When I hand around the Livingston family tree on mansion tours, I joke that "If you ever are asked about a Livingston man, guess Robert. You'll probably be right." It's only mostly a joke. It seems like every nuclear family in the Livingston genealogy has a Robert in it. And then you're left depending on the nicknames and the middle names to try to sort it out.
Are you asking about Robert the Founder, Robert the Chancellor, Robert L., or John Robert?
So I thought maybe I'd try to disambiguate things a little bit today.
Robert Livingston (1654-1728)
AKA: The Founder, The First Lord
The Story: Robert was born in Scotland to a wealthy family who fled England after its civil war. He grew up in the Netherlands, but, as the youngest son, had little inheritance to look forward to. Instead, he went to the New World where he charmed his way into a wealthy Dutch widow (Alida Schuyler Van Rensselaer) and purchased 2,700 acres of land (which he deftly turned into 160,000 upon a "slip of the pen"). He set this land up as the Manor, on which his children and grandchildren could depend for generations to come.
Robert the Founder may have been a bit of a scoundrel, but he built the empire that supported his future family. Traders and Gentlefolk is your best bet for learning more about him.
AKA: Robert the Third Lord
The Story: Confusingly, Robert the 3rd Lord is the grandson of the Founder. It goes like this: Robert the Founder's heir to Livingston Manor was his oldest surviving son, Philip (subsequently, there's a whole trend of naming your Livingston children Philip as well). Philip's oldest son was Robert Jr. Junior actually divided the Manor up into Lots for his children (not shown on the map at right), which subsequently became home to Harriet Livingston Fulton's father, Walter, along with an assortment of other Livingston dynasties.
Robert Jr. is from the "Other Side" of the Livingston family from the Clermont Livingstons, more eloquently known as the Manor Livingstons.
Name: Robert Livingston (1688-1775)
AKA: Robert of Clermont, Robert the Builder, Bob the Builder (if you're feeling glib)
The Story: Robert Livingston may have been a bit of a cad and a spendthrift, and he definitely enjoyed his youth to the fullest. He was his parents' third son and traditionally would not have been destined for any notable inheritance. Nevertheless, he was also a favored son, and when his oldest brother died before his father, he was slated to inherit 13,000 acres of his dad's Manor (out of 160,000, most of which went to his second brother Philip). He eventually settled down to become a country gentleman with his wife Margaret Howarden and built a two story, Georgian mansion out of brick that was to become Clermont.
No portrait of Robert exists today, and it is believed that if one was painted (as was likely), it was burned in the 1777 fire. Apparently when his daughter-in-law was making the tough choices about what to save and what to leave behind, it didn't make the cut.
Name: Robert Robert Livingston (1718-1775)
AKA: Robert the Judge
The Story: Robert Robert was his parents' only child, named after both his father and grandfather. Whether this is because of infertility or because other pregnancies were not successful or even because of incompatibility, it is not known. Either way, his natural talents, kinship ties, and a serious application to work (in contrast to his father) moved him into the elite of his profession--law. He shared a passionately-loving marriage with Margaret Beekman Livingston, and the two of them had 11 children, most of whom went on to great success in life. As Judge of the Supreme Court of the colony of New York, he found himself in an enduring struggle with Governor Colden and eventually became a supporter of the cause of American Independence.
Robert died on the eve of the Revolution and as a legacy left behind not only his professional accomplishments, but a devoted wife who remembered him to all who would hear, even at his granddaughter's wedding.
Name: Robert Robert Livingston, Jr. (1746-1813)
AKA: Robert the Chancellor
The Story: Robert the Chancellor is the Livingston family's biggest superstar. He was a lawyer, judge, and Enlightenment gentleman. The term "Chancellor" came from his appointment to the New York Court of Chancery after the revolution (this last-ditch court of appeals decided not according to the law, but according to what was "right" in that situation. It no longer exists for obvious reasons, but the sentiment was good). But that's getting ahead of ourselves.
Born into one of the richest families in New York, if not all the Colonies, Chancellor Livingston was part of the Second Continental Congress, helped to draft the Declaration of Independence, administered the oath of office to George Washington, negotiated the Louisiana Purchase (before Monroe arrived to take the credit), and eventually worked with Robert Fulton to create the first practical steamboat. He was also a supporter of the manumission and full citizenship of African American slaves, though he owned nine of his own.
Nevertheless he was also his own worst enemy who constantly thought he deserved more acclaim and recognition than he actually got. When a Polish travel writer stopped by in 1797, he noted that the Chancellor's dinner conversation centered on bashing Washington's administration and wondering why he wasn't doing better.
The Chancellor had two daughters, but no sons, so he encouraged the girls to marry Livingston cousins in order to keep Clermont and his own mansion (confusingly called New Clermont) in the Livingston name.
Robert L. Livingston (1775-1843)
The Story: Robert L. is Robert the Third Lord's grandson (see above) and Harriet's brother. This makes him one of the Manor Livingstons with whom the Clermont Livingstons had been feuding for years. Nevertheless, he married the Chancellor's younger daughter Margaret Maria and (according to his grandmother-in-law Margaret Beekman) ended the strife.
Robert L. accompanied his father-in-law to Paris as his secretary during the negotiation of the Louisiana Purchase and then went cavorting about Europe with his wife and family when the job was done. Nice! Upon the Chancellor's death, he inherited New Clermont (eventually called Arryl House) as well as a share in the incredibly promising Steamboat Company. Sadly, he also bears the distinction of losing first the monopoly on the steamboat and then eventually the whole company itself.
He and his wife had nine children, one of whom he of course named Robert.
I believe I have hit all the critical Roberts in this summary. Heaven knows there are many more Roberts in the family, but the ones that come up the most frequently are all here. One of the Livingston family traits that has proven most enduring is pride in their heritage. This has lead to a particularly strong reuse of family names that can make genealogy--or even just basic history!--very confusing to the uninitiated. With any luck, this will help a little.