The Things He Carried

On December 31, 1775 General Richard Montgomery, husband of Janet Livingston, led a desperate attack on the British held city of Quebec.  Leading one of three wings of the attack Montgomery found the first barrier he and his men faced undefended.  He crossed with many of his sections officers and waited while a detachment of soldiers began tearing down the barrier to allow the main body of troops through.  Suddenly at the end of the street Montgomery noticed movement in a fortified blockhouse.  He knew well that the narrow street his men were using to enter the city would become a slaughterhouse if the defenders were able to fire a canon down the street from the blockhouse.  He drew his sword and charged the house with his officers hoping to catch the defenders off guard.  Unfortunately, the defending British and Canadians were not asleep and their canon spat grapeshot at the advancing Americans.  Most of the officers fell, Montgomery had been hit by three balls, in the leg, groin and head.  He died instantly.

            The attack on Quebec fell apart but the American army would stay around the city under the command of Benedict Arnold for several more months before a fighting retreat down Lake Champlain.  Montgomery was a wealthy man, an experienced campaigner and had plenty of time to prepare for the campaign in New York, Livingston Manor and Albany so he was well equipped. So what happened to his stuff?
            His money, in various denominations was inventoried on January 2, 1776 to be sent back to New York.  It amounted to a little over £ 347.  In addition his watch and seal were recovered from his body and sent to the Americans and then back to Mrs. Montgomery.  The General himself was buried in Quebec with full military honors.  In 1818 his body was returned to New York.
            The next day January 3, 1776 his personal effects were inventoried and, as was the custom of the time, they were auctioned off with the money being sent to his widow.  This custom may seem morbid but it allowed the other officers a way to resupply themselves on campaign and in many cases the money would be far more useful to the widow than her deceased husband’s shirts.  The officers who performed the inventory of Montgomery’s goods were Colonel Donald Campbell, Major John Brown, Major Fred Weisenfelts and Aide-de-Camp Aaron Burr. 
            The single largest buyer at the auction was Benedict Arnold.  His purchases included 3 ruffled shirts and six plain shirts, six cambric stocks, a silk neck cloth and three linen handkerchiefs.  Arnold also purchased a pair of “casimere” (perhaps cashmere) breeches and matching waistcoat which were probably quite comfortable in the cold Canadian winter.  Interestingly Arnold also purchased a pair of moccasins and “elegant Indian leggins”.  Because they are described as “Indian” the leggings were most likely leather, worn to protect one’s stockings from being destroyed when walking through the woods.
            Arnold (at right) also purchased a dozen knives and forks, six silver table spoons, six silver tea spoons and a pair of tea tongs.  He also purchased five table cloths and an old trunk for storage.  Silver spoons and table ware may seem fancy for a military campaign but it was important for Montgomery’s reputation that he be able to entertain his officers and if necessary enemy officers in high style.
            Among the other items sold from Montgomery’s possessions were two blankets and a counterpane (bed spread) sold to Colonel Seth Warner.  Aaron Burr bought a clothes brush, which was used for keeping his uniform looking clean and presentable.  In addition a pair of woolen stockings was given to Dick, described in the inventory simply as “the negro boy”, most likely a slave.  His sheets were sent to the hospital to be used for the wounded.
            There was a surprising amount of stuff not sold at the auction, especially considering that Arnold and his men had lost almost all their possessions on their march into Canada.  Among the unsold items were three more ruffled shirts, six muslin neck cloths, fifteen pairs of stockings of various materials, five pairs of breeches, two waistcoats and two cotton caps, shoes, gloves, a watch coat, his mattress and pillows. 
            Montgomery also had a small library with him which was not sold.  The titles included; Reveries on the Art of War by Maurice De Saxe, two volumes by Polybius, a Greek historian, L\’Ingenieur de Campagne by Clarac (a book on military engineering),  four volumes of La Science Militaire and Johnson’s English Dictionary.  These books show Montgomery to be a serious student of military tactics and not someone who was willing to rest simply on the knowledge he had already gained.
            One thing that is not listed on the inventory are any personal letters. He did correspond with Janet Montgomery during the campaign and his letters to her have survived, at least in transcribed form but none of hers to him survive.  It is believed that Montgomery took the prudent step of burning the letters after he had read them.  This would prevent the enemy from gaining any intelligence from them should he be captured.

            All in all the inventory of Montgomery’s personal goods gives us a good idea of the type of man the Montgomery was.  He was a man fully dedicated to the cause; nothing in the inventory obviously indicated his life with Janet.  Everything he carried was what was viewed as necessary for an eighteenth century military officer on campaign.  Nothing more to remember his life at home and nothing less, which could have lowered other opinions of him.

John R. Livingston Murderer?

  Of Judge Robert R. Livingston’s four sons John R. Livingston is perhaps the most forgotten. His oldest brother Robert helped to found this country. His next brother Henry found success as a soldier. Even his younger brother was a famous politician, serving in congress and on Andrew Jackson’s cabinet. But John is typically known merely as a merchant.

John R. Livingston
          John was born in 1754. He was the third son of Judge Robert R. Livingston and Margaret Beekman Livingston, and their seventh child overall. When the Revolutionary War broke out John served briefly under his brother-in-law, Richard Montgomery’s command during the expedition against Canada in 1775. He also served briefly at Fort Edward during the summer of 1777.

          Most of John’s time during the war was spent as a merchant. In 1776 he took over his father’s gun powder mill and soon built a second to supply gunpowder to the army. He spent a great deal of time in Boston during the war, buying and selling various war materials.

          But what if there was more to young John? What if he had a cruel streak like his brother Henry?

In 1879 a nearly century old manuscript was published by the New-York Historical Society as A History of New York during the Revolutionary War, and of Leading Events in Other Colonies at That Period. It contained the following disturbing passage:
When the news of the unlucky affair at Trenton arrived at New York, Erasmus Phillips, Esq., Captain of Grenadiers in the 45thRegiment, was there. He immediately set off to join his regiment in Jersey. He was attended by a servant only. As he passed through Princeton he was observed by three persons who were concealed in a house at that place. The house stood upon the road. The Captain was to pass the door. When he came directly opposite, the three assassins fired, and lodged three bullets in his body. He instantly fell from his horse dead. The servant escaped. One of the party who committed the murder, his name shall be mentioned, was a John Livingston, one of the sons of Robert R. Livingston, late one of the Judges of the Supreme Court of the province of New York. This barbarian, in public company, in Middletown, in Connecticut, boasted of this murder as an act of heroism, a noble achievement; and so little remorse had he for his cruel act in which he had taken a principal part that he declared “That Captain Phillips made one of the handsomest corpses he had ever beheld. We stripped him “says he “of all of his clothes and left him naked in the street. I thought” added he “that I should have been obliged to have cut his head off, to get at his diamond stock buckle, but I effected my purpose by breaking his neck, and turning his head topsy-turvy.” This he concluded with a broad laugh, taking off his own stock, and saying, “Behold the buckle, it was worth the pains of breaking a dead man’s neck for.”

Let’s look first at the dead man. Captain Phillips was a captain in the 35th Regiment of Foot, not the 45th. In a history of the regiment compiled in 1873 he is listed as murdered on January 2, 1777 “by some of the country people apparently” although other sources list him as having died the next day at the Battle of Princeton. His will was executed in July of that year and is in the collection of New York Historical. So he definitely existed and died although the how is still in the air.

          As for John, while he would certainly not be called scrupulous, he does not seem to have been a killer. His business deals often trended toward shady but I could not find any contemporary evidence that he was accused of murder in 1777. He traveled to Rhode Island in late 1776 on a business trip but it seems unlikely that he would have been in Princeton, a British-held town, on January 2 in order to murder Phillips. Also, as Princeton was garrisoned by the British army it seems unlikely that the three shots that killed Phillips would have gone uninvestigated long enough to strip the dead man and break his neck.


A pleated neck stock without its buckle

         So where does this accusation come from? Thomas Jones, the author of A History of New York during the Revolutionary War, was a loyalist who prior to the war had been a Supreme Court Judge along with Judge Robert R. Livingston. In 1779 the Act of Attainder stripped Jones of all his land on Long Island and forced him to flee to England along with his wife. His wife, by the way, was Anna DeLancey of the DeLancey family who had been bitter political opponents of the Livingston family for years. So Jones is perhaps not the most unbiased source. In the same book he referred to Chancellor Robert R. Livingston as a “violent partisan”.

          There is one more twist in the publication of the manuscript. The editor in 1873 was Edward Floyd DeLancey, a descendant of the same rival family.

          Did John R. Livingston murder a British officer for his neck stock? Probably not. The rivalry between the Livingstons and the DeLancey family was well-known, possibly even bitter enough to merit a smear campaign of this nature.  But maybe it\’s John R.\’s somewhat shady connections, both during the war and after, make him vulnerable to a story like this.

John Scott and the Ego That Shaped America

Frequently the fate of nations, and by extension history, has been writ by the ambition of a single man. Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon, the list goes on. Of course, in addition to being driven, all of these men have another thing in common; people remember them. This is not true, in large part, for John Scott, whose ambition shaped the fate of both the Dutch empire and the English kingdom.

King Charles II
John Scott was most likely born as the son of a bankrupt miller in Ashford, England sometime in the late 1620’s or early 1630’s. Sometime between 1641 and 1643 he showed up in Massachusetts as an indentured servant. Some thought he had been brought by his mother, who being desperately poor sold him. Scott himself would later claim, while trying to ingratiate himself to King Charles II, that he was being punished by parliament for cutting the saddle straps of parliamentary forces during the English Civil War. He was sold first to the Southwick family and then to Emmanuel Downing, a notorious child trafficker of the time. He spent a great deal of time in Salem, Massachusetts until, according to legend he killed a young girl in a tragic hunting accident.

Around 1657 he arrived on Long Island and married Deborah Raynor and was granted a small farm. This was not enough for Scott though, and he soon set out for England to see if he could better his fortunes. By the time he arrived in London, posing as a gentleman, in 1660 he was claiming to own a third of Long Island. Based on that, his “service” and a new story about his father’s tragic death fighting for the crown during the Civil War he petitioned King Charles II to make him governor of Long Island which Charles denied. He was however accepted by the king as an advisor on Long Island and New Netherland based in large part on a book he showed to many of his acquaintances entitled, Some Helps for the Indians, Shewing them how to improve their Natural Reason to know the true God and the Christian Religion by Abraham Pierson.  Every copy but one bore a title page that read “examined and approved by Thomas Stanton, Interpreter General to the United Colonies.” Thanks to a less than scrupulous printer Scott’s copy had a title page that read “examined and approved by that Experienced Gentleman (in the Indian Language) Captain John Scott.” In that position Scott encouraged Charles to take New Netherland for himself.

During his time in England Scott met John and Dorthea Gotherson. Dorthea was a descendent of the Scotts of Scott Hall in Ashford. John Scott claimed to be a cousin although in reality was of no relation. He sold her husband non-existent land in Long Island for several thousand pounds and outright stole about £200 of her jewels. It’s also possible that he seduced Dorthea. When he returned to Long Island in 1663 he also brought their son, whom he had promised to educate and bring up into business. As soon as he arrived back in the colony he sold the boy into indentured servitude.

Scott, who was now going by the title colonel having promoted himself at some point while crossing the Atlantic, went to the settlement of Setauket and presented the people there with a sketch of the king and a large glob of wax he claimed was the king’s seal and told them that their land now belonged to him and gave them completely invalid patents for other land. 

At about the same time several of the towns on the eastern end of Long Island banded together to resist the threat of being consumed into the Connecticut colony which would have ended their relatively free existence. They asked Scott to approach the Long Island towns about coming under their control. Instead, Scott somehow got himself named president of this assembly. He had probably heard rumors that the English were planning to attack New Netherland and hoped to be named governor of Long Island by being in control of it when the fleet arrived. He promptly took the men of the towns who had fashioned themselves into a militia and attacked the Dutch towns on the western end of the island.  He declared that he would personally run through Peter Stuyvesant and showed a document that claimed all of Long Island for England that was completely valid except that it lacked the King’s signature.

Scott’s actions on the western end of the Island brought the conflict of the eastern town’s with Connecticut to a head and Scott was arrested by Connecticut but escaped from jail in July of 1664. In the meantime Charles II had decided to go to war with the Dutch, in part based on Scott’s reports to him while he was in England. He sent out two forces; one to attack Dutch holdings in Africa and one to attack New Netherland. When the Dutch Ambassador asked why the force was headed to the colonies he was told it was to deal with the unease on the eastern end of Long Island. In August, 1664 when the English took command of the colony Scott was leading a company of militia.

Scott tried to ingratiate himself with Richard Nicholls but Nicholls quickly saw through Scott. The settlers of Setauket realized they had been duped by Scott. Nicholls ordered him to show the documents with the King’s seal in court but Scott fled the colony in October. All of his possessions in the colony were seized and his wife was granted a divorce. Dorthea Gotherson’s son was found and freed in 1668. At this point Scott began to blame James, the Duke of York, for all of his problems.

Scott fled to Caribbean where he was placed in command of English troops during the Attack on the island of St. Kit’s. When the attack went poorly for the English he was first caught by a superior officer curled in the fetal position at the foot of a cliff while his men stood about with no officer to command them. Next he was caught naked and preparing to swim for it. Embarrassed, he redressed only to fake a wound and have himself carried out to the English ships off shore. What’s more, when he was sent a month later to negotiate for the release of English and Irish prisoners taken during the attack he deliberately scuttled the talks by insulting the French when he realized that some of the prisoners would be able to testify to his cowardice. Scott was sent to England with a report of the attack but when the war ended the following year, the former prisoners swore to Scott’s actions and he was court martialed and condemned in absentia for cowardice.

A map attributed to John Scott
In late 1667 he once again turned up in England and was quickly imprisoned for debt. He once again slipped out of prison and discovered a talent for copying maps. This somehow won him an appointment as Royal Geographer. This position also disappeared quickly when Nicholls returned to England and told the real story of Scott’s time in the colonies. Scott fled again.

He next turned up in Holland and declared himself a major general (although the only rank he ever held in the Netherlands was colonel) and claimed to have been born in Leyden. He soon befriended many of the remaining English anti-royalists from the Civil War living in exile in the Netherlands.  The Dutch gave him a command, which he quickly defrauded by accepting their pay and then claiming it was lost. He also began to sell copies of maps he had brought with him from England, some of which detailed harbors and defenses around England. This was one of the direct causes of the Third Anglo Dutch War.

When the war broke out Scott offered his services to England as a spy but was shortly caught by the Dutch. He offered them a list of other English spies if they let him stay. The list of “spies” provided by Scott turned out to be a list of innocent merchants to whom he owed money. The war ended when Charles turned on France, with whom they had been allied. Scott who was now out of favor with both the English and the Dutch traveled to Paris.

Samuel Pepys
In 1679 Scott again turned up in England, this time as a witness against Samuel Pepys, Secretary of the Admiralty, who was being accused of being part of a popish plot to take control of the English crown. Both Charles II and his brother James, the Duke of York were suspected of being Catholic. James was in fact exiled from England at that point because of his Catholic beliefs. Pepys was a great ally of the Duke and anti-Catholic members of parliament were looking to remove him. Scott was the perfect witness because he never had an issue with stretching the truth. He was promised great rewards for his testimony but that soon fell apart because of Pepys meticulous research into Scott’s background. When the plot completely fell apart Scott was forced to flee again.

            While hiding from Pepys wrath Scott had too much to drink one night in a tavern.  He called for a coach but when the coachmen told him how much the fare would be to his lodgings; Scott became quarrelsome and ran the coachman through with his sword. Scott was immediately arrested but escaped and fled to Norway. He would return to England in 1695 and most likely died in 1696.

King James II
            England and the Netherlands had gone through a monumental shift before that happened though. In 1685 James, Duke of York became King James II when Charles died. This was too much for the anti-Catholic members of parliament and they removed James from power in 1688. One of the pieces of evidence they used against the King was the Third Anglo Dutch War, which was evidence of their Catholic proclivities because why would a protestant King wage wore on another protestant king? Parliament turned to the Netherlands and William of Orange who was married to James’ daughter, Mary. They invited him to become King of England. Under William Parliament and the crown were on the same page for the first time in almost a century and many of the most important laws regarding liberty in England were passed.

            John Scott craved power and recognition as a gentleman. By seeking to achieve this through deception, theft and taking advantage of world politics he played a pivotal role in the 17thcentury.




Colonel John Scott of Long Island by Wilbur Cortez Abbott Oxford University Press 1918

Traitor to the Crown by James Long and Ben Long The Overlook Press 2009

The Smartest Man in the Room: How Robert Livingston Earned His Manor

Robert Livingston came to the young colony of New York in 1675, shortly after the colony had become English for the final time.  He was Scottish, but thanks to a father who had a falling out with the King of England had spent a significant amount of time in exile in the Netherlands.  He had plans to become a fur trader, but soon found himself secretary to Nicholas Van Rensselaer, director of the 700,000 acre Rensselaerswyck.

Robert Livingston

When Nicholas died in 1678 he owed a good deal of money to both new world and European creditors.  He also left behind an attractive and intelligent widow, Alida Schuyler Van Rensselaer (yes, those Schuylers).  Livingston married Alida, in July of 1679, a few months after Van Rensselaer died. 

Alida Schuyler Van Rensselaer Livingston

Livingston’s next move was incredibly shrewd.  He paid off Nicholas’ estate’s debts to the tune of 5,831 florins in New York out of his own pocket.  Later auditors were a bit suspicious of these debts.  Livingston was seeking compensation for 2,411 florins of Nicholas’ debt, 1,908 florins of which was paid to his father in law, Philip Pieterse Schuyler for various goods.   Schuyler’s reputation and offer to swear on the debt was enough to soothe their suspicions though.  Livingston took his compensation from the Van Rensselaers by claiming a section of their land as his own, including the Crailo Farm.  The ensuing legal battle went on for years and was particularly hard on Maria Van Rensselaer, widow of Jeremias Van Rensselaer, on whom the directorship of the manor had once again fallen, as her brother Stephanus Van Cortlandt, who was the actual director, resided in New York City.  She also hoped that her son Kiliaen would become the new director.   As early as November of 1679 she wrote “Secretary Livingston troubles me so much…”[i]

After paying the local debts Livingston basically ignored the European debts.  He hoped that the Atlantic Ocean would prove to be too daunting a barrier to cross to collect the debts.  He said “the debts abroad may take care of themselves.”[ii]  He also requested a review of the will of Jan Van Wely, an uncle of Nicholas Van Rensselaer’s.  Livingston claimed that the uncle died before Nicholas and that therefore Alida should inherit anything left to Nicholas.  The Van Rensselaers however, claimed that Nicholas had died first and she was entitled to nothing.  The courts eventually ruled in the Van Rensselaers’ favor on this point.

Next Richard Van Rensselaer, Nicholas’s brother and head of the Van Rensselaer family in the Netherlands, convinced one of Nicholas’s European creditors to sue Livingston for a 38 florin debt.  The case, which was heard in Albany, was not worth it financially but would have set a precedent  for collecting debts across the ocean and had it been successful could have ruined Livingston.  The judge that heard the case though was unwilling to set any such precedent and dismissed the case on a technicality.

Livingston was now set on breaking up Rensselaerswyck, by keeping the land he claimed belonged to Nicholas.  He was joined by his Schuyler in-laws who hoped to grab up some of the Van Rensselaer farmlands for themselves.  Portioning off any part of the manor was not an option for the Van Rensselaers.  In fact the very idea that Livingston controlled any portion of their land was embarrassing and offensive to Maria Van Rensselaer who wrote to Richard in January of 1682; “for all those who hear from Livingston himself that he still has the farm, criticize us.”  She went on to say; “I can not bear to see him any longer in possession of the patroon’s garden…”[iii]

In May of 1682 Richard Van Rensselaer wrote to Livingston directly.  The tone of the letter was threatening at best.  First he declared that Livingston owed him more than 3,000 florins for the land he was using and some existing debts, then called him a “solicitor of fraudulent affairs.”  He goes on to say that even if Livingston abandons the estate “it will plague you thereafter.”  As for Crailo, which Livingston still maintained as his due, Richard wrote: “as I understand that contrary to all justice and fairness you keep in your possession the patroon’s place and also the farm in the Greyne Bos, without being willing to pay any rent or compensation to the patron and co-directors…”[iv]

Livingston responded with his biggest gun.  He attacked the Van Rensselaers’ dirty little secret.  They only owned 60% of Rensselaerswyck.  Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, the first Patroon, had been the largest investor in a group of investors.  In 1683 Livingston sent an agent to the Netherlands to find the heirs of the other investors. The Blommaert and Bessels families who were among the heirs were very shocked to realize they had never seen any profit from the investment or even a proper accounting, which had been ordered in 1650 by the Staats General.

Governor Thomas Dongan had no choice but to step in at this point.  Rensselaerswyck was the largest land holding in his colony and to find out that the Van Rensselaers had been holding it fraudulently for the last fifty years risked destabilizing the entire colony. 

Suddenly Livingston’s long game came into light.  In 1683 he purchased a small land tract of 2,000 acres near the Roeliff Jansen Kill from the Mohicans for some trade goods.  This land was confirmed by Dongan in 1684. 

On July 31, 1685 Dongan officially put an end to the Van Rensselaer – Livingston dispute.  Officially, Livingston was free from Nicholas Van Rensselaer’s debts; he also did not have to pay for the land he had taken from the Van Rensselaers.  The Van Rensselaers also gave him 800 schepels of wheat.  In return Livingston would give back the land he had taken and would not protest against a new patent for Maria Van Rensselaer’s son to become the patroon.

New York was saved except Livingston still did not have what he wanted, his own manor.  Or did he?  A few months later Livingston purchased another small parcel of land, about 600 acres, in Taconic, about ten miles east of his original piece of land.  On July 22, 1686, almost exactly a year from the agreement with the Van Rensselaers, Livingston received a third patent for his land making him lord of his own manor and confirming his ownership of his land, the 2,000 acres on the Roeliff Jansen Kill, the 600 acres in Taconic and the land in between them.  With the governor’s signature Livingston had converted 2,600 acres into 160,000 acres.

It’s tough to say now if Livingston Manor was payment for dropping his disputes against the Van Rensselaers but the time line strongly suggests more than mere coincidence.  It’s also unlikely that the Van Rensselaers or Governor Dongan would have considered some undeveloped wilderness as a high price to pay for maintaining Rensselaerswyck and bringing Crailo back into the family.





[i]Maria Van Rensselaer to Richard Van Rensselaer, November 1679 in Van Laer, A.J.F., ed., Correspondence of Maria Van Rensselaer 1669-1689 Albany, The University of the State of New York, 1935 p 30.
[ii]Quoted in Leder, Lawrence H. Robert Livingston, 1654-1728 and The Politics of Colonial New York Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 1961. P 25.
[iii]Maria Van Rensselaer to Richard Van Rensselaer, January 1682 in Van Laer Correspondence, p 57

[iv]Richard Van Rensselaer to Robert Livingston, May4/14, 1682 in Van Laer Correspondence. P 65-69.