General John Burgoyne’s Stay in Albany

The War Years (1775-1783)

March 1, 2024
by Sherman Lohnes Also by this Author


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On October 19, 1777, two days after the Articles of Convention brought his “disaster at Saratoga” to a close, British Lt. Gen. John Burgoyne arrived in Albany, New York, a defeated man. There, Burgoyne resided in the home of Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler until October 27, 1777.[1] Most accounts of his stay focus on the hospitality Burgoyne was shown by Schuyler’s wife, and the comforts he is alleged to have enjoyed. The work he accomplished, as well as his physical and mental condition at that time, is often overlooked.

General Schuyler’s Albany home, now a New York State Historical Park, is open seasonally to the public. Tour guides will point out that Burgoyne stayed in the upper front corner room, and that the front vestibule was added by a later owner, some time in the 1800s. (Author)

Burgoyne himself is responsible to some degree for the view many have of the time he spent in Albany. He shared little regarding his 1777 journey from Saratoga to captivity in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and what he did highlights the courtesy extended to him. According to Burgoyne, following the surrender on October 17:

[General Schuyler] sent an aide-de-camp to conduct me to Albany, in order, as he expressed it, to procure me better quarters than a stranger might be able to find. This gentleman conducted me to a very elegant house, and to my great surprise, presented me to Mrs. Schuyler and her family; and in this general’s house I remained during my whole stay in Albany, with a table of more than twenty courses for me and my friends, and every other possible demonstration of hospitality; a situation, painful as it is true in point of sensibility at the time, but which I now contemplate to some satisfaction[2]

Subsequent accounts often reflect this aspect of his stay. Samuel F. Batchelor noted in a presentation to the Cambridge Massachusetts Historical Society, over a century ago: “For a week, after the signing of the Convention of Saratoga, [Burgoyne] had been honorably entertained, with every attention befitting his rank, at the luxurious town house of General Schuyler at Albany, where ‘a table of twenty covers’ had been spread for himself and his party.”[3]

Other accounts highlight what is alleged to be Burgoyne’s flawed character, his enjoyment of fine living and womanizing; some even manage to work in popular culture. F. J. Hudleston, author of the classic biography suggestively titled, Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne, Misadventures of an English General in the Revolution, relied primarily on the memoirs of Frederika Charlotte Louise Baroness de Riedesel, whose husband commanded Burgoyne’s German troops, to describe his stay. The Baroness noted that Burgoyne, she, her husband and their three children who were traveling with them “were received in the most friendly manner” in Albany, to the point that General Burgoyne was moved by the kindness of his hostess.[4] The narrative to Maj. Gen. Friedrich Adolph, Baron de Riedesel’s Memoirs expand on this, claiming that after the surrender Riedesel went to Albany with Burgoyne, “where, as related at length by his noble wife who shared his captivity, he was entertained with the most lavish hospitality by General Schuyler and his wife.”[5]

Stories associated with Burgoyne’s stay span the centuries. Maj. Gen. Francois-Jean de Beauvoix, Marquis de Chastellux, visited the Schuylers in December 1780, while in America with the French army. He claimed that he was told by the Schuyler himself that one of his sons entered the bedroom Burgoyne and several of his officers occupied, saying as he shut the door behind him: “Ye are all my prisoners.”[6] An internet account, likely inspired in part by the musical Hamilton, claims Burgoyne “was impressed by General Schuyler’s wine cellar and the graciousness and geniality of the General and Mrs. Schuyler. Some even say that the charms of General Schuyler’s daughter Eliza, who would later marry Alexander Hamilton, caught the eye of the well-known playboy and sophisticate.”[7]

Serious Burgoyne biographers have been more balanced. Norman S. Poser’s recent biography From Battlefield to the Stage—The Many Lives of John Burgoyne  notes: “Mrs Schuyler received her guests cordially in the large yellow-brick Schuyler mansion. It was a fine place to recover from the horrors of war.” And that three days later Burgoyne, “weary and pain-ridden by gout, sat down at a desk in the Schuyler mansion to explain to Lord Germain in London the reasons why he had surrendered.”[8]

For the most part though, this brief period of Burgoyne’s life that followed the Saratoga campaign has been overlooked. Hudleston, after repeating the Baroness Riedesel and Chastellux stories of Burgoyne’s stay, and noting that Burgoyne expected to arrive in Albany as a conqueror, not a captive, concludes his summation by saying: “For the sake of convenience let us here look ahead a few weeks, and turn our attention to London.”[9]

The idea that Burgoyne enjoyed a holiday in Albany, away from his captured army, is not new. Burgoyne wrote in the dedication of the defense of his failed campaign, A State of the Expedition From Canada as Laid Before the House of Commons, “I have been accused of shrinking from the common captivity.”[10] He denied that he did. It is reasonable to ask, though, what Burgoyne did in Albany from October 19 until the 27th, while his British and German troops, who had become known as the “Convention Army”, were on their march into captivity.

On October 17, 1777, Burgoyne was the highest ranking British officer to be taken by the Continental army. His change in status was immediate. American Gen. Horatio Gates made arrangements for Burgoyne and the five general officers captured with him to be escorted to Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Brig. Gen. John Glover of the Continental army, and Brig. Gen. William Whipple of the New Hampshire militia.[11] Instead of commanding troops in the field on an expedition to suppress what he viewed as a rebellion, as he had since early July, Burgoyne’s day would begin with his troops surrendering their arms, and end with him traveling as a prisoner, under guard. Lt. Samuel Armstrong, of the 8th Massachusetts Regiment, wrote: “Saturday 18th This day Genl. Burgoine passed down toward Albany as a prisoner under the care of our Light Horse, upon the Western Side of the River.”[12]

John Trumbull’s “Surrender of Burgoyne.” Burgoyne, center left, offers his sword to Gates. General Philip Schuyler appears in a brown coat, behind the cannon. To his right are Generals John Glover and William Whipple, who would escort Burgoyne from Schuyler’s Albany mansion to Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Architect of the Capitol)

On October 20, one day after Burgoyne’s arrival in Albany, Whipple and others “dined with Genl Gates in company Burgoyne & his Suite.” Burgoyne appears to have spent much of the day writing letters. Under Article X of the Articles of Convention, Burgoyne was authorized to share word of his defeat, with Gates agreeing that: “Passports to be immediately granted for three officers, not exceeding the rank of captains, who shall be appointed by Lieutenant-general Burgoyne, to carry dispatches to Sir William Howe, Sir Guy Carleton, and to Great Britain, by the way of New York.”

In Albany he faced the daunting prospect of informing his superiors in London that he had been defeated—and doing so in the best light possible. On several occasions during the campaign he had advised them of his progress. He hoped this letter, like several of his earlier dispatches, would be made public. After laying out the challenges he faced in September, including being reduced “to 3,500 fighting-men, not 2,000 of which were British,” and finding himself encircled on three sides on October 13 by an enemy force numbering more than 16,000, he explained that he had consulted with all of his generals and officers, and revealed to Lord Germain, Secretary of State for the Colonies: “I was induced to open a treaty with Major-General Gates.”[13]

Another letter to Germain, designated as “Private” at the time it was written, but included in the documents Burgoyne published in 1780, expanded on the reasons for his defeat, noting that “Had the force been all British, perhaps the perseverance had been longer,” that his American opponents were better troops than he had first realized; and that he now found himself “sunk in mind and body.”[14]

On October 20, he also wrote letters to Gen. Sir William Howe, who had occupied Philadelphia, Gen. Sir Henry Clinton in New York City, and Gen. Sir Guy Carleton in Quebec, defending his decision to surrender, and requesting Howe’s assistance to send “my Aid de Camp Lord Petersham to England as soon as my dispatches can be prepared.”[15]

On October 21 Whipple noted that he was preparing to set out with Burgoyne, but on the 22nd “Mr. Burgoyne desires to to [sic] tarry until the 24.” This would turn out to be the first of several delays, as on the 23rd Whipple wrote, “Mr. Burgoyne is very desirous to tarry one day longer to finish his dispatches which is granted to him therefore the 25th is the day agreed on to set out.”

Burgoyne was not the only one in Albany writing dispatches. Gates did so on October 19, when he notified state officials in at least Massachusetts and Connecticut that he was sending them a “Copy of the Convention, by which Lieutenant-General Burgoyne surrendered himself, and his whole Army, on the 17th.”[16] On October 21 Riedesel updated the Duke of Brunswick with a letter that began by saying: “Your serene Highness will see from this most humble report in what kind of a sorry situation our fine American maneuvers have placed me and the royal troops,” and then laid much of the blame for the surrender at Burgoyne’s feet.[17] On October 22 Glover notified Massachusetts officials that Burgoyne’s surrendered army was on its way to Boston, and he had “sent on one Division of the prisoners, Consisting of 2,442 British troops, by Northampton, the other by way of Springfield, Consisting of 2,198 foreign troops.”[18]

A second document from Whipple in the collection of the Portsmouth Athenaeum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, reveals how some of Burgoyne’s time was spent. On October 24, Burgoyne and Gates signed an agreement for the exchange of some of the officers who had been captured during the campaign which noted: “It is mutually agreed between Lieut. General Burgoyne and Major Genl Gates that the Following Officers taken by Lieut. Genl Burgoyne be immediately released and that the same number of Officers of Equal Rank (or with proper allowance where there is a superiority on either side) taken by Major Genl Gates shall be immediately released on his pass agreeable to the following list.” About forty officers were listed as to be released as a result of their negotiations.[19]

Despite whatever agreement Whipple thought existed with Burgoyne on a departure date, on the 24th he wrote: “Mr. Burgoyne is still desirous of another day which is again granted him he promises not to ask to tarry longer than the 26.” That too would change, as while Whipple was ready to go on the 26th, “this being the day appointed to set out had my horses tacked but it being very late before we could get away it was determined to set out early in the morning.” Finally, on October 27, Burgoyne, under escort, “set out from Albany at seven o’clock reached Kendar Hook [Kinderhook, New York] about 11 o’clock which is 20 Miles—it rained hard all the way.”

Burgoyne’s official correspondence, along with the lesser mentioned negotiations he held with Gates for the release of prisoners, represent only a part of what Burgoyne did in Albany. He also took his first steps, of what would be many, to shift responsibility for the defeat from himself to others. In a letter dated October 20, 1777, to Col. Richard Burton Phillipson, a member of the House of Commons, Burgoyne shared information from his public and private letters to Germain and references another letter that he sent to Lord Derby, saying, “I do it to furnish you with means of defending your friend against the attacks that necessarily follow unsuccessful events.”Burgoyne concluded this letter, similarly as he had written in his private letter to Germain, with the statement: “As to myself, I am exhausted in mind and body.”[20]

The letters Burgoyne wrote from Albany shed light on his physical and mental state, and further refute the idea that he simply spent his time there enjoying the hospitality of his hostess. Burgoyne would note that when he arrived in Cambridge on November 7, he was in “ill health.”[21] He was fifty-five years old at the time. In June 1776 his wife, Lady Charlotte Burgoyne, had died while he was in Canada, on the second of his three tours of duty in North America.[22] A November 16 report from Glover to Gates supports Burgoyne’s claim of ill health, as it included the comment that with regard to the trip from Albany, “the badness of the roads was almost too much for Gen’l Burgoyne’s shatter’d constitution.”[23] Five months later, as Burgoyne was preparing to return to England, Maj. Gen. William Phillips, his deputy, wrote from Cambridge in April 1778: “Our friend, General Burgoyne . . . has been, and I think is, very ill; the distressed situation of his mind, joined to a constitution rather hurt, would have destroyed him here.”[24]

Burgoyne shared more detail on the stress he had experienced in a letter to his nieces also dated October 20 at Albany. It suggests that the physical and mental strain of the Saratoga campaign had left him worn out, and in need of time to recover, rather than socialize:

There are few situations in a military life exposed to more personal hazard than I have lately undergone . . . I have been surrounded with enemies, ill-treated by pretended friends, abandoned by a considerable part of my own army, totally unassisted by Sir William Howe. I have been obliged to deliberate upon the most nice negotiations, and political arrangements that required the most undisturbed reflection, under perpetual fire, and exhausted with laborious days, and sixteen almost sleepless nights, without change of clothes, or other covering than the sky. I have been with my army within the jaws of famine; shot through my hat and waistcoat; my nearest friends killed round me; and after these combined misfortunes and escapes, I imagine I am reserved to stand a war with ministers who will always lay the blame upon the employed who miscarries. . . . [I] am exhausted to that degree with business that I can really scarce hold my pen.[25]

Though Burgoyne was criticized for not sharing in the rigors of captivity with the Convention Army, many would testify that he shared fully in the dangers of the Saratoga campaign. Lt. Col. Alexander Lindsay, Earl of Balcarres, of the 24th Regiment of Foot, testified before Parliament that “General Burgoyne, at all times, shared the dangers and afflictions of that army in common with every soldier.”[26]Burgoyne summarized his experiences of the last days of the campaign by saying:

From the 20th of September to the 7th of October, the armies were so near, that not a night passed without firing . . . I do not believe either officer or soldier ever slept during that interval without his cloaths, or that any general officer, or commander of a regiment, passed a single night without being upon his legs occasionally at different hours, and constantly an hour before day- light.[27]

In response to questioning, Balcarres testified that Burgoyne had personally led troops in battle at Freeman’s Farm.[28] Of that battle, Burgoyne recalled:

The enemy had with their army great numbers of marksmen, armed with rifle-barrel pieces. . . Captain Green, aid-de-camp to Major General Phillips, was shot through the arm by one of these marksmen as he was delivering me a message. I learned, after the convention, from the commanding officer of the riflemen, that the shot was meant for me; and as the captain was seen to fall from his horse, it was for some hours believed in the enemy’s army that I was killed. My escape was owing to the captain happening to have a laced furniture to his saddle, which made him mistaken for the general.[29]

Burgoyne’s account of the fighting on October 7, at Bemis Heights, provides additional detail on the comments he shared with his nieces. There, he wrote, “The losses in the action were uncommonly severe . . . In the course of the action, a shot had passed through my hat, and another had torn my waistcoat.” Others were less fortunate. Sir Francis Carr Clerke, his aide-de-camp, and Brig. Gen. Simon Fraser, who commanded the Advance Corps, were both shot and mortally wounded.[30]

Fraser died the following day, but not before requesting to be buried in a section of the British fortifications known as the Great Redoubt. At sunset, the time designated for burial,

the corpse of General Fraser was brought up the hill . . . The incessant cannonade during the solemnity; the steady attitude and unaltered voice with which the chaplain officiated, though frequently covered with dust, which the shot threw upon all sides of him; the mute but expressive mixture of sensibility and indignation upon every countenance: these objects will remain to the last of life upon the minds of every man who was present.

It was, Burgoyne wrote, “one of the finest subjects for the pencil of a master that the field ever exhibited,” and a scene that would be painted in 1791 by John Graham.[31]

The Funeral of General Fraser at Saratoga, as seen in a copy in the British Army Museum by an unknown artist. Burgoyne stands with his hand on his chin, to the left of Chaplain Brudenell, looking much older than he appears in other well-known portraits done before the Saratoga campaign. (British Army Museum)

Others confirmed Burgoyne’s recollection. His aide, Capt. Charles Stanhope, Earl of Harrington, of the 29th Regiment of Foot, stated when questioned that he recalled“the redoubt in which [Fraser] was buried was very heavily cannonaded during the ceremony, and even previous to this they fired at those who attended the corpse on its way thither,” and that Burgoyne was among those present for the funeral.[32]

The following day a cannonball reportedly hit the leg of mutton Burgoyne was carving for dinner, or, at the least, “a cannon shot had discomposed the company at the general’s table.”[33] Burgoyne’s exposure to hostile fire continued until the cease-fire on October 14, Balcarres responding to the question “Was there a spot in the whole position to be found for holding that council [of war on October 13], which was not exposed to cannon or rifle-shot?” with the answer: “We were not so fortunate as to find one.”[34]

A review of the evidence supports the conclusion that, despite being in ill health and having recently experienced close combat that likely led to psychological trauma, much of Burgoyne’s stay in Albany was spent doing his duty. To a large degree his work was driven by self-interest and colored by an attempt to portray his defeat in the best light possible, setting the stage for the political battles that would continue for years over his reputation and future as a general officer.

To his credit, Burgoyne appears to have had the opportunity to avoid confinement altogether, but didn’t take it. On March 5, 1778, Gates wrote to Burgoyne: “SIR, I am exceedingly mortified that you did not accept of my offer at Albany, to go to England in a vessel that the State of Massachusetts Bay would at my request have provided.”[35]

There are reasons to criticize Burgoyne’s leadership in 1777, including his failed campaign, and afterwards his unwillingness to march, and then stay in America with the officers and soldiers of the Convention Army. How he spent his time in Albany isn’t one of them.


[1]William Whipple, Memorandum and Expenses, Burgoyne Campaign, 1777, Portsmouth New Hampshire Athenaeum, John Langdon Papers, Catalog Number MS050 B08 F36.

[2]William L. Stone, Visits to the Saratoga Battle-Grounds (Albany: Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1895), 74-75n.

[3]Samuel F. Batchelor, Burgoyne and His Officers in Cambridge 1777-1778 (Cambridge: The Cambridge Historical Society, 1926), 29.

[4]F.J. Hudleston, Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne, Misadventures of an English General in the Revolution (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1927), 217-220.

[5]William L. Stone, Memoirs and Letters and Journals of Major General Riedesel, During His Residence in America, Vol. 1 (Albany: J. Munsell, 1868), 10. Schuyler was not in Albany during Burgoyne’s stay. The Riedesels’ assessment of Burgoyne’s eight-night stay are suspect, as not only was the Baroness hostile toward Burgoyne, but left Albany October 22, five days before Burgoyne.

[6]Stone, Visits to the Saratoga Battle-Grounds, 85-87.

[7]“Why we don’t have a Queen and sing Rule Britannia: The Battle of Saratoga,” Friends of Albany History,

[8]Norman S. Poser, From the Battlefield to the Stage—The Many Lives of John Burgoyne (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2022), 142-143.

[9]Hudleston,Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne, 220. What is perhaps the earliest summary of Burgoyne’s life offers even less information. After discussing the surrender it simply states: “Early in 1778 he arrived in England.” The Dramatic and Poetical Works of the Late Lieut. Gen. J. Burgoyne (London: C. Whittingham, 1808), 28.

[10]John Burgoyne, A State of the Expedition From Canada, as Laid Before the House of Commons (London: J. Almon, 1780), Iv.

[11]Whipple, Memorandum and Expenses. Whipple’s journal details his escorting Burgoyne from Albany to Cambridge in 1777, and includes the daily entries cited below.

[12]Samuel Armstrong, “From Saratoga to Valley Forge: The Diary of Lt. Samuel Armstrong,” Joseph Lee Boyle ed., The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, CXXI, no. 3 (July 1997), 251.

[13]Burgoyne to Germaine Public Letter, in Burgoyne, A State of the Expedition, Appendix, lxxxiii-lxxxiv.

[14]Ibid., xcvii-xcviii. Burgoyne’s criticism of his German troops led in part to the animosity of Baroness Riedesel towards him, and her accusation that during the campaign, even days before the surrender he “liked a jolly time and spending half the night singing and drinking and amusing himself in the company of the wife of a commissary, who was his mistress and, like him, loved champagne.” Frederika Charlotte Louise Baroness de Riedesel, Baroness von Riedesel and the American Revolution, trans. Marvin L. Brown, Jr. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965), 55-56.

[15]Francis S. Wilshin, “Preliminary Report on the Source Material of the Burgoyne Campaign of 1777,” Saratoga National Historical Park, April 29, 1940, v-vi.

[16]Hartford Courant, October 28, 1777.

[17]“Baron Riedesel’s Letter to the Duke of Brunswick October 21, 1777,” Saratoga National Historical Park, 1935,1-9,

[18]F.A. Gardner, MD, Glover’s Marblehead Regiment in the War of the Revolution (Salem: Salem Press), 12.

[19]William Whipple, John Burgoyne Articles of Convention and Exchange of Officers, 1777, Portsmouth New Hampshire Athenaeum, John Langdon Papers, Catalog Number MS050 B08 F35.

[20]Edward Barrington De Fonblanque, Political and Military Episodes in the Latter Half of the Eighteenth Century Derived From The Life and Correspondence . . . Burgoyne (London: Macmillan and Co., 1876), 313-316. Phillipson was an interesting choice for an ally. According to Lewis Narmier, “There is no record of his having ever spoken during his 28 years in Parliament.” Entry on Richard Burton (afterwards Phillipson),

[21]The Speech of Lt. Gen. Burgoyne, Prefatory to His Narrative, Burgoyne, A State of the Expedition, 1. Batchelor, Burgoyne and His Officers in Cambridge 1777-1778, 26.

[22]The Dramatic and Poetical Works of the Late Lieut. Gen. J. Burgoyne, 15-16.

[23]Batchelor,Burgoyne and His Officers in Cambridge 1777-1778, 26n4.

[24]De Fonblanque, Political and Military Episodes, 332.

[25]Ibid., 316-317.

[26]Questioning of the Earl of Balcarres, in Burgoyne, A State of the Expedition, 47. Balcarres had been a major in the 53rd Regiment during the campaign.

[27]Review of the Evidence, ibid., 166.

[28]Questioning of the Earl of Balcarres, ibid., 41.

[29]Review of the Evidence, ibid., 163.

[30]Ibid., 167-168.

[31]Ibid., 168-169.

[32]Questioning of the Earl of Harrington, ibid., 73.

[33]Stone, Visits to the Saratoga Battle-Grounds, 79n. Questioning of the Earl of Balcarres, Burgoyne, A State of the Expedition, 44.

[34]Questioning of the Earl of Balcarres, ibid., 44.

[35]De Fonblanque, Political and Military Episodes, 330.

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