Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Rebel Livingston: St. George Croghan in the Confederate Army

Long time readers will no doubt remember the story of Serena Livingston (If you need to refresh your memory you can read about her here ). To make a long story short though, Serena, the daughter of
Serena Livingston Croghan
John R. Livingston, married George Croghan. George was a hero of the War of 1812 but alcoholism and gambling problems led to a tumultuous life and eventually a separation from Serena.

Serena and George's only surviving son, St. George Louis Livingston Croghan, had his own tumultuous life. Born while the family was living at the Croghan estate, Locust Grove, in Kentucky St. George spent much of his youth on the move. Eventually Serena brought her kids, including St. George back to the Hudson Valley to be supported by her family. Some sources report that St. George attended West Point but no record of this exists.

By 1847 St. George had married his cousin Cornelia Adelaide Ridgely, who was a great- granddaughter of Chancellor Livingston. They produced four children between their marriage and her death in 1857 at the age of 30.  She is buried in Rhinebeck.

At some point during the next four years St. George abandoned his motherless young children with family and returned to the south. When war broke out he decided to turn traitor and join the confederacy. His motivations are unclear at best. Perhaps he was seeking adventure? Perhaps he believed in slavery so strongly that he was willing to fight for it? Unlike some confederate soldiers St. George could not claim loyalty to a state as his excuse as he joined a Virginia unit rather than a unit from Kentucky where he had been born and where his family had land.

St. George Croghan was made a lieutenant colonel in the 1 Cavalry, Wise Legion having joined "soon after the commencement of Lincoln's war of subjugation" as one Richmond newspaper put it. For
Two soldiers of the 10 Virginia Cavalry
those interested after reorganization of the Confederate Army this became the 10 Virginia Cavalry. So for the Livingstons the Civil War was not brother against brother but it certainly was cousin against cousin (you can read about a Livingston who joined the right side of the war here).

In the early days of the war St. George was assigned mainly to move supplies between North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Soon though he was sent into western Virginia which was strongly opposed to Virginia's secession. This led to many fierce battles and skirmishes. After one such battle at Hawk's Nest he reported killing one union soldier and capturing two more. He encouraged his commanding officers to push forward but it was not to be.

West Virginia seceded from Virginia in August of 1861 and several set backs caused the rebels to begin falling back from the state. On November 14th St. George was leading a scouting party of about 40 men at McCoy's Mill in West Virginia, covering the rearguard of the rebel forces when they were confronted by the 12 and 13 Ohio regiments early in the morning. During the ensuing fight a bullet hit St. George in his waist belt, passed through his body and exited through the belt on his back. His belt broke and his sword fell to the ground where he was hit.
McCoy Mill in West Virginia 

His men retreated but the mortally wounded St. George was captured by the Union. He was treated by the 13 Ohio's assistant surgeon, Dr. Chase, but died at 2:00 in the afternoon.

Southern sources claim that his men tried to recover his body under a flag of truce but that the Union soldiers refused. This interaction was not recorded in Union sources. There is no record of what happened to St. George's body. A Richmond newspaper mourned him saying there was not a "better rider on the continent, whether Texas Ranger or Carmanche [sp] Indian" and that "his loss to the confederate army is like that of a regiment..."

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Poetry She Made Herself

100 years ago this summer, a little girl received a lovely present from her grandmother.
A leather-bound notebook, perfectly sized for small hands. The paper was heavy, to thwart ink from pooling and bleeding through. The pages were lined, to keep unsteady handwriting neat. The gilded edges indicate the importance and timeless elegance of its owner, a daughter of one of New York’s first families. Her name was emblazoned on the cover--- Honoria Alice Livingston.

Honoria was the eldest daughter of John Henry Livingston and Alice Delafield Clarkson Livingston. She lived in the mansion at Clermont with her parents, her younger sister Janet, their beloved nurse Ollie, a dozen or so servants, and a menagerie of pets.
Her maternal grandparents, Howard and Alice Clarkson, lived just up the road and visited often. Grannie Alice and Mom Alice were both prolific poets and journal writers in their own right, so it’s no surprise that young Honoria was showing an interest and a talent for creative writing herself. Grannie christened the notebook with a special poem for her young granddaughter.
To Honoria.

When Grannie was a little girl
She made a little book,
And many times with joy and pride,
Did in its pages look.

And here she wrote her little tales,

And sometimes verses too;
For airy fondness came to her
Just as they come to you.

And now you write such pretty tales,

And little verses too;
So Grannie thought perhaps this book
To hold them all, would do.

The very day she received the book, Honoria took to work. On the next page, in her very best 10-year-old handwriting, she titled the contents “The Poetry I Made My-Self.” She wrote three poems that day and several more throughout the week.
Comb and brush

I hear a thrush.
Comb and brush
I want to wash.
Brush and comb
Gobi is home
Brush and comb
Away I rome.

Honoria A. Livingston. Aug 3rd 1919
Early poems reference her family, her beloved dog Gobi, and strict rhyming schemes, even if she had to bend the rules a bit to make it work. The following year, the little notebook traveled with the Livingston family as they moved abroad to continue their daughters’ education. Honoria’s repertoire of subject matter grew beyond family life at Clermont and started to include the French countryside, German soldiers, English fairies, and Italian friends.

The Livingstons lived in Europe for the next 6 years. Honoria became a teenager and her subjects became more mature and dramatic:
There’s a road that leads to nowhere good,

There’s a road that leads to Hell;
But there’s also a road to Paradise,
and on that road I dwell.

-Honoria A. Livingston Oct. 5th 1924

Guicciardini, Florence.

Her structures became more experimental and modern:
Of the Universe!

Tell us, I pray thee
Where do the sunsets go when dead?

-Honoria A. Livingston December 2nd 1924

Guicciardini, Florence.

But even so, more than half of her poems are about her beloved pets and many about the comings and goings of her family and friends. Some of her poems are even in French and Italian! She loved to write about the moon and sunsets over Florence, where the family called home for her teenage years.
A week before her 17th birthday in 1926, she wrote a poem to herself, remarking on the occasion and how much she had grown since starting the notebook:
Almost Seventeen!

From a very little child
Into a stately maiden dark,
she has grown.
Guicciardini, Florence. January 25th 1926

The rest of her poems in 1926 play out as her previous years in Italy had--- pets, family, and beautiful evenings at the family’s Villa. But in November, something happens. The family suddenly rushes back to the States, leaving precious friends and belongings behind. Honoria’s handwriting becomes rushed, the ink is half washed away is big drips, and pages are torn out. The end of 1926 and the beginning of 1927 do not exist.

This is when Honoria’s father, John Henry, passed away.
After JH’s passing, the family settled back in at Clermont. Honoria writes in the notebook for another year and then sets it aside--- a memento of her childhood and teenage years. She grew up, had her debut in New York City, and married a charming Irishman named Rex McVitty.

They spent their lives at Clermont in Sylvan cottage, even after the mansion and grounds were deeded to The People of the State of New York. They enjoyed meeting park visitors and actively took part in site events. Honoria lived in the cottage until her passing in 2000--- her tin mailbox and Poughkeepsie Journal newspaper box were only recently removed from the driveway.

But even as Honoria grew up, from a 10-year-old girl with her first important grown-up possession, to a beautiful debutant, to an accomplished writer, golfer, gardener, and the Lady of the Estate, she never forgot about her notebook. She came back to it “many times with joy and pride,” just as her Grandmother had before her. As an adult, she even edited and typed some of her early work.

From a historian’s perspective, Honoria’s poetry journal is a fascinating artifact. Not just a chronical of a young girl growing up, but a chronical of life for an American family looking in at post WWI Europe. Not just flights of fancy, but a collection of popular culture influences of the time. Not just cute pets, but little family moments that tell us so much about the last generation of Livingstons of Clermont. It’s a lovely little book, a scrapbook of experiences, and we are lucky to have it.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

“Why the -bleep- is there a picture of Andrew Jackson hanging in the Dining Room?"

People come to Clermont from all over the world. Perhaps the most common question amongst all these people of different races and creeds is “Why the -bleep- is there a picture of Andrew Jackson hanging in the Dining Room?”
Beau Ned
 First, we say “That -bleeping- painting is by Thomas Sulley.” Then we often use it to start a conversation about Edward Livingston. “You see Beau Ned served with Jackson at New Orleans and was his Secretary of State.” says we. But the real story involves far less politics and more theft and questionable marriages.
Montgomery Livingston was married to Mary Colden Swartout. She was the daughter of Samuel Swartout. Samuel was an ambitious man. So ambitious he was charged as part of the Burr Conspiracy to set up a separate country in the west though his charges were later dropped. He was also an ardent supporter of Andrew Jackson during his campaign for president. Samuel was rewarded with the position of Collector of Customs for the Port of New York, a position he held until 1839.
Montgomery Livingston
When his term expired and the books were checked Samuel had embezzled $1,225,705.69. He fled the country. Over the years by blaming other people and working out a deal with the government he was able to pay back $181,127.77 and return to the United States with no charges against him. And by over the years I mean two years. He was back in 1841. Some people at the time vacationed longer than he was a fugitive.
He came back and lived a life of relative comfort with his wife until he died in 1856.
In the meantime, Montgomery Livingston, had died in 1855 deeply in debt. His house, the Chancellor’s former house, had to be auctioned. Mary his wife soon moved down the hill to Clermont to marry her dead husband’s cousin Clermont, whose wife Cornelia had died in 1851. He had two children from that first marriage, John Henry and Mary. Unfortunately for Clermont Mary only lived a short while longer before she too died.
Clermont Livingston (seated) and Mary Colden Swartout Livingston Livingston (Standing)
Flash forward twenty years to 1876 and Mary Swartout’s widowed mother Alice is preparing for her own death by giving away possessions. She gives her former step grandson John Henry Livingston a portrait of Andrew Jackson that her husband had purchased because John Henry “liked history.” He hung it in the dining room and the rest is, well, history.
And that, dear reader, is the story of how a portrait of Andrew Jackson, probably bought with embezzled money came to hang in Clermont’s dining room. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


In addition to his work in government and international relations Chancellor Robert R. Livingston also worked on improving he agricultural society of America. As a founding member and president of the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts and Manufactures, along with Stephen Van Rensselaer, Simeon DeWitt, Gouveneur Morris and many others, the Chancellor filled the pages of the Transactions of the Society with his thoughts, ideas and transactions

In one experiment, that Boris and Natasha
could have probably gotten behind, he tried to domesticate elk and moose. This was published in the Transaction of the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts and Manufactures Instituted in the State of New-York, Volume I in 1801. This was based on an observation of his that every society, every place that people developed seemed to be provided with animals that could serve as beasts of burden. Cattle and horses in Europe, elephants in parts of Asia, the camel in North Africa, even the llama in South America and reindeer in the far north. In fact it was only the zebra and giraffe that he couldn't understand as to how they escaped being domesticated. He saw moose and elk as the equivalent animals in North America.

Definitely no problems putting a harness on an animal with antlers like that 
For some reason the Chancellor had more ready access to elk. In fact he owned three that he kept pastured with his cattle. He took two of these elk, each about two years old, and twice tried putting them in a harness. He was very encouraged by his results. Both animals took a bit about as easily as a colt of similar age. One problem he quickly saw though is that the animals had delicate mouths that could be easily damaged if the bit was mishandled.

So graceful and majestic

Based on these experiments the Chancellor felt that Elk could best be used pulling carriages. They were as muscular as horses but their natural gate is a faster so they could, in theory, out pull a horse.

The Chancellor never had the chance to experiment in real life on a moose. He apparently only ever examined a dead juvenile. The rest of his knowledge was based on books and stories told by hunters. He saw the great musculature of moose as an advantage and believed that they could grow up to ten feet tall in domesticity because they wouldn't be desperate for food in the winter.

You ain't a pageant winner either 
The only draw back to moose in the Chancellor's eyes was that they were ugly. In his words; "we must however , except beauty, for few animals have a more uncouth appearence; the head is out of all proportion large, the neck shorter than the head, the body much shorter compared to its height than that of either horse or ox."

He was most offended by the hind end of the moose, "the tail, if it may be so called, is a broad, short flap, that hardly covers the anus."
He wasn't wrong


That reason was the Louisiana Purchase
 For some reason, despite his early success with these experiments the Chancellor never continued on with them and they were never picked up by anyone else on any large scale. His experiments with elk continued to make its way into print for nearly a hundred years. Its mentioned in 1803's Animal Biography; or Anecdotes or the Lives, Manners and Economy, of the Animal Creation Arranged According to the System of Linnaeus by W. Bingley, 1832's A Book of Quadrupeds for Youth and in a 1901 article in the Albany Argus by Judge Robert Earl, who was pushing to start attempting to domesticate both animals again. It was even written about in a blog in 2019. See here Even still no one has jumped into this effort whole heatedly.

Except this guy. He's some kind of moose whisperer 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Judge Robert Livingston and Margaret Beekman Livingston Prodigious and Proficient Progeny


Sometimes its amazing to sit back and look at the Revolutionary generation of Clermont Livingstons, the children of Judge Robert Livingston and Margaret Beekman Livingston. Not only did ten of their eleven children live to adulthood but that all of those children took part in more than seventy years of American history.
At least my name is in "Hamilton"

Janet as drawn by her niece when she was quite old
The oldest child of the Judge and Margaret was Janet. She was briefly married to the reputedly dashing General Richard Montgomery
That's going to be a hard no.
before a blast of grapeshot at Quebec ended their wedded bliss. She remained unmarried for the rest of her life, turning down several offers including one from the "hero of Saratoga" Horatio Gates. This often leads to her being depicted as a grieving widow for the rest of her life. In fact she was a savvy businesswoman who earned enough money to build Montgomery Place in memory of Richard and lead a very comfortable life which included a great deal of reading.

The next oldest was Robert.To summarize his career;briefly; Continental Congress, Address to the People of Great Britain, Declaration of Independence, New York State Constitution, Chancellor, Secretary for Foreign Affairs , George Washington's Oath of Office , Minister to France, Louisiana Purchase, steamboats, merino sheep and on and on and on. You can read more about his career here, here, here, here, and here.

After the Chancellor came Margaret. She married Thomas Tillotson, one of the most boring men in history, But under her tutelage he served as an assemblyman, state senator and Secretary of State for New York. This allowed Margaret to play hostess to the elite of New York's politics.

Henry Beekman Livingston's career as a military officer and hero of the Revolution has been well documented here, here, here, and here. The Battle of Long Island, The Battle of Saratoga, The Battle of Monmouth, Rhode Island and Valley Forge. A man who rubbed shoulders with the Marquis de Laffayette,

                       The Baron von Steuben,

                                                                                                                          George Washington

                                                                 and George Clinton.

"I don't think that's the right George Clinton"
Catherine Livingston Garretson
*Probably not a real quote
Catherine Livingston married the Reverend Freeborn Garretson after waiting out her mother, who was unhappy with the idea of her marrying a Methodist, for years. Catherine and Freeborn set about spreading Methodism throughout America. Catherine frequently hosted missionaries before they headed off to spread their message and frequently corresponding with them, giving them the courage to continue their missions.

I did nothing wrong-John Livingston 
The next son was John Livingston. John was mainly a simple business man. He had supplied the Continental Army during the Revolution. He spent most of the war in Boston where he could over see shipments coming in and going out. After the war he developed a rather interesting business strategy you can read about here. (warning not for the faint of heart) It earned him the nickname "The Lord of Vice".

You might say I Burrn'd him- Morgan Lewis
Gertrude Livingston married Morgan Lewis in 1779. He was a general in the army and the son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, With her and her family's help Morgan served in the assembly, state Senate, as New York Attorney General, and Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court. Gertrude would have reached her peak when she was first lady of New York state when Morgan Lewis defeated Aaron Burr for the governorship in 1804. Gertrude and Morgan's country house has been remodeled and added onto to become Mills Mansion in Staatsburg.

Joanna Livingston married a distant cousin, Peter Robert Livingston. She too was a force in Albany society wen her husband served in the Senate and the Assembly.

The youngest daughter of the family Alida Livingston
 married General John Armstrong of Pennsylvania. She travelled to France with him when he replaced her brother Robert as Minister to Napoleon's Court. She was a member of Washington D.C. society when John was a senator from New York. John would also serve as Secretary of War during the War of 1812. He and Alida had to flee the city when the British came to burn it in 1814. Unsurprisingly this marked the end of his career as Secretary.

Finally we come to the baby of the family. Edward Livingston. Edward had his own adventures during the War of 1812 (look here). Held several government positions from and in both New York and Louisiana and even found himself a member of Andrew Jackson's administration.

From the birth of the nation to the end of the middle of the nineteenth century the children of The Judge and Margaret Beekman Livingston had their hands in state and national politics. It is simply astounding that this much talent could find itself focused on one family at one time.