Philip Van Cortlandt
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Philip Van Cortlandt

Philip Van Cortlandt
Philip Van Cortlandt.jpg
Portrait of Van Cortlandt by Ezra Ames, ca. 1810
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 4th district

March 4, 1803 - March 3, 1809
Lucas Conrad Elmendorf
James Emott
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 3rd district

March 4, 1793 - March 3, 1803
Egbert Benson
Samuel Latham Mitchill
Member of the New York State Senate for the Southern District

July 1, 1790 - January 1793
Matthew Clarkson
Member of the New York State Assembly for Westchester County

July 1, 1788 - June 30, 1790
Personal details
BornSeptember 1, 1749
New York City, Province of New York, British America
DiedNovember 5, 1831(1831-11-05) (aged 82)
Croton-on-Hudson, New York, U.S.
Political partyFederalist
RelationsPierre Van Cortlandt, Jr. (brother)
ParentsPierre Van Cortlandt
Joanna Livingston
RelativesSee Van Cortlandt family
EducationColdenham Academy
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service Continental Army
RankBrigadier General
Commands2nd New York Regiment
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War:
 • Battle of Saratoga
 • Battle of Bemis Heights
 • Valley Forge
 • Sullivan Expedition

Philip Van Cortlandt (September 1, 1749 - November 5, 1831) was an American surveyor, landowner, and politician from Westchester County, New York. Van Cortlandt was the son of Pierre Van Cortlandt and brother of Pierre Van Cortlandt, Jr. He was a Continental Army officer during the American Revolution, and later served several terms in the United States House of Representatives.

Early life

Philip Van Cortlandt was born in New York City in the Province of New York on September 1, 1749, in the Van Cortlandt ancestral home located on Stone Street, near the Battery. He died unmarried, on November 5, 1831, at Van Cortlandt Manor, and was a member of one of New York's most prominent families. He was the eldest son of Pierre Van Cortlandt and Joanna Livingston, daughter of Gilbert Livingston, a son of Robert Livingston.[1] His great-grandfather was Stephanus Van Cortlandt, the first native-born Mayor of New York City, and his family were the patroons of Van Cortlandt Manor.[2][3]

Philip Van Cortlandt attended Coldenham Academy. In addition to exercising manorial rights while assisting in the management of the estate's farming and manufacturing activities, Philip Van Cortlandt was a civil engineer, and was active in New York's pre-Revolutionary War loyalist militia as a major.[4][5] At the start of the Revolution, he resigned from the militia, and became active in politics as a founding member of the New York Provincial Congress in 1775.[6]

American Revolution

During the Revolutionary War, Van Cortlandt commanded 4th Battalion of the New York Continental Infantry, served on George Washington's staff, and commanded the Continental Army's 2nd New York Regiment. He fought at the Battle of Saratoga, was with the Army at Valley Forge, and took part in the Sullivan Expedition.

In his memoir, Van Cortlandt recalled his activities during the 1777 Saratoga campaign. In the course of attempting to capture a British gunboat on the Hudson River on the night of the September 17, he and his men stumbled upon an advance guard of Burgoyne's British forces at a place he designated as "Blind Mores". Upon realizing that a main enemy encampment was nearby, Van Cortlandt dispatched messengers to Continental Army commanders in the area, including Benedict Arnold and Enoch Poor, and Daniel Morgan, informing them that "the Enemy was advancing so that they (the Continental Army) might make arrangements Immediately to check their (Burgoyne's troops) advance."[7]

Van Cortlandt's regiment occupied a position on the left flank, and played a significant role in the fighting on September 19 and in the subsequent Battle of Bemis Heights on October 7, which led to Burgoyne's surrender on October 17.

After Burgoyne's surrender, Van Cortlandt moved his regiment moved to Kingston, which Sir Henry Clinton had burned before his hasty retreat to New York; Van Cortlandt subsequently joined Washington at White Marsh, and then went into winter quarters at Valley Forge.

Van Cortlandt subsequently commanded the post at Radnor Friends Meetinghouse; his regiment pursued the British during their retreat from Philadelphia, and took part in the June 1778 Battle of Monmouth. He rejoined the regiment in Poughkeepsie, and resumed the command during the winter of 1778 in the cantonments at New Windsor.

Sullivan Expedition

In the summer of 1779, Van Cortlandt's regiment took part in the Sullivan Expedition. Sullivan's adversary was the Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant, who combined his forces with those of Loyalist John Butler to attack the frontier settlements of New York and Pennsylvania. Van Cortlandt came to respect Brant's abilities, and hung his portrait at Van Cortlandt Manor after the war.[8]

The immediate task confronting Van Cortlandt was to clear a road from Easton through the Wyoming Territory, a distance of some sixty-five miles. He completed his portion of the road in thirty days. The difficulty of this project was recognized by Sullivan when he thanked Van Cortlandt and Colonel Oliver Spencer of the Fifth New Jersey Regiment for their "unparalleled exertions in clearing and repairing the road to Wyoming."[9]

In 1779 and 1780, Van Cortlandt was a member of the Court Martial that charged Benedict Arnold with improper conduct while in command of Philadelphia. This was the third time that Van Cortlandt became directly embroiled with Benedict Arnold. This time, the Pennsylvania Provincial Council had accused Arnold of committing eight violations while supervising the city. A Congressional committee determined that some of the charges should be dismissed, others could only be tried in a civil court, and the remainder were subject to review by a court martial. According to Van Cortlandt's memoir, a minority sought to have Arnold cashiered out of the army; instead, he was merely reprimanded by George Washington. It is now known that Arnold was guilty of some of the charges relating to war profiteering, but that a poor case was made against him by the Pennsylvania authorities.[10]

Van Cortlandt's correspondence regarding Arnold includes these two passages:

I remained time sufficient to discover the Vile conduct of Arnold in procuring a Vast Quantity of goods from the Merchants of Montrial which he intended and which I believe was appropriated to his benefit and also for improper conduct before the Court he would have been arrested himself, but escaped by procuring an order from Genl. Gates to send me the morning after the Court has adjourned, to Schenesborough (Whitehall) by which means the Court was dissolved, Hazen released from arrest, & Arnold escaped Sensure which he ought to have had.[11]

Genl Arnold being under arrest for improper conduct in Philadelphia while he commanded there I was one of the court martial. M. G. Howe President and there were also on that court four officers who had been at Ticonderoga when Colo. Hazen was called on for trial as before related and we were for Cashiering Arnold but were overruled and he was sentenced to be reprimanded by the Commander-in-Chief. If all the court had known Arnold's former Conduct as well as myself how he and his Brigade Major had Robbed Merchants in Montreal he would have been Dismissed from serving any longer in our Army for he would have been cashiered if so he would never have had the Command at West Point and Major Andrew might have lived until this day."[12]

In the fall of 1780, Van Cortlandt's regiment served as the Army's rear guard as it marched to Yorktown. There he commanded the New York Brigade in the trenches until Cornwallis surrendered. He then took charge of the British prisoners on their march to Fredericksburg, and finally went into Winter quarters at Pompton, New Jersey.

Van Cortlandt was commended for gallantry at Yorktown, and mustered out of the service at the end of the war with the rank of Brigadier General.[13]

Later career

Philip Van Cortlandt

Van Cortlandt served in local office, including town supervisor of Cortlandt, member of the town school board, and town road commissioner.

In 1788, Van Cortlandt was a member of the state convention which ratified the United States Constitution, and worked for its approval.[14] He served in the New York State Assembly from 1788 to 1790, representing Westchester County, and the New York State Senate from 1791 to 1793, representing the Southern District, which consisted of Kings, New York, Queens, Richmond, Suffolk and Westchester counties.[15]

In January 1793, Van Cortlandt was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Democratic-Republican, and he served eight terms, 1793 to 1809.[16][17]

Van Cortlandt's wartime portrait, copied from a miniature painted about the close of the Revolution, reveals his likeness to Lafayette. Van Cortlandt accompanied Lafayette on Lafayette's 1824 Tour of the United States.[18] His resemblance to Lafayette was used to advantage at least once. At a large reception Lafayette, wearied with handshaking, suddenly disappeared and left Van Cortlandt as a substitute. The guests, unaware of the change, departed satisfied that they had shaken hands with Lafayette.[19]

Society of the Cincinnati

In 1783 Van Cortlandt was one of 35 officers who created the Society of the Cincinnati. He was an organizer of the New York Society of the Cincinnati, served on the committee creating its bylaws, and served as Treasurer from 1783 to 1788.[20]

Van Cortlandt was one of the Masters of Ceremony for the presentation of the gold eagle insignia and diploma to new members at the New York Society's first meeting, held July 4, 1786 at the City Tavern Club, formerly the home of Van Cortlandt's brother in law Stephen Delancey.

Death and burial

He died at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson on November 5, 1831 and was buried in Hillside Cemetery, Cortlandt Manor, New York.[21][22]

Van Cortlandt never married, and had no children; his sister Catharine Van Wyck resided with him after the death of her husband.[23]


  1. ^ Schuyler, John (1886). Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati 1783. New York: New York State Society of the Cincinnati. p. 319. Retrieved 2016.
  2. ^ Silas Constant, Emily Warren Roebling, The Journal of the Reverend Silas Constant, 1903, pages 429-430
  3. ^ Mrs. Martha J. Lamb, Mrs. Burton Harrison, History of the City of New York, 1896, pages 407-408
  4. ^ John Thomas Scharf, editor, History of Westchester County: New York, Volume 1, Part 1, 1886, page 318
  5. ^ Lamb, Martha J. (March 1, 1886). "Van Cortlandt Manor-House". Magazine of American History. New York, NY: Historical Publication Co. p. 232.
  6. ^ History of Westchester County: New York
  7. ^ Judd, Jacob (1976). The Revolutionary War Memoir and Selected Correspondence of Philip Van Cortlandt (Van Cortlandt Family Papers, Vol 1 ed.). Tarrytown, NY: Sleepy Hollow Restorations. pp. 80-81. ISBN 9780912882277. Retrieved 2016.
  8. ^ Judd, Jacob (1976). The Revolutionary War Memoir and Selected Correspondence of Philip Van Cortlandt (Van Cortlandt Family Papers, Vol 1 ed.). Tarrytown, NY: Sleepy Hollow Restorations. p. 86. ISBN 9780912882277. Retrieved 2016.
  9. ^ Cook, Frederick (1887). Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan 1779. Ann Arbor, MI. pp. 117-118.
  10. ^ Robert Bolton, Oliver Rivington Willis, The History of the Several Towns, Manors, and Patents of the County of Westchester, Volume 1, 1881, page 111
  11. ^ Judd, Jacob (1976). The Revolutionary War Memoir and Selected Correspondence of Philip Van Cortlandt (Van Cortlandt Family Papers, Vol 1 ed.). Tarrytown, NY: Sleepy Hollow Restorations. p. 37. ISBN 9780912882277. Retrieved 2016.
  12. ^ Judd, Jacob (1976). The Revolutionary War Memoir and Selected Correspondence of Philip Van Cortlandt (Van Cortlandt Family Papers, Vol 1 ed.). Tarrytown, NY: Sleepy Hollow Restorations. p. 56. ISBN 9780912882277. Retrieved 2016.
  13. ^ Doris Devine Fanelli, History of the Portrait Collection, Independence National Historical Park, Volume 242, 2001, page 309
  14. ^ Alden Chester, Edwin Melvin Williams, Courts and Lawyers of New York: A History, 1609-1925, Volume 1, 1925, page 269
  15. ^ Weed, Parsons & Co., The New York Civil List, 1861, pages 171, 380
  16. ^ Wed, Parsons & Co., New York Civil List, 1879, page 342
  17. ^ Benjamin Perley Poore, The Political Register and Congressional Directory, 1878, page 674
  18. ^ Harper & Brothers, Harper's encyclopoedia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905, Volume 10, 1905, page 24
  19. ^ Lamb, Martha J. (1896). History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise and Progress (Vol III. ed.). New York: A. S. Barnes & Co. pp. 410-411.
  20. ^ Schuyler, John (1886). Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati: Formed by the Officers of the ... New York: New York State Society of the Cincinnati. p. 77. Retrieved 2015.
  21. ^ Thomas William Herringshaw, Herringshaw's National Library of American Biography, 1914, page 531
  22. ^ Atlantic Observer, The Knickerbocker: The Magazine of the Low Countries, Volume 3, 1943, page 20
  23. ^ "Van Cortlandt Manor-House".

External links

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