War of 1812people

Stephen Van Rensselaer


Stephen Van Rensselaer was a Harvard graduate, a millionaire, a philanthropist, and the head of one of the leading families of New York. Not surprisingly, he became greatly involved in state politics. He became New York's lieutenant governor and served as the representative in Congress.

Despite being an anti-war Federalist, a political rival publicly suggested that Van Rensselaer be named a major general in the New York militia. Van Rensselaer knew his reputation would be at stake if he refused, and so he reluctantly became the leader of over six thousand men that were expected to conduct a successful invasion of Canada. Luckily, he had a family ally who was also a capable commander; his cousin, Solomon Van Rensselaer.

General Van Rensselaer was positioned in Lewiston with troops which greatly outnumbered the British on the other side of the Niagara River at Queenston. He was under extreme pressure from James Madison who wanted a speedy and decisive victory. But he received little respect from the local citizenry and even less from subordinate officers. This made his command virtually ineffective. To make matters worse, the army was ill-supplied and the militia was totally unmotivated. All of these factors contributed to the badly-botched invasion. It was to be his only participation in the war. Van Rensselaer resigned his military post after this battle.