Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Henry Beekman Livingston: Loving Father?

Mea culpa
Henry Beekman Livingston
Several years ago I wrote a post about Henry Beekman Livingston (read it here ) which I concluded
by saying Henry died alone and unmourned. While this is what his daughter, Peggy Livingston, would have liked us to believe it simply is not true.

Information buried deep in Henry Beekman Livingston's pension record paints a very different picture of the man. Testimony gathered by Henry Beekman Livingston's son, John, shows a loving father who was more welcome in his family then we previously believed.

According to John and the testimony, much of which comes from Henry's sister's husband the Reverend Freeborn Garretson, who had oddly enough inherited the sword that Henry had been presented by Congress in 1775. Nancy Shippen left Henry
Nancy Shippen Livingston
Beekman Livingston after only six weeks of marrige in Rhinebeck to move back to her family in Philadelphia. Henry then met another woman named, Maria Van Clief, with whom he would eventually have three children. They were together until her death in 1809.

He never married Maria but he did divorce Nancy in 1791. He had to move briefly to Salisbury, Connecticut to obtain the divorce. An earlier attempt to divorce in  New York in which Aaron Burr represented Nancy Shippen had been blocked in the Chancery Court by Henry's brother Chancellor Robert R. Livingston. Its unclear if there was a legal reason to block the divorce or if the Chancellor was trying to avoid having the family name associate with the scandal of divorce.

As mentioned Henry had three children with Maria Van Clief. They were Harriet, John and Charles. Harriet never married and lived with her father until he passed away in 1831. When she died twenty years later she was buried along side Henry in the Thomas Tillotson tomb at the Rhinebeck Reformed Church. Henry had been buried there in a mahogany coffin with a silver plate engraved with his name on it.
Rhinebeck Reformed Church

John was Henry's youngest child. He had aspired to be a soldier and Henry has written to both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to try to get him an appointment as an officer in the army but failed to accomplish this. John settled for becoming a lawyer.

In between Henry and Maria had a son named Charles who was developmentally disabled. He lived with Henry for his entire life and sadly died only a month after his father and was buried in the same churchyard as his father.

Henry acknowledged all of these children, he educated them and tried to find them jobs and posts. Yet because he never married their mother the children were considered illegitimate and could not inherit from their father. His only legal heir was their half sister Peggy. Henry had tried to get her to build a relationship with her siblings but she rebuffed him at every turn.

The documents pertaining to Henry's second family came about from an attempt by John to get a portion of Henry's pension from the army. Ultimately he lost his case because the judge ruled he was an illegitimate child and could not inherit anything.

These documents paint a very different picture of Henry Beekman Livingston then we have seen before. He did not die alone and unmourned  but surrounded by his loving children, He was buried by the Tillotsons and Garretsons out of filial respect if not love.

Perhaps Henry was not the angry, hermit that many sources paint him as. Perhaps in Maria Van Clief and the children born out of their love he found some peace and solace.

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