Now a park just a few minutes north of the Albany Rural Cemetery on the east side of Broadway (Route 32), The Flatts was purchased by the Schuyler family from the Van Rensselaers around 1672. Previously, the land had been frequenly used by Native Americans, including the Algonquins who would establish temporary fishing villages there. The site was owned at one time by Arent Van Corlaer, the founder of Schenectady, who built what was probably the first permanent house on the site. It was from here that Saint Isaac Jogues, the Jesuit missionary, escaped from his Mohawk captors and fled to Albany where the Dutch assisted his return to France. The first Schuyler house was built there around 1690 and was used by the widow of Philip Pieterse Schuyler. It was then inherited by his son, Philipse and Philipse wife, Margarita. As a widow, Margarita (known as Madame Schuyler) lived at The Flatts with numerous family members. Among her guests was young Ann Grant who described Madame Schuyler and life at the Schuyler Flatts in her memoir, “An American Lady.”
Madame Schuyler’s house burned around 1760, but was quickly rebuilt for Madame Schuyler who resided in the new house until her death in 1782. The Flatts farm house stood until 1962 when the long-vacant house burned. The Flatts and the house had remained in the Schuyler family until 1910. The Historic American Buildings Survey photos from the Library of Congress show Madame Schuyler’s house sometime after 1933.
The Flatts were also the site of active military encampments during the 18th-century. In recent years, human bones have been found across Broadway from the Flatts park; they could be the remains of soldiers who died of illness or injury at The Flatts (these are not to be confused with the remains of slaves found in the same vicinity). They were buried in the vicinity of the present FedEx facility. Other remains are believed to still remain buried in the general vicinity.
Closer to the house, The Flatts had its own burial ground for the family within the boundary of the present Flatts park.
Joel Munsell, the publisher who compiled so much valuable local history in his multi-volume Annals of Albany and other books, wrote extensively about the Schuyler Flatts burial ground in his Schuyler Family, privately printed in 1874. Included in this book are inscriptions copied from headstones extant in the Flatts burial ground at that time. This list is certainly of historic value as the majority of the surviving headstones are completely illegible now.
Of the burial ground, Munsell wrote:
The plot of which we are speaking seem to have been appropriated to the purpose of a burial-place by Col. Philip, the third in descent from Philip Pieterse, the original settler, and who was also known as Philip Pietersen. His monument, which is the most conspicious one in the enclosure, being raised upon pillars, also bears the earliest date….However much one may be impressed with the solemnity of the place from its historic associations and the silence that pervades the “umbrageous grot of cool recess,” his contemplation will be disturbed in a vain endeavor to conceive why such a soil should have been chosen for such a soil should have been chosen for such a purpose. It is located upon a stratum of flat or oval rubble stone, of a reddish color, which is seen reaching to a distance above and below, and which can only be excavated by the use of a pick.
This Philip Schuyler was the husband of the celebrated Madame Schuyler (the American lady of Mrs. Grant), who was his cousin. She is said to have been buried by his side; but there is no monument nor any object to mark her place of sepulture. A large slab lies upon the ground near the one above mentioned, and of the same size and material, having a cavity in its upper side, apparently designed for a metal tablet, which is supposed to have been abstracted. There is nothing remaining upon to indicate its purpose, nor does any one know to whom it was dedicated; but it is the tradition that it was not designed for Madame Schuyler. The reason assigned for this neglect is, that she left her property is such a way as to give offense to some of the heirs, upon whom it was incumbent to provide her monument; but a question of duty or dissatisfaction arising, neither party would charge themselves with the undertaking. Indeed, it is now a matter of dispute among the present generation who shall keep the premises in repair, and they are in a very neglected condition. The owners of that portion of the ancient farm on the north, having sold out, the cemetery now forms the line between the remaining portion and the village of West Troy; and the approach of streets and dwellings indicates an invasion at no distant day of this enclosure, and the removal of these bones and monuments to the cemetery over the way.
The original gravestone of Philip Schuyler and a newer one in a similar style for Margarita Schuyler are among those now in the Schuyler lot at the Rural Cemetery. The lot is located on the South Ridge, quite close to the large Corning family lot. The back of the Schuyler lot meets the fence that separates the Rural Cemetery from the neighboring Saint Agnes Roman Catholic Cemetery.
The Schuyler lot at the Rural Cemetery was laid out following the request of Mrs. W. Starr Miller. A granddaughter of General Philip Schuyler, she was dismayed that the Revolutionary War general’s remains were interred without any marker or memorial in the Van Rensselaer family lot. General Schuyler had, for a time, been laid to rest in the private burial vault at the Van Rensselaer Manor. When that vault was demolished, all of the remains within were relocated to an underground vault in the Rural Cemetery. Among those interred there are Stephen Van Rensselaer III (the Last Patroon), William Paterson (Signer of the Declaration of Independence), and General Abraham Ten Broeck. Mrs. Starr Miller wrote to the Cemetery and requested that a suitable plot be set aside for her grandfather; the request was granted, remains presumed to be General Schuyler’s were reburied there, and a large Doric column erected in the center of the lot.
When, as Joel Munsell predicted, the burial grounds at the Flatts were removed, the remains and the headstones were moved to this lot at the Rural Cemetery. A small stone in the rear of the lot reads: SCHUYLER – The Remains In This Plot Were Removed From The Old Schuyler Burying Ground At The Flatts Watervliet Nov. 18 1920 By Members of The Schuyler Family.
The old headstones from The Flatts were, unfortunately, laid flat on the ground in a matter similar to the Church Grounds. They remained in this position until 1999 when they were set upright during a restoration. Unfortunately, the prone position increased exposure of the carved surfaces to erosion and almost all of the stones are illegible. Two of the stones feature soul effigies, one of which is partially broken. However, thanks to the efforts of Joel Munsell, the inscriptions were copied and thus preserved before they were completely lost. Among the friends of the family who are also buried here are innkeeper John Pye and his wife (see Pye The Englishman)
In one corner of the lot, there are three brownstone slabs set on short pillars. These are thel memorials of Colonel Philip Schuyler (mentioned in the Munsell excerpt above), Johannes Schuyler, and a newer stone in a matching style as a long overdue monument to Madame Schuyler (shown below).
See also: Pye The Englishman