Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Always Guess Robert: Sorting Out the Livingston Men

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.

Name:  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.

Name:  Robert Livingston, Jr. (1708-1790)
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.

Name:  Robert L. Livingston (1775-1843)
AKA:  none
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.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Ghostly Preview: Legends by Candlelight 2012

As the weather chills, Clermont is diving headlong into Halloween.  And we are just thrilled.  Okay--at least I am just thrilled.  Legends by Candlelight is my favorite annual event around here, and I love to put my all into it.

The Legends by Candlelight Spook Tours are on October 19 & 20, 26 & 27 this year, but for me it's been Halloween for a few weeks now.  I've been writing scripts, twisting the arms of volunteers, and sowing excitement among my staff (my newest ghost-actress immediately started doing extra research on the story of Nancy Shippen, who's sorrowful tale she will be relating).  I've even been able to squeeze in the time to make a new working-class costume for one of Margaret Beekman Livingston's servants (at right and below).  This is an excitement because it enables us to show with more accuracy the great diversity of clothing worn in the 18th century, when previously we had been focusing primarily on upper class clothing.

So what's new in 2012?  For one, enough people have been knocking down my door to participate that I've added two more ghosts to the tour, increasing the overall length by about 7 minutes.  New ghosts, new stories, and the inevitable return of our imposing Margaret Beekman Livingston and the even-more-imposing Chancellor Livingston will keep the event fresh for our devoted returnees.  I've even incorporated the stories of the longtime Livingston/Germantown residents, the Minkler family in two different generations.

And of course to create the right atmosphere we will have the Trail of Pumpkins leading up to the mansion, lavish historic 1920s decorations throughout the house, and our campfire with free marshmallows for toasting.

Reservations open on October 1st.  Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children 12 and under.  Tours run from 6:00-9:00.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Getting Around: Travel in the 18th Century

We've all heard it; we all know it.  Travel in the 18th century was just not what it is today.  But the details of what it was like are usually obscured.  Blurry images of dirty taverns, idyllic horseback rides, or "Lord of the Rings" style treks through the mountains kind of get mixed together in my mind's eye--even though I am a historian who's supposed to know better.  So I thought I'd take a few minutes to dig up some real references to historic travel to share today.

The conditions of travel may not have been as smooth or safe as they are today, but this was not enough to prevent people from getting around.  The Livingstons traveled a lot.  At the very least, twice a year they packed up and migrated between Clermont and New York City.  Short day trips to surrounding areas like Kingston, Rhinebeck, and even Newburgh were also a part of their lives, as well as longer journeys to Albany, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and even Europe. 

Perhaps the biggest difference in historic travel was just how unpredictable it was.  While today we are used to train/plane schedules and consistent car travel times, the 18th century knew no such luxury.

Travel on rivers and waterways generally offered the most speed (for a fee), and travelers could book passage on packet boats that provided regular service up and down the river.  However before a reliable steamboat was developed in 1807, sloops and other boats were still dependent on environmental factors.  Along the Hudson River, at Clermont's front door, the tide and wind could assist or hinder travel, depending on the day.  At any given given moment, your trip could be put on hold because Mother Nature said so. This meant that the trip from New York to Albany could take anywhere from 3 to 7 days!

"Having a contrary wind and an ebb tide, we dropped anchor about half a mile below New York, and went ashore upon Nutting Island..." wrote traveler Dr. Alexander Hamilton in 1744.  When he was finally within sight of Albany several days later, the wind again turned against them, and he was forced to transfer his baggage to a canoe and paddle the rest of the way.

Several decades later, in 1797, Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz wrote of his trip south from Albany to Clermont, "The day was fair and hot without any wind at all.  The tide carried us slowly for six hours; the next six we again had to ride at anchor."

Niemcewicz set out from Albany on August 12th and arrived at Clermont on the morning of the 14th (today I can do this drive in about an hour).  The boat dropped anchor and sat to wait out unfavorable conditions two separate times for several hours each.  They also sat still in the evenings when darkness made travel dangerous.

Hamilton's journey was lengthened by the fact that he could not at first find a boat that was ready to leave.  Although he wished to leave New York for Albany on June 20th, he couldn't get passage until the afternoon of the 21st.  At one o'clock on the 24th he passed by Clermont and Livingston Manor, and he arrived in Albany at eleven o'clock on the 25th.  His journey between Clermont and Albany was about ten to fourteen hours shorter than Niemcewicz's.

Traveling by land was not much more reliable, being also subject to weather and daylight, as well as bad roads, water crossings, and an assortment of discomforts.  Water crossings were an imposing part of many journeys.  Although she recorded few details of her journey from Philadelphia to New York in 1783, Nancy Shippen took special note of crossing the North River (Hudson) on General Washington's barge.  Sarah Kamble Night's largely overland journey from Boston to New have, Ct in 1704 cataloged a wide assortment of discomforts and dangers.  Almost as soon as her journey began she had two water crossings, each more difficult than the last.  The first her guide recommended that they ford on horseback, but Madam Knight refused and instead road over the river in a canoe (which she of course had to pay for), while her guide lead her horse across.  She was terrified and sat frozen for the entire ride.

At the next crossing there was no option but to ford it on horseback in the dark.  Her guide informed her that "there was a bad River we were to Ride thro', [Which] was so very firce a hors could sometimes hardly stem it: But it was but narrow, and wee should soon be over. I cannot express The concern of mind this relation sett me in..."  The dangers of a horse losing its footing and casting rider into the water (with a giant struggling animal to contend with) would have been magnified after dark.

Dr. Alexander Hamilton recorded 13 river crossings on his journey from Annapolis to New York, each of which required stopping to negotiate payment with the boatman and other small delays, including once waiting for the boatman to finish a mean dinner with his wife.  Most of his crossings were on ferries, whose large, flat bottoms could accommodate his horse and the one on which his slave rode.

Travel on the road was done on horseback or in a wagon when it was possible, and that brought with it it's own peculiarities.  Niemcewicz "hired a horse" to go from Albany to Cohoes.  Dr.  Hamilton recorded on his journey that "Mr. Quiet rid a little scrub bay mare, which he said was sick and ailing, and could not carry him, and therefore he lighted every half mile and ran a couple of miles at a footman's pace, to "spell the poor beast."

At other times it was the quality of the road that was lacking.  Sarah Kemble Knight wrote of one location where the road narrowed to little better than a trail, and "on each side the Trees and bushes gave us very unpleasent welcomes wth their Branches and bow's, wch wee could not avoid, it being so exceeding dark."  She did rather a lot of traveling in the dark, something which frightened her greatly.  One one stretch of road near Annapolis, Dr. Hamilton noted  "The road here is pretty hilly, stony, and full of a small gravel," and another in Pennsylvania proved more favorable, "The roads here are exceeding good and even, but dusty in the summer, and deep in the winter season."

Niemcewicz was caught in a thunderstorm well outside of Albany but had because of his isolated location had to ride "for five miles through the storm before I found shelter at an isolated inn," where he waited it out.  Without company beside him, this afternoon trip turned boring and monotonous.  "All alone on my horse in the midst of the wild and unbroken monotony of the forest my thoughts wandered with sad memories..."  I'm not sure if that could be considered equivalent to modern "highway hypnosis."

At other times, travelers rode in vehicles.  The array of coaches, carriages, and wagons is dizzying, and each of them has its own name.  In Albany, members of the public could book passage on a one of the daily stages to Schenectady in 1797.  Finely-constructed Carriages (like one at left from Colonial Williamsburg) were for the wealthy.  Niemcewicz shared one during a rainstorm with General Schuyler near Albany.  Walter Livingston at Teviotdale in Germantown babied his, it was purchased at such great expense.  Nancy Shippen road in her family's through the streets of Philadelphia, and Margaret Beekman took hers with her when she fled the oncoming English army in 1777.  Niemcewizc even once road with a party of Livingston ladies in a humble hay rick!

Suffice to say, these still suffered from many of the weather-related issues of horseback travel (although a covered carriage with a driver could still be used in rain, as Niemcewicz demonstrated) and were more subject to road problems and fording issues.

The last little piece of travel I think I can squeeze into this blog is that of lodging.  Inns and taverns afforded anonymous food and lodging for many, but may not have always provided an agreeable experience.  Several facts of historic travel could be jarring to the modern American, in particular the common sharing of beds, whether you knew your bedfellow or not.  At one inn in Pennsylvania Dr. Hamilton wrote, "I went to bed at nine at night; my landlord, his wife, daughters, and I lay all in one room."   Although Sarah Kemble Knight's room was "neet and handsome," she could not get to sleep because of noisy drunks next door.  

Food, particularly when facing regional differences could also be questionable.  Madam Knight wrote of a meal of unfamiliar food that turned her stomach but, "being hungry, [I] gott a little down; but my stomach was soon cloy'd, and what cabbage I swallowed serv'd me for a Cudd the whole day after."  But the food was not always bad, as Dr. Hamilton found, "I supped upon roasted oysters, while my landlord eat roasted ears of corn at another table."

More often than not, it seemed to be the unusual characters and conversations that marked a journey.  Nancy Shippen described few encounters on her trip from Philadelphia to Clermont but for one at an inn in Poughkeepsie.  When she asked the landlady to keep her company, she found gossip about her poor relationship with her husband.  The landlady was suitably embarrassed.

Hamiliton's descriptions are my undisputed favorite as he often derisively wrote about behaviors he considered beneath him.  Drunkeness, cursing, and unusual habits were all fair game (making me believe he also took a secret pleasure in them as well).  Of one man he wrote, "We could scarcely get rid of this fellow, till we made him so drunk with rum that he could not walk."  And once in a tavern he observed, "These two old maids would sit, one at each side of Van Bibber and tease him, while his wife pretended to scold all the time, as if she was jealous, and he would look like a goose."  (I will let curious readers go looking for the passages that are less suitable for a general audience)  It should be noted that Hamilton also had a bit of an eye for the ladies.  I will have to let curious readers go looking on their own for the passages that are less suitable for a general audience.

Travelers in good standing could often find lodging at the homes of other wealthy individuals.  Niemcewicz dropped in on Clermont on August 14th, 1797 and later found lodging at the nearby home of the Armstrongs as well.  Nancy Shippen stopped for breakfast with Martha Washington (at right) at Newburgh, and a family story puts Reverend Hartwick at Clermont for so long that Margaret Beekman Livingston wasn't sure how to get rid of him.  Letters of introduction from mutual friends might pave the way to stay in the home of an other wise stranger.

Good hospitality (for the right kind of guest) was the mark of a well-to-do family.  Margaret Beekman Livingston entertained Martha Washington for three days in June of 1782, though she came without warning when her husband was called to Albany on business. And her son the Chancellor treated William Strickland in 1794 with an exquisite spread of pasties and confectioneries at dessert.

Whether travel experiences were good or bad, it didn't stop people from getting around.  Americans moved about in an assortment of ways, often incorporating multiple modes of transportation in one journey: horse to carriage, carriage to sloop, sloop to canoe.  People often moved in groups, accompanied by family members or servants, or they traveled alone and faced the boredom and monotony of the road (still a familiar feeling).  They crossed rivers and waterways with care, remembering the dangers, fearing the unknown, or trusting professionals to get them across safely.  Travel's biggest problem was unpredictability: weather, food, lodging, and more could hold a new surprise or stumbling block along the way.  In fact, it seemed like the only thing you could count on was that your plans would change as you traveled. 

So the next time my plane is late or I am sighing in line at the tollbooth (I am apparently not the last person on Earth to get an EZ Pass), what I need to remember is to keep it in perspective.  At least I don't have to share a room with strangers at my hotel.