'And Peggy': 7 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Peggy Schuyler

A miniature portrait of Peggy Schuyler on ivory by James Peale, circa 1796. Courtesy of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation // Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, Albany, New York.

There were a lot of details that Lin-Manuel Miranda couldn’t fit into the Broadway musical Hamilton—that time Hamilton claimed to have communicated with a dead Revolutionary War commander as a joke, for example, or his epic rivalry with New York Governor George Clinton, or a mic-dropping diss rap directed at John Adams. He also couldn’t fit in much about Peggy, the Schuyler sister who, in the show, is worried about being out too late downtown and disappears after the first act. (The actress who plays her, Jasmine Cephas Jones, plays Maria Reynolds in the second act.) But in real life, this Schuyler sister was much beloved by Hamilton—and much more than “and Peggy.” Here are a few things you should know about her.


Peggy was a nickname; depending on the source, she was either Margaret or Margarita Schuyler. She was born in Albany in September 1758.


The Schuyler family was one of the wealthiest in New York, and each daughter was, according to Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow, “smart, beautiful, gregarious, and rich … they collectively charmed and delighted all the visitors to the Schuyler mansion in Albany.” Philip and Catherine Schuyler had eight children who survived to adulthood, including three sons; Peggy, the third of Schuyler’s daughters, was “very pretty,” according to the Scottish poet Anne Grant, and possessed “a kind of wicked wit.” The elder Catherine Schuyler’s biographer, Mary Gay Humphreys, described Peggy as having “animated and striking” features; as a young woman, she was “lively” and “the favorite of dinner-tables and balls” and, in later in life, was “bright, high-spirited [and] generous.”

But not all descriptions were so rosy. In a 1782 letter to Hamilton, statesman James McHenry compared Peggy to her sister Angelica (who he calls “Mrs. Carter” because her husband, John Barker Church, was forced to take the alias John Carter during the revolution), noting that “Peggy, though, perhaps a finer woman, is not generally thought so. Her own sex are apprehensive that she considers them, poor things, as [Jonathan] Swifts [sic] Vanessa did; and they in return do not scruple to be displeased. In short, Peggy, to be admired as she ought, has only to please the men less and the ladies more.” According to Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow, Peggy was “sarcastic” and “very beautiful but vain and supercilious.”


In 1780, shortly after Hamilton began courting Eliza (or, as Hamilton also called her, Betsey), Washington’s aide-de-camp wrote to Peggy at length of his love for her sister; he included a bit of flattery for good measure:

“I venture to tell you in confidence, that by some odd contrivance or other, your sister has found out the secret of interesting me in every thing that concerns her; and though I have not the happiness of a personal acquaintance with you, I have had the good fortune to see several very pretty pictures of your person and mind which have inspired me with a more than common partiality for both. Among others your sister carries a beautiful copy constantly about her elegantly drawn by herself, of which she has two or three times favoured me with a sight. You will no doubt admit it as a full proof of my frankness and good opinion of you, that I with so little ceremony introduce myself to your acquaintance and at the first step make you my confident.”

Between when their courtship began and when he married Eliza in December 1780, Hamilton became close to all the Schuylers.


In October 1780, Hamilton wrote to Eliza, asking her to tell Peggy that he’d soon open a letter he had from her. “I am composing a piece, of which, from the opinion I have of her qualifications, I shall endeavour to prevail upon her to act the principal character,” he wrote. “The title is ‘The way to get him, for the benefit of all single ladies who desire to be married.’ You will ask her if she has any objections to taking part in the piece and tell her that if I am not much mistaken in her, I am sure she will have none.” (He added to his soon-to-be wife, “For your own part, your business is now to study the way to keep him, which is said to be much the most difficult task of the two, though in your case I thoroughly believe it will be an easy one and that to succeed effectually you will only have to wish it sincerely.”)


In 1781, Albany was not much safer than the warfront: local Native American tribes and British loyalists had been running raids all over the area. Philip Schuyler, who was the mastermind of a spy ring, was even the subject of a British kidnapping plot; on August 7, according to Chernow, a group of Tories and Native Americans surrounded the Schuyler mansion and forced their way into the home searching for the patriarch. The family—including Angelica and Eliza, both pregnant—fled upstairs during the assault, realizing too late that they’d left behind Catherine Schuyler’s baby daughter (also named Catherine). When Peggy snuck downstairs to retrieve the infant, who was in a cradle near the door, one of the raiders stepped in front of her with a musket and demanded to know where General Schuyler was. According to Chernow, Peggy replied, cooly, that he had “Gone to alarm the town.” As the raiders, afraid that troops were coming, fled, Peggy grabbed baby Catherine and ran back up the stairs. According to legend, one raider threw a tomahawk at her but missed, hitting the bannister, which still has a mark.


Fixman Collection, Institute Archives and Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY

In June 1783, when she was almost 25, Peggy married a distant cousin, Stephen Van Rensselaer III, 19; it was likely an elopement. (In fact, Eliza was the only Schuyler sister who didn’t elope.) Stephen was a descendent of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, an Amsterdam merchant who was the first patroon—a person granted land and privileges by the Dutch government of New York—of a huge tract of land that included Albany county. This made Stephen a patroon as well, and he had plenty of money and servants. After her marriage, Peggy earned another nickname, this one bestowed upon her by Hamilton: “Mrs. Patroon.” By 1789, the couple had three children, only one of whom would survive to adulthood.


By 1801, Peggy had been ill for two years. Hamilton, who had resigned as Treasury Secretary six years before, was in Albany on business that March when Peggy took a turn for the worse. He frequently wrote to Eliza, at home in New York City, about her sister’s health. “Your Sister Peggy has gradually grown worse & is now in a situation that her dissolution in the opinion of the Doctor is not likely to be long delayed,” he wrote on February 25. The situation was dire enough, he said, that Peggy’s husband had requested that their only surviving son, then 11, be brought home.

But by March 9, things were slightly better. “Your Sister Peggy had a better night last night than for three weeks past and is much easier this morning,” Hamilton told Eliza. “Yet her situation is such as only to authorise a glimmering of hope.” On March 10 he wrote again, telling her that he would return home but for “the situation of your Sister Peggy, her request that I would stay a few days longer and the like request of your father and mother … There has been little alteration either way in Peggys [sic] situation for these past four days.”

It wouldn’t be long before things got much worse. On March 16, Hamilton wrote to Eliza with the sad news that her sister, not yet 43, had passed away: “On Saturday, My Dear Eliza, your sister took leave of her sufferings and friends, I trust, to find repose and happiness in a better country. … Viewing all that she had endured for so long a time, I could not but feel a relief in the termination of the scene. She was sensible to the last and resigned to the important change.” He planned to stay for the funeral and leave for New York City the day after. “I long to come to console and comfort you my darling Betsey,” he wrote. “Adieu my sweet angel. Remember the duty of Christian Resignation. Ever Yrs, A H.”

Mental Floss
How Jeremy Bentham Finally Came to America, Nearly 200 Years After His Death
Mental Floss
Mental Floss

One day toward the beginning of March, an unusual object arrived at a New York City airport. Carefully encased in a foam-padded, specially built wooden chair and strapped in with a bright-blue sash, it was the stuffed skeleton of one of Britain's most famous philosophers—transported not for burial, but for exhibition.

"We all refer to him as he, but the curator has corrected me. I need to keep referring to it," says University College London conservator Emilia Kingham, who prepared the item for its transatlantic voyage.

The stuffed skeleton belongs to the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who died in 1832. But for well over a century, his "auto-icon"—an assemblage including his articulated skeleton surrounded by padding and topped with a wax head—has been on display in the south cloisters of University College London. Starting March 21, it will be featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition "Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now)," marking its first appearance in America.

While the auto-icon has sometimes been seen as an absurd vanity project or memento mori, according to Tim Causer, it's best understood as a product of Bentham's trailblazing work. "I would tend to ask people to reckon with the auto-icon not as macabre curio or the weird final wish of a strange old man," says the senior research associate at UCL's Bentham Project, which is charged with producing a new edition of the philosopher's collected works. Instead, "[we should] accept it in the manner in which Bentham intended it, as a sort of physical manifestation of his philosophy and generosity of spirit."


Engraving of Jeremy Bentham by J. Posselwhite
Engraving of Jeremy Bentham by J. Posselwhite

Bentham is best known as the founder of utilitarianism, a philosophy that evaluates actions and institutions based on their consequences—particularly whether those consequences cause happiness. A man frequently ahead of his time, he believed in a world based on rational analysis, not custom or religion, and advocated for legal and penal reform, freedom of speech, animal rights, and the decriminalization of homosexuality.

His then-unconventional ideas extended to his own body. At the time Bentham died, death was largely the province of the Church of England, which Bentham thought was "irredeemably corrupt," according to Causer. Instead of paying burial fees to the Church and letting his body rot underground, Bentham wanted to put his corpse to public use.

In this he was influenced by his friend and protégé Dr. Thomas Southwood Smith, who had published an article called "Use of the dead to the living" in 1824. Smith argued that medical knowledge suffered from the limited number of bodies then available for dissection—the Crown supplied only a handful of hanged criminals each year—and that the pool of available corpses had to be expanded to allow surgeons more practice material, lest they begin "practicing" on the living.

From his earliest will, Bentham left his body to science. (Some scholars think he may have been the first person to do so.) But he also went one step further. His last essay, written shortly before his death, was entitled "Auto-icon; or, farther uses of the dead to the living." In it, Bentham lambasts "our dead relations" as a source of both disease and debt. He had a better idea: Just as "instruction has been given to make 'every man his own broker,' or 'every man his own lawyer': so now may every man be his own statue."

Bentham envisioned a future in which weatherproofed auto-icons would be interspersed with trees on ancestral estates, employed as "actors" in historical theatre and debates, or simply kept as decoration. The point, he felt, was to treat the body in terms of its utility, rather than being bound by superstition or fear.

"It was a very courageous thing to do in the 1830s, to ask yourself to be dissected and reassembled," Causer says. "The auto-icon is his final attack on organized religion, specifically the Church of England. Because Bentham thought the church had a pernicious influence on society."

Sketch of Jeremy Bentham's corpse laid out for dissection
"The Mortal Remains" of Jeremy Bentham laid out for dissection, by H. H. Pickersgill

There was only one man Bentham trusted with carrying out his last wishes: Smith. After a public dissection attended by eminent scientific men, the devoted doctor cleaned Bentham's bones and articulated the skeleton with copper wiring, surrounding them with straw, cotton wool, fragrant herbs, and other materials. He encased the whole thing in one of Bentham's black suits, with the ruffles of a white shirt peeking out at the breast. He even propped Bentham's favorite walking stick, which the philosopher had nicknamed "Dapple," in between his legs, and sat him on one of his usual chairs—all just as Bentham had asked for.

But not everything went quite according to plan. The philosopher had asked to have his head preserved in the "style of the New Zealanders," which Smith attempted by placing the head over some sulfuric acid and under an air pump. The result was ghastly: desiccated, dark, and leathery, even as the glass eyes Bentham had picked out for it during life gleamed from the brow.

Seeing as how the results "would not do for exhibition," as Smith wrote to a friend, the doctor hired a noted French artist, Jacques Talrich, to sculpt a head out of wax based on busts and paintings made of Bentham while alive. Smith called his efforts "one of the most admirable likenesses ever seen"—a far more suitable topper for the auto-icon than the real, shriveled head, which was reportedly stuffed into the chest cavity and not rediscovered until World War II.

The preserved real head of Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham's preserved real head
Matt Brown, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Smith kept the auto-icon at his consulting rooms until 1850, when he donated it to University College London, where Bentham is often seen as a spiritual forefather. It has been there ever since, inside a special mahogany case, despite rumors that students from Kings College—UCL's bitter rival—once stole the head and used it as a football.

"His head has never been stolen by another university," Kingham confirms. Causer says there is reason to believe the wax head was stolen by King's College in the 1990s, but never the real head. The football part of the story is particularly easy to dismiss, he notes: "We all have human heads, and kicking them doesn't do them much good, particularly 180-year-old human heads. If anybody kicked that, it would disintegrate on impact, I think." (Kingham also notes that the real head is not decomposing, as is sometimes claimed: "It's actually quite stable, it just doesn't look like a real-life person anymore. The skin is all shrunken.")

Another beloved myth has it that the auto-icon regularly attends UCL council meetings, where he's entered into the record as "present but not voting." Causer says that's not true either, although fiction became reality after the auto-icon graced the council meetings marking the 100th and 150th anniversary of the college's founding as a nod to the legend; it also attended the final council meeting of the school's retiring provost, Malcolm Grant.


Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon
Thomas Southwood Smith and Jacques Talrich, Auto-Icon of Jeremy Bentham. UCL Culture, London

Bentham always wanted to visit America; Causer says he was "a big admirer of the American political system" as the one most likely to promote the greatest happiness for its citizens. But before he could accomplish in death what he failed to do in life, UCL had to mount a careful conservation operation.

The first step: a spring cleaning. The conservation team at UCL removed each item of clothing on the auto-icon piece by piece, holding carefully to the delicate areas, like a loose left shoulder and wrist, where they knew from previous x-rays that the wiring was imperfect. After a detailed condition report and an inspection for pest damage (thankfully absent), the team surface-cleaned everything.

"The clothes were quite grubby because the box that he's sitting in, it's actually not very airtight," Kingham says. A vacuum with a brush attachment took care of surface dirt and dust, but the inner items required a more thorough clean. "We determined that his linen shirt and also his underwear could do with the wash, so we actually washed those in water. It was quite exciting saying I've been able to wash Jeremy Bentham's undies." The wax head was cleaned with water and cotton swabs, and occasionally a little spit, which Kingham says is a common cleaning technique for painted surfaces.

Kingham's team rearranged the stuffing around the skeleton, plumping the fibers as you would a pillow. The stuffing around the arms, in particular, had started to sag, so Kingham used a piece of stockinette fabric to bind the area around the biceps—making them look more like arms, she says, but also reducing some of the strain against the jacket, which threatened the stitching.

But the most labor-intensive part of the preparation, according to Kingham, was devising a customized padded chair for the auto-icon's transport. Their final creation included a wooden boarded seat covered in soft foam that had been sculpted to hold the auto-icon lying on its back, knees bent at a 90-degree angle to minimize stress on the pelvis—another weak point. The auto-icon was bound to the chair with soft bandages, and the whole thing inserted into a travel case. The wax head was also set inside a foam pad within a special handling crate (the real head will stay at UCL, where it is currently on display), while Bentham's regular chair, hat, and walking stick got their own crates.

"We had originally joked that it might be just easier to buy him a seat on the plane and just wheel him in on a wheelchair," Kingham says, laughing.

The special chair constructed for transporting Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon
UCL Culture

Luke Syson, the co-curator of "Like Life," says it was touching to watch the stick and hat emerge from their travel boxes, even if the auto-icon's special chair did look a bit "like how you would transport a lunatic around 1910—or indeed 1830."

Reached by phone just after he had finished installing the auto-icon, Syson says he wanted to include the item as part of the show's emphasis on works of art made to persuade the viewer that life is present. "This piece really sums up so many of the themes that the rest of the show looks at, so the use of wax, for example, as a substitute for flesh, the employment of real clothes … And then, above all of course, the use of body parts." And the auto-icon isn't the only item in the show to include human remains—when we spoke to Syson, he was looking at the auto-icon, Marc Quinn's "Self" (a self-portrait in frozen blood), and a medieval reliquary head made for a fragment of Saint Juliana's skull, all of which are installed in the same corner of the museum.

Syson says he was initially worried the auto-icon might not "read" as a piece of art—worries that were dispelled as soon as he installed the wax head. "The modeling of the face is so fine," he says. "The observation and expression, the sense of changing personality … there's a lovely jowliness underneath his chin, the wrinkles around his eyes are really speaking, and the kind of quizzical eyebrows, and so on, all make him really amazingly present."

And unlike at UCL, where the auto-icon sits in a case, viewers at the Met are able to see him on three sides, including his back. "He sort of springs to attention on his chair, he's not sort of slumped, which you couldn't see in the box [at UCL]."

Those who have worked with Bentham's auto-icon say it encourages a kind of intimacy. Taking the auto-icon apart, Kingham says, "you really do feel a closeness to Jeremy Bentham, because you looked in such detail at his clothes, and his bones, and his skeleton." The wax head, she says, is particularly lifelike. "People who knew him have said that it's a very, very good realistic likeness of him," she notes, which made it both eerie and special to handle so closely.

"This is both the representation and the person," Syson says. "We've been calling him 'Jeremy' these last few months, and he's sort of here, and it's not just that something's here, he's here. So that's an amazing thing."

Nearly 200 years later and across an ocean, Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon has arrived to serve another public good: delighting a whole new set of fans.

Jyrki Kymäläinen, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
National WWII Museum Launches a European Tour Tracing the 'Band of Brothers' Path
Jyrki Kymäläinen, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Jyrki Kymäläinen, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Thanks to Stephen E. Ambrose's book Band of Brothers and the HBO miniseries of the same name, the story of "Easy" Company of the United States Army is among the most famous to come out of the Second World War. Now WWII buffs have a whole new way to experience that chapter in history: The National WWII Museum in New Orleans is offering a 13-day European excursion that traces the company's footsteps from Britain to Nazi Germany.

Easy Company suffered from one of the highest casualty rates of any U.S. company during World War II. They landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, fought in the Siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, and captured Hitler's infamous Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgaden, Germany.

All of those highlights are covered in the WWII Museum's tour called "Easy Company: England to the Eagle's Nest." The museum was founded by Ambrose, and the new tour gives guests an intimate look at the sites mentioned in his book. During the excursion, tour members will be treated to commentary from museum historians and guest appearances from the actors who portrayed Easy Company soldiers in the miniseries. Admission to historical sites at each stop, as well as meals, transportation, and accommodations, is included in the price.

The next available tour starts September 9, with tickets costing $8490 for single guests and $6495 for each guest traveling as a couple. And if you're looking for another book-related escape for your next vacation, Rail Europe's literary tour of the continent may suit your tastes.


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