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.

No comments:

Post a Comment