Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A Long Drop From A Short Rope: The Danger of Making an Enemy of Robert Livingston

 It takes a special kind of person to be cursed by two different men on their way to the gallows. Especially if you are not a judge or a hangman. Robert Livingston was just that
Robert Livingston
type of man. When you rise from a simple clerk to one of the most powerful and richest men in the colony of New York you are bound to make one or two enemies.

The first man to curse Robert Livingston on the gallows was Jacob Milbourne, the son-in-law of Jacob Leisler. Leisler had attempted to take over the colony following the Glorious Revolution in England but was opposed by Robert Livingston.

The Revolution left New York in the hands of Lieutenant Governor Francis Nicholson who was a deeply unpopular man. He felt so unliked that he once threatened to burn the entire town of New York. Poor leadership combined with economic issues made the town of New York ready for a change into which Jacob Leisler stepped. Seizing the town’s fort and a letter from the crown Leisler feigned legitimacy.

However the town of Albany and its leaders like Robert Livingston and the Van Rensselaers resisted Leisler largely because of Livingston’s money. Unfortunaltey, Livingston was forced to leave the city after the Massacre at Schenectady, to go to Massachusetts and Connecticut to seek help defending the western frontier.

Jacob Leisler
In his absence Albany surrendered to Leisler and Livingston spent the next year exiled to Connecticut and Massachusetts. Despite Livingston’s absence Leisler continued to blame him for all the problems he had in New York.

The arrival, in early 1691, of the new legitimate lieutenant governor, Henry Sloughter put an end to Leisler’s rebellion. Leisler blamed all this on Livingston. Sloughter threw Leisler and the other ringleaders in jail and soon sentenced them to death. He commuted all the sentences except for Leisler and his son-in-law Jacob Milbourne.

At the May, 1691 hanging Milbourne spotted Livingston in the crowd and said to him; “You have caused the King that I must now die but before God’s tribunal I will implead the same for you.”

A decade later another man went to the gallows cursing Livingston’s name. He was William Kidd, better known as Captain Kidd the pirate.

He had started out as William Kidd the sea captain when he met Livingston in London. Livingston arranged the backing of several members of the upper class of English society for a voyage, commanded by Kidd, to capture and destroy French flagged ships and pirates. Even the King signed a special license for Kidd to keep all prizes he captured. The Adventure Galley a 34 gun warship was built in record time, only five weeks, for Kidd, and he sailed it to New York where he would start his mission from.
William Kidd

Trouble began almost immediately when Kidd secretly agreed with the crew to give them ¾ of the mission’s profits rather than the ¼ his backers had agreed to. Livingston heard about this less than five days after Kidd sailed and called for him to be seized.

Aboard ship Kidd was not himself. He had a reputation as a bully to his crews but on this cruise he seemed timid, even scared of the crew. He was certainly not in control of them. When they stopped an English ship to talk, Kidd entertained the captain in his cabin while his crew tortured the other crew and seized supplies from the ship. They had made Kidd a pirate whether he liked it or not. Later, his gunner, William Moore openly threatened Kidd with a chisel, to which Kidd responded by hitting him in the head with a bucket and killing him.

By the time Kidd returned to the western hemisphere he found that most of the English world was hunting for the pirate Captain Kidd. He sold the ship he was on and most of the goods he had plundered in the Caribbean. He took a new ship the Saint Antonio to New York and then to Boston where he was arrested.

His treasure though was missing. Livingston was brought before a court in Boston and admitted to receiving an enslaved boy and possibly some cheese from Kidd but no money. Certainly not the hundreds of thousands of pounds that Kidd had supposedly plundered.

With no information on the money coming the backers turned their backs on Kidd and he was sent to London to stand trial for murder and piracy. After a trial in which the outcome was never in doubt he was sentenced to hang. He said “My Lord it is a very hard sentence, for my part I am the innocentest, person of them all, only I have been sworn against by perjured persons.” Kidd went to the gallows believing he had done nothing wrong and that if Livingston or any of the other backers had spoken up for him his innocence would have
After he was hung Captain Kidd was 
gibbeted as a warning to other pirates
been proven.

Robert Livingston made more than a few enemies in his time, as many ambitious men did. It was rare though that Livingston’s ambitions saw more than a few men take their last steps off the gallows cursing his name as they went.

Zacks, Richard The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd Hyperion, New York 2002

Leder, Lwrence H. Robert Livingston and the Politics of Colonial New York University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1961

Seitz, Don C. Under the Black Flag: Exploits of the Most Notorious Pirates Dover Publications Inc. Mineola, 2002 (Originally published 1925)

Cordingly, David Under the Black Flag; The Romance and Reality of Life Among the Pirates Harcourt Brace and Company, San Diego 1995.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Richard Montgomery and the Dead Priest: Violence Outside Montreal, 1759

In the November 1873 Dawson's Historical Magazine the war stories of James Thompson of the 78th Highland Regiment were published. Among them is a rather violent story about Richard Montgomery
"It wasn't me"
that, if true, would cast a rather large shadow on his legacy.

According to Thompson, Captain Montgomery was stationed near the falls of Montmorency outside Montreal in 1759 and was told to advance to Ange Gardien. There they were met by a French-Canadian militia commanded by a priest. Montgomery's men killed many of the French-Canadians including the priest. At least one prisoner, who had surrendered to one of Montgomery's sergeants, was summarily put to death.

The only problem with this story? It couldn't possibly be Richard Montgomery. One of the biggest give aways is the fact the Richard was not a captain in 1759, but a lieutenant in the 17th Regiment of Foot which did not join the attack on Montreal until the spring of 1760. When the incident with the priest and the executed prisoner happened Richard was hundreds of miles away in the Mohawk Valley.

The Montgomery in question for the 1759 incident may have been Richard's much older brother Alexander who was a captain in the 43rd Regiment of Foot which was outside Montreal in 1759. He had already earned the nickname "Black Montgomery" for an incident involving a scalping earlier in the war.

So why then did Thompson remember Richard committing the violence? Perhaps by the time Thompson recorded his experiences time had played tricks on his memory. Richard had become the much more famous brother by the time of the Revolution. He was in fact one of the war's first martyrs.  Which leads to the question could Thompson, as a loyal British Army officer, have been trying to smear the reputation of an American hero?

We'll probably never know why Thompson leveled his accusation of unwarranted violence against Richard Montgomery. The one thing we do know is that it cant possibly be true, that Montgomery was nowhere near Montreal when the incident happened.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Circles Edward Livingston Ran In

Edward Livingston's second career in Washington D. C. put him in the company of some of the most famous politicians the United States has ever seen. His term as a representative from Louisiana from 1823 through 1829, his time in the senate from 1829 through 1831 and his time as a member of Andrew Jackson's cabinet placed him among the men that would shape America in the lead up to the Civil War. 

First and foremost Edward was a close personal friend of Andrew Jackson's. They had met in congress in 1796 and formed a relationship of mutual respect. The Battle of New Orleans Read about that here made them brothers in arms. Jackson was comfortable enough with Edward to joke, when a British rocket whizzed over his head and he ducked, that he never "saluted" enemy fire but as that was the first rocket he had seen the least he could do was to "pay his respects." 
Martin Van Buren

When Jackson became president he did not forget the friendship and wise advice Edward had given him. He made him Secretary of State in 1831 and counted him among his primary advisers. Edward was so trusted that Jackson allowed him to draft his response to the Nullification Crisis, which of course worked and delayed the Civil War by thirty years. 

Edward followed another famous politician into the Secretary of State's office, future president Martin Van Buren. Van Buren would serve as Jackson's vice-president from 1832 until the end of his presidency and would follow him as president. Interestingly enough Van Buren, though 18 years younger than Edward was born and raised in Kinderhook only a few miles from Livingston's home of Clermont. Both men were northerners who had thrown their lots in with the southern Jacksonian Democrats for the time being.
Thomas Hart Benton

Other allies of Jackson and Edward included Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. Benton advocated strongly for Jackson's election while he was in the senate. Jackson then counted on Benton and his oratorical skills to get his legislation through the Senate. Interestingly, over his career Benton became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of slavery. Which Democrats like Jackson and even Edward had no real problem with. In 1849 he ended his senate career by declaring himself against slavery. Reaction to this and his anti-slavery stance during the debate on the Compromise of 1850 led a a senator from Mississippi to attempt to shoot Benton on the Senate floor. Benton served two years in the House of Representatives after the end of his senate career but politically he was effectively done. Benton was one of eight senators written about by John F. Kennedy in his book Profiles in Courage. 
David Crockett

The King of the Wild Frontier, Davy Crockett or as he preferred to be called the Representative from Tennessee David Crockett was also an ally of Jackson and Edward during his first term in office from 1827 until 1830. Then Crockett earned the loathing of both Jackson, and by extension Edward and his constituents by speaking out strongly against Jackson's Indian Removal Act. The Act that when passed lead to the Trail of Tears as the Cherokee Tribe was forced west of the Mississippi. Crockett called the bill wicked and unjust. Without the support of the president of most of his people Crockett lost his bid for reelection in 1831. He was reelected in 1833 but defeated again in 1835 leading to his most famous statement on the people of his district, "they could go to Hell, he would go to Texas." He died there on March 6, 1836 at the Alamo

Edward Livingston spent twenty of his 71 years holding some political office or another. It was nearly inevitable that he would meet some legends in his time. But Edward was their equal. Standing as he did, a bridge between the revolutionary generation and the antebellum generation. Perhaps the highest praise came from Thomas Jefferson, a one time political enemy of Edward's called him the greatest legislator to ever live.