Perishing in the Field: Henry Beekman Livingston at Valley Forge

It would be tough to decide which members of the Livingston family had the worse Christmas in 1777. Chancellor Robert R. Livingston had suffered the destruction of his house by the British Army and was forced to take Christmas dinner at his cousin Peter R. Livingston’s house. Margaret Beekman Livingston, who had also lost her home to the British was in Connecticut staying at a house that belonged to Robert Livingston, 3rdLord of Livingston Manor. On the other hand, Henry Beekman Livingston was settling in to his winter quarters with the Continental Army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

After being briefly held by the British as a quasi-prisoner of war in November of 1777 Henry rejoined his regiment, the 4thNew York, in time to join them in winter quarters. On December 24, 1777 Henry, had written to his brother Robert; “We are now building huts for our winter quarters without tools or nails so I suppose we may render ourselves very comfortable by the time winter is over.” He went on to explain that his men were \”in general mostly naked and very often in a starving condition.\” He and his troops were lousy with bugs and only 18 men could muster fully clothed, the rest missing shoes, stockings, coats or breeches[i]

The huts may have looked something like this reproduction

Christmas Day did not show much improvement for the men in Valley Forge. George Washington’s general orders to the army begin with order 9 men from each brigade and three wagons to be assigned “for the purpose of collecting flour, grain, cattle and pork, for the army.” They end with a warning against plundering the local inhabitants and that anyone caught was to be “severely punished.”[ii]This would seem to indicate a shortage of food and possibly other supplies in the camp.
Not this George Clinton
This one

Henry wrote to Governor George Clinton of New York that day. He wrote; “Wholly destitute of clothing, the men and officers are now perishing in the field at this season of the year, and that at a time when troops of almost every other state are receiving supplies of everything necessary and comfortable.”[iii]

Harry and his men made it through Christmas though many of them would fall sick over the course of the winter. Henry himself fell so ill he had to be removed from the camp to a private house several miles away. He soon recovered though, boasting, in a letter to George Washington, that he had “never been sick before in My Life that I shall be enabled to return to my Duty in a few days.”[iv]
The \”Prussian Lieutenant General\” von Steuben

 It turned out that it would take Henry six weeks to recover. By the end of March 1778 he was back in camp with his regiment learning how to be a real soldier. Over the next few months Henry and his men trained extensively under the Baron von Steuben who Henry described as \”an agreeable man\”. Henry found the training \”more agreeable to the dictates of reason and common sense than any mode I have before seen,\”[v] 
In June of 1778 Henry Beekman Livingston, the 4th New York and the entire Continental Army emerged from their winter quarters at Valley Forge transformed. They were an army that could stand in the field against the British Army . Still though, Christmas 1777 was pretty bad.

A copy of this apocryphal image hangs in the study at Clermont supposedly showing George Washington praying for his troops at Valley Forge.

[i] Boyle, Joseph Lee Writings from the Valley Forge Encampment December 19,1777- June 19, 1778 Volume 2. Heritage Books, Maryland 2007 p 2.
[ii] “General Orders, 25 December 1777, ”Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, http://founders.archives .gov/documents/Washington/03-12-02-0647.
[iii] Public Papers of George Clinton Volume II Published by the State of New York, Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co, New York, 1900, p 605-606
[iv] “To George Washington from Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston, 10 February 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13,2018,
[v] ] Boyle, Joseph Lee Writings from the Valley Forge Encampment December 19,1777- June 19, 1778 Volume 2. Heritage Books, Maryland 2007 p 92-94

The Boy in the Soldier\'s Coat: Eugene Livingston and the Civil War

 The American Civil War was hell. Per the American Battlefield Trust there were more than a million casualties during the war. 620,000 men died because of battle or disease. Most of these men didn’t die the quick, painless, glorious deaths seen in paintings and movies. They died screaming for their mothers on bloody,  battlefields stinking of fear and shit or feverish in sick bed slowly succumbing to disease. Such is the story of Eugene Livingston.

Aryyl house in 1869
          Eugene Livingston was born on January 6, 1845 in Philadelphia. His parents were Eugene Augustus Livingston and Harriet Coleman. Eugene Augustus was the son of Robert L. and Margaret Maria Livingston, He would have spent at least part of his childhood at Arryl House, formerly the home of his grandfather Chancellor Robert R. Livingston and now the home of his brother, Montgomery Livingston.
          Eugene Augustus and Harriet soon made a home at Teviot, the Hudson River estate immediately south of Clermont. Harriet gave birth to a daughter they named Mary Coleman Livingston. Unfortunately, Harriet died shortly thereafter. Eugene Augustus married Elizabeth Rhodes Fisher in 1851.
          At the same time the country was falling apart. Following the election of 1860 and the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as president, eleven southern slave holding states illegally withdrew from the union and revolted against the United States.
Eugene Livingston\’s enlistment record from the National Archives
          The war was expected to end quickly but after a humiliating defeat at the First Battle of Manassas the Union ramped up recruitment for the army as well as production of war materials.
          On February 1, 1862, the younger Eugene enlisted in the 95th New York Infantry and was mustered in that same day. He lied about his age. He was 17 but his enlistment record says he was 21. We do not know what inspired Eugene to enlist. Perhaps he felt strongly about saving the Union or ending slavery. Perhaps he was worried about being called a coward if he did not fight. Perhaps he was inspired by stories of his famous ancestors. Whatever his reasons, Eugene gave up his life of comfort and safety on the Hudson River to join a brutal war.   
Monument to the 95th Regiment at Gettysburg
The 95th would go on to see some of the most intense fighting of the Civil War. They served at; The Second Battle of Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania and Appomattox. Eugene saw none of this. 
         On March 8, 1862 Eugene posed for a photo in uniform. Ten days later his regiment finally left New York City. They were assigned to help defend Washington D.C. Shortly after arriving in the capital Eugene fell sick with Tuberculosis. On April 27, 1862, he was discharged from the army with a surgeons’ certificate of disability.
Eugene Livingston
          Eugene never recovered his health. He returned to his father’s house, Teviot, hoping the country air would cure his consumption. It did not. On Wednesday December 31, 1862 Eugene died at Teviot, a week short of his 18th birthday.
In the untimely loss of your noble son, our affliction here, is scarcely less than your own. So much of promised usefulness to one\’s country, and of bright hopes for one\’s self and friends, have rarely been so suddenly dashed, as in his fall.

Abraham Lincoln, May 25, 1861 Letter to Ephraim D. and Phoebe Ellsworth

Great Britain has never paid much attention to rights which interfere with her Views: Newfoundland and the American Revolution


Captain James Cook\’s 1775 chart of Newfoundland

  Newfoundland and its associated fishing grounds were among the most valuable properties in the new world. France and Britain had long warred over the islands. Spain tried to claim a share of the fishing trade and Basque fishermen used the fishing grounds for hundreds of years. The French had largely been forced off the island by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the War of Spanish Succession, although they still held the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon just a few miles off the south coast of Newfoundland. At the end of the French and Indian War these two small islands were France’s only holdings in North America.

As valuable as the island and its fishing was, the British government long discouraged permanent settlement on the island, preferring instead a mainly migratory population that followed the fishing trade. The fishing trade was

Fishing was a little different then

estimated to be worth about £600,000 per year. The island’s position on the globe also meant that’s its ports offered safe harbor during Atlantic crossings.

          The impact of the troubles in the thirteen American colonies was felt in Newfoundland before the actual fighting broke out. As mentioned before Newfoundland had a largely migratory population and needed to be provisioned from elsewhere. Boston became the primary supplier of provisions to Newfoundland and acted as a middleman in the trade of fish with the West Indies. Fisherman sent fish south and rum and molasses made their way north.
          Following the imposition Intolerable Acts of 1774, which shut down the port of Boston and imposed many other limitations on trade in the colonies in response to the Boston Tea Party and other troubles, the colonies declared an embargo on trade with the British. This included Newfoundland. When the fishing fleets arrived that summer, they found no supply of bread and flout to keep them fed. What had not arrived from the colonies could not be replaced from England or from Quebec although attempts were made.
          With the outbreak of the shooting war in 1775 the food shortage did not improve. The price of flour and bread tripled, people went hungry and there were reports of some starving to death. This led to more attempts at farming on the island and several people leaving their small outports and heading for the larger population centers like St. Johns.
          Many Americans saw the value of disrupting the British fishery at Newfoundland. Only the lack of a navy of any size prevented a full-on attack on the

Vice Admiral John Montagu

island. Vice-Admiral John Montagu, commander of the Newfoundland station, had only four ships and a few smaller armed vessels to attempt to defend the coast, the Grand Banks fishing grounds and to disrupt American shipping to Europe. This meant that American privateers could wreak havoc almost at will. Most privateers were after the profit of capturing a British merchant vessel so the small fishing ships were not valuable targets in and of themselves but taking a fishing ship allowed privateers to resupply their stocks of food, water, naval stores and in some cases even men. They also began to attack the small outport villages on the southern coast of Newfoundland.

          The presence of American privateers seriously cut into the fishing off Newfoundland. In addition, the threat of impressment onto the British men of war stationed at Newfoundland or making an Atlantic crossing gave even more incentive to fishermen to stay off the seas. For the first time the resident population of Newfoundland exceeded the


migratory population.[i]

          The entrance of the French into the war brought a whole new level of importance to Newfoundland. Shortly after receiving news of the new alliance in 1778, Admiral Montagu took his small force and conquered St. Pierre and Miquelon. The islands had no defenses and were of little value but it really was a thumb in the eye to the French. This led Count D’Estaing to write to George Washington that he had heard the islands had been ravaged and that “We hope that with your assistance the day will come, when France shall partake the Cod-fishery with other nations.”[ii]
          Benjamin Franklin also caught on to the French interest in Newfoundland. On February 25, 1779, he suggested an attack on Nova Scotia and Newfoundland say “Halifax being reduced, the small forts of Newfoundland would easily follow…” He also stated that the fishery was a source of money for the British and “a great Nursery of Seamen.” A place where the British could man their naval vessels with experienced sailors.[iii]
          When the English government finally got serious about negotiating a peace treaty to end the war the rights to fish around Newfoundland were not only incredibly important to the Americans, but a major sticking point for the British. On January 7, 1782, Robert R. Livingston, who had the unenviable task, as Secretary of Foreign Affairs, of trying to supervise the peace negotiations in Paris

Just when you were wondering what this blog had to do with anything  

from Philadelphia wrote to negotiator Benjamin Franklin; “The fisheries will probably be a source of Litigation, not because our rights are doubtfull, but because Great Britain has never paid much attention to rights which interfere with her Views.”

He went on to explain more fully:
The Arguments of which the People of America found their claim to fish on the Banks of Newfoundland, arise first from their having once formed a part of the British Empire, in which State they allways enjoyed as fully as the People of Britain themselves, the right of fishing on those banks. They have shared in all the Wars for the extension of that right, and Britain could with no more justice have excluded them from the Enjoyment of it (even supposing that one Nation could possess it to the exclusion of an other) while they formed a part of that Empire, than they could exclude the People of London or Bristol. If so the only enquiry is how have we lost this right, if we were Tenants in Common with Great Britain while United with her, we still continue so, unless by our own Act we have relinquished our Title. Had we parted with mutual Consent, we should doubtless have made partition of our common Rights by Treaty. But the oppressions of Great Britain forced us to a seperation, (which must be admitted, or we have no right to be independant) it cannot certainly be contended that those oppressions abridged our Rights or gave new ones to Britain, our rights then are not invalidated by this seperation, more particularly as we have kept up our Claim from the commencement of the War, and assigned the attempt of Great Britain to exclude us from the fisheries as one of the causes of our recurring to Arms.
The second Ground upon which we place our right to fish on the Banks of Newfoundland provided we do not come within such distance of the coasts of other powers as the law of Nations allows them to appropriate, is the right which Nature gives to all Mankind to use its common Benefits, so far as not to exclude others. The Sea cannot in its nature be appropriated. No Nation can put its mark upon it, Tho’ attempts have sometimes been made to set up an Empire over it, they have been considered as unjust usurpations, and resisted as such in turn by every Maritime Nation in Europe.[iv]
Interestingly, in November of 1782, John Adams used a nearly identical

John Adams and his \”original\” ideas

argument during a negotiation session with British agents. As he recounted in his diary:

When God Almighty made the Banks of Newfoundland at 300 Leagues Distance from the People of America and at 600 Leagues distance from those of France and England, did he not give as good a Right to the former as to the latter. If Heaven in the Creation gave a Right, it is ours at least as much as yours. If Occupation, Use, and Possession give a Right, We have it as clearly as you. If War and Blood and Treasure give a Right, ours is as good as yours. We have been constantly fighting in Canada, Cape Breton and Nova Scotia for the Defense of this Fishery, and have expended beyond all Proportion more than you. If then the Right cannot be denied, Why should it not be acknowledged? and put out of Dispute? Why should We leave Room for illiterate Fishermen to wrangle and chicane?       [v]
It seems reasonable that Adams may have seen Livingston’s letter to Franklin at some point but the terrible relationship between the two men would never have allowed Adams to give any credit to Livingston for the ideas.
          Ultimately the Treaty of Paris was finalized in 1783 and signed. It consisted of ten articles. The first was America independence from Great Britain. The second defined the borders of the new United States. The third reads thusly:
It is agreed that the People of the United States shall continue to enjoy unmolested the Right to take Fish of every kind on the Grand Bank and on all the other Banks of Newfoundland, also in the Gulph of St. Lawrence and at all other Places in the Sea where the Inhabitants of both Countries used at any time heretofore to fish. And also that the Inhabitants of the United States shall have Liberty to take Fish of every kind on such Part of the Coast of Newfoundland as British Fishermen shall use, (but not to dry or cure the same on that Island) and also on the Coasts Bays & Creeks of all other of his Britannic Majestys Dominions in America, and that the American Fishermen shall have Liberty to dry & cure Fish in any of the unsettled Bays Harbours and Creeks of Nova-Scotia, Magdalen Islands, and Labrador, so long as the same shall remain unsettled, but so soon as the same or either of them shall be settled, it shall not be lawful for the sd: Fishermen to dry or cure Fish at such Settlement, without a previous Agreement for that purpose with the Inhabitants, Proprietors or Possessors of the Ground.[vi]
After independence, a share of the fishing trade was considered one of the most important objectives of the American negotiators. Its not until the 7th article that they actually get around to ending hostility and stopping the war.

It was all about this beautiful, majestic, delicious creature

          The importance of Newfoundland to America cannot be overstated. The territory would flare up again during the quasi-war with France at the end of the 18th century. In the 19th century fisherman from all over the east coast, including the City of Hudson would sail for the Grand Banks. At the beginning of World War II Franklin Delano Roosevelt traded a bunch of broken down destroyers to the British for the rights to put a base on Newfoundland. The base ended up operating throughout the war and the rest of the 20th century, only being scaled down in the 1990’s. It seems that this rocky island has inextricably connected to the fate of the United States.

[i]Much of this information come from several ariticles by Olaf Janzen publish on and to Olaf Janzen’s article JANZEN, OLAF. \”The Royal Navy and the Defence of Newfoundland during the American Revolution.\” Acadiensis 14, no. 1 (1984): 28-48.
[ii] “To George Washington from Vice Admiral d’Estaing, 6 October 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 17, 15 September–31 October 1778, ed. Philander D. Chase. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, pp. 279–280.]
[iii] “From Benjamin Franklin to Vergennes: Two Letters, 25 February 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 28, November 1, 1778, through February 28, 1779, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1990, pp. 603–607.]
[iv] “To Benjamin Franklin from Robert R. Livingston, 7 January 1782,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 36, November 1, 1781, through March 15, 1782, ed. Ellen R. Cohn. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001, pp. 390–402.]
[v] “1782 November 29. Fryday.,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, [Original source: The Adams Papers, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, vol. 3, Diary, 1782–1804; Autobiography, Part One to October 1776, ed. L. H. Butterfield. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961, pp. 79–81.]
[vi] “Definitive Treaty of Peace between the United States and Great Britain, 3 September 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 40, May 16 through September 15, 1783, ed. Ellen R. Cohn. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011, pp. 566–575.]

Long Island Harry

Henry Beekman Livingston 
In the summer of 1776 Lt. Col. Henry Beekman Livingston was sent with three companies of the 2ndNew York Regiment to guard the Eastern end of Long Island. In July Henry wrote to George Washington to explain the disposition of his troops. He had assigned one company to Montauk Point, one to Shelter Island and one to Oyster Pond Point (present day Orient Point.) He was guarding more than 1,600 cattle, 500 horses and 10,000 sheep. The local committee of safety had given him two canons but no ammunition for them. He hoped Washington could send him some because he felt “they would be of Service to us in the Enemy Should ever take it in their Heads to visit us.”[i]
            On July 20th Nathaniel Woodhull, a member of the New York Convention and a general of the Long Island militia wrote to Washington. At the end of his letter he asked that Henry and his men be left at their current post and not removed. He feared “the Inhabitants would totally abandon the Country should those troops be drawn off.”[ii]This was a fear that Henry shared and the loyalty of the citizens of Long Island would play a major role in the events of the next couple of months. The British fleet had arrived in New York Harbor in early July. Everyone was holding their breath to see where the British would attack.

32,000 troops in New York Harbor

\”I\’ve got the weirdest feeling we forgot something\”
            On August 22, 1776, the British began landing on Long Island near present day Brooklyn, on the other end of Long Island from Henry’s position. By the end of the month the British had pushed Washington and the main army off Long Island, leaving Henry and his men trapped behind enemy lines.
            All the while Henry was receiving intelligence about what was happening on the west end of the island he held his post. On August 30, he watched, what he took to be, three British frigates, a brig and a sloop sail into Long Island Sound. He realized that “Communication by water between this and New York is now cut off.” Henry offered to attack the British rear if he could have reinforcements from Connecticut. The country was exposed to the “Ravages” of the enemy and he was seeking orders.[iii]
            Henry wrote to Washington again the very next day. The situation was getting worst. The British ships were still in the sound, General Woodhull had been wounded and captured by the British (he would later die of his wounds) and British horsemen were disarming the population. Henry began to march his men west hoping to raise the local militias as he went and perhaps attack the British.[iv]

Right before Woodhull accidentally fell on that soldiers
sword over and over again

            On September 4th, Washington finally had a calm moment to write back to Henry. He was not encouraging. He wrote: “it is not in my power to give you any instructions for your Conduct…” He encouraged Henry to deny the British forage but ultimately left Henry’s fate up to Henry.[v]
            Henry had not idle while waiting to hear from Washington. As he marched west, he had gathered about 150 militia men.  Unfortunately, they all deserted when they heard that Washington had abandoned Long Island. At about the same time he received a letter from the people of the town of Huntington, begging him to “for Gods Sake” not advance toward their town as they had already surrendered to the British and feared that the presence of his men would cause the British to destroy the town.
            Henry saw that his options were getting slimmer and slimmer. He began to retreat. Along the way, he disarmed any loyalists he found. By the time, he was ready to cross the Long Island sound to Connecticut he had gathered 236 small arms, 6 canons, 5 casks of gunpowder, 2 and ½ boxes of musket balls, 190 cartridge boxes, 160 full powder horns and 153 bayonets.[vi]

A replica of the type of boats Henry and his men used to
cross Long Island Sound. Not shown: sea sick sheep.

Henry and his men loaded into whale boats, somehow avoided the British navy and made it to Connecticut on September 2. He immediately began planning a return to Long Island. Shortly after writing his letter to Washington on September 11, Livingston and his men rowed back to Long Island. They landed at Shinnecock and carried off 3,129 sheep and 400 cattle. One of his companies also headed into Setauket, to break up a tory militia that was forming there. They attempted to arrest the captain of the Tories, Richard Miller Jr., but he resisted and was shot. He soon died of his wounds. 

Don\’t let the doe eyes fool you, Oliver Delancey Jr
would put a price on you.
            This raid proved to be too much for another loyalist, Oliver Delancey. The Delanceys had been long time political foes of the Livingston family. Because of this raid, Oliver Delancey put a bounty of 500 pounds on Harry’s head. Harry offered to put the same price on Delancey’s head if Washington agreed.[vii]
            Henry’s time on Long Island was reaching its end though. During October of 1776 Henry worked on a plan for a large raid on Long Island involving his troops as well as troops from Connecticut and Massachusetts. He had Washington’s full support but when the whale boats he had been promised failed to show up it appears the plan was aborted. In November of that year Henry was promoted to colonel and given command of the 4th New York Regiment in the Hudson Highlands. His duties carried him away before he had a chance to further harass the British on Long Island.

[i] “To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston, July 1776” Founders Online, National Archives
[ii] “To George Washington from Nathaniel Woodhull, 20 July 1776” Founders Online, National Archives.
[iii] “To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston, 30 August 1776” Founders Online, National Archives
[iv] “To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston, 31, August 1776” Founders Online, National Archives.
[v] “From George Washington to Lieutenant Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston, 4 September 1776” Founders Online, National Archives. I couldn’t find any reference to Washington agreeing to a price on Delancey’s head.
[vi] To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston, 11 September 1776” Founders Online, National Archives.
[vii] “To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston, 24 September 1776” Founders Online National Archives

Animated in the Hour of Danger: Edward Livingston at the Battle of New Orleans

Major Livingston is depicted to the right of General Jackson under the flag.

The Battle of New Orleans was one of the few highlights in the otherwise embarrassing War of 1812. It also created the legend of Andrew Jackson and led to his presidency and the entire “Age of Jackson.” By his side throughout the New Orleans campaign was one man who helped Jackson in matters military, civil, legal and in almost every other way. His future Secretary of State, Edward Livingston.

\”Beau Ned\” as he was sometimes known

Edward was the youngest child of Judge Robert R. Livingston and Margaret Beekman Livingston. He had been born in 1764, making him too young to join his older brothers in the American Revolution although he had spent some time at George Washington’s headquarters at the very end of the war, as a gentleman volunteer.

Edward had arrived in New Orleans shortly after his brother Robert had negotiated the Louisiana Purchase from the French. He was looking for a fresh start after having resigned as Mayor of New York City and United States District Attorney amid a scandal created by an aid that was exasperated by Thomas Jefferson and Albert Gallatin. He quickly became a prominent lawyer in the city. In 1814 with fears of an attack by the British mounting, Edward was made chairman of a committee to defend the city. He was soon corresponding with Andrew Jackson,

Jackson\’s hair deserves its own portrait

who had been ordered to defend the city but who was still in Mobile, Alabama.

On the surface, there is little to suggest that Edward and Jackson should become friends. They had probably met in the 1790’s when they both served in congress. The refined gentleman from the Hudson River Valley and the rough backwoodsman from Tennessee, but their differences seemed to compliment rather than clash. Perhaps too, they bonded over a mutual dislike of the British developed as boys during the American Revolution. Jackson had been captured while acting as an unofficial messenger and was slashed with a saber, leaving life-long scars on his hand and head. His mother and brothers had died of smallpox during the war. Edward had seen his home burned by the British and his brother-in-law, Richard Montgomery killed in battle.
When Jackson arrived in New Orleans with his 1,000 American regulars Edward was among those there to greet him, translating Jackson’s arrival speech into French. Soon Edward had been made aide-de-camp with the unofficial rank of major. Edward’s young son Lewis, only about 16 years old, was made a captain and assistant engineer.
One of Jackson’s first commands in New Orleans was to impose martial law on the city. He felt that many of the citizens might not offer their full support to the army without a little prodding. Edward warned him that the move might not be constitutional but supported Jackson. Later Jackson would be fined for this move and have a hard time shaking a reputation for tyrannical behavior.
Monopoly breaker
A steamship, Enterprise, arrived at New Orleans with military supplies. Under normal circumstances the ship would have been in violation of Edward’s brother’s monopoly on steam ships on the Mississippi but martial law as well as Robert’s death in 1813 made that impossible to enforce. Even with these supplies Jackson found himself desperately short of ammunition. Livingston stepped in at this point again and helped to facilitate a deal between Jackson and his acquaintance and possible legal client, Jean Lafitte.

The dread pirate Jean Lafitte

Lafitte was the leader of the Baratarian pirates. He brought as many as 1,000 men to fight alongside the Americans as well as a seemingly endless supply of shot and gunpowder that he had preciously stocked in various hiding places in the bayous around New Orleans for his own piratical purposes.
On December 23, 1814, the British began to land near New Orleans. It has been claimed that Jackson declared that the British would never sleep on American soil. He ordered a night attack. The fighting was intense, violent and bloody and devolved in to hand to hand fighting with bayonets, knives and hatchets. Edward was mounted on horseback during the battle relaying order from Jackson to other officers, under fire the whole time. Jackson mentioned his bravery in his report on the battle at Villere’s Plantation.
Night fighting
The Americans spent the next several days preparing a fortification along a canal where they would make their stand. Edward became convinced that he would die in battle, even going so far as to write a farewell letter to his older siste Janet Montgomery. On January 7, 1815, the American troops assembled in what would become known as Jackson Square in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Jackson and Livingston had written a speech to rally the men and surprisingly chose to let Edward deliver it. He appealed to the zeal of Americans whose fathers had defeated the British in the Revolution, to the French and Spanish who had a hereditary hatred of the British. He appealed to the militia, the uniformed men and to the battalions of black men who had been assembled for the defense of New Orleans.
The final British assault began on January 8, 1815. The weeks between their landing and this attack had been filled with artillery duels and small scale attacks. The British army moved on Jackson’s line. Jackson, with Livingston at his side was on the line. The 44th Regiment of Foot, the 95thRifles, men who had spent the last decade fighting Napoleon. They were stopped and mown down in front of the American Line. Sir Edward Pakenham, commander of the British army, was killed by rifle fire. Finally, the British retreated out of range of the American guns. Jackson was convinced not to follow them.

The battlefield was covered in the bodies of fallen British soldiers. Almost miraculously as Jackson and other officers stood on the parapet surveying the battlefield nearly 500 of the bodies stood up. Many soldiers had simply lay down to avoid being killed and now found themselves prisoners of war.
Edward was brevetted colonel and put in charge of the prisoners from the battlefield as well as those taken during the December 23 night attack. He headed down river to negotiate an exchange with the British only to find himself taken prisoner, despite much protesting, as the British attacked an American fort on Mobile Point to try to save face. He witnessed the surrender of the fort from a British ship.
The next day, February 13, 1815, word arrived to the British that the Treaty of Ghent had been signed. Edward was released and returned to New Orleans. There Jackson presented him with a miniature of himself painted on ivory, along with a note of thanks for his services and friendship during the campaign. The miniature is now in the collection of Montgomery Place at Bard College.

Was the hair all a lie?  From the Collection of Montgomery Place at BardCollege            

When Jackson was elected president, he made Edward his Secretary of State and later his minister to France. Following these services Edward retired to Montgomery Place, which his sister Janet Livingston Montgomery left him in her will, to live out his remaining years in the same valley he grew up in finally at peace.

The Vanderbilt Forgery

Narrator: It was not in fact him.
         Every so often, when working at a museum, you are asked a question that you’ve never had to consider before. Recently the question was posed to me; “Did John Henry Livingston ever do time in state prison?”
Of course not. I mean John Henry Livingston came from a good family. He was a successful lawyer and he almost won a seat in congress. There’s no way he did time…..Right?
The Sabbath Recorderfrom December 12, 1867 has this brief article.
“John Henry Livingston has been sentenced to four years and six months at Sing Sing for passing a forged check for 75,000 purporting to have been signed by Cornelius Vanderbilt.”
 Up the river. Sing Sing Prison in 1857

Wait…. what? I needed to do some more digging.
          A little time on Google brought me to 1886 Professional Criminals of America by Thomas Byrnes. There, on page 286, is the entry for John Henry Livingston, which included a more detailed description of his crime. Apparently, Mr. Livingston walked into the National City Bank dressed as a messenger from the American Express Company. He presented the check for $75,000 to be paid to Henry Keep, President of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad signed by

Cornelius Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt. He presented the check a teller named Thomas Worth, requested certain denominations and said he would be back for the money. A short time later he returned and was handed a package with $75,000 in it and left.

          Ok. So first and foremost who was this guy. Clearly, he was not the John Henry Livingston of Clermont.  Was he a Livingston at all? An article in the Hudson Daily Star on October 15, 1875 claims he was the son of the owner of Livingston Manor, who squandered his inheritance and was shunned by the family. He was described in the New York Evening Express as about 50, fat and jolly with a heavy double chin. He had apparently worked as a railroad conductor before turning to a life of crime. He apparently used the aliases Lewis, Matthews and DePeyster at various times according to several newspaper articles. One obituary I found, transcribed by Susan J. Mulvey claims he is the “prodigal” son of Henry W. Livingston, that he was born in 1821 and committed suicide in Albany in 1881. I can’t confirm this with the Livingston family genealogy but since that was assembled by descendants I wouldn\’t put it past them to write him out of the narrative.
          But, back to the crime at hand. Depending on the newspaper accounts I was able to find it was anywhere from several days to six weeks before anyone noticed that a forged check had been passed. At that point the police were called and the case was turned over to Detective William George Elder.He first

Thomas Worth, bank teller, artist and
crime buster.

interviewed the teller Thomas Worth. As it turned out, in addition to being a bank teller Worth was an artist for Currier & Ives. He produced a sketch of Livingston. Elder instantly recognized Livingston as a criminal he had tangled with before and the hunt was on.

So the descriptions weren\’t wrong.  

          Livingston stayed in New York City for about a week after his crime and bought several valuable horses. He had them shipped to Chatham Four Corners and then on to Buffalo. He then turned up in Buffalo where he spent another great sum of money on horses and shipped them to Chicago. He continued west and soon bought a farm or a ranch outside of Chicago at Blackberry Station.
Detectives caught up to him there either after a few months or two years depending on the source consulted. He was surprised by their visit and especially surprised when Detective Elder addressed him as “Mr. Livingston.” and denied being a forger but did not resist arrest. He had only $10,000 of the cash he had stolen left. Eventually the farm and livestock would be sold at auction to pay back the bank for its losses although ultimately only about half the money was recovered. Some of Livingston’s friends tried to start a legal action to keep him from being extradited. Elder had the legal paperwork to take Livingston back to New York but he was afraid Livingston’s friends might try a less than legal action to help him escape.
          Instead of boarding a train in Chicago, Elder and a police Captain named Yates put Livingston on a wagon and drove for twelve hours to the village of Dyer, Indiana where Elder and Livingston boarded a train for New York.
          Livingston did not serve out his sentence but was pardoned part way through. His wife and daughter had apparently sought shelter at an almshouse. After his release, he pulled off a minor scam in New York and then fled to New Orleans with his family where he managed to swindle several thousand dollars from some gentlemen.
          He next appeared in Mobile, Alabama where he tried to buy five steamboats for a fake company. His scam was found out and he fled again. He showed up in Chicago destitute during the winter of 1873-74. In the spring, he was suddenly wealthy again. Again, pretending to work for the American Express Company he attempted to withdraw $140,000 but was denied and fled back to New York City.
          In New York City, he was caught trying to scam $150 from a real estate agent with the assistance of his daughter, Jennie Lewis. He was sentenced to five years in prison, she was sentenced to two. There was a movement to have her pardoned and she was on February 19, 1876 because her crimes were committed on the order of her father. So far, I have been unable to determine her fate after her pardon. Several women named Jennie Lewis show up in the papers for everything from playing organ at church, to arrests for sand bagging and opium use, to suicide and even one Jennie Lewis who was murdered by a vengeful ex-fiance. I don’t know which one is our Jennie but I\’m hoping its the six foot tall knife fighting knock out thief.
          Livingston was suspected of many other frauds but the police were unable to pin them on him. They could not explain where he had acquired the wealth he flashed about in New York City and Chicago.
So, what happened to John Henry Livingston after his imprisonment? Maybe he went to Albany and committed suicide. Maybe he retired to a quiet life. Personally, I prefer an ending given in the Ellicottville Post in December of 1887. After detailing his crimes, they concluded:
Recently an old man has been engaged in swindling operations in the West and it thought by police that it is possible he is Livingston.

Perhaps John Henry Livingston, the well-known confidence man, rode off into the sunset swindling society gentlemen the whole way.

Do Not Expose Yourself Needlessly

Margaret Beekman Livingston, a real person
Margaret Beekman Livingston was a strong woman. There is no denying that. She raised ten children, nine of whom turned out pretty well. She was known as a competent business woman, running her massive estate for twenty-five years after the unexpected death of her husband, Judge Robert Livingston.

When the British burned down her house and all of her outbuildings in the fall of 1777 she was able, through sheer force of will and perseverance, was able to convince Governor George Clinton to

release men from their militia obligations so they could be free to rebuild her house. She met military and political leaders, from George Washington to John Jay, and charmed them all.

Not that George Clinton
That\’s the one
Robert R. Livingston

On August 15, 1776 Margaret wrote a letter to her eldest son Robert Livingston where she revealed that under her tough demeanor was a mother, scared for her child’s safety. A letter that could have been written by any mother to any child in any time of war.  She wrote:

“I hear you are to be with Genl. Washington but in what capacity I cannot hear – must you too be exposed to the fire of our Enemies oh my Dear Child Consider your situation with respect to myself, and my other children Do Not Expose yourself needlessly. You are in the Civil Department let others be in the Military your country has need of yr counsel as well as your family”

The letter in question
The British Army had landed on Staten Island on July 2, 1776, the same day Congress had declared Independence. By August 1, 1776 the British had more than 32,000 soldiers in New York Harbor along with a fleet of some 400 ships. Margaret, like Washington, was concerned with where the British would land next. Which of her sons would be in danger? Would any of them die like her son in law Richard Montgomery at Quebec? Would she and her family be in danger if the British came up the river? The British landed on Long Island a week after she wrote her letter. Robert was not with the army but her son Henry, a Lieutenant Colonel in the 2nd New York Regiment was trapped behind enemy lines for a period of time until he could escape to Connecticut.

Which brings up another reason for Margaret to be concerned about Robert’s safety. If something happened to him Henry Beekman Livingston would become the “man” of the family. While she had not kicked him out of the family as she later would he was still considered disagreeable at best.(Click here to learn about Henry)

Letters like this give us a glimpse into the real person, the very human, emotional person, who lived beneath the grand historical veneer that the Gilbert Stuart portrait puts upon her. We talk about her many accomplishments but can easily forget that she was a living breathing woman who feared for the safety of at least some of her children.

A Ditch Runs Through It

Why would anyone ignore him?

2017 marks the bicentennial of the beginning of construction of the Erie Canal. It was the canal that turned New York into the Empire State. Of course, we are talking about a government project in New York so it took a long time to arrive at the first shovel of dirt. 
In fact, Robert Livingston, First Lord of Livingston Manor had traveled into what was then Indian territory in what would be western New York in the early 1700\’s. He reported to several successive royal governors that improvements to the natural waterways of the colony would allow access to the abundant resources of the western lands. He was ignored.
The first commission on the Erie Canal was formed in March of 1810. It was carefully assembled to include federalist and democratic-republicans. The committee included Gouverneur Morris, Stephan Van Rensselaer, William North, Thomas Eddy,

DeWitt Clinton, George Clinton\’s nephew

DeWitt Clinton, Simeon DeWitt and Peter Buell Porter. Gouverneur Morris was the titular head of the committee but it was widely known that DeWitt Clinton was the driving force behind what would become known as “Clinton’s Ditch.”

Not this George Clinton
The major accomplishment of the committee was to convince the New York State Legislature that the canal was in face a feasible project. In June of 1810 the entire committee, except for Morris, traveled by water as far as they could on the Mohawk River then, joined by Morris, traveled to Lake Erie by carriage. They then produced a report that spurred the Legislature to act, no small feat.
Robert Livingston, shipping magnate
On April 8, 1811, the legislature approved $15,000 for the commission to begin their work. They also added two new members to the commission, Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton. Livingston and Fulton. Livingston and Fulton had a monopoly for steamboat travel on the Hudson River and were in the process of building a steamboat to ply the Mississippi River which would give them a monopoly on that river as well. Having them on board would provide an even greater economic incentive for farmers and merchants from the west to use the canal. Once the merchandise got to Albany it could be loaded onto steam boats and arrive in New York City a little over a day later.
Robert Fulton. A face that just screams \”Trust me with your major engineering challenges
Fulton and Livingston quickly found important roles on the commission. Fulton was to help find designers who could build the canal while Livingston would work with DeWitt Clinton on the herculean task of  trying to find national sources of funding for the project. In October, 1811 they sent a letter to the governments of all American states and territories pointing out that the canal would benefit the entire country and that they should either pay New York to help build it or pressure the federal government to give New York funds to offset the cost of construction.
It didn’t go well.
The states that bothered to respond at all sent resounding no’s.
Shortly thereafter the small dust up known as  The War of 1812 put the canal on hold.

A kerfuffle, if you will.

The commission retained its power and in 1812 was legally allowed to create a fund to pay for the canal. (This was repealed in 1814). Although several of the commission members held or ran for other positions during the war and very little work got done.

Abraham Van Vechten
Livingston had one more role to play in the commission’s history, which he did by dying in February of 1813. Opponents of the canal in the New York legislature took the Chancellor’s death as an opportunity to challenge the authority of the entire commission, claiming that it ended when one member died and the committee would have to be reformed. Eventually Attorney General of New York, Abraham Van Vechten ruled that the power of the commissioners did not end with any particular member’s end.
It would be another four years before construction on the canal would begin. The canal was not finished until 1825.

low bridge

How to Blow Up a Gunpowder Mill

I recently received a few letters I had requested from the Gilder Lehrman Center and immediately answered a question that has nagged me for years (Read about the gunpowder mill here). I know that in late 1775 the mill exploded.
But why? I mean, yes, it was a gunpowder mill and if you make it right, gunpowder will explode. But what actually happened at Judge Robert Livingston\’s mill?

As it turns out it was the age old story. Stupidity.

Judge Robert Livingston wrote in a letter dated 15 November 1775 to his son in law, General Richard Montgomery, that

Judge Robert Livingston

\”three stupid fellows fired a piece two or three yards from the place where the powder was drying\” (The Judge had been sent a load of damaged powder from Fort Ticonderoga to try to salvage but you read my previous blog on the mill so you know this) He goes on \”which set fire to the pans & then to the powder mill which unfortunately blew up, & they with the poor powder maker are most unfortunately burnt that they live is very extraordinary about 500 lbs of powder was blown up\”

Wow. There\’s a lot there to dig into. The Judge tells us that the cause of the explosion were three chuckleheads. Its unlikely that they were employees of the mill but more likely militia men sent to guard it. He also tells us that the four men at the mill survived the explosion but were badly injured. We also know that 500 lbs of gunpowder were destroyed. I\’m not sure I can fathom what 500 lbs of gun powder looked like when it exploded but it must have been exciting.

Maybe something like this? I don\’t know. I\’m guessing at least one of the guys got burned trying to walk away all slow without looking back.

He also reveals where the gunpowder was supposed to go when it was ready. Again to Montgomery the Judge wrote \”I should have been much more affected with my loss had you not met with so lucky a supply.\” This seems to indicate that the gunpowder was bound for the invasion of Canada. The \”lucky supply\” was gunpowder that Montgomery had captured from the British during his early successes during the invasion.

So one nagging historical question I\’ve had is answered. The gunpowder mill blew up because of three yokels playing with guns.

"As Approaches Madness": The Jay Treaty, New York\'s 1798 Gubenatorial Election and The Death of a Friendship


Robert R. Livingston

Chancellor Robert R. Livingston could be a powerful and influential friend to have. Unfortunately, it was very easy to earn the man’s enmity. As a result, Livingston retained few friends for long periods of time. His three most significant friends from before the Revolution were Richard Montgomery, Gouverneur Morris and John Jay. All three men were at one time or another as close as brothers to the Chancellor but over the years the closeness ended.

            Richard Montgomery was married to Chancellor Livingston’s older sister, Janet. The two men became close friends often spending time talking science, agriculture and politics. Both had similar political leanings. Both were sent to New York to guide New York in the early days of the war. Livingston was chosen to go to Congress in Philadelphia while Montgomery remained in New York. With Livingston’s influence, Montgomery was selected as a brigadier general in the new army. On the last day of 1775 his friendship with Livingston came to a sudden and rather violent end when he was struck by several grapeshot while leading an assault on the city of Quebec.

The real death of Montgomery was less clean and dramatic and more taking grapeshot to the head and groin


Gouverneur Morris. How could the ladies resist?

Gouverneur Morris met Livingston at King’s College, when he entered a few years behind the Chancellor. Morris and Livingston had similar backgrounds, both were from landed family, and, again, similar political leanings. During the war they frequently served together in various bodies or corresponded about their respective duties. Livingston even had Morris check into the background of Thomas Tillotson when he proposed marriage to one of the Chancellor’s younger sisters. If there was one thing about Morris that Livingston particularly disliked, it was Morris’s penchant for the ladies. Livingston once even took the time to write a letter to Morris admonishing him for spending time with ladies when he should have been attending to his Congressional responsibilities. Given his reputation as a lothario it is unlikely that Livingston would trust Morris alone with his wife, mother, daughters, sister or any particularly attractive sheep. After the war Morris moved to Pennsylvania and his duties took him away for long periods of time. While he and Livingston never formally ended their friendship they had lost the closeness they once shared.


            John Jay was the Chancellor’s closest friend for many years. The two had also met at King’s College. After graduating they served their time as law clerks at the same time and passed the bar together. They briefly operated a law firm together and became fairly prominent in New York City society life. Jay even married a cousin of Livingston’s. As they matured they became the god father to each other’s children. In 1776 they made plans to live together with their wives while attending Congress but an illness for Sarah Jay prevented this from happening. During the war the men wrote the lion’s share of the New York Constitution together, they worked on the defense of the Hudson River together and they were even involved in some counter espionage together.

John Jay shortly before he stabbed the nation in the back

   The brother like closeness these two men shared makes the ending of their friendship all that much more tragic. The first cracks appeared during the war. In 1777 Jay tried to slip some anti-Catholic clauses into the New York Constitution which Livingston prevented. Later when Livingston was Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Jay was one of the peace negotiators in France, Livingston rebuked the negotiators for exceeding their authority and keeping the French in the dark about their negotiations. Jay responded with an enormously long letter explaining their reasoning.

            After Livingston issued the oath of office to George Washington, making him the first President of the United States of America, his relationship with his friend Jay was further strained. Jay was made Chief Justice of the Supreme Court while Livingston received no federal title. Not only was Jay earning his enmity but so was the entire Federalist party.
            In a relatively short amount of time Robert Livingston would switch his allegiance to the Democratic-Republican party and bring along most of his family or “faction” as his political enemies preferred to call it. In 1795 John Adams celebrated the defeat of Tillotson for office as a victory over the Chancellor in a letter to his wife. “Mr. King is re-elected by the Legislature of New York by a majority of five in the House and two in the senate, in opposition to Mr. Tillotson, whom you know, to have married a Sister of Chancellor Livingstone. This is a great Point gain’d.”[i]  Of course Adams had always hated Livingston although he blamed their animosity on Livingston saying “The Passion which has influenced the Chancellor, through Life has been envy of Mr. Jay, and consequent Jealousy of the Friendship between Mr. Jay and me. He hated me because I was the friend of Mr. Jay.”[ii]

Of course everyone is jealous of you John Adams

The relationship between the Livingstons and the Federalists became so bad that a cousin of Livingston’s, Maturin Livingston, very nearly dueled Alexander Hamilton in 1796 but Hamilton begged off because he already had another duel scheduled.[iii]

People still voted for the man. Twice.
            It seemed that Livingston and Jay had a chance to become friends again in 1794, until Washington sent Jay to England to negotiate a new treaty that would tie up some loose ends from the Revolution. When the text of what became known as the “Jay Treaty” became generally known John Jay became one of the most hated men in America. People felt he had conceded far too much to the British. Jay was quoted as saying he could have traveled from Boston to

A rather elegant bit of graffiti from Boston. They don\’t vandalize like they used to.

Philadelphia at night by the light of his burning effigies. Livingston was perhaps the loudest voice criticizing the treaty. He published a series of letter under the pen name “Cato” blasting the treaty and even wrote directly to Washington to pressure him not to ratify it. To Washington he wrote; “Nothing but your glory can save under these circumstance the honor of our nation.”[iv]

Not this George Clinton

            In 1795, while he was still in England, Jay had been elected governor of New York when long time governor George Clinton declined to run again. Many had expected Livingston to be Jay’s opponent in the election but the Democratic-Republican surprisingly chose Robert Yates, whom Jay easily defeated.

            Three years later the Chancellor was chosen to run against Jay. The election was tough and dirty. Vicious ads and letters filled the newspapers. It attracted the notice of people in other states.

Seriously thought Livingston was worse than Satan

Abigail Adams wrote to her son John Quincy Adams of the Chancellor “An insatiable Ambition devours the Chancellor. To see Mr. Jay stand higher in the publick estimation and Elected chief over him; fills him with the same sensations, which Milton puts into the mouth of the Arch Fiend. “Better to Reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.””[v] That’s right. She compared him to Satan. Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison “Hard elections are expected there between Jay & Livingston.”[vi]

 Worse yet the Federalists of New York moved in masse against the Chancellor. Alexander Hamilton, who had never forgiven Livingston for opposing his financial plans in the 1780’s, went so far as to write to Timothy Pickering to ask him to examine the papers of the Chancellor from his time as Secretary for Foreign Affairs looking for ammunition to use against him.[vii]
            At one point during the campaign Livingston paid a visit to Philip Schuyler at Schuyler Mansion in

Philip Schuyler, \”Go to Canada? I mean ow, my toe.\”

Albany. Livingston and Schuyler had often found themselves on the same side during the war, even though a very convenient case of gout kept Schuyler from commanding the expedition against Canada which effectively ended with Montgomery’s death. Livingston complained of Jay and the federal government, perhaps forgetting the Schuyler was Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law. No sooner had Livingston finished his rant and departed the house than Schuyler put quill to paper to report the meeting to Hamilton; “he and his friends are Assiduous in blackening Mr. Jay’s character.”  He went on to say of the Chancellor “The man my dear Sir has worked himself up to such a pitch of Enmity against our Government as approaches Madness.”[viii]

Lets be honest Schuyler Mansion (top) really was shabby compared to the elegant Arryl House (bottom)

            Livingston lost the election. Three years later Thomas Jefferson sent him to France. He returned a few years later having doubled the size of the country with the Louisiana Purchase and went on to a life of success in agriculture and business. In the meantime, his “faction” had seen to the end of the political careers of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.(Check that story out here)  Jay had retired from public service in 1801 to become a farmer but he and Livingston never spoke again.

[i]John Adams to Abigail Adams 29 January 1795 Adams Papers
[ii]John Adams to Francois Adriaan Van Der Kemp, 23 August 1806 Adams Papers
[iii]  See letters between Hamilton and Maturin Livingston January 18, 20 and 21, 1796. Hamilton Papers
[iv]Robert R. Livingston to George Washington, 8 July 1795 Washington Papers
[v]Abigail Smith Adams to John Quincy Adams 27 May 1798, Adams papers
[vi]Thomas Jefferson to James Madison 3 January 1798, Madison Papers
[vii]See letters between Alexander Hamilton and Timothy Pickering 10 February and 5 April 1797 Hamilton Papers.
[viii]Philip Schuyler to Alexander Hamilton, 31 March 1798, Hamilton Papers