Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Livingston Connection

The former historian of the town of Hyde Park
The Livingstons and the Roosevelts had various connections through blood and marriage. They also have much in common with regards to our nation’s history. Both families had ventured over from the Netherlands in the 17th century and formed a life in the colony’s early beginnings. They both worked their way up in society through a mixture of hard work, good luck, and smart marriages. They both worked in some way with the birth of our nation during the years of the Revolution. Like all families, they each had their share of ups and downs which included everything from triumphant political careers, to dubious business methods, and from happy romances, to heartbreaking battles with addiction. And of course, who can forget, they both had a tendency to marry their cousins.

The Livingstons and Roosevelts were incredibly proud of their history, and some of them even went on to become historians and genealogists in their own right. Edwin Brockholst Livingston wrote a lengthy history of the family in 1910. Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped create the Dutchess County Historical Society in 1914 and served at the Historian of his native Hyde Park. John Henry and Alice Livingston endeavored to bring together as much of the family history as possible at Clermont with portraits, furnishings, and artifacts of all sorts. They filled the oldest and longest lasting of all the family’s homes, with historic treasures almost as if they were preparing the home to become some sort of museum. (Hmm)

Mrs. Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt was aware of that history, at least the gist of it. She happened to be both a Roosevelt (on her father’s side) and a Livingston (on her mother’s side). In 1950 she attended the funeral of a family member at St. Paul’s church in Tivoli where she wandered around to look at the memorials on the walls,

St. Paul's in Tivoli
“There is one to Chancellor Livingston and one to his brother, Edward P. Livingston. As you looked at the tablets and wandered around the churchyard you realized how very largely this community represented one family with its branches extending out to many communities.” – My Day July 13th, 1950

Eleanor was the Great-great-great granddaughter of Robert the Chancellor and she wanted to share that history (at least the better parts of the history) with the next generation. She also shared it with the nation in her My Day columns which she published 6 days a week. In this particular column she mentioned that when she got home from the funeral later on that day he thought of her grandchildren who were swimming in the pool,

“it seemed very fitting to see the end of life and the beginning of life so closely brought together in a day. Here are the children who come from the background of those who lie in the peaceful churchyard. God grant they acquit themselves as well as the best of the ancestors, and are spared the weaknesses of some of the others. A heritage of charm and beauty certainly existed in the Livingston, Ludlow, Tonnele, and Hall families, and that one can hope the younger generation will have in plenty.” – My Day July 13th, 1950

Alice Delafield Clarkson Livingston in her garden c1960
However, Eleanor didn’t always have her basic history facts straight. In August of 1936, she wrote about her drive through Livingston land, “There is nothing like revisiting the haunts of one's childhood to bring back floods of memories. Yesterday I drove to Tivoli, N.Y. past Claremont, built in 1730 by Chancellor Livingston.” She got the year right, but the wrong Robert. As we know the house was built by Robert of Clermont, not the Chancellor. In 1949 she wanted to take the family to a historic house on the Fourth of July and brought some of her grandchildren to Clermont,

“I thought it would interest the family to drive in and call on our cousin, Mrs. John Henry Livingston, who lives in the old Clermont house which belonged to Chancellor Livingston. Fortunately, we met her on the road, and she turned back and was kind enough to invite us in and show us the old family portraits and the interesting things in the house. There is one portrait of the early West showing Philip Livingston and there are portraits of the First, Second and Third Lords of the Manor. They were granted 14 miles of river front and an acreage back of the river which spread far into what must be now Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Alice and Eleanor were very distant cousins, Alice was the Great-great-granddaughter of the Chancellor.

“The house was burned by the British in 1776 in the Revolutionary War and there is an old tree that for years, when I was a child, we were shown because you could see a cannon ball imbedded in it. The present house was rebuilt immediately along the lines of the old house and has stood ever since, with the addition, in 1830, of one large room. – My Day July 6th, 1949

In this case, she got the wrong year. The house was of course burned by the British but in 1777. Regardless of how accurate her facts are, it is clear that the woman who went on to be known as “The First Lady of the World” was interested in sharing her family’s long and interesting history with the next generation as well as the rest of us.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Richard Montgomery and His "Disagreeable Companion"

Just to be upfront, this particular post is not going to have a lot of pictures. You’ll see why.

Richard Montgomery is best known as a hero of the Revolutionary War. The former British army officer who gave his life leading his men in a heroic charge against the walls of Quebec. His wife, Janet Livingston Montgomery, was left a saintly widow the keeper of her husband’s memory.  
But this post isn’t about that.
The much romanticized Death of Montgomery 

Richard Montgomery 
This post is about Montgomery the man. The Montgomery, who after experiencing some of the worst fighting and conditions imaginable in the French and Indian War returned to Ireland to recover his health. There he met a woman who struck his fancy. They engaged in a relationship in which they enjoyed connubial bliss without actually marrying.

That is until 1769. I’ll let Montgomery tell you what happened next with a passage from a letter he wrote to a friend; “in short she has clapped me” She gave him the clap.


Montgomery was understandably upset. He wrote, “I have touched no other woman” which seems to indicate this mystery lady was less inclined to monogamy than he was . His “indignation and rage” were so great that he considered abandoning the woman with pocket change but instead as “the flames of my passion have subsided with those of my urine” he settled her with seventy pounds a year.

The end of this story brings up a great many questions. Who was this woman? Had Montgomery intended to marry her? Why did he feel the need to pay her so much money? Was there a child involved?  These questions may never be answered.

Neisseria gonorrhoeae 
What is known is that Gonorrhea had no cure in the 18th century. According to the CDC Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a bacterium that infects the mucus membranes of the reproductive tract. Its symptoms include pain, discharge from the urethra, painful or burning urination (which Montgomery clearly had) and cysts on the skin of the effected area. Untreated it could lead to sterility in both men and women. Today Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. In Montgomery’s time treatments were few. Mercury injected into the urethra was used for both Gonorrhea and Syphilis. For men, the French were known to “clap” or hit from both sides an appendage with a cyst to get rid of it. (This is one possible source for Gonorrhea’s nickname “the clap” and really, really horrible to think about)
This syringe for injecting mercury into the Urethra
was found in Blackbeard's wrecked ship

Since there was no way that Montgomery could have gotten rid of his Gonorrhea by the time he married Janet Livingston in the drawing room at Clermont in 1773 and there is no indication that they did not conjugate their marriage, it stands to reason that he passed the clap on to his wife. 

This may have been a part of why she never married again. Without dismissing the affection, she felt for Montgomery remarrying would also have led to humiliation for her and him. A new husband on discovering that he had been “clapped” could only come to two conclusions; that Janet was loose in her morals and we can see that type of reaction from Montgomery to his initial infection or that Richard Montgomery had been a bit free with himself and infected not only himself but his wife. This would surely have caused a scandal because immediately after his death Montgomery was so lionized by the colonies. The first monument that Congress ever voted to build was a monument to Montgomery and later editions of Common Sense by Thomas Paine featured an appearance by Montgomery’s very patriotic ghost.

Richard Montgomery is remembered today as the leader of the invasion of Canada and a hero of the Revolution, but he was a man. A man with a “disagreeable companion” which affected his life and Janet’s since; perhaps, had he not gotten the clap he would have married his mystery woman and stayed in England,. Her decisions about love and marriage after Montgomery’s death were probably at least partially influenced by the condition that her husband had shared with her and a need to protect both her reputation and his. [i]

Now aren't you glad I didn't add more pictures?

[i] The letter in which Richard Montgomery talks about his venereal disease belongs to the Montgomery Collection at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

I should also give credit to Rick Atkinson’s excellent book The British are Coming which was the means by which I became aware of the existence of the letter this blog is based on.