Thursday, March 14, 2019

“Why the -bleep- is there a picture of Andrew Jackson hanging in the Dining Room?"

People come to Clermont from all over the world. Perhaps the most common question amongst all these people of different races and creeds is “Why the -bleep- is there a picture of Andrew Jackson hanging in the Dining Room?”
Beau Ned
 First, we say “That -bleeping- painting is by Thomas Sulley.” Then we often use it to start a conversation about Edward Livingston. “You see Beau Ned served with Jackson at New Orleans and was his Secretary of State.” says we. But the real story involves far less politics and more theft and questionable marriages.
Montgomery Livingston was married to Mary Colden Swartout. She was the daughter of Samuel Swartout. Samuel was an ambitious man. So ambitious he was charged as part of the Burr Conspiracy to set up a separate country in the west though his charges were later dropped. He was also an ardent supporter of Andrew Jackson during his campaign for president. Samuel was rewarded with the position of Collector of Customs for the Port of New York, a position he held until 1839.
Montgomery Livingston
When his term expired and the books were checked Samuel had embezzled $1,225,705.69. He fled the country. Over the years by blaming other people and working out a deal with the government he was able to pay back $181,127.77 and return to the United States with no charges against him. And by over the years I mean two years. He was back in 1841. Some people at the time vacationed longer than he was a fugitive.
He came back and lived a life of relative comfort with his wife until he died in 1856.
In the meantime, Montgomery Livingston, had died in 1855 deeply in debt. His house, the Chancellor’s former house, had to be auctioned. Mary his wife soon moved down the hill to Clermont to marry her dead husband’s cousin Clermont, whose wife Cornelia had died in 1851. He had two children from that first marriage, John Henry and Mary. Unfortunately for Clermont Mary only lived a short while longer before she too died.
Clermont Livingston (seated) and Mary Colden Swartout Livingston Livingston (Standing)
Flash forward twenty years to 1876 and Mary Swartout’s widowed mother Alice is preparing for her own death by giving away possessions. She gives her former step grandson John Henry Livingston a portrait of Andrew Jackson that her husband had purchased because John Henry “liked history.” He hung it in the dining room and the rest is, well, history.
And that, dear reader, is the story of how a portrait of Andrew Jackson, probably bought with embezzled money came to hang in Clermont’s dining room.