Thursday, March 24, 2011

Poor Palatines

I've recently been bombarded with interest in the Palatines recently so I'll see what I can do to add to the story...






The tricky thing about writing about Palatines at Clermont is that technically, they weren't really at Clermont at all. The Palatine settlement was made on Livingston Manor in 1711--before Robert "the Builder" ever got his piece divided out, built a mansion, and named it Clermont (that didn't happen until the 1730s and 40s).

Lots of times, people, especially geneologists, ask us whether or not we have records remaining from the Palatines. Sadly, we have very little here at Clermont, because the account books etc. that listed their expenses and payments were part of the perview of the Manor Livingstons and their desdendats--Philip the 2nd Lord and his progeny. We have no way of knowing where they went if they even survived (To me it always seems a funny thing to keep, really. It's not unlike holding onto you grandfather's check register from the back of his checkbook--not very interesting until several generations down the line).

At any rate, in 1711 3,000 or so "Palatines" were settled on Livingston Manor by Queen Anne in the area now known as Germantown. You can see it marked on the map above as a white rectangle in the midst of the yellow and orange. They were only a portion of the 10,000 people who had shown up in England starting in 1709. The other 7,000-10,00 remaining were either settled elswhere in the British Isles or staid near London, having depleated all sources of spare income just to get there in the first plase. They were passing themselves off as refugees from the war-ravaged Palatinate region of the Rhine Valley, but according to the recent book Becoming German: the 1709 Palatine Migration to New York, a large portion of these immigrants were not Palatine at all. They were also from neighboring regions including Nassau-Weilburg, Pfalz-Zweibricken, Wurttemberg. They were following the suggestions and promises of a travel manual they referred to as "The Golden Book," which suggested that Queen Anne would give Palatine refugees free passage to America (this was an overstatement on the book's part). After years of warfare had damaged the farming landscape and a the brutal winter of 1708-09, packing up and heading for greener pastures was an appealing idea.

The people who came to New York were mainly farmers with a few craftsmen thrown in for good measure. They were mostly families looking for better opportunities to escape their borderline poverty. So once the English government paid for these 3,000 people to get across the Atlantic and set them up with land and houses, what were they going to do with them?

The plan was to have the Palatines make naval stores, which would repay the English crown for their passage and care. Robert and Alida Livingston agreed to use some of their land (that future Germantown and Cheviot plot) for the project; the crown would get a deal on the land, provided they came up with a good price for the food. About two thirds of the total "Palatine" population America wound up here at East Camp, while the others headed across the river for the creatively-named "West Camp."

Once in East Camp in the fall of 1710, they were given 40 X 50 plots of land on which to build shelters. These plots were frightfully small to a group of people who expected to use it to supplement their foodstuffs with farming. The crown's plan was to supply them with food so official opinion was that the settlers had all they needed. They would be given 40 acre plots once they had repaid their debt, and they should be happy with they'd been given so far.

As usual with government-run programs in Colonial New York however, it was fraught with mismanagement. Supplies meant to aid the settlers in establishing their new farm were lost when the ship carrying them was sunk off Long Island. The settlers were also farmers and tradesmen, skilled with plowing, food processing or barrell-making. Boiling tar and cutting masts were a new, difficult, and probably distasteful set of tasks.

Then money meant to pay the Livingstons for grain that would feed the Palatines did not arrive. Politics in England saw to that. Without it, Alida, overseeing the project while Robert was away in Albany, was unwilling or unable to supply them with adequate food. In July of 1711 she wrote"I see that there's no money; no money [has] come out of England yet, and God knows whether money will turn up there." Soon her creditors were knocking on her door "I hope you bring the money laong, otherwise you will have an uneasy life from whom you have grain," she wrote a few days later.

Soon 300 Palatine men were sent off with the Manor Regiment to assist with the French and Indian War. Of course, they had to take food with them so not only were they leaving their wives at home alone with the kids (possibly against their wills), they were taking the food out of their mouthes to do so. The remaining families began to kick and scream for food. "There is a great crying among the wives and children that their men have gone and have no bread or beer."

Since May, the meat had been of deteriorating quality: "I never saw salted meat so nor packed with so much salt as this Pork was. In truth one eight of it was salt," wrote Governor Hunter. They complained that the loaves of bread were smaller than they were supposed to be. The quality of the beer was irregular at best. Milk was in short suppply. Then the apples ran out in August, about which Alida had great concern.

By late summer, things just got worse and worse. Several "negroes" had run off. Some Indian relations had turned ugly ("they had shot to death 8 Indians before they got David Kittele's house."). At the end of July they rioted and came for the baker, Kas. "I long for you to come here. I can not stand the crying of the people so they call for bread and beer," wrote Alida on August 7.

Through October 1711 things quieted down a little bit, but in November money had still not arrived. "I have now received the sad news that the bills of the Palatines are not paid which upsets me very much that we are so unfortunate," wrote Alida. "That we are so unfortunate"!? What about the Palatines who had hungry children crying and no reliable way to feed them? People were dieing; their losses were being recorded in the ledger.

To top it all off (from the English point of view), the Palatines were not doing as good a job as expected on those naval stores. "I myself have observed that where by mistake the trees have been first rinded on the side where the sun's heat had most influence, the ground near it was filled with turpentine drained by it from the tree," wrote Hunter in 1712.

In September of 1712, the axe fell. In fall, with little or no time to prepare foodstuffs for the winter, the Palatines were released from their contract and left to fend for themselves. They were left scrambling. Many scattered about neighboring settlements, looking for work that would pay enough to feed their fmailies. Some staid put and tried to muddle through the best they could. According to author Walter Allen Knittle, "During that winter without government aid their suffering was particularly pitiful." (Early Palatine Emigration).

During the next several years, they each sought a place in what they had believed was to be their Promised Land. Some went to New Jersey or Pennsylvania, others pushed into the Western Frontier in the Schoharie Valley.


Many staid put in Livingston Manor, accepting the rather demanding terms and stipulations of an endenture here. Some of the names of those who staid can be followed through local history, the Lascher family, who helped to rebuild Clermont in 1780, in particular (also the original builders of the Stone Jug, pictured at right).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding Clermont in the Revolutionary War

The burning and subsequent rebuilding of Clermont is a pivotal moment in the site's history and earned Margaret Beekman Livingston the love of every successive generation. Building a house is never simple though, especially not in the middle of a war...
In October of 1777, Margaret Beekman Livingston was facing a second dismal winter at Clermont, far from the merry social scene in New York City. She had been cut off from her New York City townhouse since September of the previous year when the English army had taken control of the city (who knew what condition the place was in now!). Her unmarried daughters, (the oldest of whom was Catherine at 25) were thinking about their unused dinner dresses while they processed nuts and fruit and other winter foodstores in the large basement kitchen, and her 13-year-old son Edward was doing his best to keep up his education during the busy mess of the on-going war.

When Gouvernuer Morris's letter of October 13th arrived however, everything was halted and thrown into disarray: the English army was advancing up the river and was currently attacking Kingston. On October 15th, it is likely that Margaret could see the smoke and possibly light from the flames as General Vaughan burned the town, and she wasted no time in speeding her family out of harm's way in Connecticut.
General Vaughan arrived just two days later on October 17th and burned everything at Clermont that he could find: some two dozen outbuildings, the Chancellor's mansion, and the main mansion. The home where Margaret had shared her life with her beloved and recently-deceased husband was left in a charred pile of ash.

At the beginning of April, when the snow of one of the worst winters in years had melted and the mud had begun to dry out, Margaret was back at Clermont with the intention to rebuild. On April 11, 1778, the Chancellor wrote to his younger brother John in Boston, "Mama left us this morning to return to Clare Mont where she has put up a hut & spent the great part of last week."

It cannot have been an easy time. As she crested the hill returning home from the east, she would have been treated to the site of the chimney first, still standing but blackened after the blaze. In fact both of the chimney walls still stood, cradling a blackened mess of timbers, furniture, family portraits, silver, and fine dishes. Not only had she lost the memories and the moveable wealth once contained in the mansion, she had no home to call her own in the forseeable future. (note that the picture at right shows an 18th century structure burned in Midway, S. Carolina during the Civil War--Sadly, Peggy did not snap me a photo of Clermont in 1778)

We've always given her a lot of credit for rebuilding during the war, which she certainly deserves, but her choices were few. Margaret had several children to shelter, and she was still cut off from her house in New York City. If she hadn't rebuilt somewhere on her property, she'd have been forced to rely on friends and relatives to shelter them until the war was over or attempt to buy or rent something at a point when the market was simply a mess.

But rebuilding during the war was going to be a challenge. Materials were scarce, and cash money was still more so. The war interrupted trade, deepening the recession that had affected the northeast for several years, and many finished goods that the Americans depended on were produced outside the country. Taxes and wartime inflation were also rampant, further diminishing her resources. Margaret complained that she was being driven "almost to want" by the financial situation, and in June of 1778 the Chancellor complained that he was "now laying out as much in building a paltry farm house as would formerly have built me a palace."
Labor was one of the hardest resources to come by. Many of the skilled and unskilled men that Margaret would otherwise have hired were currently serving in the Manor militia. In the same letter quoted above, the Chancellor complained of a lack of leisure, of materials, & workmen." Margaret simply did not have the know-how or physical ability to build a house--let alone a mansion--on her own.

It was perhaps the height of entitlement that lead Margaret to her next course of action. She began to petition Governor George Clinton to release men from the Manor militia to rebuild her home. While the Continental Army was struggling to retain its members, and manpower for the Glorious Cause was getting weaker by the day, here was Margaret trying pull nearly a dozen men back to Clermont to rebuild her house.

To be fair, three of her sons were currently working to support the cause, and her eldest daughter had sacrificed her husband so maybe she thought she was owed a little support. The men she requested were also tenants from her lands, and she may have felt that they were her labor force to begin with.

In any case, Governor Clinton was unwilling. On April 16 he wrote to the Chancellor, "I have not granted any exemptions to workmen employed by the people who were burned out last fall nor do I think it would prudent until the drafts for filling up the Continental battalion are compleated. When that is done I will chearfully furnish you and Mrs. Livingston with your full Proportion." You have to give him some credit: it must have been hard to turn down a request from one of the richest families in the state.

No was not an acceptable answer. The letters continued, until Clinton broke down and gave Margaret several workers to rebuild a "Farm House." We don't know where this farm house was or what it looked like sadly, but it would have been a secure place in which to house herself and family temporarily. (The Hermance farmhouse from nearby Red Hook is pictured at right.) But a farm house was not enough, and once it was done, Margaret wanted her mansion back.

In November she wrote again:

Sir,

As you were so Abligen as to indulge me with an exemption from military Duty for my workmen, who were Imployed in Building my farm house, I am incouraged to request the same favor for those to be imployed in rebuilding my late Dwelling House--Many hands must necessarily be ingaged as the House is pretty large, such as Masons Carpenters Brick Burners Labourers & Stone & Lime Breakers & Burners. I hope for an exemption for the present for my Stonebreakers & Lime Maker, who are the Conrant Lesher Junr. & Henry Timmerman, both in Capt. Tiel Rockaveller's Company of the Camp [Germantown]--also for Phil. Shultas under Capt. Phillip Smith of the Manor--as a Labourer...

Give them an inch, and they'll take a mile.
At some point Margaret got her men, and work was begun rebuilding the mansion.

They began by using dirt to build a ramp out of the large trash-filled pit that had once been Clermont's basement. Then heavy charred timbers and bits that had once been valued goods were dragged out and hurled onto the hill in front of the house (this subsequently provided a rich archeological layer that we explored when the HVAC bunker was put in some years ago).

Work continued for several years, but the Livingston family moved into the more spacious and elegant accomodations as soon as they could. In June of 1782, Margaret wrote that "I am obliged to leave finishing the house for want of seasoned plank & an hand rail to finish my stairs." Nevertheless, the previous month she had entertained Mrs. Washington at the house, though the finest bedroom to spare was yet in the basement.

Margaret is often heroicized for her role in the rebuilding of Clermont, but the decision was more complex than simply thumbing her nose at the British. Cut off from her resources in New York City, Margaret was in need of a place to shelter her family through an uncertain period of time until the war was done. This place needed to be of adequate quality for their elite station so any little farmhouse would simply not do. Image was still important. Immediately after beginning to rebuild the house, Margaret's account books show that she was back to purchasing the fine things that would adorn her family and their lives (shoes, gloves, etc), and the archeological record show that the family was also resupplying themselves with appropriate ceramics for tea and dinners (like the above 1760s Chinese export porcelain plate from the Van Cortlandt House).
Whether or not she was guided by need, the process was not an easy one. While others around here were struggling to get luxury goods like tea and more basic ones like pins, Margaret was fighting for the laborers and supplies needed to build a home (finished wood, crown glass, nails, etc). Margaret's decision required perserverence and fortitude, characteristics which it appears she had in spades.
By way of thanks, her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren passed on the stories of Margaret's deeds until the story of rebuilding has become a refrain that is inseparable from the story of Clermont. And doesn't she deserve it?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Chancellor's "Ride"

Reading historic documents can involve a little bit of detective work. The writers and receivers were accustomed to terms and slang that have fallen out of use today, and looking those up can enhance the meaning--even when it seems a trivial side trip.

This was the case when I was perusing fifty years of Livingston correspondance for information about Margaret Beekman Livingston. It's an often-tedious process decyphering two hundred year old script (see below for an image of Thomas Jefferson's handwriting).


The Chancellor's brother John had excellent handwriting though! So when I came across letters of his, I was pleased to read them in their entirety, whether or not they pertained to my research goals.

And so I came across a letter from John to the Chancellor on March 14, 1782. John was in Boston and conversing regularly with the Chancellor who was down with Congress in Philadelphia (while his mother sent him guilt-trip letters about coming to visit her at Clermont).

In it was a rather convoluted paragraph about John loaning his brother a "phaeton." It was in Boston with John, but the Chancellor seemed to have need of it in Philadelphia. There is talk of sending it to Clermont where the Chancellor will pick it up, or maybe sending it to the Chancellor directly in Philadelphia.

A "phaeton"? I had to look this one up. According to the Georgian Index, a phaeton is

A light four-wheeled carriage with open sides in front of the seat, generally drawn by one horse. The term was first applied to classify a carriage during that 18th and early 19th century period in France when it was so fashionable to use classical pseudonyms. Usage of the term spread quickly to England and America. There are few distinguishing characteristics that can restrict the use of the term -- perhaps only that it is an owner driven vehicle with no coachman's seat and that it nearly always includes some sort of top that would shelter, at least, the driver.

So the Chancellor was trying to borrow his brother's sporty little carriage!

A diverse body of carriages exhisted in the 18th and 19th century in the same way that we differentiate between SUVs, station wagons, and cross overs. The Chancellor did own another flashy carriage with a postilion at the head, and he probably would have owned a variety of utilitarian vehicles for use on the farm. But in this one instance he needed something extra-showy to drive himself around Philadelphia where the other Revolutionary hoi paloi were showing their stuff. I suppose he had to compete with Benjamin Franklin parading around town in his extravegant sedan chair (this one is English, from Eaton Hall).

Apparently the carriage served its purpose and went back to John in May or June. On June 4, the Chancellor's mother wrote him "you say you sent John['s] pheaton but I suppose you mean to Boston as it is [not here.]" Perhaps driving himself around was not as fun as he had hoped.