Philip Skene
Papers, ca. 1765-1786


Quantity: 1 box (0.25 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research
Acquisition: Source unknown, accessioned August 1925
Processed By: Regina Berry, Manuscripts and Special Collections, Student Assistant, State University of New York at Albany, September 2015

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Biographical Note:

Philip Skene was born in London, England, in February 1725; he died near Stoke, England, June 10, 1810. Skene was a Scottish officer in the British army, a New York state "patroon," and a figure in the Saratoga campaign of the American Revolution.

Philip Skene entered the 1st Royal Regiment in 1736, under the auspices of his uncle, Captain Andrew Skene.  He was at the taking of Carthagena and Porto Bello, and at the battles of Dettingen, Fontenoy, and Culloden. He left the regiment in 1750, and was afterward a captain in the 27th and 10th foot, and a major of a brigade. In the same year he married Katherine, heiress of the Heydens, of Mt. Heyden, County Wicklow, Ireland.  The couple had one son and two daughters.

In 1756 he arrived in the British colonies in North America, and was engaged under Lord Howe at the attack on Ticonderoga, and afterward under Lord Amherst at its capture, with that of Crown Point.  Left in command there he became convinced that the area was a good one for trade and settlement.  With a view to strengthening the British hold on Canada, he received a large grant of land on Lake Champlain in 1759, which he increased by purchases to the extent of about 60,000 acres, and founded the town of Skenesborough, (now Whitehall, New York). He was named lieutenant governor of the forts at Crown Point and Ticonderoga, with the rank of colonel in the army.  He sold his commission in 1769 and became a resident of his new community.  Over the next few years he served as colonel of the local militia, judge, and postmaster; he established foundries and saw-mills, constructed and sailed vessels on the lake, and opened roads to Albany.

When the American Revolution began Skene's son Andrew was arrested as Crown Point and Ticonderoga were being seized. At the time Skene himself was returning from England; on hearing of the outbreak of the Revolution, his ship was diverted to Philadelphia. His arrival there alarmed the Continental Congress to the extent of appointing a committee headed by John Adams to look over his papers; after their report, he was sent to Connecticut under arrest.  Skene was exchanged for James Lovell in October 1776, after which he served a short time under Sir William Howe at New York, and then volunteered under General John Burgoyne, during whose campaign his horse was twice shot out from under him. He and his son acted as guides to the army from Canada. The British troops had for some time occupied Skenesborough and on their moving, General Frederick Haldimand ordered the community to be burned, lest it should become a danger in the hands of their opponents. Colonel Skene thus saw the fruits of an invested fortune and many years' labors perish before his eyes at his countrymen’s hands.

The night before the capitulation of Saratoga, Colonel Skene, as it appears from one of his letters, went to General Burgoyne and told him that there was no need for capitulating; that, on condition that arms and baggage were abandoned, he would undertake to guide the army safely to Canada.

After the recognition of independence, Colonel Skene was in London, and intended to return and begin again as an American citizen. However, the state of New York accused him and his son of high treason, and confiscated their estates. After the war he returned to New York to attempt to recover his property, was unsuccessful, and went back to England. The British government in 1785 granted him a pension of £240 a year for life, and a sum of £20,000, with which he purchased the estate of Addersey Lodge, Northamptonshire. He died in 1810 at his home, and is buried in the chapel at Hartwell, Buckinghamshire, England.

His only son, Andrew Philip Skene, born March 25, 1753, entered the 5th Regiment of Dragoons in 1763.  He was graduated at King's (now Columbia) College, New York, in 1772, and transferred to the 6th Dragoons, and named major of a brigade, being the first subaltern who ever had held that post. He lost a separate estate near Skenesborough, was afterward a captain in the 9th Dragoons, and became a military paymaster. The last twenty-two years of his life were passed at Durham, in northeast England, where he died in February 1826.

Some historians have argued that Philip Skene was treated unfairly in the aftermath of the war.  In 1959 Whitehall school teacher Doris Begor Morton published a biography entitled Philip Skene of Skenesborough. She argued that Philip and Andrew Skene should not have lost their land. The basis of her argument was that on November 30, 1782, the Articles of Peace between Great Britain and the United States, signed in Paris, declared that there should be no more confiscations of land and that the estates of real British subjects should be returned to them. In January 1784 Congress ratified the articles. Philip and Andrew did not live in America after the Declaration of Independence, and therefore should have been considered real British subjects. In 1785 they requested the restoration of their lands but to no avail.  More information on this topic can be found at United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada.external link

Scope and Content Note:

Philip Skene's papers are mainly letters and documents relating to his settlement of Skenesborough in the Champlain Valley and his experiences as a loyalist during the American Revolution, including his capture and exchange as a prisoner of war. A significant amount of material deals with Skene’s efforts to obtain compensation from the British government for the many losses he incurred as a result of the war.

Some of the papers relate to his son, Andrew Philip Skene, and bear his signature. That the father used his position to intervene on his son’s behalf is apparent from several items in the collection.

One especially interesting document is a statement by British General William Howe, in which he writes: "I hereby certify that Philip Skene Esq., Lt. Gov. Commandant of Crown Point and Ticonderoga was detained by the Congress at Philadelphia in June 1775 and was afterwards sent by them to Connecticut in New England where he was confined in gaol, that in Sept. 1776 he was exchanged by me, for Mr. Lovel [sic] one of the Congress, that he joined the Army under my command, and acted with great zeal to his Majesties Service as Lt. Governor of Crown Point." It is signed, W. Howe, London (Item 7306).

Related to the above is Skene's own account of his capture, imprisonment and exchange (Item 7312).

Other noteworthy persons from the American Revolutionary period whose signatures appear in this collection are Gen. Lord Jeffery Amherst (1717-1797); Lt. Gen. John Burgoyne (1722-1792); Stephen Kemble (1740-1822); Lord William Wildman Shute Barrington (1717-1793); Lord Frederick North (1732-1792); Lord George Germain (1716-1785); and Gen. Sir William Howe (1729-1814).

Box and Folder List:

Box Folder Item Description
1 1 7282 Document: "Notes of hand & Bonds of Different persons at Skenesborough," 1767-1773; 5(6)p.
1 2 (EL) 7283 Document: Balance sheet of Philip Skene, June 1774-November 1776.
1 3 7284 Letter: [Philip Skene], Ft. Miller [N.Y.] to [?], August 27, 1777. Describes Lt. Col. Frederick Baum's foray into Bennington.  Discusses the battle.  Marginal notes describe a fire. (torn; part missing); 2p.
1 4 7285 Letter: [Philip Skene] to [?], n.p., n.d.  Describes activities of the forces under Maj. Christopher Carleton. (2p.; missing page(s))
1 5 (EL) 7286 Bond between Philip Skene of Skenesborough, lieutenant governor of Crown Point and Ticonderoga in North America, and Hon. Thomas Fitzmaurice of Pall Mall and John Ingram of London, merchant; for £3685, April 3, 1775.
1 6 7287 Document: Anecdotes describing rebel shipping activities during the war, n.d., 3p.
1 7 7288 Document: Lt. Gov. Skene's memorandum for settling the upper country of Canada, n.d., 3(4)p.
1 8 7289 Document: Memorandum outlining military requirements for settlers of the new colony, n.d. 2(4)p.
1 9 7290 Letter: Philip Skene, Skenesborough, [N.Y.], to Capt. Gamble, New York, December 26, 1770.  Sending Thomas Lawrence to see Gamble to get paid; 2p.
1 10 7291 Invoice from Andrew P. Skene to be paid by Capt. Gamble, October 5, 1770; 2p.
1 11 7292 Bill of exchange from Andrew P. Skene, Skenesborough, [N.Y.], to David Roberts, London, for £50 payable to Philip P. Lansingh, April 9, 1774; 2p.
1 12 7293 Bill of exchange from Gideon Bostwick, Great Barrington, [Massachusetts], to William Symond, treasurer to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, London, for £25 payable to Philip Skene, November 3, 1777; 1p.
1 13 7294 Bill of exchange from Andrew P. Skene to Capt. Gamble, New York, for seven shillings payable to Mr. Lissmar, barber, March 2, 1771; 1p.
1 14 7295 Letter: [Gen. Lord] Jeffery Amherst, Montreal, to Col. [Philip] Skene, [ca 1774] saying he has recommended a promotion for Skene's son, Andrew Philip, but says his influence is limited; A.L.S.; 1p.
1 15 7296 Letter: [Gen. Lord] Jeffery Amherst, Whitehall, [London], to Major [Philip] Skene, February 9, 1765, expressing concern and support for Skene; A.L.S.; 1p.
1 16 7297 Letter: [Gen. Lord Jeffery] Amherst, Whitehall, [London], to Col. [Philip] Skene, Chelsea, October 25, 1780, noting that if more regiments are to be raised for service in America, Skene's request to command one will be laid before the King "together with the infinite number of other offers which I have lately received to the like purpose"; A.L.S.; 1p.
1 17 7298 Document: Lt. Gen. J[ohn] Burgoyne, Cambridge, [Mass.], April 4, 1778/79, attests to the merit of Andrew Philip Skene and judges him worthy of promotion; NS (copy); 1p.
1 18 7299 Letter: [Lt.] Gen. J[ohn] Burgoyne to Lt. Gov. [Philip] Skene, August 13, 1779, attests to Skene’s property losses, but admits he knows few details; A.L.S.; 1(4)p.
1 19 7300 Letter: [Lt.] Gen. J[ohn] Burgoyne, "The Oaks," to [Treasury Secretary John] Robinson, September 1, 1779, concerns Skene’s claim for compensation.  Burgoyne offers to substantiate any further losses not mentioned in Skene's petition; A.L.S.; 1(4)p.
1 20 7301 General Orders: Appointing Lt. Andrew Philip Skene, 43 Regiment to Major of Brigade in the Forces in North America, signed by Stephen Kemble, Dept. of the Adj. Gen., Headquarters, Boston, [Mass.], August 28, 1774.  (copy); 1(4)p.
1 21 7302 Letter: [Lord William Wildman Shute] Barrington, Cavendish Sq., [London], to General [Thomas] Gage, Boston, [Massachusetts], May 11, 1774, acquiescing to Gage’s recommendation that Andrew Philip Skene succeed his father as Major of Brigade; LS (copy); 1(4)p.
1 22 7303 Letter: Lord [Frederick] North, "Walmer Castle," [Deal, Kent, England], to Governor [Philip] Skene, Chelsea, London, October 2, 1782, thanking Skene for forwarding Mr. Smith's letter which brought him "some comfort" as to the state of things in America; A.L.S.; 1(4)p. plus envelope
1 23 7304 Letter: Philip Skene, London, to Lt. Gen. [John] Burgoyne, November 12, 1779, seeking clarification of Burgoyne's mention of a "gratuity" he received from him and talks about his imprisonment in America; A.L.S. (copy); 2(4)p.
1 24 7305 Letter: Lord George Germain, Whitehall, [London], to Governor [Frederick] Haldimand, [Quebec], May 6, 1780. Recommendation for Lt. [Andrew Philip] Skene, at the request of his father; A.L.S. (copy); 1(4)p.
1 25 7306 Note: [Gen. Sir] William Howe, London, n.d. certifies that Philip Skene was imprisoned in 1775 and exchanged in 1776; A.N.S.; 1p.
1 26 7307 Printed circular: "Collections with regard to the Case of the American Loyalists," n.d., 7(8)p. (handwritten notation on reverse: Geo. D'Erbage)
1 27 7308 Document: Lieut. Governor Philip Skene's memorial to the Lords Commissioners of his Majesty's Treasury, [England] [ca. 1786], 3p. (copy) seeking compensation for loss of watercraft on Lake Champlain; for supplies used by Burgoyne's army; for damages done to his estate at Skenesborough by the British army; and for goods and property destroyed to prevent capture by the rebels; 3(4)p.
1 28 7309 Document: "A List of Evidences to Philip Skene's Claim," n.d. Testimonial with 44 signers attesting to Skene's loyalty; 3(4)p.
1 29 7310 Document: Philip Skene's "Claim for losses by the British Army," n.d.; claim totaling £2280 for losses to the British army; for forage; for property destroyed; for bar iron taken; and for his schooner, the Liberty, which was taken into British service; DS; 1(4)p.
1 30 7311 Document: [Philip Skene]'s deposition to the Lord's Commissioners to prove his ownership of the schooner Liberty, n.d.; 1p.
1 31 7312 Note: [Philip Skene]'s description of his capture in 1775, imprisonment, his exchange by Sir William Howe in 1776, his union with Burgoyne on Lake Champlain, and his role in the campaign of 1777, n.d.; AN; 2p.
1 32 7313 Draft letter: [Philip Skene] to [?], n.d. Details his actions in support of His Majesty's service and explains his claims for remuneration; AN; 3(4)p.
1 33 7314 Note: Henry Hay to Col. Philip Skene, August 22, 1769,  references the land lost by Skene in the war; A.N.S.; 1p.
1 34 7315 Document: "A List of Several Documents, Patents, Leases, Vouchers belonging to Philip Skene, Esq., of Skenesborough, Delivered for the Honorable Commissioners of American Claims," n.d., 2(4)p.
1 35 7316 Document: "Original memorial for schooner and forage," n.d.  Possibly Skene's draft document outlining his losses and compensation amounts; 2(4)p.
1 36 7317 Letter: From six Commissioners of the Navy, [London], to John Robinson, August 22, 1780, stating they cannot quote him a compensation amount for Philip Skene's schooner Liberty, for want of particulars on the subject; A.L.S.; 1(4)p.
1 37 7318 Document: Colonel Philip Skene's Memorial (memorandum) to the Lords Commissioners of his Majesty's Treasury, [England], May, 1786, acknowledging the commissioners compensation for the hire of the schooner Liberty from July 6, 1777, to July 3, 1780, but requesting compensation in the amount of £510 for the period of July 3, 1780 to September 19, 1783, while the vessel remained in His Majesty's dockyard for repair; A.D.S.; 2(4)p.
1 38 7319 Document: The Crown to Philip Skene, Esq., outlining compensation amounts for each of the claims submitted by Skene describing his losses in supplying and assisting Burgoyne's army, including use of his schooner Liberty; the three weeks' forage he supplied; the stone barn destroyed; and the dam destroyed; n.d.; 3(4)p.
1 39 7320 Document: Draft of the memorial (memorandum) (Item 7318) by Philip Skene to the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury, requesting further compensation for his schooner, Liberty, n.d.; 1(4)p.
1 40 7321 Note: [Philip Skene]'s request for support material for his claim, n.d., AN; 1p.
1 41 7322 Document: [Philip Skene]'s draft of claims for compensation, n.d.; 2p.
1 42 7323 Memorandum: notes and questions regarding Philip Skene's claims, n.d.; 2(4)p.
Last Updated: May 21, 2021