Thursday, May 28, 2020

"perhaps true wisdom would distinguish happiness and riches" Louis Otto

Nancy Shippen
            Anne Hume Shippen, better known as Nancy, was all but forced by her father to marry Henry Beekman Livingston because of Livingston’s wealth and prestige. Prior to that marriage though she was head over heels for a young member of the French Legation to America, Louis-Guillaume Otto.
            Otto’s origins are a bit murky. He was either born in 1753 in Strasbourg, Alsace, France or in 1754 in Baden in what would become southwest Germany. He was educated at the University of Strasbourg before entering the diplomatic service
Louis Otto
            He arrived in Philadelphia in 1779 as a member of the French delegation to the United States. He met Nancy and they exchanged frequent visits and romantic letters. She also began courting Henry Beekman Livingston at this time, much more to her father’s liking. Otto once wrote: “Your papa knows that my fortune cannot be compared with that of Livingston therefore he prefers him, perhaps true wisdom would distinguish happiness and riches.” Nancy married Livingston anyway.
            In March of 1787 Otto married his own Livingston, Elizabeth, daughter of Peter Van Brugh Livingston. Unfortunately, she died in December of that same year.
            Otto’s diplomatic career was on the ascent though. In 1785 he had replaced Francois Barbe-Marbois as Secretary (leader) of the French delegation in America. When he returned to Revolutionary France in 1792, he was made head of the Political Division for Foreign Affairs.
            A year later turbulence in the government led to a slight hiccup in Otto’s career. He was dismissed from the service, arrested and scheduled to be executed by guillotine. Somehow though he talked his way out of the execution though and was made a member of the diplomatic delegation sent to Berlin.
Napoleon Bonaparte
Marie Louise
            In 1800 Otto was sent to Great Britain as the Commissioner for Prisoners of War. He was in charge of negotiating prisoner exchanges and supplying French prisoners taken by the British. Soon though he was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain. He spent the year 1801 hammering out a peace treaty with his British counterparts which was signed in 1802 by Joseph Bonaparte and Charles Cornwallis. The French Revolutionary Wars were over. The Treaty of Amiens, as the treaty was called after the town in which it was signed, would be the only peace between Britain and France from the beginning of the fighting in 1793 and Napoleon’s abdication in 1814. The treaty lasted a year until May of 1803 when the British seized a bunch of French ships in British ports and the French responded by seizing more than 1,800 British citizens in France and Italy. The Napoleonic Wars had begun.
            In 1803 Otto was sent to Bavaria as ambassador where he greatly impressed Napoleon. To honor his service Napoleon named him to the Conseil d'État and honored him as Grand officier of the Légion d'honneur. He also created him the Comte de Mosloy in 1810.
            In 1810 Otto was sent to Vienna as the ambassador to Austria. He was responsible for negotiating Napoleon’s second marriage to the archduchess Marie Louise. She was empress of France until Napoleon was forced to abdicate and sent to Elba in 1814.
The Battle of Waterloo
            Otto was not part of the restoration government as he was viewed as far too much of a Napoleon supporter. During Napoleon’s return in 1815, known as the 100 Days, Otto was made Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs. Napoleon’s second reign effectively came to an end at Waterloo. Otto took the opportunity to retire from public life, living another two years before dying in 1817. He was buried in Paris.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Court Martial Of Henry Beekman Livingston: The Legal Action That Helped Win The Battle of Saratoga

On March 23, 1777 a body of British soldiers were brought out of New York City on transports, sailed up the Hudson River and landed at Peekskill. There they burned store houses full of supplies and barracks where American soldiers were supposed to sleep. (Washington 1777)
Henry Beekman Livingston
Henry Beekman Livingston, colonel of the 4th New York Regiment and Colonel Van Cortlandt’s regiments were present but received no orders and could only watch as the British landed. Livingston estimated them at only about 500. The American regiments faced the British force at about 400 yards, and it seemed that they were poised for battle when suddenly the Americans received orders from their brigadier general Alexander McDougall to retreat. They carried away what supplies they could, but the British were able to destroy the rest, burn their store houses and barracks. The following day Marinus Willet attacked their advanced guard and the British retreated to their ships, sailing away the next day. (Livingston 1777)
            McDougall had a slightly different recollection of the event. He said the enemy greatly outnumbered him and he had to retreat. Most of the supplies that were destroyed were destroyed on his orders to prevent the enemy from carrying them off. The skirmish on Monday with the advanced guard supposedly threw the British into confusion and led to them sailing away. (McDougall 1777)
            This event was the last straw for any kind of civil
Alexander McDougall
relationship between Livingston and McDougall. Livingston thought McDougall was below him, the son of a dairy farmer and a common merchant before the war started it rankled Livingston to no end to have some one of lower social rank promoted above him in the army. McDougall thought Livingston was haughty, overly aggressive and we can only assume the blatant classism that Henry displayed must have annoyed him some.
            Livingston began to talk to other officers about McDougall. He indicated that McDougall was a coward for retreating from the enemy at Peekskill. Word got back to McDougall, possibly from Henry’s own regimental paymaster who was also McDougall’s son-in-law. When Major General Israel Putnam arrived in the Highlands in June to take command, he found Livingston under arrest and awaiting a court martial for “Traducing” the character of General McDougall in ordering the retreat and for using language unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman.
            While Henry was under arrest, an unsigned letter began to circulate in the American camp calling McDougall “a poor contemptible mean half starved Scotchman who didn’t have the courage or class to give satisfaction (to duel) with someone he had offended. McDougall was sure Livingston had written the letter but could not prove it. If he had been able to he intended to charge Livingston with mutiny as well.
Not that George Clinton
            Putnam ordered the court martial held with George Clinton as president. Livingston was found not guilty of everything except breach of respect for a senior officer-but not to the degree that was unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. He was rebuked in general orders and the matter should have been dropped. It also seems to indicate that at least some officers agreed with Henry in that McDougall had been to quick to retreat that day.
That's the guy
            Except it was not. Livingston called McDougall out and although he originally agreed to the duel McDougall would never fight Livingston. (Putnam, To George Washington from Major General Israel Putname, 10 June 1777 1777)
            Putnam soon found himself on the outs with Livingston as well. He had ordered Livingston south to White Plains, but hearing that the British were moving on Morrissania he sent Colonel Philip Van Cortlandt to take command of the two regiments. Livingston was the senior to Van Cortlandt at the time and took great offence at being told to submit himself to the command of another inferior. He actually returned to camp rather than carry out Putnam’s orders and wrote to Washington to demand his rank be clarified to those who didn’t seem to understand. He also found himself desirous of being out of the Hudson Valley and requested a transfer. (Putnam, To George Washington From Major General Israel Putnam, 4 July 1777 1777)
Israel Putnam
  McDougall was not sorry to see Livingston go although he thought he could make a good soldier with more experience. His greatest problem was the chain of command probably because to that point all his commands had been intendent. He was in charge when he was stationed at Fort Constitution and he was in command on the east end of Long Island.
            Eventually Livingston, who had hoped to have his regiment transferred to the army of George Washington would be assigned to the Northern Army under Horatio Gates. They fought at both battles of Saratoga. At the second battle Livingston once again took his own initiative and followed Benedict Arnold on his unapproved attack on the Hessian works. Livingston would claim to be the second man into Breymann’s redoubt behind Arnold but only because Arnold was on a horse.

This action won the October 7, 1777 battle for the Americans and eventually led to the surrender of General John Burgoyne’s army. The Court Martial of Henry Beekman Livingston led eventually to his regiment being removed from the Hudson Valley and moved to the Northern Army. Its very possible that without that court marital the Battle of Saratoga could have ended differently.

Works Cited

Livingston, Henry Beekman. 1777. "To George Washington from Henry Beekman Livingston, 29 March 1777." Founders Online. March 29. Accessed May 12, 2020.
McDougall, Alexander. 1777. "To George Washington from Alexander McDougall, 29 March 1777." Founders Online. March 29. Accessed May 12 , 2020.
Putnam, Israel. 1777. "To George Washington From Major General Israel Putnam, 4 July 1777." Founders Online. July 4. Accessed May 12, 2020.
—. 1777. "To George Washington from Major General Israel Putname, 10 June 1777." Founders Online. June 10. Accessed May 12, 2020.

Washington, George. 1777. "From George Washington to Major General William Heaat, 29 March 1777." Founders Online. March 29. Accessed May 12, 2020.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Margaret Beekman Livingston and the Essential Workers Needed To Rebuild Clermont

Margaret Beekman Livingston, not a woman to be denied
Margaret Beekman Livingston spent the winter following the destruction of her house in a house owned by her cousin, Robert Livingston, the Third Lord of Livingston Manor. What she really wanted though was to be back in her own house.
In the spring of 1778, she moved back to Clermont’s land and had, what she called a hovel, built in the shadow of the ruins of Clermont. Looking at the north and south walls and the rubble in between them Margaret decided to rebuild Clermont as it was.
To do this she needed experienced workmen to do the construction. Most importantly they though must not have their work interrupted by the war. New York State required every man between the ages of 16 and 60 to respond to militia calls In the case of Margaret’s workers, they would have to lay down their tools and go if called.
One of many letters to George Clinton
Although we now know that there would be no more big battles in New York after the Battle of Saratoga, Margaret and her workers had no way of knowing this. The British still occupied New York City and Canada with Clermont sitting almost directly in between. The British could have attacked the Hudson River again at any time and in fact the militia was called out several times in response to raids and attacks by small parties of British soldiers and their loyalist and native allies.
To alleviate this situation Margaret Beekman Livingston bombarded New York governor George Clinton with letters requesting workers for her house be released from their militia obligations so they could focus only on her house.
Her essential workers included Conrad Lasher Jr. as a stonebreaker, Henry Timmerman as a limemaker and Phil Shultis as a laborer. Lasher and Timmerman were both in Diel Rockefeller’s company of militia from Germantown and Shultis was in Philip Smith’s company of militia from Livingston Manor.

Not that George Clinton 
That George Clinton 
Initially Clinton refused to give Margaret special treatment but her constant line of correspondence combined with the family’s influence finally made him relent. Lasher, Timmerman and Shultis, joined by other laborers when they were available had Clermont rebuilt in less than four years, during the war. Not only was Margaret living in the house again by 1782 it had enough fit and finish to host George and Martha Washington. 

UnderWhere 1905

In this video Educator Kjirsten Gustavson shows all the layers that went under a woman's dress in 1905 to create the ideal silhouette. This is the sort of outfit that Alice Livingston would have worn when she was engaged to John Henry Livingston.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

There Once Was A Family Called Livingston: Poetry in the Guest Books of Clermont and Staatsburgh

Guest books. They’re pretty familiar. Perhaps you’ve been asked to sign one at a wedding or a party. Maybe there was one in a hotel room you stayed in. Or it’s possible you visited a local historic site and found one in their Visitor’s Center. Guest books allow you to make your mark and to stand out amongst a crowd. You can leave best wishes, say what you liked best about your stay, or sign up for a mailing list.

Now imagine having one of those guest books in your home. Imagine everyone who comes to see you leaving their name and the date of their visit. It may seem oddly formal to us now but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was the norm amongst well-to-do families. For example, the Livingston Family.

When visiting Clermont, you may have noticed the guest book sitting on a table in the family’s drawing room. That particular book covers the years 1900-1935. During that time, John Henry Livingston lived in the house with his wife, Alice and their daughters Honoria and Janet. Depending on which page the book happens to be open to during your tour you might find more than names. For example, you may see the eight-year jump from 1919 to 1927
when the family spent most of their time in Florence, Italy. On later pages, you will see the name Rex or Reginald McVitty many times. Rex would go on to marry Honoria Livingston and clearly felt he had to leave his name every time he came to visit his intended.

If, after your Clermont tour you venture a ways down the road, there is a home that belonged to a cousin of the Clermont Livingstons. Gertrude Livingston (the Chancellor’s younger sister) married a man named Morgan Lewis and their home became known as Staatsburgh. In the early 20th Century, that house was inhabited by Ruth Livingston Mills, her husband Ogden, and their children: Beatrice, Gladys, and Ogden. The Staatsburgh guest book has an interesting story in that it was given (or returned) to the site a few years back. A woman in Virginia came across a book in her parents’ attic with the name “Staatsburgh” on it. No known connection exists between this family and the Mills’ but the site was very excited to get the book, which covers the years 1899-1908. Once again, you find more than a simple roster of guests. One page has all of the visitors using presidential surnames as middle names (ie Cleveland, Buchanan, even Andrew Jackson).
On another page it seems Ruth actually signed her own guest book!

There is one feature both of these books share (besides the names of some of New York society’s elite). They both have poems written in them.

In September of 1908, someone visiting Staatsburgh left the following message:

“There was a young Captain called Duds
Who fattened on pigs feet + spuds
At the restaurant Sherry
He got very merry
And burst his shirt collar + studs”

And below that:

“There was a young lady called Cutie (Cuty)
Who thought the above-named a beauty!
So she lunched him + dined him
And tea’d him + wined him
And thought he would then do his duty.”

No name follows these rhymes and it’s unclear whether they were written by the same hand. But one striking feature is how they seem to be limericks. They follow a very clear rhyme and syllable pattern. And more than that, they’re funny and even a little saucy.

Despite the fact that Ruth Livingston Mills was one of the Queens of Society and very proud of her Livingston heritage, it sort of makes sense that there would be silly poems in her guest book. After all, Staatsburgh was a home for entertaining. The family lived in it for a couple of months (usually September to October) and anyone who visited them was doing so to relax and take in a weekend in the country. During the day, folks would explore the grounds, play golf, go horseback riding, or any number of outdoor activities. At night, Ruth would host elaborate dinners and the guests would perhaps hear music after the meal or simply play cards and talk. It was a home for the upper class of New York Society to unwind (as much as they ever did). And apparently, writing silly poems was part of the relaxation.

The poem in Clermont’s book has a very different tone. On June 28th, 1909, E.M Livingston wrote:

“The Briton of old came with sword and with fire;
The Briton to-day comes with joy to admire,
For like the fabulous bird of the story
‘Clermont’ arose from its ashes in renewed glory.”

Unlike the poems in the Staatsburgh book, this one features no abbreviations and no “+” to mean “and”. It makes reference to the historic burning of Clermont in 1777 by the British during the American Revolution. And it even makes an allusion to the mythological phoenix. Certainly the tone is very different from that of the story of Captain Duds getting so large he bursts out of his clothes.

Why is this poem so formal? Most likely it has to do with the way the Clermont Livingstons viewed society. While Ruth attended and hosted parties for the Gilded Age Elite, John and Henry and Alice would be entertaining only close friends. For starters, their home was nowhere near as large as the 75-room Staatsburgh. Not only that but, unlike his cousin and her New Money husband, John Henry wasn’t exactly filthy rich. His branch of the Livingstons had lived off family money for years. And it’s almost certain the kinds of people John Henry would associate with would be nothing like the nouveau riche. They would be from Old Money like the Livingstons themselves. And, in visiting John Henry they were not only making a social call, they were seeing a home where a drafter of the Declaration of Independence had lived; a home that had stood in that exact spot since 1782. Not only that, remember the author of this poem is also a Livingston. The formality of the poem certainly befits a distant relative who is visiting the original home of the Livingstons.

None of this is to say that Staatsburgh served as a frivolous party house or Clermont was full of stodgy snobs who expected tribute. These branches of the Livingstons were both fun-loving and intensely proud and aware of the importance of their family in the local area and in the United States at large. The poems in their guest books reflect on the sorts of socializing the families did and the friends who left their marks.