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.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"Tired With Being There" Henry Beekman Livingston's Brief Time as a Guest of the British Navy

Granny Gates
As he took stock of his situation after the Battle of Saratoga General Horatio Gates felt the need to address the situation to his south. While Gates and the Northern Army had been drubbing General John Burgoyne, General Sir Henry Clinton had launched an attack up the Hudson River Valley, taking Forts Clinton and Montgomery, burning Kingston, burning Clermont and a number of other private homes. Gates found this offensive and let Clinton know it in a harshly worded letter.
A perfect choice for messenger boy
          To deliver the letter Gates sent Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston of the 4th New York Regiment who had a personal stake in the matter as the British had burned down his mother’s house in their attack. Gates ordered Henry to find the enemy at Fort Montgomery, assuming that they would have occupied the fort after they had taken it. They had not, choosing instead to return to New York City.
          Henry, of course, decided to exceed his orders and headed south. At King’s Bridge he was taken aboard the H.M.S. Mercury under the command of James Montagu. Montagu immediately passed Henry off on his first officer Lieutenant Logan.
James Montagu's statue in West Minster Abbey
          Lt. Logan took Gage’s message from Henry and sent it ashore. As for Henry he now found himself a sort of guest, sort of prisoner on the ship. While he was not put in chains he had very little in the way of freedom while he waited for an answer to his message. He could not set foot ashore. Henry described his treatment as “very Indifferent.”
Henry Clinton, not great at checking his messages
          After two days aboard the ship it appears that Montagu and Henry had begun to get on each other’s nerves. Henry was constantly bombarding Montagu and Logan with demands to send more messages to Clinton or for answers as to why he had not had an answer yet. Finally,Henry demanded to send another message to Clinton, from whom he was yet to receive a response and Montagu refused to offer him any more help. Henry was “Tired of being here.”
          It was time for Montagu to get rid of Henry. He could have simply turned him over to one of the prison hulks in New York Harbor, but for a pesky sense of honor. Henry had traveled under a flag of truce so Montagu put Henry ashore back at King’s Bridge.
HMS Jersey, the most famous prison hulk
How many ships did you sink?

This allowed Henry to return to his regiment in time to join them at Valley Forge and serve in the army for another year.(Read all about that here!) On Christmas Eve of 1777 Montagu ran the H.M.S. Mercury into a sunken obstacle in the Hudson River and lost her. The obstacle had been placed by the Americans, maybe by the Committee to Defend the River of which Henry's brother Robert R. Livingston was a member. He would have a rather unimpressive career after that until June 1, 1794 when he was killed at the Battle of Ushant, the Glorious First of June during the Napoleonic Wars.[i]
Not shown, James Montagu getting hit by a cannon ball early in the battle.

[i] Henry Beekman Livingston wrote a report on his journey south to George Clinton on November 13, 1777.  The letter is now in the New York State Archives Henry Livingston Papers collection.
Not that George Clinton

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Wholly Destitute; Henry Livingston's Christmas at Valley Forge

Yeah, its another one about this dude.
          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, 3rd Lord 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 4th New 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 (Click here to read all about that). 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

Monday, November 19, 2018

History Comics Club: Connecting Students to the Heritage One Panel at a Time

Clermont is an inspiring place. On any given summer morning, you’ll find painters in the parking lot, carefully unloading their oil paints and easels, trekking down the sheep fold to capture views of the Hudson that have inspired artists for centuries. Countless couples choose the views of the mountains and gardens as the backdrop for wedding photos that will grace their walls for a lifetime. On the walking trails, DSLRs are more commonly strapped to necks than scarves are draped-- a quick search on Instagram will reveal just how many iPhone photographers capture small moments on the grounds every day.
The natural beauty of Clermont is ever-present and well known. The Livingston family, from The Chancellor to Alice, worked hard to make the grounds and buildings beautiful, impressive, and inspiring to friends, family, visitors, and passersby.
But, personally, I find the stories inside the house just as inspiring as the grounds surrounding it.    
History Comics Club: Origins
Hi! I’m Emily!
Proof that you can in fact be addicted to a historic site.
When I was 7 or 8 years old, I attended Junior History Club at Clermont for the first time. I had been to other history-based summer camps before, but none of them grabbed me the way Clermont did. Looking back, I see it was the narrative: Clermont tells the story of 7 generations of an unimaginably complex and interesting family, with the point of entry being two little girls who, a century ago, were about your age and had pets and played with dolls and did kid things that kids still do today. Back in the early 00s, the narrative at Clermont was the most kid-accessible one I had come across, and it immediately endeared me to the story. Throughout my childhood and teen years, I’d come back every year, as a camper, then a camp counselor, and eventually a tour guide. I’d write and illustrate stories that were clearly derived from the history of Clermont as well as the grounds.
Nowadays, I’m the Education Assistant and Camp Director at Clermont State Historic Site. I’m also a professional comic artist and author.
The Birth of History Comics Club
The inspiration for the program came from, well, inspiration! Clermont is an inspiring place, and I
knew from my own experience that this was a wonderful way to get kids invested in local history. With the motto of “Connecting students to their heritage, one panel at a time” we started History Comics Club at Germantown Central School in the fall of 2016. Since then, we’ve run 8 History Comics Clubs at local schools and libraries, served 4 summer camps, and one field trip. In total, the program has worked with about 800 students in the Hudson Valley, ranging from second graders to seniors in high school.
2018 has been our most exciting year by far.
This year, we ran 5 History Comic Clubs, the most we’ve ever done!
Students created biographical comics following the lives of Livingstons.

Others created fantastic adventures about the dogs of Clermont throwing parties and running detective agencies.

For the first time ever, History Comics Club had a booth at a convention!
The Hudson Children’s Book Festival hosted us. We gave out nearly 200 copies of student work.
The success of History Comics Club created a professional spin-off series called Captain Clermont! Written by curator Geoff Benton and illustrated by Kevin Nordstrom

Finally, HCC made it’s debut at New York Comic Con!

I hosted a panel at NYCC for education professionals about History Comics Club this past October!
About 50 people packed into a small classroom at NYPL. It was a wonderful experience.
It’s been a wonderful year for History Comics Club. We just started another Club yesterday with a record number of students. They spent the day reading student work and learning about the Livingstons. As they left, they excitedly told me about who they connected with and why (Margaret Beekman, Katharine, and Punchy are always popular.) We live in a time where being a comic fan has never been so acceptable or accessible, while history is so easily rewritten or brushed aside. I’m overjoyed to see so many young people taking a genuine interest in both.

We already have two History Clubs planned for this winter and summer. if your school, library, or organization is interested in hosting one, feel free to reach out to me via email:


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