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.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Searching for Emily Evans Livingston

When you visit Clermont, one of the first things you learn is that Alice Livingston was the matriarch of Clermont from 1906 to her death in 1964.  Some twenty years younger than her husband, Alice was actually John Henry Livingston's third wife.  See below in the Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York, vol 29 (1909).

See?  There's Alice's name, all in capital letters.  And the name of John Henry's first wife Catherine is there too.  But the name that is conspicuously missing is that of his second wife, Emily Evans. If you look at the asterisk below, you can see that "information as to the second marriage of John Henry Livingston [is] omitted at his request."


In fact, very little is known about Emily Evans.  Some years ago, I found this photo of her in Clermont's collections and put it on the blog as the only piece of evidence I had about her.  But no birth or death dates got recorded for non-Livingston spouses in the genealogy (affectionately known as "the big, red book") so for the longest time, I didn't even know those most basic statistics on her life.
Honestly, it's not at all unheard-of to have little information about historic women.  So often their function was as an auxiliary to their husband, mavens of the home and hearth who subverted even their own given names when they became wives--instead being known as "Mrs. John Henry Livingston," or whatever their husband's name was.  Some well-to-do women might appear in newspapers for their roles in committees, but most often, they were considered non-noteworthy unless they were "coming out," getting engaged, getting married, or dying. 

But for some reason, Emily was largely lost even to Livingston family history.  Possibly it had to do with tensions that arose between John Henry and his father Clermont Livingston when he married his Philadelphia bride.  Family stories suggest that this marriage played a role in John Henry being largely skipped over in his father's will.

It was while doing newspaper research for John Henry Livingston that I came across a few tantalizing tidbits of Emily's life.  First of all, there was the wedding announcement for John Henry and his new wife in the New York Times on November 3, 1880.

Then, a reference to "Mrs John Henry Livingston" assisting Katharine (her step daughter) at her society debut, just months after the family had returned from Europe in 1892.  

And here she is again in the New York Social Register for 1893.  You can see that they were dividing their time between Philadelphia and Clermont:

Finally, there is Emily's obituary in 1894:

Dead "very suddenly" at age 54.  No flowers.  She's not even buried in New York where her husband would eventually lie.  And then 15 years later her husband doesn't even permit her name to be listed in the public documents about his life.  What gives?

I may have found more information that I had previously, but it turns out that it just raised further questions.  Where is the step mother who raised Katharine?  They had an affectionate relationship, according to Katharine's great grandchildren.  What caused her sudden death?  And why was she largely erased from John Henry's history?

Perhaps one day something will turn up that helps to color in the story I've only just begun to put together.  But for now, we'll just have to wonder.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Aid For Tall Men Sought By Mc Vitty

Today we have a guest author for the blog. Rex McVitty, husband of Honoria Livingston, wrote this article for his Florida newspaper after trying to test drive a car in 1959.

Rex McVitty (Right) and Honoria Livingston
I can’t very well remember any time in my life, that I wasn’t conscious of being too tall. Even when my mother packed me off to boarding school, she had to buy my suits about three sizes too large because she well knew that before the three month term was over, they would be much too small. So I felt that I was never sartorially right. Either my coat fitted like a frock coat or there was a draft between the top of my trousers and the bottom of my coat.
            I had similar problems in India. There, the standard price set by the Guild of Tailors for a white drill suit was three rupees eight annas (this as you may well guess was quite a long time ago). Now when I went for a suit, the tailor would look at me and figure he was bound to lose money on the deal, so he cut corners as much as he could. The result was a suit that fitted me like a glove, only the first time it went to the dhoby (wash) it shrunk, and from then on it would be just one more  “too small suit!” I used to plead with tailors “make me a suit larger, I will pay you more money, gladly.”
            “Sorry, sahib, no can do, guild price- three rupees eight annas.”
            So there I was, sentenced to a life of ill fitting clothes.
            On board ship, the bunks were too short and the deck headroom too low. I found a cork topee a most expensive luxury, and only “mad dogs and Englishmen” went about without them. I was always smashing mine on watertight doors or low ceilings. I wonder that my head is as sound as it is, I have cracked it so often. I often fancied that I had developed a kind of radar in the top of my head that warned me of low doors but I couldn’t always rely on it. I remember crossing over on one of the White Star liners-maybe it was the Georgic. The White Star Line is no more, having been absorbed by the Cunard, but in its day it boasted of having many fine ships including the ill fated Titanic.
The Georgic
            Well anyway, on the Georgic, we lived on the far side of one of the watertight doors, and any of you who have travelled on ships will know exactly what I am talking about. Do you know I avoided crowning myself for six day and six nights. You couldn’t but have admired the graceful way in which I slid under that sharp edge. When we were going up the gang plank in New York, I suddenly remembered having left my wrist watch by my pillow rushed back to get it, hit my head against the watertight doo and was carried ashore feet first on a stretcher.
            Well that’s the way it is. People have been awfully nice about it. On one small craft, the carpenter cut a hole for me in the wardrobe standing at the foot of my bunk so that I could shove my feet into the wardrobe and my top coat kept them warm. And one time on battleship, when we had to sleep on the gun-deck in hammocks, on eof shipmates got the brilliant idea of hanging his clothes on my feet which were sticking a good foot out of the end of the hammock and so were very cold. Instead of folding them up and putting them in his chest, his clothes looked better and my feet were kept warmer.
            I wonder could you guess the seed that is germinating in my mind-the one that is responsible for this entire outburst. Here in this United States, they have lowered the ceiling in the 1959
automobiles so that they rest on my head when I am driving. This my friends is the final blow. I get in, sit in the driver’s seat and you couldn’t insert a dime between the top of my head and the roof of the car. First time I hit a bad bump, I would probably break my neck, and this has happened in a country that is noted for having tall men. Last time I was abroad people would say to me: “You’re an America, aren’t you?”
            I didn’t think it was my accent or brogue that was giving me away, so I would enquire “How did you know?” only to be told “you are so very tall.”-It sure beats me!
            Of course, everything is not on the debit side. I can reach higher and wade in deeper water than the average man. They used to say to me when I was in the Navy “Paddy, I wish that I had your height a beer.” Maybe beer does taste better when it has such a long way down, splashing all the way.
            Then there was a time right here in Sarasota. They were having a baby parade on a Saturday afternoon- and I was walking along Main Street-the crowd were packed pretty densely along the curb, but as I walked by, I could see over their heads so for me to see the parade was a cinch. I noticed one undersized little party desperately trying to squeeze in so he could see what was going on. All of a sudden he spied me, cried out, “Brother you are lucky! You have a built in soapbox!”

            Now what can you do in a case like that but count your blessings? But I do think the time is right for the organization, a benevolent and protective one, for all likely lads who just forgot to stop growing after they had reached a useful height, to agitate for longer beds, higher automobiles and doorways. How about it, eh?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Do Not Expose Yourself Needlessly

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

When the British burned down her house and all of her outbuildings in the fall of 1777 she was able, through sheer force of will and perseverance, was able to convince Governor George Clinton to
release men from their militia obligations so they could be free to rebuild her house. She met military and political leaders, from George Washington to John Jay, and charmed them all.

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

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

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

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

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

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