J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, January 05, 2017

“There is no undoing this gordian knot”

We left Angelica Schuyler and John Carter in the house of her mother’s family near Albany, New York, in July 1777.

They had just eloped and were hoping that her father, Gen. Philip Schuyler, would accept their marriage.

The couple had apparently asked the general in advance for his permission to wed, and he had refused. He complained that he knew almost nothing about Carter, a young Englishman in exile who had come to his home the year before to audit army accounts for the Continental Congress.

If Gen. Schuyler had known all about Carter—that he was really named John Barker Church, that he had left Britain to escape a scandal, that that scandal was a duel or a bankruptcy, or maybe even both—he probably wouldn’t have been any more pleased.

But there were limits to patriarchal authority, even then. Schuyler had plenty on his mind already with Gen. John Burgoyne marching an army down from Canada. He had several other daughters and sons to worry about. His wife’s family seems to have supported the young couple. So the general gave in.

In the same letter in which he revealed the marriage to William Duer, Schuyler wrote:
But as there is no undoing this gordian knot, I took what I hope you will think the prudent part: I frowned, I made them humble themselves, forgave, and called them home.
The Carters returned to the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, shown above.

In September, John Carter wrote to the Congress asking that he be replaced as one of the auditors for the Continental Army’s Northern Department. He said that “important business requires his immediate presence in Boston.” The Congress probably saw that it wouldn’t do to have a man checking the books created in part by his own father-in-law, so it quickly gave him leave to resign. The Carters moved to Boston, and John went into business supplying the army.

Gen. Schuyler didn’t forget the brief estrangement from his eldest daughter. Three years later, on 8 Apr 1780, he wrote to the young American colonel who had asked for his daughter Betsy’s hand:
Yesterday I had the pleasure to receive a line from Mrs Schuyler in answer to mine on the subject of the one you delivered me at Morris town [New Jersey]; she consents to Comply with your and her daughters wishes. You will see the Impropriety of taking the dernier pas [last step—i.e., the actual wedding] where you are. Mrs. Schuyler did not see her Eldest daughter married. That also gave me pain, and we wish not to Experience It a Second time. I shall probably be at Camp In a few days, when we will adjust all matters.
Col. Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on 14 December at the Schuyler Mansion.

TOMORROW: A glimpse of the Carters in Boston.

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