Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"Tired With Being There" Henry Beekman Livingston's Brief Time as a Guest of the British Navy

         
Granny Gates
As he took stock of his situation after the Battle of Saratoga General Horatio Gates felt the need to address the situation to his south. While Gates and the Northern Army had been drubbing General John Burgoyne, General Sir Henry Clinton had launched an attack up the Hudson River Valley, taking Forts Clinton and Montgomery, burning Kingston, burning Clermont and a number of other private homes. Gates found this offensive and let Clinton know it in a harshly worded letter.
A perfect choice for messenger boy
          To deliver the letter Gates sent Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston of the 4th New York Regiment who had a personal stake in the matter as the British had burned down his mother’s house in their attack. Gates ordered Henry to find the enemy at Fort Montgomery, assuming that they would have occupied the fort after they had taken it. They had not, choosing instead to return to New York City.
          Henry, of course, decided to exceed his orders and headed south. At King’s Bridge he was taken aboard the H.M.S. Mercury under the command of James Montagu. Montagu immediately passed Henry off on his first officer Lieutenant Logan.
James Montagu's statue in West Minster Abbey
          Lt. Logan took Gage’s message from Henry and sent it ashore. As for Henry he now found himself a sort of guest, sort of prisoner on the ship. While he was not put in chains he had very little in the way of freedom while he waited for an answer to his message. He could not set foot ashore. Henry described his treatment as “very Indifferent.”
Henry Clinton, not great at checking his messages
          After two days aboard the ship it appears that Montagu and Henry had begun to get on each other’s nerves. Henry was constantly bombarding Montagu and Logan with demands to send more messages to Clinton or for answers as to why he had not had an answer yet. Finally,Henry demanded to send another message to Clinton, from whom he was yet to receive a response and Montagu refused to offer him any more help. Henry was “Tired of being here.”
          It was time for Montagu to get rid of Henry. He could have simply turned him over to one of the prison hulks in New York Harbor, but for a pesky sense of honor. Henry had traveled under a flag of truce so Montagu put Henry ashore back at King’s Bridge.
HMS Jersey, the most famous prison hulk
How many ships did you sink?
          
















This allowed Henry to return to his regiment in time to join them at Valley Forge and serve in the army for another year.(Read all about that here!) On Christmas Eve of 1777 Montagu ran the H.M.S. Mercury into a sunken obstacle in the Hudson River and lost her. The obstacle had been placed by the Americans, maybe by the Committee to Defend the River of which Henry's brother Robert R. Livingston was a member. He would have a rather unimpressive career after that until June 1, 1794 when he was killed at the Battle of Ushant, the Glorious First of June during the Napoleonic Wars.[i]
Not shown, James Montagu getting hit by a cannon ball early in the battle.


[i] Henry Beekman Livingston wrote a report on his journey south to George Clinton on November 13, 1777.  The letter is now in the New York State Archives Henry Livingston Papers collection.
Not that George Clinton

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