Monday, November 5, 2018

The Boy in the Solider'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 so often seen in paintings and movies. They died screaming for their mothers on bloody, stinking battlefields 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

Thursday, September 13, 2018

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 19thcentury 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.]

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Harry's Hairy Time on Long Island

Henry Beekman Livingston 
In the summer of 1776 Lt. Col. Henry Beekman Livingston was sent with three companies of the 2nd New 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

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

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,
Oddly enough the portrait of Jackson at Clermont
has nothing to do with Edward
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 95th Rifles, 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.
From the collection of Montgomery Place at Bard College

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.

Monday, March 26, 2018

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 Recorder from 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, 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.
          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.