Friday, July 3, 2009

The Burning of Clermont 1777

With Independence Day tomorrow, we are preparing our annual special tour. Petticoats, stockings, and funny-looking shoes are being brought down from the attic, and three people are running through their lines with their coworkers to ensure that Margaret Beekman Livingston, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, and Catherina Minkler will be well-represented on July Fourth. The tour is always based on a Revolutionary War theme, but it is a bit different every year, and this year we have chosen to focus on the year 1777, the year Clermont was burned by General Vaughn of the English army.

We'll actually be talking about the summer of 1777, about three months before the mansion was burned. It turns out that that summer was a tense one for New Yorkers. In July, news had reached Albany that Burgoyne's army had taken the fort at Ticonderoga, and the residents of the Hudson Valley now found themselves sandwiched beween General Burgoyne to the north, and General Howe's formidable forces to the south.

Widow Margaret Beekman Livingston, perched on the bluffs above the Hudson, found herself a visable target on the best route for an English conquest on Albany. Her oldest son (soon to become Chancellor Livingston) had only just finished writing New York State's Constitution, and was now on the Council of Safety for New York, and the next son Lt. Col. Henry Beekman Livingston, was facing court martial for misconduct in the army. A third son John R. left for Fort Edward in July, leaving "a quantiy of rum" for sale stored on her estate, and the youngest at 13 was still a dependant.

To complete the story of Clermont in 1777, we have also gotten together with our friends at the Livingston History Barn to tell us about the Germantown militia. With their help, we've developed the charactor of a young Germantown woman and transported her to Clermont for the day, allowing us to compare the different ways in which many people gave their support to the Revolutionary War. Catherina Minkler was a real young woman, just a few years from marrying a member of the Germantown militia. By explaining her own difficulties in weathering the war and those of her future husband, she will enable our visitors to see the more of the different contributions and circumstances of those who lived through the American Revolution.

We are always glad when the season affords us a chance to vary our tour and tell some of our favorite stories that don't quite fit into the regular tour. Our Margaret Beekman Livingston impersonator has been reading up on diaries and letters for weeks now, and she is bursting with stories to share. We hope that some of you will have the chance to come down and take the Indpendence Day tour on Saturday July 4, 2009 from 12pm-4pm.

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