Monday, January 25, 2016

The Man Named After the House: Clermont Livingston, Part 2

When Clermont Livingston inherited Clermont the estate from his father in 1844, it seemed like he was set up to become a country gentleman with a cozy little family life.  Instead of pursuing a public legal career, as the past four generations of Livingston men had done, Clermont snuggled into his childhood home like a warm security blanket.  He married a Livingston cousin named Cornelia that same year, and their first daughter Mary (called "Mamie" by her family) was born the next year in 1845.  A son, John Henry (known as "Johnnie"), followed in 1848.

But that was to be the sum total of his children, and Clermont's marriage was cut short when his wife became ill.  He moved the family for some time to New York City in the hopes of getting better care for her there, but Cornelia died from a "prolonged and painful illness" in 1851.

"Johnnie" and "Mamie"
around 1851 or 1852
The family returned to the Hudson Valley for comfort.  It is during this time that his son John Henry remembered his father as a sort of aloof figure who sat by day reading on his sofa in the shady dining room.  The widower began keeping his detailed farm journal, with almost-daily entries about the temperature, wind direction and speed, even the barometric pressure.  He buried himself in the success of his crops, detailing which did well where, and when the fruit was ready to eat.

Sylvan Cottage, where Clermont's
children were schooled with the
DePeyster children.
They struck up a routine for daily life.  Clermont engaged a teacher for his children and set up a little school for them and their dePeyster cousins.  According to John Henry, the routine was strict.  The children rose early, did their homework by 9am and headed off to school.  The dePeysters "always came late and never did their lessons, but we always had the best of times," he recalled later.

Clermont and his second wife Mary
Somewhere between 1860 and 1862, Clermont found a new partner.  Mary Colden Swartout Livingston had lived next door for years in Arryl House married to his cousin Montgomery Livingston.  But Montgomery had died 1855, and the two seem to have gotten married, although she was still referred to in letters from the children as "Mrs. Swartout."

Johnnie as a teenager,
headed for Columbia University
School ended at the little cottage by the estate's gate not long after Mamie got married in 1864 to none other than her classmate Frederic dePeyster.  Her Oak Hill grandmothers practically swooned with joy that the 19-year-old's husband-to-be was someone she'd known so long and that he was a local who would not move the girl far away.

The next April, already down two students in his school, Mr. Wolf the tutor had to say goodbye to his employer of eight years.  Clermont's oldest son Johnnie was 17 and ready to leave the cozy little cottage school for college at Columbia University.  Before he left, Mr. Wolf wrote a heartfelt letter saying he'd enjoyed working with the children and found Mr. Livingston an "appreciative" employer (we should all be so lucky!).

Believed to be
Catherine Hammersly
Just before Christmas 1865, Clermont had his first granddaughter, also named Mary--but called "May" by the family to distinguish her from the other two Marys.  Three years late in 1868, he got a grandson, whom his daughter dutifully named "Clermont."

Johnnie was married too in November of 1871.  His bride was Catherine Livingston Hammersly.  He went on his honeymoon traveling around Europe in 1872, amusingly at the same time as Mamie and her husband were enjoying an extended European getaway themselves.  Their letters home to "Papa" describe hotels and crossings and adventures.

Catherine Livingston

After all this excitement, loss began to visit the family almost all at once.  Johnnie's wife Catherine died shortly after giving birth to the latest granddaughter in the family (of course named Catherine, after her mother) in 1873.  Then not long after, in 1874, Clermont's oldest granddaughter May died as well, followed by Mamie's husband Frederick that same year. The loss is made especially poignant by 9-year-old May's early attempt at letter-writing, preserved by her grandfather:

January 31st, Saturday [1874]

Dear Grandpapa,

I want to know whether the little creek is open.  How is Pussie and Hannah?  and Sport?  We are going to have Goodhue to dine with us today and Johnnie Pole too.  What are you doing?
Clermont and Mary "May" dePeyster
around 1869 or 1870

How is Ninnie?  How are you and what are they all doing?  We are going to the theatre next Saturday.  I am well.  Clermont is pretty well.  We have a nice time Clermont says to say we play cards and dominos before breakfast with Grandma.  Clermie and I send our love to your and Aunt Annie and Aunt Emily.

Your affect

Only two years later, Mamie died as well, leaving eight-year-old Clermont as the last standing member of the family.  And sometime during all of this, Clermont's wife Mary Swartout died too, leaving Clermont Sr. a widower twice over.

Emily Evans Livingston
And so the Livingston family was left to regroup again.  Clermont Sr. began vacationing in Bar Harbor and at some point remarried a woman whom the family called "Aunt Annie."  He made updates to the family mansion, adding a towering mansard roof.  Johnnie pursued his legal career in New York.  Baby Catherine was sent to her maiden Hammersly aunts, and Clermont the little boy became Uncle Johnnie's charge at some point.

When John Henry married Emily Evans in 1880, something happened to the family dynamic that caused a permanent rift.  There isn't any record of it in Clermont's surviving documents, and descendants are still scouring family histories.

When Johnnie remarried, Clermont changed his will so that the Livingston mansion would go to his granddaughter Catherine, skipping over his son.  The mansion remained Johnnie's for life, but nevertheless he took his daughter, nephew, and new wife to live in Philadelphia for a while--far away from his father and any strife at his childhood home.  The family seems to have come back to the Hudson Valley for somethings--at the very least, they made some stylish new updates to the mansion's main rooms, but the estrangement seems to have been a deep one.  But we don't know why.

What happened that made Clermont Sr. so mad?  Why did he essentially cut off his only son?  Some descendants think it likely that Clermont Sr. wanted to make sure his granddaughter Catherine (a "true" Livingston) would inherit the home, instead of any potential children that Emily might have had.  The Livingston pride in their ancestral family home is not to be underestimated.  There are also some unpleasant suggestions that Clermont disliked his new daughter-in-law intensely and others that his relationship with his son was strained and critical.  None of these can be completely confirmed or denied.  Perhaps if his grandson Clermont had survived, the problem may have been solved differently, but the boy had died suddenly in 1889.

Either way, the intrigue was not put aside when Emily died in 1894 (leaving Johnnie a widower twice over, just like his dad).  Even with her out of the picture, the will continued to dictate that the family's estate would be given to Catherine (who was now going by "Kitty" and spelling her name Katharine).

Clermont passed away in 1895, leaving behind the muddy confusion of inheritance and estate management and all the rest of it.

Two years later, in 1897, twenty-four-year-old Katherine formally sold the mansion back to her father for one dollar "in consideration of love and affection," According to her children, this was "over the objections of her father" so perhaps Johnnie had accepted his father's will after all.

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