Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Little Palatine History from Our Fellow Bloggers

I happened across a little blog entry about some of the Palatine residents of our area today.  Knowing how many of our visitors are genealogists (and knowing how little I can help them with anything but Livingston family members), I thought I would share.  Births, children, and deaths are all that is listed, but with amusement, I did notice that one of the children married a Lasher, a family that was particularly important in Germantown and Clermont.

Hendrick Mescik from Descent by Sea

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Real "Reluctant Revolutionary": Bigadier General Richard Montgomery

We at Clermont have been on a quest to dispel the myth that Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Jr. was "the Reluctant Revolutionary," as he has been branded by historians.  Between giving his fiery commencement speech at King's College, which hinted at rebellion 10 years before the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the recent discovery that he was the bold author behind the "Address to the People of Great Britain," I think it's safe to say that the Chancellor was into the Revolution heart and soul.

But perhaps it was this virulent commitment that gave his sister's husband Richard Montgomery the final nudge he needed to help build and lead the army of the rebellious colonists.  

Richard had met the Livingston family (and his future wife Janet) during the French and Indian War, when he served as a Captain in the 17th Regiment of His Majesty's Army.  According to an 1876 biography, he was on his way "to a distant post and had come ashore with the officers of his company at Clermont..." (possbily Ticonderoga).  Happening sometime during the later 1750s or as late as 1760, this would have been just as Janet was reaching marriageable age, and what eligible young lady doesn't like a dashing company of well-dressed officers at her doorstep?

That was just a blip in time though.  Richard went on with the war, went back to Ireland, and tried to pursue his military career.  It was a bust.  His sympathies for the Colonies and rejection of the Stamp Act were too well known.  He was passed over for promotion to Major, got mad, and resigned to go back to the fertile promises New York.  He purchased a farm in what is now the Bronx and renewed his conversations with Janet Livingston.  

It had been more than 10 years since their first meeting, but she was still single.  Not that she couldn't get a good marriage proposal.  There were at least two that didn't work out, according to her own telling.  Janet was now 30 years old and apparently waiting for just the right proposal.  

After checking with her father in May (and Janet's father checked with her mother first--because nobody messes with Margaret Beekman Livingston), Richard finally got to marry Janet in July of 1773.  

Life seemed complete.  In addition to the land in Kingsbridge to the south, he bought a farm in Rhinebeck, where Janet would be close to her family.  He built a mill (what kind I do not know), and began laying the foundation for their future love nest.  In the meantime they stayed in a nice little house in the village.  

But within two years, the political climate in the colony was getting more unstable.  According to his wife, Richard was "surprised" with a nomination to the Committee of Fifty that met in April 1775 in New York to organize protests against the increasingly-strict and punitive legislation coming out of England.  The Committee (whose size swelled rapidly) included his brother-in-law Robert, several other Livingston family members and another close friend of Robert's by the name of John Jay.  

Richard went out of a sense of duty.  Duty to his new homeland?  Duty to his good friend Robert?  He balked at the idea of violent rebellion against Britain but believed that the Empire's treatment of the colony was wrong.  Either way, he apparently didn't think much of his contribution on the committee. He was cynical and frustrated by all the talking that politics required of him.  Later when the rebellious colonists then began raising an army lead by French & Indian war vets (like George Washington), his experience proved proved more applicable.  

He mulled his decision over, and finally, being unable to find the words to tell his wife, he did it with a gesture.  He went to her with the black black ribbon cockade for his soldier's hat and asked her to sew it on for him.  Her reaction was to be expected; she began to cry.  In her memoirs she remembered his explanation this way:

"Our country is in danger.  Unsolicited, in two instances, I have been distinguished by two honorable appointments.  As a politician I could not serve them.  As a soldier I think I can...My honor is engaged."  

He was so torn by the force of duty and the desire to remain home with his wife and farm that he refused to even look back at his house when he left it in June of 1775.  His brother-in-law Edward (then 11 years old) remembered him musing sadly "'Tis a mad world, my masters, once I thought so, now I know it."   Richard's words carried extra weight as he not only summed up the chaos of the oncoming war and breakdown of civil order, but cited an English proverb with at least a century of history behind it.

It's no surprise that Richard's previous years in "the Greatest Army in the World"--as the English forces were known--left him lacking faith in the abilities of the inexperienced and unprofessional Colonists that signed up to be in his brigade.  He certainly wasn't alone in this, and it was only the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17th that gave them the encouragement they needed to trust the farmers, mechanics, and workers who signed up.  

Nevertheless, he still scoffed at their courage, saying that they "ran at the shake of a leaf" or were all bravado until some real conflict threatened their lives.  He once wrote to Janet, "I am ... so exceedingly out of spirits and so chagrined with the behavior of the troops, that I most heartily repent undertaking to lead them."  Another time he worried that "the lower class of people...have been intimidated much by our weakness."  

He needed more men.  He needed more powder.  They were cold and wet in Canada in October.  His wife's grandfather died.  He found out after the fact that his wife had been sick.  Now her parents were sick.  Things were not going well. 

Richard wanted desperately to just go home to his wife and his farm.  He tried to resign twice, but it was not accepted.  The stresses of dealing with people and personalities weighed heavily on him.  "I am unfit to deal with mankind in the bulk, for which reason I wish for retirement," he wrote only a few days later on October 9.  Their "rascality, ignorance, and selfishness" were too hard to deal with "and keep my temper."  That day he was feeling particularly low, and trying to find a way to get home and leave the American Cause behind him, but he was "yoked" to it.  A month later on November 13th, he promised Janet again that he would get home as soon as he could find a way to leave.  

In late November he found a way to return to Rhinebeck in the winter, planning to be there in January, and it raised his spirits to see his wife in their "new house" (Grasmere, I assume).  "I live in hopes to see you in six weeks," he wrote.  "Gentle" weather made the following weeks more bearable, and in his final letter to Janet on December 5th he mused "may I finally have the pleasure of seeing you in it [the new house] soon!"

After a hard journey north through Canada, the capture of Quebec was to signal his return home.  His spirits lifted as he could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, he even managed a little levity in his letters.  As the Christmas holidays approached, he mused to his friends that only his sense of duty kept him going, that his only ambition was a safe and happy farm.  The thought of returning to it warmed his spirit as he roused his fatigued troops to attack Quebec, personally leading the charge up the hills--and he was almost immediately cut down by cannon ball.  The attack fell apart.  He would never return to his farm and beloved Janet.

For his wife, that year must have been an impossible one: at 32 years old she had lost her Livingston grandfather in July, and her Beekman grandfather followed in December.  Only a few days later, her father died suddenly at Clermont on December 8th.  And while she waited for the comfort of her husband's return in the new year, her brother the Chancellor was busy writing the letter that would tell her the worst news of all; her beloved husband was dead.

So of all the Revolutionaries out there, it seems that Montgomery most deserves the title of "Reluctant."  While in the Chancellor's case (however misapplied) it has been used to almost diminish his considerable contribution, in Richard's case it seems rather to contribute both a sense of tragedy and honor to his sacrifice.  In spite of a considerable desire to remain at his own hearth, Richard's sense of duty to propelled him to protect his new country (thus forsaking the King and country for whom he had previously fought) and lead him far from home.  With few supplies and men in whom he had little faith, he continued to long for his wife and his plow, but he wouldn't desert his post without first ensuring that the cause could continue without him.  

Of course, the real twist of the knife is that he was only days or weeks away from going home.  

Like her mother, Janet never remarried, even though there was at least one proposal.  The New York Public Library is in possession of a letter from Janet turning down a proposal from Horatio Gates (yet another officer in the English army).  As a wealthy widow, she opportunities, but instead she filled her life with family and friends.  She wrote sometimes that she felt like her widow status made her an outsider or fifth wheel but there was no replacing a relationship that had taken her until age 32 to find in the first place.  

Richard Montgomery was buried in Quebec, and everything he had with him was either sold to other officers, given away, or returned to Janet.  Interestingly, Benedict Arnold bought many of his friend's belongings.  A pair of wool socks was given to "Dick, the negro boy,"  A gold watch was returned all the way to Janet.

Forty-three years later Governor Clinton sent Janet a copy of the act that described the planned removal of Montgomery's remains from Canada to New York.  Overcome by emotion as she watched the boat pass by her new house at Chateau de Montgomery (Montgomery Place), Janet fainted dead away.  It was the closest she had been to her husband since the day he left her, promising "You shall never have cause to blush for your Montgomery."  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

From Our Fellow Bloggers: How Robert Livingston stole Crailo and turned it into a fortune

How do 2,600 acres of land become 160,000?

When we explain how Robert Livingston the 1st Lord got possession of the original 160,000 acres that became Livingston Manor, we usually do it like this:  He purchased 2,600 acres of land in two pieces.  When he went to get it made into a patent (which required the governor's signature), there was a "slip of the pen," and the land in between the two pieces magically became his too, making his new total around 160,000.

"What was the slip of the pen?" people always want to know.  "Was there a back-room deal?"  Finally, historian Geoff Benton has an idea and it's deliciously scandalous:

How Robert Livingston stole Crailo and turned it into a fortune

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Furnishing Arryl House: Digging Deeper into the Chancellor's Villa

Anyone who's read back through my Arryl House blogs might be starting to get a feel for my fascination with this lost Clermont residence.  Chancellor Livingston's stunning home was once even called a "palace" ("Under Their Vine and Fig Tree," Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz).

Sadly, little is known about the interior of this house beyond what can be gleaned from travelers accounts since it burned in 1909.  Two photos do exist, but they weren't taken until long after the Chancellor had died at the beginning of the 19th century, and they show only one corner of the southwest wing (at right).  At least in a close up you can see the great dentil molding that most likely dates from the house's construction.

There is a plan of the first floor (below, right), drawn up sometime in the late 19th century, "when there was talk of modernizing it," according to a tag included in the file (at left).  I had used a digital copy of this plan when I did my initial research on Arryl House back in 2014, but I was lucky enough to discover the actual drawings while doing further research later in the archives.
This floorplan yielded some valuable information while I was sorting out the room functions, and I was even happier when I flipped the page of the original booklet and found the plan of the second floor as well (below left).  Four bedrooms for guests--one is conspicuously without a fireplace--and the southernmost room for a breakfast room, at one point overlooking the splendid greenhouse that once ran the entire 75 foot length of the building.

 So you can imagine my excitement as the story unfolded a little more when I discovered a copy of the probate inventory that was taken when the Chancellor died in 1813.  

The inventory isn't nearly as complete as some.  While his son-in-law Edward Philip Livingston's  1844 inventory listed individual valuations for each item in each room, the Chancellor's only totals everything by location or material, eliminating any hope of comparing the individual values to figure out where the nicest stuff was kept.  Not only that, but either the rooms were particularly spartan or relatives has already visited the house and taken the things that were destined for them.  Still though, it is the next small step to filling in the secrets of one of Clermont's greatest lost treasures.

There it is--scrawled in the handwriting of William Wilson or his secretary.  And my Adventures in Reading Historic Handwriting begin again.

So what did I find?  For starters, I found a few things I recognized.  There is "A Gold Box set with Diamonds.....Value unknown."  This item brought a smile to my face since I have held it in my own (gloved) hands when it was exhibited at Clermont in 2007.  It was a snuff box, ornamented with a portrait of Napoleon and about the size of a deck of cards if I remember correctly.  It's not set with diamonds, but rather large paste jewels (an 18th century term for cut glass), and it's one gaudy little trinket!

Also, the "1 Telescope" in the library (circled above) is still in Clermont's collections and is scheduled for exhibition starting this spring.  Also, don't miss "The number of Books are estimated at 2700"--tha's a lotta books!  Just for a point of reference, this image from Edith Warton's home The Mount shows approximately 350 books.  The value of the books is not separated from the rest of the furniture (grrr), but for comparison Edward Philip Livingston's 2231 books were valued at $1760 about 30 years later.  This was the second largest private library in the country in 1813; the only bigger one was down at Jefferson's Monticello.

So all together in the shady Arrly House library, we find listed:
"Books, 12 chairs, 1 table, 1 clock, 1 telescope, barometer, 1 lamp, 1 pair andirons," all together valued at $5,000.  While I can't give you an equivalent in "today's money," I can tell you that the Chancellor's entire kitchen--equipped with all the necessities of fine cooking--was only valued at $150.

The chairs in the Library were most likely side chairs similar to those still at Clermont today.  Since the house was furnished starting in the 1790s, I tend to expect these were spindly, Federal-style furniture with Neoclassical influences, which was popular at the time.  Soft, comfy easy chairs were still relegated to the bedroom, where they were largely used by the elderly and infirm.

In all Wilson recorded 74 chairs in the house, and that was just in the main rooms.  Old or rough chairs used by servants and individual bedroom furnishings were totally excluded.  Twenty-four of them were in the Drawing Room, potentially making that where Chancellor Livingston hosted the Court of Chancery at his home, as he is known to have done for a short time.

The Drawing Room was one of two centers of 18th century entertaining (the other being the Dining Room), a prime place for showing off.  It was hung with green silk curtains, decorated with French wallpaper, and carpeted.  I can only assume that with the continuing fashion for monochrome decoration that the wallpaper and carpet mimicked the curtains' green color.  In addition to a ton of chairs, it had 2 "Sophas", 2 clocks (I wonder if they kept time together very well), 2 looking glasses, a pair of "China vases," 2 tables, cup and saucers (probably stored in the small inset cabinet), and "3 consols."  I wonder if perhaps one of these clocks was the "musical clock in the shape of a ruined column," that was described in 1877.  Another may have been our much-heralded balloon clock at left.

The consoles (a French example from around the same time period at right) were the only things in the entire inventory that were individually valued--and they must have been quite splendid.  "R.L.L." is marked beside them in the margin so I can only assume that the Chancellor's son-in-law Robert L. wanted those for himself.  One was valued at $165 and the other pair at $125 together.  Gilded perhaps?  Or perhaps these were the tables topped with "marble and lava" that he brought back from France.  I don't know for sure.

The Dining Room by contrast was decorated with red and white curtains, "2 carpets," "1 rug", 3 looking glasses, 2 tables, "1 sopha," 1 clock, and an assortment of "ornaments."    There were also "2 portraits" and "3 pictures."  There were only 4 portraits in the house all together.  Assuming that at least two of these were known portraits of the Chancellor himself (1 by Gilbert Stuart and the other by Vanderlyn), the other two may have included Margaret Maria (at left) and perhaps the portrait of the Chancellor's mother-in-law Mrs. John Stevens by Stuart.  I can't seem to find an image of this painting online, but Eugene Livingston records buying it some decades later.  Eugene also gives us some hints about what the "3 pictures" were.  Perhaps the "Copy of  marine scene from __  ___ painting in the Louvre by Mrs. R.L.L Livingston" and "Dog and Game supposed to be by ____ brought back from Europe about 1804 by RR Livingston the Chancellor."  Given the Chancellor's known affection for hunting game birds, I think the latter painting a very good bet.  His great granddaughter also remembered a "full-length likeness of the Henry the Fourth," which was likely among these.

The impressive entry hall of the house was said to have been decorated with rich Gobelin tapestries, illustrating Aesop's fables, but they aren't on the inventory--which may be further evidence that some things were deliberately left off.  This sofa, currently in the collections of the New York Historical Society, is supposedly made from those Gobelin tapestries.  The colors would have been quite brilliant as the afternoon sun poured in the west-facing windows of the hall.

Eight more paintings and prints were in the hall as well, along with 4 mahogany tables, 3 lamps, and 6 chairs, all told worth $200.  Note that there were no curtains needed for the hall.

The other room that is particularly interesting is the Billiards Room, with "1 Billiards Table, 2 tables, 1 marble bust, 12 chairs, 7 prints, 1 looking glass, 2 white curtains & drapery, 4 lamps, and 1 pr andirons."  The presence of 2 sets of curtains in the billiards room throws me for a loop, since I can't find a room with two windows to indicate for sure where the room was.  I've always assumed it was the room still marked "Billiards Room" in the late 19th century, but that one only has one window.  Now I'm just not sure.

Sadly the bedrooms and servants' furnishings are not detailed.  China, Silver, and linen are each totaled ($1,000, $5,000, and $804 respectively).  There are $300 worth of ornaments just for the dining table (including knives).  The bedding is all valued at $2,500.  All kitchen wares are valued at $150--an entire household worth of fancy cooking materials still doesn't compete with one of those console tables!  Cash on hand was $11,088.80 (and 1/2 cents).

Amusingly, the "Green House Plants," including orange, lemon, and myrtle trees, were included but not valued.  They appear to have been moved out into the front courtyard during the warm months.  For truly grand occasions, there were tables cut to fit around the citrus tress (and likely special tablecloths too) so that the trees seemed to grow up out of the dinner.  There are at least two descriptions of these tables, but I don't know for sure when they were built--only that they were already there in time for the Marquis de Lafayette's visit in 1825.

Many of the Chancellor's belongings have made their way to the New York Historical Society and can be seen online.  Others require more imagination as I piece together his house in all its glory.  I'm getting closer; it just takes time.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Keep the Holidays Rolling in the New Year--Celebrate Twelfth Night in the Albany Area days

Twelfth Night (or the Feast of the Epiphany) is--predictably--twelve days after Christmas.  In the 18th and early 19th centuries it was widely celebrated, usually with much large festivities than Christmas.  These included eating, drinking, dancing, and the all-important Twelfth Night Cake (example at right by Ivan Day--see it baked here).

This December, Clermont highlighted Twelfth Nigh in one of five Tableaux Vivants at our Candlelight Evening (seen below), including a large, white-frosted cake topped with traditional-style swans.

If you aren't ready just yet to plunge into the long, dark days of winter, you might want to try out a Twelfth Night celebration at one of these two Albany-area museums.  Both include live music, costumed interpreters, and food.  Even though Twelfth Night is Tuesday this year, these celebrations have been moved to more convenient weekend dates.