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Getting to Know Hester Schuyler Colfax

By: Tessa Payer, Museum Specialist at the Wayne Museum and Staff Member of the Passaic County Department of Cultural & Historic Affairs

"One story in particular, which Mrs. Comstock remembers was told of her grandmother, was that one day the general bought her a new shawl which displeased her. Promptly she threw the shawl in a kettle of hot water on the stove and permitted it to boil unforgotten as she flung herself out of the room." [1]

Beautiful, tempestuous, and haughty are only some of the words that have been used to describe Hester Schuyler (1757-1839), who inherited the Schuyler-Colfax House following her father's death in 1795. In 1974, Paterson's The News described her as "a very beautiful and spirited young woman," while she appears as "a black-eyed girl/of roguish witchery" in Charles C. Platt's 1896 poem "Capt. Colfax and the Life Guard." Unfortunately, none of Hester's own writings survive, leaving us with only others' descriptions of this 18th century heiress. Today, we're combining recollections and archival records to see what we can learn about the life and personality of Hester Schuyler.

As a note, even Hester's name is up for some debate! We've seen both 'Esther' and 'Hester' used in documents from her lifetime. Most secondary sources and family recollections refer to her as Hester, which is how we will be referring to her in this article.

Figure 1- A silhouette of Hester Schuyler Colfax. From the Wayne Museum.

Hester, born in 1757, was the only surviving child of Casparus Schuyler and Christina Ryerson. Both her parents brought well-known family names and lineages to their marriage. The Ryersons were a prominent local family; Alfred Ryerson, in his book The Ryerson Genealogy, described Christina's father, Martin Ryerson, as "a man of sound judgement, and keen business sagacity. This is evidenced by the large estate which he distributed among his daughters and their children." [2] On the paternal side, the Schuylers had been making waves in Wayne since Hester's great-grandfather, Arent Schuyler, led negotiations with members of the Munsee Lenape for the 1695 land sale that would define Wayne's general acreage. The Schuyler-Colfax House, where Hester grew up, had been built under her great-grandfather's purview around 1696 and had since housed members of the colonial legislature and Bergen County freeholders. Since the 1690s, the family had a