born December 22, 1788; Maria, born 1791, married in 1814, to Allan Melville (their son, Herman was the famous American author of "Moby Dick", "Billy Budd", etc.)
General Gansevoort was chosen to serve as a member of the Court Martial of General James Wilkerson, accused of being involved in the Aaron Burr conspiracy. Burr wanted to start a war with Spain, and create a new country from the Allegheny Mountains to the West Coast including Mexico - obviously the plot failed. The Court Marital was unable to convict Wilkerson and he was acquitted. Enroute to his Albany home from the Court Martial, Gansevoort contracted a "cold", from which he never recovered. He died in his native city, July 2nd, 1812, at the age of sixtythree years. His wife Catherine followed him on December 30th, 1830.
Both Peter and Catherine are buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery. The Peter Gansevoort Chapter of the DAR holds memorial ceremonies at the grave site every year.
Our thanks to Karl Danneil for the above photographs.