Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Mysterious Muscoe Livingston: A Hunt Through History For A Man With a Fascinating Name

 

            Muscoe Livingston, aka Musco and occasionally Muscow. This name has popped up in my research since 2018. He has proved to be elusive since then. Appearing in a document here and there but not in the Livingston genealogy. So, I finally decided to track this guy down and see who he was.

            First, I found in a letter from Richard Henry Lee to George Washington that indicated Muscoe (I’ll use the most common spelling from here out) was from Virginia.[i] Muscoe appears to have been his mother's maiden name. 

OK, so there’s a Virginia branch of the Livingston family. Where did they come from? A little more digging turned up a man named Livingston who migrated to Virginia, possibly as early as 1654, which would mean the Virginia Livingstons predate the New York Livingstons by twenty years.

The earliest record of Muscoe I can find is a letter from him to the American Commissioners in France, Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Lee and John Adams, offering his “services to my country, in the line of my profession (the Sea).”[ii] This was on April 8. On April 13, the Commissioners recommended Muscoe be made a lieutenant on the frigate Boston under the command of Samuel Tucker.[iii] Following another letter by John Adams, Muscoe was named second lieutenant of the Boston.[iv]

The Boston and the Hancock capture the Fox

The Boston was a somewhat famous frigate in the new U.S. Navy. She and the frigate Hancock had captured the British frigate Fox in 1777 but unfortunately the Hancock and the Fox were lost to a squadron of three British frigates who came upon them a short time later. In early 1778 the Boston brought John Adams to France.  It would later be captured by the British during the fall of Charleston. 

Muscoe’s time on the Boston was short. He was only on the ship for one cruise of twenty-four days during which they took four prizes. Sending one loaded with a cargo of medicine to Boston and bringing the other three into port at Lorient to be sold.

Though successful the cruise was short because the crew Captain Tucker had brought on board became restless to the point of near mutiny. He had to confine two of his own sailors and said if he had to carry his prisoners, from the captured ships, to Boston he would build a prison on his foredeck for them and for the crew.[v]

Muscoe did not return to the Boston because of illness. Captain Tucker showered praise on him, however, for his work on board the ship. He was “a good commanding officer and beloved throughout the ship.” Tucker recommend that he be given his own command.[vi]

Later that year Muscoe and an American merchant named John Bondfield purchased a ship of their own to turn into a privateer. While Bondfield applied to the commissioners for the letter of marque, Muscoe, who would be captain, set about arming the ship with ten 6-pound cannons and swivel guns. The ship would be named Livingston “in honor of Governor Livingston, the late Mr. P. Livingston and the branches of that respectable family.” Bondfield predicted the ship would be ready to sail November 1, 1778.[vii]

Delay after delay led to the ship not sailing until May of 1779 with Muscoe not in command. He stayed in France frequently acting as a messenger for the commissioners until at least the spring of 1780 before returning to America.[viii]In 1789 Muscoe was suggested as the surveyor for Norfolk and Portsmouth to George Washington by Richard Henry Lee. It is unclear if he received the post. [ix]

            Between 1793 and 1798 when he died Muscoe was the head of a fairly successful trading business, with several ships sailing for him. He even expanded into France in 1793, perhaps always trying to make up for the great fortune he had lost in Jamaica during the early days of the Revolutionary War.[x]

            Muscoe Livingston appears to have been a very, very distant cousin of the New York Livingstons but at least aware of the power of his name based on the name he gave his privateer ship. After the briefest of naval careers, Muscoe seems to have spent most of his time preparing for a career after the war as a trader. So finally, my curiosity about Muscoe Livingston is satiated. I haven’t been able to put together a complete biography of the man but at least I have a general idea of who he was and what he did during the American Revolution.



[i] “To George Washington from Richard Henry Lee, 27 July 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-03-02-0185. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 3, 15 June 1789–5 September 1789, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989, pp. 330–332.]

[ii] “Musco Livingston to the American Commissioners, 8 April 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-26-02-0192. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 26, March 1 through June 30, 1778, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1987, p. 256.]

[iii] “The Commissioners to Samuel Tucker, 13 April 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-06-02-0017. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 6, March–August 1778, ed. Robert J. Taylor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983, pp. 29–30.]

[iv] “From John Adams to Samuel Tucker, 29 April 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-06-02-0052. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 6, March–August 1778, ed. Robert J. Taylor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983, pp. 68–69.

[v] “Samuel Tucker to the Commissioners, 3 July 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-06-02-0191. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 6, March–August 1778, ed. Robert J. Taylor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983, pp. 256–257.

[vi] “To John Adams from Samuel Tucker, 4 July 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-06-02-0194. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 6, March–August 1778, ed. Robert J. Taylor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983, pp. 259–260.]

[vii] “John Bondfield to the American Commissioners, 10 October 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-27-02-0514. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 27, July 1 through October 31, 1778, ed. Claude A. Lopez. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988, pp. 532–533.]

[viii] “From John Adams to Muscoe Livingston, 10 April 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-09-02-0091. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 9, March 1780 – July 1780, ed. Gregg L. Lint and Richard Alan Ryerson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996, pp. 120–121.]

[ix] “To George Washington from Richard Henry Lee, 27 July 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-03-02-0185. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 3, 15 June 1789–5 September 1789, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989, pp. 330–332.]

[x] “To Thomas Jefferson from Henry Lee, 7 June 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-26-02-0203. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 26, 11 May–31 August 1793, ed. John Catanzariti. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995, p. 218.]

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