The Schuyler family was established in the New World by Philip P. Schuyler, who migrated from Amsterdam in 1650, and whose son, Peter, was the first mayor of Albany and Chairman of the Board of Indian commissioners of the province. The family was one of the wealthiest and most influential in the colony and was closely related by marriage to the Van Rensselaers, Van Cortlandts, and other representatives of the old Dutch aristocracy. His family had gradually expanded their holdings and influence in the New World. His father, John Schuyler Jr. was the third generation of the family in America, when he married Cornelia Van Cortlandt. Together, they had 11 children.
Schuyler's father died when he was 7 years old. After attending the public school at Albany, he was educated by tutors at the Van Cortlandt family estate at New Rochelle. He joined the British forces in 1755 during the French and Indian War and raised a company. He was commissioned as its captain by his cousin, Lt. Governor James Delancey. Later in that war, he served as a quartermaster, purchasing supplies and organizing equipment. He served in the Provincial Army during the Seven Years' War, first as captain and later as deputy-commissary with the rank of major, taking part in the battles of Lake George in 1755, Oswego River in 1756, Ticonderoga in 1758, and Fort Frontenac in 1758.
In 1761-62, Schuyler made a trip to England to settle accounts from his work as quartermaster. He also used this time to build a town house in Albany, and start his country estate at Saratoga. After the war, he also expanded his estate at Saratoga, expanding his holdings to tens of thousands of acres, adding tenant farmers, a store, and mills for flour, flax, and lumber. His flax mill for the making of linen was the first one in America. He built several schooners on the Hudson, and named the first USS Saratoga.
From 1768-75, Schuyler represented Albany in the New York Assembly, and he was closely associated with the Livingston family in the leadership of the Presbyterian or Whig party. He was a delegate to the second Continental Congress in May 1775, and on June 19, he was chosen one of the 4 major-generals in the Continental Army. During this time, his views came to be more opposed to the colonial government. He was particularly outspoken in matters of trade and currency. He was also made a colonel in the militia for his support of governor Henry Moore.
Placed in command of the Northern Department of New York, Schuyler established his headquarters at Albany, and made preparations for an invasion of Canada. Soon after the expedition started he was prostrated by rheumatic gout, and the actual command devolved upon Brig. Gen. Richard Montgomery. Schuyler returned to Fort Ticonderoga and later to Albany, where he spent the winter of 1775-76 in collecting and forwarding supplies to Canada and in suppressing the Loyalists and their Indian allies in the Mohawk Valley.
On the death of Montgomery and the failure to take Quebec, the army retreated to Crown Point, and its commander, Brig. Gen. John Sullivan, was superseded by Brig. Gen. Horatio Gates. Gates claimed precedence over Schuyler and, on failing to secure recognition, intrigued to bring about Schuyler's dismissal. The controversy was taken into Congress. The necessary withdrawal of the army from Crown Point in 1776 and the evacuation of Fort Ticonderoga in 1777 were magnified by Schuyler's enemies into a retrograde movement, and, on August 19, he was superseded. A court martial appointed in 1778 acquitted him on every charge.
He resigned from the army in April 1779. He was a delegate from New York to the Continental Congress in 1779-81, and state senator in 1781-84, 1786-90, and 1792-97. In 1788, he joined his son-in-law Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and others in leading the movement for the ratification by New York of the Federal constitution. He served in the U.S. Senate as a Federalist from 1790-91 and was again elected in 1797, but resigned in January 1798 on account of ill health. He was also active for many years as Indian commissioner and surveyor-general and helped to settle the New York boundary disputes with Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. He prepared plans for the construction of a canal between the Hudson river and Lake Champlain before 1776, and, in 1792-96, carried to a successful conclusion a more pretentious scheme for connecting the Hudson with Lake Ontario by way of the Mohawk, Oneida Lake and the Onondaga river.
In the elections of 1796, he was returned to the U.S. Senate and served from March 4, 1797 until he resigned with health problems on January 3, 1798. He was buried with full military honors in the vault of General Abraham Ten Broeck. His remains were later re-interred in the Albany Rural Cemetery. In 1871, a Doric column of Quincy granite, 36 feet tall, was erected in his memory.