Sunday, July 31, 2016

Katharine Comes Home: An Exciting New Donation from a Livingston family Descendant

This small collection of mini-
ature portraits proved to be just
the beginning.
It all started almost three years ago, when a Livingston family member arrived from England with a surprise donation of several miniature portraits from Katharine Livingston Timpson's family--his family.

Katharine Livingston Timpson
and her first two children:
Theo and Kay
Katharine, John Henry's daughter from his first marriage, was a favorite of her grandfather, and briefly inherited Clermont before selling it back to her father for one dollar.  After a split with her father around 1905, Katharine and her family moved to England, bringing with them the furnishings, jewelry, letters, and pictures that surrounded their daily lives.  Many of her grand children and great grandchildren still live there, and many of Katharine's belongings have been passed down to them.

Maizeland, Red Hook, NY
Over the past few years, her descendants have spent hours photographing her belongings that remain in their possession, painstakingly sending us image after image via email:  pictures of her house in Red Hook, called Maizeland, where her first two children grew up, pictures of her jewelry and clothes--even a rare picture of the inside of Clermont!  Over and over again, I kept yelling "wow!" and my office neighbors would have to come over and see what we'd received this time.

Clermont's study, possibly 1890s
This photo made all of the staff so excited,
I have to admit, I stood up and did a little jig.
After more than two years of this, the most exciting email of all arrived in my box:

Photos were sent in advance, showing
us what kind of things we needed to
be prepared for.
Our friend was coming back again--this time with his luggage stuffed full of photographs and belongings for donation to Clermont.  His timing couldn't have been better. With a new curator of collections on staff, we were ready to take on the incredible amount of work that goes with any donation.  This was even more important when we started getting photos of what was coming over, because we realized that the total could be over 1,000 artifacts!

On Memorial Day weekend, we got to work, checking in one artifact after another and frequently just marveling over the trove that was in my office.  Some of the biggest revelations from the collection were three previously-unknown photographs that showed the interior of Clermont.  New views of the study, the dining room, and the drawing room will give us new insight into the mansion's Victorian-era appearance.  Still others were touching reminders of the bonds of family, like a bible embossed with Katharine's mother's name.  Even some day-to-day items were part of the donation, like a little tub of rouge with a fancy-sounding French label.

It took more than two days for three staff members to catalog the 700 photos and several hundred three-dimensional artifacts by hand.  Submitting items for acceptance into a museum collection is a big deal.  Not only does the object need to be historical, it also needs to meet the museum's Collections Policy, a document that gives clear guidelines for what a museum can take in.  Just because we think an object is neat doesn't mean we're allowed to accept it.  Among other qualifications, it has to have a clear provenance to the Livingston family--especially those who lived at Clermont.

A bible with Katharine's mother's maiden
name embossed on it.  Catharine was John
 Henry's first wife
Once we had everything recorded, it was to be submitted to the Collections Committee for approval.  This body helps New York State historic sites monitor their incoming donations to make sure that they are appropriate for the museum, but in this case, we had little doubt they would be accepted.

But the work doesn't end there!  Each individual item still has to be cataloged and housed in archival-quality storage.  A curatorial assistant had to be brought in for this massive project, which is expected to extend for five weeks.  And once everything is cataloged, then we can do what we really like to do with our collections--exhibit them so you can come and see!

Katharine was an amazing and an interesting woman of her time.  But without the thousand or so artifacts we're still sifting through, we'd never know her that way.  Each piece that was accepted for our collections helps us to understand she and her children as human beings, and we look forward to sharing that with you the public.  Why?  Because seeing historic people as real people with thoughts and feelings and make-up and babies and family photos is what makes history something you can relate to.  And really that's our whole goal here.

We'll keep you updated as we get ready to unveil this daughter of Clermont next spring!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Dangerous Companion: Chancellor Robert R. Livingston and the Traitor's Wife

Benedict Arnold

          The story of Benedict Arnold’s treasonous actions at West Point is so well known that the man’s very name is synonymous with traitor in the United States. He planned to turn over the fort at West Point along with all the soldiers stationed there to the British in exchange for a great deal of money and a commission as a British officer. But how did Arnold get command of the exact position the British needed him to give up? The answer is his wife.

Peggy Shippen Arnold
She looked so innocent
            Arnold married Margaret Shippen (commonly known as Peggy) of Philadelphia in in 1779. Almost immediately she helped him contact the British to begin arranging the terms under which he would turn his coat. Their contact was a former suitor of Peggy’s, Major John Andre, whom she had met while the British occupied Philadelphia in 1777 and 1778. In a touch of irony for the Livingston family, Andre had been captured by General Richard Montgomery at Fort Saint Jean in Canada in 1775. Had he not been released later in a prisoner exchange perhaps none of what followed would have happened.

John Andre, self portrait done shortly before he was hung

            Peggy also began making friends with important Americans in the city in order to further her husband’s aims. One of these men was Chancellor Robert R. Livingston. Livingston was a fan of Arnold’s before Peggy got involved. His brother-in-law Montgomery had fought with Arnold in Canada. His brother Henry had praised and in turn been praised by Arnold for actions at the Battles of Saratoga. Livingston thought Arnold was a competent and active officer and much superior in comparison to Israel Putnam, for instance, who the Chancellor spent most of 1778 trying to have removed from the army for his inactivity. In February of 1780 when Arnold’s court martial sentence for corruption was sent to Congress for approval the Chancellor was one of only three members of Congress to vote against it.
            Peggy and the Chancellor spent a great deal of time together in Philadelphia. By the summer of 1780 he was convinced that Arnold was the man to command West Point, which was one of the most tactically important positions in the country as it commanded the Hudson River but for the Livingstons represented the only real barrier between their land and a repeat performance of the destruction wrought by the British army in 1777. On June 22, 1780 the Chancellor, long accustomed to providing welcome military advice to the General, wrote to George Washington:

A French Plan of West Point in 1780
nary a stream or a swain to be seen
“I might presume so far I shd beg leave to submit it to your Excellency whether this post might not be most safely confided to Genl Arnold whose courage is undoubted—who is the favourite of our militia, & who will agree perfectly with our Govr”

General Philip Schuyler of Albany also threw his support behind Arnold to command West Point and soon Washington responded to the Chancellor that he would give command of the fort to Arnold at the first opportunity, which came in August of that year.

            The Chancellor’s closeness with Peggy Arnold had not got unnoticed though. On September 4, 1780 Arnold’s sister Hannah wrote him a gossipy letter, now in the collection of Harvard, from Philadelphia that included the following warning:

Robert R. Livingston
dangerous companion
“As you have neither purling streams nor sighing swains at West Point, tis no place for me; nor do I think Mrs. Arnold will be long pleased with it, though I expect it may be rendered dear to her for a few hours by the presence of a certain chancellor; who by the by, is a dangerous companion for a particular lady in the absence of her husband. I could say more than prudence will permit, I could tell you of frequent private assignations and of numberless billets daux, if I had an inclination to make mischief. But as I am of a very peaceable temper I’ll not mention a syllable of the matter.”

It is important to note here that Arnold’s sister was a bit of a busy body. No one else has ever accused the Chancellor of anything more than flirtation with pretty ladies. Furthermore Arnold probably knew and encouraged Peggy to spend time with the Chancellor as it furthered his goals.

            Arnold was now in command of West Point though and events began to happen very quickly. On September 20, 1780 Andre came up river on the Vulture to make the final arrangements with Arnold. They met on September 21. On September 22, a distant cousin of the Chancellor’s, Col. James Livingston was in command at Verplanck’s Point. He took offense to the Vulture idling in the river in front of his post and ordered his men to open fire with a small cannon. They holed the Vulture several times forcing her to fall back down the river. Andre could no longer return to New York City by river and was forced to try to go overland. He was captured and documents he carried revealed the entire plot. On September 24 Arnold slipped aboard a British ship. Peggy was sent to New York City to join him a few days later. Andre was hung as a spy on October 2.

            In the immediate aftermath of the revelation some accused both Schuyler and Livingston of being involved with the plot to turn over West Point to the British. Both men had pushed for Arnold to receive the post and some no doubt remembered how close Peggy and the Chancellor had been in Philadelphia. Washington however refused to believe that either man could have had anything to do with the plot and the matter was dropped.


In the mid to late 19th century Clermont or John Henry Livingston
purchased this candelabrum depicting the capture of Andre which
now resides in the library of Clermont State Historic Site
The letter from Hannah Arnold to Benedict Arnold can be viewed on Harvard’s website here

A transcription of the letter from the Chancellor to George Washington can be viewed here

For more information see

Secret History of the American Revolution by Carl Van Doren

Treacherous Beauty: Peggy Shippen, the Woman Behind Benedict Arnold’s Plot to Betray America by Mark Jacob and Stephen M. Case.



Sunday, July 10, 2016

Margaret Beekman Livingston and the Gunpowder Mill

Margaret Beekman Livingston
"Molly Pitcher ain't got nothing on me" (probably not a real quote)
By now you’ve surely read our previous post about Judge Robert R. Livingston’s gunpowder mill, well some newly discovered information has changed our view about who had the gunpowder mill rebuilt and ran it following the mill’s explosion and the Judge’s untimely passing.

According to an account book that belonged to Margaret Beekman Livingston, now in the collection of Princeton, she paid G. Steenbergh a little over £3 on February 17, 1776 for work at the powder mill. That same day she paid £1.3.0 to another man for twelve barrels for the powder mill. Samuel Green received £6.5.0 for his work at the powder mill on February 20, 1776. In March Hendrick Levy earned £1.12.8 for his work on the gunpowder mill.

These few payments seem to go against the previous information that her son John had the mill rebuilt. He must have taken over the rebuilt mill at some later date. Margaret Beekman Livingston, in the months after the deaths of four of the most important men in her family ensured that the American army would have the gunpowder it needed to fight the British, further proof that the Livingston matriarch was probably the toughest person to ever walk the halls of Clermont.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Dance Puppets Dance: The Livingston Family and the Burr Hamilton Duel Part 2

John Armstrong
The last living representative to the Continental Congress
such a contrarian that he refused to die
until he had been photographed
This will make a whole lot more sense if you read Part 1 first!
At this point another Livingston in-law stepped in to make Aaron Burr’s life miserable: John Armstrong who was married to the Chancellor’s sister Alida, and was a lifelong trouble maker. During his time in the army Armstrong had been responsible for writing the letters that became known as the Newburgh Conspiracy. They called for the officers of the army to assemble and demand their missing back pay from Congress. Only an emotionally-devastating speech by George Washington kept this from becoming a full-on mutiny. In 1792 he published a series of satirical essays about his own brother-in-law, the Chancellor, when Robert was running for governor.
To reitterate this is a man who made a room full of
angry, hardened army officers weep by putting on his glasses

Armstrong and his ally DeWitt Clinton began viciously attacking Burr. In New York they worked to ensure that Burr’s friends and allies did not receive government jobs handed out by the Council of Appointment. It soon became very dangerous to be associated with the Burr name. Even the Chancellor who was used to political maneuverings was a bit shocked at how thoroughly Armstrong and Clinton destroyed Burr.

DeWitt Clinton, George Clinton's nephew
Not that George Clinton! Go read Part 1.
In 1804 the two men arranged a deal to drive Burr out of politics completely. Through a series of negotiations and favors it was arranged that George Clinton would run for both vice president and governor that year. He would win the governor’s seat and then resign it when he was elected vice president. The state Senate would then fill the vacant chair with the Chancellor who would return from France to take the job. On February 25, 1804 the plan started to go into action. At the Democratic Republican caucus Aaron Burr received exactly zero votes to be returned as a vice-presidential candidate.

The plan was put in danger though when George Clinton refused to run for governor of New York. He was replaced by Morgan Lewis, another brother-in-law of the Chancellor’s. Lewis had been a soldier, fighting in several iterations of the Northern Army throughout the Revolutionary War. He married Gertrude Livingston during the war and became a lawyer after the war. By 1801 he had become the Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court but was largely unknown outside of legal circles.
Morgan Lewis
Third choice of his party but still whooped
Aaron Burr.
Nevertheless, when the votes were counted Lewis had won by more than 8,700 votes, the largest margin of victory in a New York gubernatorial race to that point.

Burr found himself facing the apparent end of his political career. When his term ended in March of 1805 he would have nowhere to go. He began to search about for someone to blame for his failures over the course of the last year. He focused on Hamilton and in particular a letter in the Albany Register in which Dr. Charles DeKay Cooper claimed to have heard Hamilton express a “despicable opinion” of Burr. A series of letter passed between Burr and Hamilton which lead to the anger between the two men only growing. Burr demanded a public apology for what Hamilton had said but Hamilton feared that apologizing would take away the last shred of respect anyone held for him. On June 11, 1804 the two broken but proud men faced each other, rather than any of the members of the Livingston faction who had played important roles in both of their downfalls, across the dueling grounds of Weehawken, New Jersey. Their guns barked.

The exact moment Hamilton realized he had thrown away his shot
The next day Hamilton was dead and Burr was on his way to South Carolina. He eventually returned and finished his term in Washington. He then went into the Louisiana Purchase (recently completed by the Chancellor) and managed to get himself into trouble there. He went to Europe briefly but returned and lived the last few years of his life in New York City, never holding any type of political office again and occasionally having to use an alias.
The alias worked but he was never a master of disguise

The Livingston’s were nonplussed by the duel. The Chancellor returned from France the following year having doubled the size of the country. He went on to great success in agricultural pursuits and with the invention of the steamboat. Edward Livingston went on to be mayor of New York, a congressman and senator from Louisiana, Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson and Minister to France. John Armstrong was a senator and later became Secretary of War during the War of 1812. Morgan Lewis served out his term as governor. When the War of 1812 broke out he returned to the army and was promoted to major general. After the war he found success in more intellectual pursuits, serving as the president of the Historical Society of New York and helping to found New York University.
           The role that Hamilton and Burr’s personalities played in their duel cannot be over stated. Both were very proud and stubborn men. Ultimately it was their personalities that brought them to Weehawken. Events of the time contributed significantly to their dispute, events which were in part orchestrated by the Livingston family. Perhaps if Burr had not been so rash in challenging Hamilton he would have found himself facing Armstrong or another Livingston who had helped to end his time in government.

For more information see:
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg
The Democratic Republicans of New York by Alfred F. Young
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow