|County Clerk||Henry Joins the Assembly|
|Henry Settles Down||The Revolution Starts|
|Provincial Assembly||The Death of Henry Sr.|
Henry Livingston served as County Clerk, or Clerk of the Peace, or Common Pleas, as it was variously called in early times, from 1737 to 1789.(1) And what the residents of Dutchess County and others interested in searching land titles and such information owe to him would be difficult to estimate. Many huge volumes filled with land conveyances, mortgages and deeds, clearly described and recorded by his own hand in a penmanship so plain that it is as easy to read as print! And this over a period of fifty-two years and during the formative period of our country.
Much information about county affairs and the personal history and life of Henry Livingston during this long period was lost, destroyed or scattered to the four winds, when the present court house was built in 1906. This is the fifth court house in the history of the county. The second was built in the 1740's, and the third in 1785-6, both during Henry's tenure as clerk, and the third burned in 1806, while his son, Gilbert, was County Clerk. Consequently we must blame the builders of the present court house building. The writer has several old warrants, dated 1783, containing the signatures of Henry Livingston, Clerk, and Lewis DuBoys, Sheriff, and Miss Helen W. Reynolds has collected and copied sixty letters written to Henry Livingston while Clerk.(2) These were rescued from different persons to whom they were given as souveniers at the demolition of the fourth court house, where much of his private and official correspondence was known to have been stored in an upper room.
Silver tray, urn and creamer owned by Henry Livingston, Sr. and Susannah, his wife
Henry Livingston was born at Kingston, New York, September 8, 1714, son of Gilbert and Cornelia (Beekman) Livingston and was a grandson of Robert Livingston, first Lord of Livingston Manor, and Alida Schuyler. He was one of a large number of brothers and sisters. He surely had good educational advantages for that period, especially in English, as his writing and diction were far better than most of his contemporaries. I mention this because, although his ancestry was Scotch, his grandfather, the first Robert, had lived most of his life in Holland and was educated there. He had come to America as secretary to the Dutch West India Company, had married a Dutch wife, Alida Schuyler, and used the Dutch language, even writing his will in Dutch. Henry was brought up practically in a Dutch family for his mother, Cornelia Beekman, was of pure Dutch ancestry.
He was educated as a surveyor and had considerable legal knowledge in the drawing of deeds, mortgages and other legal documents. Many of the deeds recorded by him were made from his own surveys and were accompanied by maps which were filed with the records. Most of these have, however, disappeared with the other old papers. The first record of him to be found in Dutchess County is his signature as County Clerk, August 8, 1737, to the recording of a deed from Barent Van Benthuysen to Nicolas Luycks.(3) This record is also signed by Francis Filkin, Judge. Shortly after this Mr. Livingston went to live at the house of Francis Filkin who was a storekeeper and extensive land-owner, in addition to being Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for the county.
The following excerps are quoted from a day-book kept by Francis Filkin:
As the New York Civil List gives Henry Livingston's commission as County Clerk from Governor George Clark as of September 15, 1742, there is some confusion as he had been acting in that capacity for more than five years, or since August 8, 1737. "It is conceivable that he at first was merely authorized to act in that capacity and that no commission was issued until 1742."(4) It is easy to understand how he came to be appointed clerk in Dutchess County, as his uncle, Colonel Henry Beekman from Dutchess County, was a member of the Provincial Assembly and another uncle, Philip Livingston of Livingston Manor, was president of the Governor's Council. These uncles represented two of the most important and influential families in the Province at this time and these families continued so until long after the revolution. Then, too, Major Gilbert Livingston, father of Henry, as an attorney was in fairly close touch with Francis Filkin, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, and may have had something to do with the appointment of Henry as clerk of this county.
The Commission for Clerk of Dutchess County is dated September 15, 1742, and reads as follows:
George the Second By the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith &c To all to whom These Present Shall come Greeting. Know ye That we reposing especial Trust and Confidence in the Loyalty, Fidelity and Ability of our Trusty and well beloved Henry Livingston Esqr have Given and Granted and by these presents do give and Grant until him the said Henry Livingston the several and respective places and offices of Clerk of the Peace and Clerk of the Court of and for our County of Dutches in the Province of New York and Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas of and for the said County of Dutches Together with all Fees Salaries Privileleges Benefits Rights perquisites Profits and Advantages to the said several and respective places now belonging or which shall or may belong or in any wise appertain and him the said Henry Livingston Clerk of the Peace and Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas of our County of Dutches aforesaid, we do by these present make ordain authorize constitute and appoint, To have and to hold Exercise and enjoy the aforesaid several and respective Places and offices of Clerk of the Peace and Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas of and for the County aforesaid to him the said Henry Livingston so long as he the said Henry Livingston shall behave himself well therein, Together with all Fees Salaries Privileges Benefits Rights Perquisites Profits and Advantages to the said several and respective places and Offices now belong or which Shall or may belong or in any wise appertain to his own proper use and Behoof. In Testimony where of we have Caused those our Letters to be made Patent and the Great Seal of our Province of New York to be here unto affixed. Witness our Trusty and Well beloved George Clark Esqr our Lieutenant Governor and Commander in Chief of our Province of New York and the Territories thereon depending in America &c At our City of New York The fifteenth day of Steptmeber In the year of our Lord 1742 and of our Reign the sixteenthIn addition to his work as Clerk of the Court he was making himself useful by doing surveying and even drawing maps. His survey and map of the shore line of Hudson's River from Mine Point (a promontory just below where his home was later located) north to Krom Elbow made in 1738, was the first map or drawing of any part of Dutchess County. His son, Major Henry Livingston, also a surveyor, has left us many maps and drawings which were model for his period.
About this time, 1741 or 1742, he married Susannah, young daughter of John and Johanna (Storm) Conklin. The story of this romance and marriage is told in the language of Jane Patterson Livingston, a great grand-daughter of Henry and Susannah. [Jane was the daughter of Charles Livingston, the son of Henry and Jane Patterson.]
Relatives and frieends were hospitable in those times on a broad and generous scale, so there was much visiting and marrying too, among the river families and they were all kindred in some degree or another.
John Conklin lived about one mile south of the village of Poughkeepsie on the property which is now the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery. he sold to Henry Livingston sixty-one acres of land between the king's highway and Hudson's River on the west. The King's highway, later known as the Post Road, ran at that time several rods farther to the west than it does at present. The deed for this purchase was signed December 2, 1742, but was not recorded until June 30, 1756.(5)
Just how long they lived at the home fo the bride's parents is not known but very soon Henry and Susannah built their own home near the river. There is considerable confusion among historians as to the date of the building of this house. Benson J. Lossing, in his Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution, Vol. 1, page 385, says the mansion was built in 1714 and this is quoted by James H. Smith in his History of Duchess County. This is an error as Henry Livingston was born in 1714. It has been claimed that there was a house there when Henry Livingston drew his map of the river and shore line in 1738, because the site is marked "H.L." on the old map. The writer believes there was no house there until Henry and Susannah built their home in 1742. It would have been very natural for Henry Livingston to mark in later years the site of his home on the map as, it is known, he marked the site of the shipyard of Revolutionary times on the same map.
Weathervane from house of Henry Livingston, Sr. and Susannah, his wife
Here Henry Livingston lived a long, useful life, raising a large family of which tens sons and daughters were living at the time of his death in 1799. Besides his duties as Clerk of the Court and of the County, he served many years as clerk of the town or precinct of Poughkeepsie and as overseer of highways. He also represented Dutchess County as a member of the Provincial Assembly during the troublous period from 1761 to 1768, just before the Revolution.
In 1683, while the Province of New York was under the Duke of York as proprietor, at an assembly of delegates elected by the freeholders in different part of the Province, New York was divided into twelve counties and passed laws agreeable to the governor and a council appointed by the Duke. One of the first acts of this assembly had been that "no tax assessment, customs, loans or impositions whatsoever shall be laid, assessed, imposed or levied on any of his Majesty's Subjects, except by the Governor, Council and Representatives of the people met in General Assembly" - our first declaration of independence.
In 1684, the Second Assembly passed thirty-one laws which were assented to by Governor Dongan and the Council. In 1685 King Charles died and the Duke of York became king under the title of James the Second, and early in 1686 a new commission was sent to Governor Dongan giving him "full powers and authority with advice and consent of our Council". This abolished the Assembly of the people granted by the Duke in 1683 and this regime lasted for the next five years which were rather stormy times. In 1688 King James united all the colonies in America, except Pennsylvania, under one governor and sent Edmund Andros as Governor General over all "New England" with full powers for making laws. Neither the English colonists of New England and Virginia nor the Dutch in New York were pleased, and Governor Andros's task was not an easy one. Then a revolution in England compelled the abdication of King James in favor of William of Orange and Queen Mary. Governor Andros was siezed and put in jail in Boston. Controveries over who should be in authority and an invasion by the French and Indians from Canada made the next two years a very troubled period in our history.
Then Governor Sloughter arrived with orders from William and Mary to call together an assembly of delegates elected by the people which with the Governor and Council "shall have full power and authority to make, constitute and ordain laws, statutes and ordinances for the public peace and the welfare and good government of our said province and of the people and inhabitants thereof."
The First Assembly met in New York April 9, 1691, to April 13, 1692. Henry Beekman, grandfather of Henry Livingston, was delegate from Ulster County.
At the Second Assembly, 1693, Dutchess County, having very few inhabitants, was committed to the care of Ulster County. At a meeting of the Seventh Assembly, August 19, 1701, an act was passed, "that to prevent all disputes relating to the freeholders of Dutchess County about the election of representatives the said [county] is hereby declared to be annexed to the County of Ulster for the term of seven years, next after this present session and that the freeholders of Dutchess County qualified by law, shall and are hereby empowered to give their votes for Representatives in the County of Ulster as if they actually lived in the said County."
Again the Fifteenth Assembly, 1714, passed the following: "An act to empower Dutchess County to elect a Superior, a Treasurer, Assessors and Collectors. This County was formerly by reason of its small inhabitants, annexed to another by Act of Assembly, but that Act being expired and the numbers of inhabitants increased it was necessary they should have county officers of their own."
The first representatives from Dutchess County in the next Assembly, 1715, were Leonard Lewis and Baltus Van Kleeck. "An Act for building a County House and Prison in Dutches County within this Province" was passed. The delegates to the Assembly were not elected for any designated period of time, some served for only a few months and other Assemblies remained in office from three to ten years.
The Assembly of 1743 passed a law limiting the continuance of an Assembly to seven years. (This rule remained in force until the revolution in 1775.) From this time to 1760 party lines became stronger in the Assembly and the peoples party, who were in the majority, refused to give up their rights on the question of taxes which had become very severe owing to the wars with France. The colonists were ready to pay large sums for their defense against the French and Indians and even the raising of troops for the several expeditions against Canada, but after the war was ended in 1760 when Canada was surrendered to England, the colony of New York found itself greatly in debt from the enormous war expenses. Governor DeLancey, who was probably one of the best of the English governors, friendly and helpful to the colony, died suddenly and was followed by Dr. Cadwallader Colden who, as president of the Council, became Lieutenant Governor. He was a resident of Ulster County, but instead of carrying out the conciliatory efforts of his predecessor, did everything in his power to oppose the colonists.
When the Assembly of 1762 met it was asked to equip the same number of soldiers as before into regiments which were to become a part of the regular English army. This request was flatly refused. Then followed the Stamp Act and the imposition of almost prohibitory duties upon importants. In this Assembly Dutchess County was represented by Judge Robert R. Livingston and his cousin, our Henry Livingston, with such men as Charles DeWitt and George Clinton from Ulster and Philip Schuyler from Albany. Judge Livingston had been so bitterly outspoken and sarcastic in his opposition that Governor Colden had an act passed making it illegal for a Judge of the Supreme Court to hold a seat in the Assembly. He ws several times re-elected and sent back but was not allowed to be seated. A letter written by the Governor, trying to vindicate himself, was so bitterly attacked by Judge Livingston that Governor Colden, in his report of the affair, wrote "Judge Livingston, the most violent man in both the Supreme Court and in the Assembly in malicious prosecution of the pamphlet wrote in my vindication had for several years past been elected from the county where his family interest lyes. Some one of the family had been elected for above forty yers."
In November, 1765, Sir Henry Moore became Governor and took a hand with this rebellious Assembly frequently dissolving it and calling for a new election. In his message discharging the Assembly January 2, 1769, he said "The extraordinary nature of certain resolves lately entered on your Journals, some flatly repugnant to the laws of Great Britain and others with an apparent tendency to give offense where common prudence would avoid it, have put it out of my power to continue this Assembly any longer. Governor Moore asked for a new election and the Assembly met on May 4, 1769, and the Governor had succeeded in getting a Tory majority. This was the last Assembly. It was adjourned and convened to suit the Governor until early in 1775.
Things had grown so bad in New York that Liberty Poles were raised throughout the city displaying a banner, "No taxation without representation." A bonfire had been made in the street of ten packages of the obnoxious stamps. The people refused to drink tea. Marriages were performed without licenses. Colonial courts ignored the use of stamps. Ships in the harbor had been searched for tea and the tea destroyed. Boston was not the only place that had a "tea-party" in those days.
A committee of sixty had been formed in New York which had called a conveniton of Delegates to a Continental Congress. Nine of the colonies had held a convention in New York and had agreed upon a firm opposition. A Provincial Congress had been held in New York in June, 1775, of which Gilbert Livingston, one of the sons of Henry Livingston, was a member and had ordered the raising of four regiments of soldiers. The committee of sixty had been increased to one hundred. A Continental Congress had been called to meet in Philadelphia to which both Chancellor Robert R. Livingston [the son of Judge Robert R. Livingston, who died 1775] and his cousin Philip Livingston were delegates.
Even then Governor Tryon, advised by his Tory Council, wrote the Earl of Darmouth, November 11, 1775, "Since last month I have been on board the ship, Dutchess of Gordon. It is certain that within this fortnight the spirit of Rebellion in the Province, especially in the city has greatly abated and we wait now only for five thousand Regulars to open our Commerce and restore our valuable constitution. The Counties of Westchester, Dutchess, King, Queen and Richmond had the bulk of their inhabitants well affected to Government and some friends in all the other Counties."
The Committee of one hundred had drawn up a Pledge of Association which had been adopted by the Provincial Congress. In Dutchess County this pledge was signed by two-thirds of the inhabitants. Henry Livingston had been one of the first to sign. The son, Henry, was a major in Colonel James Clinton's regiment of which two companies were raised in this county, one by Captain Andrew Billings. Captain Melancthon Smith's company of rangers, raised to suppress the activities of Tories, was in full force. Mr. Livingston was then in his sixties, but continued as County Clerk throughout the war and for several years after. His oldest son, Gilbert, served as a member of the Military Committee and in almost every other capacity throughout the war, and afterward as Surrogate and was County Clerk at the time of his death in 1806, aged sixty-four.
The second son of Henry, the Rev. Dr. John H. Livingston, was at this time the foremost preacher of the Dutch Reformed Church in America and was pastor of the Collegiate Church in New York City. When the British occupied that city they used this church as a prison. He removed to the country and accepted the pastorate at Poughkeepsie and Fishkill for a part of the Revolutionary period.(6) In 1783 he returned to New York. He was later the founder and president of the theological seminary at New Brunswick, New Jersey, at that time Queens College, now Rutgers College. His wife was Sarah, daughter of Philip Livingston, Signer of the Declaration of Independence. He died at New Brunswick, January 26, 1825, in his seventy-ninth year.
Major Henry, or Judge Henry, Livingston as he was in later life for many years Justice of the Peace, was, like his father an accomplished surveyor and had marked artistic and poetic talent. He lived at Locust Grove, about a mile south of his father's home. Locust Grove was later the home of Samuel F.B. Morse and is now the home of Mrs. William H. Young.
When, in October, 1777, Sir William Wallace with the British ships and army went up the Hudson River in their vain attempt to assist General Burgoyne and his army, the home of Henry Livingston was fired upon. One cannon ball struck the house. This four-inch ball remained imbedded in a door casing for many years. It is at present in the museum at Washington's Headquarters at Newburgh. The riddled door casing is preserved by the Mahwenawasigh Chapter of the D.A.R. at its museum in Poughkeepsie.
The Livingstons were especially marked, as the home of Margaret Livingston, widow of Judge Robert R. Livingston, at Clermont was fired and burned to the ground as was also the house of her son, the Chancellor. When this armament came up the river and it was not certain what their intention might be, County Clerk Henry Livingston transported all his county records across the county to Amenia for safe keeping and when the danger was past brought them back.(7) Some of the county records had been stolen about this time and he was anxious about their safety.(8)
After having served as County Clerk for fifty-two years, until 1789, under three different forms of government, Henry Livingston gave up to his son, Robert H. Livingston. He did this perhaps on account of the infirmities of age, although he lived nearly ten years after his retirement. [Henry Livingston was blind at the time of his death in 1799.]
This son, Robert H. Livingston, only seventeen years old, when the British came up the Hudson had joined the ranks of the defenders and remained in the army of the Revolution until the end of the war, serving most of the time as an officer in the Levies on the frontiers. He was an artillery officer at the siege of Yorktown and the surrender of Cornwallis and "only sheathed his sword when every sword on the continent was returned to the scabbard."(9) He remained County Clerk from 1789 until his death in 1804.
Henry Livingston died February 10, 1799, and of his death The Poughkeepsie Journal of February 12, said:
On Sunday last, the 10th inst. at 1 o'clock, P.M. Henry Livingston, Esq. for about sixty years a much respected inhabitant of this place, closed his eyes in death at the advanced age of 84 years 5 months and 3 days - he ever maintained a character of punctuality and integrity, filled for the most of his life important offices, with the greatest exactness, ability and public confidence - he ever was a republican in principle - and demonstrated till the last that he was no friend to aristocracy or monarchy. He died rejoicing that the Lord reigns - and some of his last words (about an hour before his death) were "Let all creatures and things rejoice in and praise the Lord."
He was buried in the Livingston family burying ground. On his headstone is inscribed: "An affectionate parent and a good Citizen. He lived in Reputation and died in Faith."
The last of the Livingstons to occupy the old mansion was the family of Henry Alexander Livingston (Colonel Harry), son of the Reverend Dr. John H. Livingston and his wife Sarah. Colonel Harry died June 9, 1849, aged seventy-three years, after a useful life. He was an incorporator and the first president of the Poughkeepsie Savings Bank which was founded in 1831. Shortly after the death of Colonel Harry the railroad was built and passed near the mansion and the place, after several years, was given up by the Livingston family as a residence. About 1870 the Phoenix Horsehoe Company bought the land between the railroad and the river and built a factory and for many years the old residence was used as an office. After 1910 the mansion was torn down and a new office building erected on the site.
Mr. James Robson, one of our oldest citizens, who was familiar with the old Livingston home, tells us that when the railroad was built it ran between the house and four other buildings, one a fine old chapel with a belfry and bell which regularly called the family, slaves and others to a family service. There was also a schoolhouse, stable and hay barn. The land between the railroad and the post road was allowed to revert to the wild and was known as Livingston's woods for perhaps half a century.
The Livingston burying ground, containing the graves of four generations of this family overgrown with all kinds of shrubbery, had long been neglected; some of the stones fallen and broken, and others carried away. In 1911 the writer, with Miss Helen Wilkinson Reynolds, copied the inscriptions of all the stones that could be found for their "Old Gravestones of Dutchess County." This brought it to the attention of descendants of the Livingston family and they transferred the old burying ground and the intervening section of land to the adjoining Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery, where it has since been well cared for.
There is a well-founded tradition that this spot along the King's Highway, originally an Indian trail, was a favorite camping ground for the Indians. The writer has several arrow-heads found along the little stream that flows through these grounds. About a half mile north of the site of Mr. Livingston's residence was the shipyard cove where in Revolutionary days the two unfortunate frigates, "Congress" and "Constitution" were built. The shipyard was on land belonging to James Livingston, brother of Henry, which he had purchased from Thomas Newcomb in 1753. This cove has since been filled in and the site is occupied by the manufacturing plant of the DeLaval Separator Company.
In his will, Henry Livingston gave an exhibition of the fairness that had been a marked characteristic all his life. After providing for his widow, the rest of his estate was to be divided, share and share alike, among his ten children. Also the estate bequeathed to his wife, at her marriage or death, was to be divided in the same manner. His will further provided:
My daughter Helen, if a minor at my death, shall be educated as my other children were and maintained while a minor out of the income of my estate, and no reduction made from her share. 300 pounds to be deducted from Gilbert's share for money advanced after he became of age. To my son Henry 1-10 of estate subject to a deduction of 1,350 pounds for a deed of Gift of a farm [Locust Grove]. To my son John, I give 1-10 after deducting 400 pounds advanced after he became of age.
Mr. Livingston lived thirteen years after making his will, which was recorded May 25, 1786, by his son Gilbert who was at that time Surrogate. His executors were, "my beloved wife, Susannah, my sons Gilbert, John, Henry, Robert and Beekman." Witnesses were Laurence Conklin, Jacob Van Benschoten and Matthew Conklin, Jr.
His wife, Susannah, had died in 1793 and his daughter Helen had long since grown out of her minority and married Jonas Platt, son of Judge Zephaniah Platt, and who, himself, was later a judge of Dutchess County.
Nothing remains where his old home stood to remind us of him but Henry Livingston left a befitting monument in the many huge volumes he so faithfully filled with the records of his time, - "Footprints in the sands of time."
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