Friday, December 27, 2013

"One Horse open Sleigh": Winter Fun at Clermont

Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh
O'er the hills we go
Laughing all the way!
Bells on bobtail ring
Making spirits bright
Oh what sport to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight. 

I hate to be the one to tell you if no one else has, but "Jingle Bells" is not a Christmas song.  Or maybe that's good news, because if you're going through Christmas music withdrawal in this week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, it's a good excuse to keep singing it.  But either way, there's no mention of Christmas in it at all, but rather a lively portrayal of youth, dating, and winter fun.

Even so, this is probably the most vivid depiction of sleighing that most modern Americans are familiar with.  For Clermont Livingston (1817-1895), the patriarch of the estate here during the mid 19th century, sleighing was a bright spot in his winter season.

"The sleighing is splendid & has been so all the month..." he wrote his brother on Christmas eve of 1845. 

Sleighing was one of the seasonal markers of Clermont's life.  When he wrote in his diary he reported the sleighing conditions in the Hudson Valley as regularly as he recorded the progress of seasonal crops:

12/1/56--  "Went to church in a sleigh yesterday"
2/16/57--  "Sleighs still cross [the Hudson River] to Saugerties"
3/13/57--  "Tolerable sleighing in the woods"

From December to March, Clermont's preferred mode of transportation was a jingling sleigh.  "I hope we may have sleighing again..." he wrote in January of 1847 after warm weather had melted the snow and made sleighing only possible on the packed snows of the roads, instead of through the woods and on the ice.

By the time Clermont was writing about sleighing, he was a grown man with a family and an estate to care for.  In 1845, when he wrote the first quote above, he was 28, with a fresh young wife Cornelia and a baby daughter Mary cuddled up beside the hearth at home.  For him sleighing was about visiting his wife's parents at nearby Oak Hill or going to church in Hudson.  It meant the pleasures of fresh air and family and freedom of travel that didn't depend on following the roads.  He was still writing about it in his journal fifteen years later in 1860: "Skating on the River.  Sleighing bad," he complained.

But sleighing had multiple aspects and associations in 19th century life.  An air of rural nostalgia permeated it.  The Currier and Ives image at left "Winter Mornings in the Country," portrays it as part of the idyllic beauties of rural living, used a practical method for delivering fresh milk.  Still another 1880 story recorded, "It is amusing to observe the change the first snow produces in the country village. It so quickens everything. The long-unused imple- ments for path-making are ferreted out, sleighs are dragged down from the barn- loft, harnesses are oiled, and accompanying bells 'rubbed up.'"

Another 1855 image (available at the Library of Congress website) seems to view it as part of the hassle of winter travel.  Horses (as usual adorned with plenty of bells) struggle and leap through heaps of snow.  Children hurl snow balls at anyone they can (in particular an African American man gets hit in the face in the lower right hand corner), and one woman appears to be in the process of falling out into the melee. 


Indeed falling out of the sleigh seems to have been part of the experience.  It shows up in "Jingle Bells" too:

The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifting bank 
And we__ we got upsot! 

 

There was also a bit of a rowdy air of youth that could go with sleighing.  It seems to be among the most common associations that have survived the years.  Speed and racing went hand-in-hand with dating.  "Jingle Bells" portrays this with a certain vigor:  


Now the ground is white 
Go it while you're young, 
Take the girls tonight 
and sing this sleighing song; 
Just get a bobtailed bay 
Two forty as his speed 
Hitch him to an open sleigh 
And crack! you'll take the lead.



With this verse, you really get more of a sense about racing and dating as they were associated with the sport.  Indeed, a whole myriad of prints and songs from the mid to late nineteenth century capture these aspects until you start to feel that the whole activity was quite the dating scene for its time.  Rushing winds and speed made sleighing well suited to competitive young men (and possibly competitive young women), while the relative privacy of being out of the home and out of sight of parents fostered the possibilities of romance.


Phrases like "swiftly ride, swiftly glide" in a later song titled Jingle Bells (not Pierpont's original "One Horse Open Sleigh," which is now known as "Jingle Bells") and also "Crowded full of laughing boys and girls" in "The Sleigh Bell Song," (above at right), support the ideas ofrowdy, youthful fun.*  Even Godey's Ladies Book stories have no shortage of romantic references to boys and girls sleighing together:  "..The boys are going to get two great crates, each to be drawn by four horses, so that we can be pretty well stowed in for warmth and fun," gushed one excited girl in an 1880 story.


The additional nuance of crowding boys and girls together under heavy blankets (albeit also in numerous layers of clothing) also carried some romantic overtones.  When Miss Martha's fiance Tom takes another girl for a ride in his sleigh, her heart threatens to break in Martha's Mistake, published in Godey's Ladies Book, "Tom bent to arrange the buffalo robe more closelv about his companion, and said something which made them both laugh, and Miss Martha turned quickly from the window with a pain at her heart."

All this leads me to wonder about Clermont Livingston, the young father and husband, dashing about the Hudson Valley in his sleigh in the 1840s, 50s, and 60s.  Was this really just his practical method of winter transportation, or was he also reliving some youthful exploits in the back of his mind?  With the reigns in his hands (instead of a chauffeur), he was in control of the speed and the vehicle.  Was his wife Cornelia at beside him, recalling cold afternoons racing around under a heavy buffalo robe with a handsome young man at her side?

One thing is for sure, winter had many of the cold, dreary affects that we ascribe to it today.  Frozen fingers, short days, and a sense of isolation could get Victorian Americans down, but they did their best to combat the season with a mix of shared and physical activities that became deeply embedded in the social fabric of the culture.  Sleighing was more than just a means of transportation, and the bells that accompanied it were more than just a Christmas song.

The next time you find yourself (or the nearest exuberant child) breaking out into a chorus of "Jingle Bells," take a moment to remember it as a time piece of nineteenth century life.  And be sure to sing more than just the first verse!


*It should be noted that lots of 19th century sheet music was also written to be shared as a social activity that included both young men and women so references to "dating" are not all that surprising.

“Salleys of his turbulent temper”: Henry Beekman Livingston, Black Sheep of the Livingston Clan



By Geoff Benton
Geoff Benton is the Historic Site Assistant at Crailo State Historic Site and the Deputy Town Historian for the town of Livingston.  He is the author of several articles on the Revolutionary War as well as a history of the Kinderhook Reformed Church.  The quote in the title of this article comes from a passage in Margaret Beekman Livingston’s journal about her son.  

This article is reprinted from the most recent edition of the Columbia County History & Heritage Magazine, a publication of the Columbia County Historical Society.  Select back issues of this magazine are available online or for purchase directly from the historical society.


            Henry Beekman Livingston should be remembered as one of the great American combat leaders of the Revolutionary War.  He should have risen beyond the rank of colonel and retired to the comfortable life that being an heir to Livingston Manor and the Beekman Patent would have afforded him.  Instead, an ungovernable temper, surpassed only by a repugnant attitude, left him with an abbreviated military career, a spectacularly failed marriage and completely cut off from the rest of the Livingstons.
            Henry, or Harry as he was more commonly known, was born on November 9, 1750.  He was a son of Judge Robert Livingston and his wife Margaret Beekman Livingston.  Harry was the namesake of Margaret’s father Colonel Henry Beekman.  As a child Henry was prone to uncontrolled fits of rage.  As he matured to adulthood he also gained a less than healthy dislike for anyone he considered his social inferior, which being a Livingston, consisted of almost everyone in the region.[i]
            With his quarrelsome nature, it is not surprising that Harry became a patriot.  Prior to the Revolution, Harry was seen wearing his court uniform while plowing a field at Clermont.  This was to show his disdain for King George III.  When fighting broke out in Massachusetts, Harry raised a company of his own which he drilled on the lawn of what is now the Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck, New York.  He was appointed to the rank of captain and his company was placed into the 4th New York Regiment.  He complained bitterly about being appointed a captain, as he had held the rank of major in the colonial militia.[ii]
            Harry’s first campaign would be the invasion of Canada in 1775.  When General Philip Schuyler, the campaign’s commander, was taken ill, command fell to General Richard Montgomery.  Montgomery was married to Harry’s sister Janet.  Before the army departed Albany for the north a group of Livingstons which included Judge Robert and some of his children came to the city to say their goodbyes.  Montgomery promised the Judge he would try to keep Harry safe.
            The 4th New York was trailing behind the rest of the army and by the time they arrived at Fort Ticonderoga Harry had become very frustrated.  Leaving a junior officer in charge, he marched North without his company to join the main army on his own.  He volunteered to serve as the aide de camp for Colonel Ritzeman of the 1st New York, in order to be a part of the first assault on the city of St. John’s. [iii]
            Montgomery realized early on in the campaign that Harry was brave to the point of recklessness in battle but chaffed under military discipline, especially if an officer perceived as socially inferior was involved.  Montgomery wrote to his wife that she should not worry about Harry, “he has by no means given any offense though some uneasiness by some little inprudence.”[iv]  He also felt that Harry would do better to leave the 4th New York and join a more genteel regiment.[v]  


            When the city of Montreal fell to Montgomery he took the opportunity to send Harry away.  Harry was charged with delivering reports of the victory to Schuyler in Albany and then to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.  Congress awarded him a sword worth one hundred dollars and promised to promote him at the first opportunity.[vi]
            Harry was later promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd New York Regiment.  On May 8, 1776 General George Washington ordered Harry to take command of and finish the fortifications at Fort Montgomery and Fort Constitution in the Hudson Highlands.  Fort Montgomery was manned by three companies of the 2nd New York Regiment.  Fort Constitution had two companies of the 2nd New York and a company of militia under the command of a Captain Wisner.  The colonel of Wisner’s regiment, Colonel Nicoll, was still present despite having been relieved when the bulk of his regiment was replaced by the 2nd New York.  Nicoll refused to give up command of the forts but, rather than react violently as one would expect, Harry simply got on with building the fortifications.  He essentially ignored Nicoll until he finally departed on June 8.  Major General William Alexander, Lord Stirling wrote to Washington that Harry had “very prudently avoided any dispute with Col. Nicoll about command.”[vii]
            In late June of 1776, Colonel James Clinton was ordered to take command of the Highland forts and Harry was sent to take command of the remaining companies of the 2nd New York on Long Island.  Washington sent him money to buy entrenching tools and a supply of gun powder.  Harry was to make himself a strong position on the eastern end of the Island.[viii]
           When the British army landed west of Harry’s position and drove Washington off of Long Island in the battles of Long Island and Brooklyn Heights, Harry found himself trapped behind enemy lines with only his small group of men.  He wrote to Washington seeking advice.  Washington responded that he could offer no specific advice but suggested that Harry do what he could to “annoy and harass and prevent foraging.”[ix]  According to a letter that Harry wrote to his brother Robert, he and the 2nd New York excelled at that.  Writing on September 24, 1776 he stated that his men had carried off 3,129 sheep, 400 cattle and made themselves such a nuisance that Oliver DeLancey, a political foe of the Livingstons and loyalist general, placed a £500 reward on Harry’s head.[x]
            Harry and his men escaped across Long Island Sound to Connecticut by the end of September.  There, in addition to investing in the privateer vessel Revenge, Harry was ordered by Washington to begin planning a counter invasion of Long Island, along with Generals George Clinton and Benjamin Lincoln.  Harry wrote that he was prepared to cross the Sound again, with four hundred men, but the day before the force was scheduled to depart Washington cancelled the whole plan.  Harry and his men were sent to Peekskill where Harry’s career almost came to a premature end.[xi]
            Promoted to Colonel of the 4th New York Harry was placed under the command of General Alexander McDougall.  McDougall was everything that Harry hated in his fellow Continental Army officers, low born, of higher rank and with little respect for the Livingston name.  Harry hoped that one day McDougall would be demoted so that he could “cain”[xii] him.  Needless to say relations between the men were never good, but following a scouting mission by the British during which McDougall retreated rather than face the enemy things came to a head.  Harry was very vocal in the army camp in his criticism of McDougall, to the point where McDougall had him court martialed.  The court martial reprimanded Harry saying that his language was indiscreet but not unbecoming of an officer.[xiii]        
            Shortly thereafter Washington ordered Harry to take the 4th New York and join the Northern army in northern New York facing the British invasion under General John Burgoyne.  At the Battles of Saratoga, where Burgoyne’s invasion was defeated, Harry once again excelled.  On October 7, 1777 Harry and the 4th fought under General Enoch Poor in the wheat field.  Harry then disobeyed orders when Poor and his forces stalled, by joining Benedict Arnold on his flank attack on Breymann’s redoubt.  In a letter to Chancellor Livingston written a week after the battle, Harry wrote that his regiment was the first in the enemy line and that he could “safely affirm that I was the first man in there next to Gen’l Arnold who was on horseback.”[xiv]
            That winter Harry lead the 4th New York into their winter quarters at Valley Forge.  He was very concerned for his men; writing to his brother; “How can we hang men for desertion when we starve them with cold?”[xv]  On Christmas Eve 1777 he wrote again; “the soldiers and officers are lousy.”[xvi]  There was no liquor, tea, sugar, or vegetables.  On Christmas Day he wrote to Governor George Clinton of New York; wholly destitute of clothing his men and officers were perishing in the fields.  Before the army broke camp the 4th New York would be moved out of their small wooden huts and into open fields due to illness.[xvii]
            The training that the Continental Army received at Valley Forge under Baron Frederick Von Steuben, who Harry called “an agreeable man”, was put to the test on June 28, 1778 at the Battle of Monmouth.[xviii]  Harry and the 4th New York were in the vanguard of the American army under General Charles Lee who were chasing the British Army back to New York City.  When the Americans caught up to the British rear Lee, who had no faith in the American soldiers, tried to retreat rather than fight.  Washington riding up, very loudly and profanely removed Lee from command and began to rally the soldiers himself.  The 4th New York and another regiment were placed in front of the army with two canons to cover the reorganization.  Harry and the 4th performed “with great spirit and considerable loss.”[xix]  Washington had the time he needed to reform the troops and the American Army won the field.  A report of the battle reached Janet Montgomery on the manor, in which she was told that a third of Harry’s regiment had been killed.[xx] 

           Following Monmouth Harry took a furlough from the army but couldn’t stay out of the fight.  While traveling in Rhode Island he volunteered to command a body of light infantry during the Battle of Rhode Island.  He was seen fighting bravely during the Battle of Quaker Hill and was mentioned by General Nathaniel Greene in his report on the action.[xxi] 
            Harry resigned his commission shortly thereafter.  He was angry about not being promoted while his inferiors had been.  His resignation was accepted by congress in January of 1779.   Harry returned briefly to the army in 1780 to command a levee on a march to Fort Herkimer in western New York, but his military career was essentially over.[xxii]
            Harry returned to Livingston Manor with a solid reputation as a soldier.  He had inherited his grandfather’s house in Rhinebeck when Col. Beekman had died in 1775.  Harry’s dislike of social inferiors seems to have pertained mainly to the male of the species, as very shortly there were many children in the Hudson Valley who came from many classes and races but who all bore a striking similarity to Harry.  In 1781 that was all put on hold while he wed the woman he would be married to the rest of his life in Philadelphia.[xxiii]
            Anne Hume Shippen, known as Nancy (at right), was just eighteen when she married Harry.  On her father’s side she was a cousin to Peggy Shippen, Benedict Arnold’s treacherous wife.  Her mother was a Lee of Virginia.  Her uncles included Arthur Lee, Richard Henry Lee, and Francis Lightfoot Lee.  Before meeting Harry she was courted and proposed to by a member of the French diplomatic mission to the Continental Congress, Louis Otto.  Once she had caught Harry’s eye though, her father quickly arranged a marriage, seeing more advantage in marriage to a Livingston then to a penniless minor French diplomat.[xxiv]
            The couple returned to Rhinebeck shortly after the marriage and Nancy was soon with child.  Harry went back to his various indiscretions.  He soon became paranoid and frequently accused Nancy of infidelity.  Nancy became desperate to return to Philadelphia before the baby was born.  Harry initially refused flying into one of the blind rages that he was prone to.  Eventually he relented and in October of 1781 they returned to Philadelphia.  Margaret Livingston was born on December 26, 1781.  She would be called Peggy.[xxv]
            The family soon returned to the Manor.  Nancy’s journal is blank and no letters of her’s survive from the next year.  Perhaps it had something to do with finding out about Harry’s plan to take her and Peggy and move them to Georgia with all of his illegitimate children and raise them under one roof.  Unable to cope with this Nancy, fled back to Philadelphia.[xxvi] 
            In May of 1783 Margaret Beekman Livingston requested to see her granddaughter.  Nancy agreed in June to travel north with the child.  She hoped that Harry would be a different man when he saw his daughter again.  He was not.
            Staying overnight in Poughkeepsie on her way to the Manor, Nancy learned that Harry had recently beat a slave nearly to death in one of his rages.  When she arrived at Clermont Harry would neither see the child nor acknowledge any letters from her. 
            During this time of drama, George Washington paid a visit to the Manor on his way to inspect the Northern Department.  On his way back to Newburgh Washington made sure to stop and visit with Harry at his home in Rhinebeck.
            In August Nancy returned to Philadelphia without Peggy who stayed with her grandmother.  In September Nancy wrote hoping to hear that Harry was acting as a father to his daughter.  He was not.  In fact Margaret Beekman Livingston replied that Peggy was calling the Chancellor, papa and his wife Mary Stevens Livingston, mama. 
            In November Harry was seen in disguise lurking around Nancy’s house in Philadelphia.  He was later seen wearing a similar disguise in New York City.  Nancy wrote; “I really think my life will be in danger from his jealousy & unmanaged passions.”[xxvii]
            In January 1785 Harry asked for a meeting with Nancy in Philadelphia.  No record of the meeting exists but on February 24, 1785 she wrote “Thank God I am reconciled with him.”[xxviii]  She began to prepare to return to New York with him.  The day before they were to depart in March though, she received a note from Harry saying that he was leaving the next day without her by ship and that he hoped the vessel would sink.[xxix]
            Harry was soon back on the Manor blowing money and selling land to pay his debts.  He approached his brother for an order to get custody of Peggy.  Robert refused.  He also warned his mother and Nancy that he had no legal standing in New York to deny Harry full custody of the child.  Harry was also heard to threaten Nancy with the publication of her affair with the French diplomat Otto and to call her “hard names”[xxx]

           One day while everyone was away from Clermont (at right) and Robert was off the Manor, Harry strode into Clermont where his daughter was guarded only by servants and snatched the child.  Two of his sisters tried to negotiate with Harry for her release but were rebuffed.  Finally his brother in law Colonel Morgan Lewis was able to free the child with a promise that she would never be returned to her mother. 
            Margaret Beekman Livingston quickly made plans to get the child back to Philadelphia.  Bundling her up she put her in a guarded coach at night and sent her south.  The next day she let information leak that the child was at Col. Lewis’s house.  Harry stormed in demanding to know where Peggy was.  No one would respond.  He rode off to the Chancellor’s house where he was again met with silence.  Finally he stormed into Clermont where not even the servants would talk to him, even with the offer of money and threats.  He retired to his house where he wrote a threatening letter to both his mother and the Chancellor.  Robert seems to have ignored the threat while Margaret was heard to reply “I fear God, I have no other fears.”[xxxi]
            Meanwhile Nancy’s friends in Philadelphia rallied around her to protect her and Peggy should Harry become violent.  These friends included Otto, who Nancy planned to marry when she could obtain a divorce from Harry.  When Harry found this out he offered to divorce Nancy, on the condition that she give up all rights to Peggy.  Unable to do this Nancy and Harry would stay married for the rest of their lives though it seems that they never spoke again.  Otto married an unattached woman and moved back to France.  He also never spoke to Nancy again.[xxxii]
            Peggy continued to spend time at Clermont until she was sixteen at which point she moved back to Philadelphia with her mother.  They became increasingly reclusive until Nancy died in 1841.  Peggy remained a recluse.  When she died, unmarried, in 1864 she was buried in the same grave as her mother. [xxxiii]
            Following this affair Harry was effectively cut off from the rest of the tight knit Livingston Clan.  Margaret Beekman Livingston was even heard to talk about her three sons, meaning Robert, John, and Edward, and six daughters.  Harry was of course her fourth son but she could not even bear to mention him.  Harry died November 5, 1831 alone and unmourned.
            There is one coda to this story that shows how completely Harry’s extreme behavior had cut him off from the rest of the Livingstons.  In 1824 the Marquis de Lafayette was steaming up the Hudson River during his return tour of America.  As the ship approached Esopus an old man in a small boat was rowed out into the river.  The captain of the ship stopped and brought the old man aboard.  The captain presented the old man to Lafayette, the two old men stared at each other for over a minute before Lafayette recognized his old comrade, Harry Livingston.  The two chatted briefly about the old days, hardships endured and battles survived.  Then Harry was rowed back to shore and Lafayette continued on to his next stop; Clermont.  Harry was not invited.[xxxiv]


[i] Livingston, Edwin Brockholst The Livingstons of Livingston Manor Knickerbocker Press, 1910 p. 515, Armes, Ethel Nancy Shippen Her Journal Book, J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia 1935 p. 116, Brandt, Clare An American Aristocracy: The Livingstons Doubleday and Company Inc. New York, 1986 p118.
[ii] Brandt American Aristocracy 118, Kelly, Nancy A Brief History of Rhinebeck The Wise Family Trust, New York 2001 p 25, Livingston, The Livingstons 233.
[iii] Livingston, The Livingstons 235
[iv] Armes Nancy Shippen 117
[v] Kierner, Cynthia A. Traders and Gentlefolk: The Livingstons of New York, 1675-1790 Cornell University Press, Ithaca 1992 p. 214, Dangerfield, George Chancellor Robert R. Livingston of New York, 1746-1813 Harcourt Brace and Company, New York 1960 p 64-65.
[vi] Livingston The Livingstons p 239, Ford, Worthington Chauncey Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 Volume III Government Printing Office, Washington 1905, p 424-425.
[vii] Clinton, George “The Public Papers of George Clinton Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co. Albany, 1899 Volume I p137, Letter from General Schuyler to the President of Congress American Archives Series 4, Volume 4, p 0990, Livingston the Livingstons 241-242.
[viii] Henry Beekman Livingston’s Account Book Collection of the Columbia County Historical Society, Fitzpatrick, John C. Ed. The Writings of George Washington Government Printing Office, Washington, 1932 Volume 5 p 138-139, 181.
[ix] Fitzpatrick Washington Volume 6 p 14
[x] Dangerfield Livingston 111, 469
[xi] Henry Beekman Livingston’s account Book, Mather, Frederic Gregory The Refugees of 1776 from Long Island to Connecticut JB Lyon Company Printers, Albany 1932 p 173-174, 220; Fitzpatrick Washington Volume 6 p 142,148,210,219-220 Volume 7 p .120
[xii] Brandt, American Aristocracy p 119
[xiii] Fitzpatrick, Washington Volume 7 p 292, Livingston The Livingstons p24, Clinton Papers Volume 2 p37-38
[xiv] Dangerfield Chancellor 467
[xv] Dangerfield Chancellor 469
[xvi] Dangerfield Chancellor 469
[xvii] Fitzpatrick Washington Volume 11 p 387
[xviii] Dangerfield Chancellor 470
[xix] Moore, Frank The Diary of the Revolution: A Centennial Volume The J.B. Burr Publishing Company, Hartford 1875 p 593.
[xx] Sabine, William Historical Memoirs from 16 March 1763 to 35 July 1778 of William Smith Volume 1 The New York Times and Arno Press, New York 1956, p 415.
[xxi] Dangerfield Chancellor 111, Fitzpatrick Washington Volume 12 p. 397,
[xxii] Clinton, Papers Volume 6 p 317-322
[xxiii] Brandt American Aristocracy 139
[xxiv] Armes Nancy Shippen p 21-25, 102
[xxv] Armes Nancy Shippen 125.
[xxvi] Armes Nancy Shippen 125-129, Brandt American Aristocracy 140
[xxvii] Armes Nancy Shippen 165-168
[xxviii] Armes Nancy Shippen 226
[xxix] Armes Nancy Shippen 227
[xxx] Armes Nancy Shippen 271
[xxxi] Armes Nancy Shippen 286-288, Brandt American Aristocracy 141
[xxxii] Brandt American Aristocracy 142, Armes Nancy Shippen 291-292
[xxxiii] Brandt American Aristocracy 142, Armes Nancy Shippen 295-300
[xxxiv] Brandt American Aristocracy 167-168



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Family Portrait

Well it's the holiday season, and a whole lot of us will be taking advantage of family gatherings to get a family picture taken.  You know the ones I mean: Gramdma, Mom & Dad, Uncle So-and-So, and maybe even the family dog.

Although many American families of the later 18th and 19th centuries got group portraits painted (like the Angus Nickolson family, 1791 at right), I can't seem to find many of the Livingstons--just one from the 1820s.

So in honor of family gatherings during the holiday seaon, I thought I'd gather up as many of Margaret Beekman and Judge Robert R. Livingston's children as I could.  Ten of them survived to adulthood, and I found portraits of five of the remaining in my computer.  Voila:


From Left to Right, they are: Janet Livingston Montgomery, Catherine Livingston Garretson, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, Alida Livingston Armstrong, John R. Livingston, and Edward Livingston.  At right are their parents Judge Robert R. Livingston and Margaret Beekman Livingston.

Kind of interesting to see even just this many in one place--reminds you what a big family they were.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Safe Refuge: the Livingstons' Home-Away-from-Home in 1777-78

A fellow Livingston historian and friend was all dressed up as Chancellor Livingston for our Halloween program when he began to wonder just where Margaret Beekman took her family when she fled the burning of the mansion in 1777.  We just had to know the answer...

On October 18, 1777, Livingston in-law William Smith recorded the following note:

...Rob R. L. & his Mother’s burnt...

Smith was tersely recording a pivotal and now-storied moment in Clermont's history: the infamous Burning of Clermont. 

The story of just how Margaret Beekman Livingston packed the wagons and fled with her children and slaves is the stuff of Clermont legend.  She rescued what she could and left the rest of her belongings to an uncertain future.  When she returned to find them in a pile of ash, she showed her endurance by rebuilding on the same foundation before the end of the war.

But even I have only ever given a little thought to what happened in between leaving Clermont and coming home.  What was the winter of 1777-1778 like for her?  Where did she stay?

Margaret fled to Salisbury, in the northwest corner of Connecticut in late of October of 1777.  It was a journey of about 30-35 miles and
probably took two days so she would have had to lodge her family and servants somewhere along the road.  A tavern?  A friend's house?  It has not been recorded.

source: Salisbury Historical Society

The house she was fleeing to was at that point owned by cousin Robert "the 3rd Lord" Livingston.  Robert appears to have only recently purchased it from its builder (a Mr. Swift).  The house was quite new, built in 1774, and it may have been purchased for his son Robert Cambridge Livingston, who eventually became its longtime resident.*  Nevertheless, that first fall it may still have been unoccupied.  The author of the 1900 book Colonial Ways and Days seems confused on this subject and suggests that "he [Robert the 3rd Lord] occupied it himself for short periods."  Perhaps in all the scuffle of Livingstons fleeing the Hudson Valley, he and his family fled there too?

A large and commodious house, its brick-and-stone hulk conformed to fashionable standards of the day, and it was located between two picturesque lakes.  Unfortunately for us, it was demolished in 1895 after lying derelict for many years, but the nostalgia of the Colonial Revival in the early 20th century lead to foggy recollections of its former glamor.  It seems to have been built basically along a Georgian floor plan with a center hall.  However, while one side was divided into the usual two front and back rooms, the other (the north side) appears to have been one long, wood-paneled room from front to back.  By 1900, this was romantically referred to as a "ball room," but it would likely have served other purposes as well (how many "balls" can one family throw in a year--enough to merit a whole room in the main part of their house?).  At any rate, such a large room may well have been closed off for the winter as it would have proven very difficult to heat with a single fireplace, especially with its large windows and high ceilings, as they are described.

A close-up of the demolition photo from 1895 shows the front parlor, which may also have been paneled along the lower portions, judging by the fact that the plaster stops there.  A large--and probably fine--mantle has also been removed from the building before its demolition, leaving behind the bare stone of the chimney.  All-in-all, this would likely have been a showy and pleasant room for Margaret's family.

The second floor seems, from pictures, to have been more modest.  Visible in the 1891 image at right, it was a clapboarded wooden story on top of the more imposing stone one, and it looks to have slightly lower ceilings and smaller windows that may have made these rooms easier to warm (the roofline in this image has been changed from the original, which was hipped or gambril, depending on the source you use.  The early engraving also shows a small dormer that enabled a large, fashionable Palladian window in the center hall.  This also didn't seem to survive into the 18th century).  The attic was apparently also a usable floor--if not for storage, than perhaps as bedrooms for slaves.  As shown below in the complete 1895 image, there were no fireplaces in the garret, and it would have depended on the radiant heat from the chimney to keep the temperature hovering around freezing. 

The 19th century engraving above also shows a lean-to-style extension on the back of the house as well as a small wing on the south side (wing also visible on the right side of the 1895 photo).  The lean-to on the back appears to be integrated well enough that I would not doubt its being original to the house, and it would not be out of context amongst its fellow New England structures.  Although a little out-of-date, these were often one long room from side to side and featured working areas for the house, such as the kitchen. There is a similar long room along the back of the More House at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, NY.


I am less sure about whether or not the little south wing would have been present in 1777.  Its apparently wooden structure suggests that it may have been a later addition.

At any rate, Margaret Beekman Livingston, her three unmarried daughters, and an assortment of slaves would likely have found Montgomery House a comfortable and fashionable place to spend the winter.  Even if it wasn't home, even if they'd been uprooted and lost most of their belongings, at least they were ensconced in a place that befitted their station.

With the information we have left to us, many questions remain unanswered.  Was there any furniture there when Margaret and her family arrived or did she have to use the scanty furnishings she had rescued from her own house?  We know that she brought feather beds, which usually refers to just the mattress.  Were there bedsteads?  Did she set up her battered tall case clock in the hall?  Did the portraits of she and her recently-deceased husband get hung up to brighten the bare rooms?

Or was the place already being prepared for Robert the 3rd Lord's family and now stuffed with goods?  Were there other family members crammed in with them, refugees from the burning of the Hudson Valley?

Without more evidence, all this is left to the imagination.  Even so, just knowing that the house the family fled to was sufficiently grand and new helps illuminate that gloomy winter.  And yet another glorious old mansion left to decay and be torn down!  Bon soir Montgomery House.


*Geoff Benton suggests that the property may also have been purchased as a base of operations for supervising his mining interests in Salisbury.