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Livingston, Robert R. (1746-1813) Diplomat: Born into a politically prominent family, Livingston studied law and was admitted to the bar in New York in 1770, forming a partnership with John Jay. He served several terms in the Continental Congress, supported the Revolution, and helped draft the first constitution for New York State in 1777. In 1781, Congress appointed Livingston Secretary of the newly-created Department of Foreign Affairs. He served for two years, and was highly successful in providing information on European affairs, recruiting personnel, and setting-up standards for diplomatic practices. Livingston supported the proposed federal Constitution at the New York ratifying convention in 1788.
After the new federal government was established, he opposed Alexander Hamilton's financial policies, supporting the Republicans in New York state. Livingston also opposed the Jay Treaty in 1795, publishing his Examination of the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, Between the United States and Great Britain under the name "Cato." In the same year, he unsuccessfully ran for governor of New York, against John Jay. Livingston was named minister of France in 1801, in which post he negotiated the purchase of Louisiana. He retired from public life in 1804, after which he concentrated on his interests in science and agriculture, as well as kept up extensive correspondence with Washington, Jefferson, and several European friends. Livingston founded the American Academy of Fine Arts, and gave technical and financial support to the development of steamboats. He attempted to hold a monopoly over steam navigation on New York waterways; eleven years after his death, the US Supreme Court foiled his attempt in the Gibbons v. Ogden case.
Livingston, Robert - History
Known New York history as "the Nephew," Robert Livingston, Jr. was born in Scotland in 1663. He was the son of James Livingston - who was the uncle of Albany's Robert Livingston.
Coming to America in 1687, he would learn the ins and outs of opportunity from his uncle - one of the most successful newcomers of the latter part of the seventeenth century. Over the next two decades, he assumed many of Robert Livingston's Albany-based activities during his uncle's frequent absences and after the senior Livingston relocated south to his mid-Hudson manor.
In 1697, thirty-four-year-old Robert Jr. married fifteen-year-old Margarita Schuyler - eldest daughter of Albany's first mayor, thus sealing a family alliance that began with the marriage of Robert Livingston to Margarita's aunt Alida Schuyler two decades earlier. The marriage produced six children who were baptized in the Albany Dutch church where the Scottish-born nephew had made a lifelong connection. A frequent baptism sponsor, he served as church warden and was involved in its financial operations.
After living in the home of Robert Livingston, by the mid-1700s the new couple had established their own first ward household. Robert Jr's. first jobs involved assisting his uncle as city and county clerk. Within a few years, he held the titles of deputy secretary and deputy clerk. In 1708 he was elected alderman for the first ward. In 1709, he was appointed recorder (or deputy mayor) of the city. At the same time, he was able to prosper in business using family connections and experience to supply both settler and military customers.
By 1710, Robert Livingston Jr. had become one of the most visible of the Albany merchants. In that year, he was appointed mayor of Albany and served until 1719. His mayoralty came at the beginning of three decades of peace and oversaw the transition of his adopted community from trading post to supply and services center and the settlement of the city's lands at Schaghticoke.
Following his tenure as mayor, Livingston continued to serve the Commissioners of Indian Affairs, manage his personal business, and tend to the placement of his family. He made his will on April 4, 1725 - leaving the entire estate to Margarita as long as she remained a widow. He passed shortly thereafter and was buried under the Dutch Church on April 21.
Robert Livingston, Jr. died in his fifty-fifth year. Coming to America as a young man, he was able to take advantage of his uncle's need for trustworthy and competent assistance to reach the top level of early Albany society. "The Nephew's" widow lived in Albany for more than a half century. Their children married into the best provincial families and enjoyed great success in the business of New York, Montreal, and the lands in between.
The life of Robert Livingston, Jr. is CAP biography number 5013. We know of no biographical study of him.
Robert R. Livingston, aka “The Chancellor,” dies
On February 26, 1813, New York Patriot Robert R. Livingston dies.
Robert R. (or R.R.) Livingston was the eldest of nine children born to Judge Robert Livingston and Margaret Beekman Livingston in their family seat, Clermont, on the Hudson River in upstate New York. The Livingston family were proprietors of large land claims in the Hudson Valley and their attempt to enforce restrictive leases led to tenant uprisings in 1766, during which the tenant farmers threatened to kill the lord of Livingston Manor, Robert Livingston (R.R.’s relative), and destroy his opulent homes. The British army suppressed the revolt, saving the Livingstons, in 1766.
In 1777, the British army burned down Clermont and another of R.R.’s estates, Belvedere, in retribution for Livingston’s decision to side with the Patriots. During the intervening 11 years between the tenant uprising and the burning of Clermont, Robert R. Livingston, who had graduated from King’s College (now Columbia University) in 1764, had established himself as a lawyer and political leader. He represented the Provincial Congress of New York at the Continental Congress in 1776 and helped to draft the Declaration of Independence, although he returned to New York before he was able to sign the document.
During the War of Independence, Livingston served as secretary of foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation. In 1783, he accepted the post of chancellor of the state of New York he bore the title as a moniker for the rest of his life. The chancellor was a Federalist delegate to the ratification convention in New York, and, as New York’s senior judge, administered President Washington’s first oath of office. Under President Jefferson, Livingston negotiated the Louisiana Purchase and, while minister to France, sponsored Robert Fulton’s development of the steamboat.
3. The Livingstons
The depth of the connections of King’s families with slavery can be appreciated by looking at a few prominent examples. The wealth of the Livingston family dated back to the seventeenth century, when Robert Livingston married a wealthy widow, Alida Schuyler, and proceeded to acquire a grant of 160,000 acres of land near the village of Hudson from New York’s governor. Livingston invested heavily in the fur trade as well as mercantile voyages between Africa, the Caribbean, and North America involving sugar, tobacco, and slaves. After his death in 1728, his six children expanded the family’s landholdings (which at their peak reached one million acres) and its involvement in the slave trade. Five of his sons became merchants one, Philip, sent three of his own sons to live in the West Indies for a time to manage the family’s affairs there. Philip Livingston became one of New York’s most active slave traders. He invested in at least fifteen slaving voyages, either alone or in partnership with one or two brothers or other merchants. Some involved heavy losses of life at sea. The Wolf, owned by Philip Livingston and two of his sons, spent fourteen months along the coast of West Africa in 1749 and 1750, eventually sailing west with 135 slaves. When it docked in New York City in May 1751, only 66 remained – the rest had either perished from disease, been killed in an abortive uprising onboard, or been sold at previous stops. Philip Livingston also advertised in the local press seeking the return of runaway slaves for example, in 1752, a “Negro Man lately imported from Africa. Cannot speak a word of English, or Dutch, or any other language but that of his native country.” Since the Livingston family displayed a remarkable lack of invention in naming its sons, with the same names recurring from generation to generation, it is sometimes difficult to tell which Livingston owned individual ships. But no fewer than seventeen voyages brought slaves into New York City between 1730 and 1763 on vessels owned in whole or part by members of the Livingston family.[i]
The extended Livingston clan included major political figures such as Philip Livingston, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Robert R. Livingston, Chancellor of New York State (a major judicial post) after the Revolution. It was closely tied to King’s and, later, Columbia. Six Livingstons attended King’s before the Revolution (although only three remained long enough to graduate) and 32 attended Columbia and P and S before the Civil War. Three served as governors, including John Livingston, Philip’s son, a donor to and active fund-raiser for the college and a borrower of money from its endowment. He imported slaves and West Indian produce into New York City and other colonies and placed dozens of advertisements in newspapers in New York and elsewhere for their sale. One such ad, in a Virginia newspaper, offered for sale “to the highest bidder… three prime young Negro Fellows, namely, a Bricklayer, a Tailor, and a Field Negro.” He also advertised for the return of runaway slaves. Brockholst Livingston, who owned four slaves in 1790 and one in 1800, was treasurer of Columbia from 1784 to 1823 and a trustee (as governors were called at Columbia) for almost all that time. Five other Livingstons at one time or another were trustees. They included Rev. John Henry Livingston, a co-owner of the Friendship plantation in Jamaica, which at its sale in 1784 was home to 207 slaves, and Walter Livingston, part owner of the Aleppo plantation in Jamaica and owner of 20 slaves in New York in 1790, when he was a trustee of Columbia College.[ii]
When the first federal census was taken in 1790, the various branches of the Livingston family owned 170 slaves. Robert R. Livingston, who had graduated from King’s in 1765, and his mother, Margaret Beekman Livingston, each owned 15. Robert R. Livingston, however, had more enlightened views regarding African-Americans than many of his white contemporaries. As a member of the state’s Council of Revision in 1785, he helped to veto a bill passed by the legislature that provided for gradual abolition but barred blacks from voting and holding office. Freed slaves, he wrote, could not “be deprived of those essential rights without shocking the principle of equal liberty” fundamental to the New York’s new constitution. “Rendering power permanent and hereditary in the hands of persons who deduce their origins from white ancestors only,” he proclaimed, would lay the foundation for a “malignant… aristocracy.”[iii]
Nonetheless, Robert R. Livingston continued to use slave labor on his vast estate, Clermont, located on the Hudson River a little over one hundred miles north of New York City. William Strickland, an English visitor who recorded his impressions of the place in 1794, was waited on for breakfast by “four negro boys, the oldest about 11 or 12, barefoot but dressed in livery,” and at dinner was attended by three uniformed adult male slaves. In his will, dated September 1796, Livingston provided for the freedom of all his slaves age thirty or above, or younger “as may be convenient to my dear wife.” He lived until 1813. As late as 1810, the census reported five slaves at Claremont.[iv] In addition, Robert R. Livingston and his brother John owned a number of brothels in lower Manhattan in the early nineteenth century, at some of which black women resided, working as either domestic servants or prostitutes.[v]
[i]. Cynthia A., Kierner, Traders and Gentlefolk: The Livingstons of New York, 1675-1790 (Ithaca, 1992), 22, 39-41, 71-73 Sharon Liao, “‘A Merchants’ College’: King’s College(1754-1784) and Slavery,” Seminar Paper, Columbia and Slavery, Spring 2015, 3-6, 26-29 Wilder, Ebony and Ivy, 52-53 Darold D. Wax, Wax, Darold D., “A Philadelphia Surgeon on a Slaving Voyage to Africa, 1749-1751,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 92 (October 1968), 465-93.
[ii]. Liao, “Merchants’ College,” 9-17 Marilyn H. Pettit, “Slavery, Abolition, and Columbia University,” Journal of Archival Organization, 1 (November 2002), 88n. Kierner, Livingstons, 163 Subscription List Assignment of Mortgage, July 6, 1784, Misc. Jamaica, West Indies, New-York Historical Society.
[iii]. Moseley, Thomas R., “A History of the New York Manumission Society, 1785-1849" (PhD diss., New York University, 1963), 11 George Dangerfield, Chancellor Robert Livingston of New York 1746-1813 (New York, 1960), 451n.
[iv]. Sir William Strickland, “Journal of a Tour in the United States of America, 1794-95,” October 11-12, 1794, New-York Historical Society Dangerfield, Livingston, 451n.
[v]. Maya Zundel, “Erased: Columbia University and Patterns of Abuse of Black Women,” Seminar Paper, Columbia and Slavery, Spring 2016, 8-10.
Livingston, Robert - History
Numbering added and layout modified for the sake of clarity
The following genealogical record of the Livingston Family is made from documents obligingly furnished the author of this Collection from a respectable quarter.
The rev. John Livingston, well known in ecclesiastical history, was a minister of the gospel, successively, at Killinshie, Strawrawes, Ancran, and Rotterdam. There is a traditionary account of his descent from lord Livingston, earl of Lithgow.
Robert Livingston, the first lord of the Livingston manor on the Hudson, son of the rev. John Livingston, was born at Ancran, in Scotland, 13 December, in the year, 1654. He and his nephew came to America and from them there is a numerous progeny. He married the widow Van Renselaer, a daughter of Philip Schuyler, by whom he had six children
- 1. John, who died without issue
2. Philip, the second lord of the manor, whose wife was Catharine Van Brugh by whom he had nine children
- 2.1. Robert, the third and last lord of the manor, whose first wife was Mary Thong, and second the widow Schuyler. Of his children,
- 2.1.1. Philip died without issue
2.1.2. Peter married Margaret Livingston
2.1.3. Walter, Cornelia Schuyler
2.1.4. Robert, Else Swift
2.1.5. John, Mary Le Roy, for his first wife, and the widow Ridley, for his second
2.1.7. Mary, hon. James Duane
2.1.8. Catharine, John Paterson
2.1.9. Aleda, Valentine Gardiner.
2.2. Peter Van Brugh, whose first wife was Mary Alexander and second the widow Ricketts. Of their children,
- 2.2.1. Philip married Cornelia Van Horne
2.2.2. Catharine, Nicholas Bayard
2.2.3. Mary, John Brown
2.2.4. Peter, Susan Blundel
2.2.5. Sarah, James Ricketts
2.2.6. Susannah, John Kane, for her first husband, and ___ Niemcevitz, for her second
2.2.7 Elizabeth ___ Otto, consul
six others died in early life.
2.3. John, whose wife was Catharine Depeyster. Of their children,
- 2.3.1. Philip married Frances Bayard
2.3.2. John, Frances Saunders
2.3.3. Margaret, Robert Livingston
2.3.4. Catharine, Frederick Depeyster.
Besides these there were thirteen others.
2.4. Philip, whose wife was Catharine Ten Broeck. Of their children,
- 2.4.1. Philip married Sarah Johnston
2.4.3. Catharine, Stephen Van Rensselaer, the late patron of Albany, for her first husband, and the rev. doc. Westerlo, for her second
2.4.4. Margaret, doc. Thomas Jones
2.4.5. Sarah, rev. John H. Livingston, D. D.
Besides these there were four others.
2.5. Henry, who died in Jamaica
2.6. William, governour of New Jersey, whose wife was Susanna French. Of their children,
- 2.6.1. Susannah married hon. John Cleves Symmes (see art. 1004)
2.6.2. Catharine, Matthew Ridley, for her first husband, and John Livingston, for her second
2.6.3. Mary, James Linn, esq.
2.6.4. Judith, John Watkins
2.6.5. hon. Henry Brockholst, Catharine Keteltas, for his first wife, and Ann Ludlow, for his second
2.6.6 Sarah, his excel. John Jay (see art. 1069)
2.6.8. John Lawrens, who was lost at sea
and four others, who died at an early age.
2.7. Sarah, whose husband was William Alexander, earl of Stirling (see art. 115)
2.8. Aleda, whose first husband was Henry Hanson, and second, Martin Hoffman
2.9. Catharine, whose husband was John Lawrence.
3. Gilbert, whose wife was Cornelia Beekman and by whom he had thirteen children. Of these
- 3.1. Robert married Catharine M'Feathers
3.2. Henry ___ Concklin
3.3. James, Judith Newcomb
3.4. Aleda, Jacob Rutsen
3.5. Cornelia, Pierre Van Cortlandt lt. gov.
3.6. Catharine, Thomas Thorne
3.7. Margaret, Petrus Stuyvesant
4. Robert, whose wife was Margaret Harden, by whom he had one son,
- 4.1. Robert, who married Margaret Beekman and who was the father of the late chancellor, noticed in the 826 article of this work.
- 4.1.1. The chancellor married Mary Stevens. Of his brothers and sisters,
4.1.2. Janet married gen. Montgomery (see art. 38)
4.1.3. Henry Beekman, Ann Shippen
4.1.4. John, Margaret Sheafe, for his first wife and ___ M'Evers, for his second
4.1.5. Edward, late mayor of the city of New York, ___ M'Evers
4.1.6. Margaret, Thomas Tillotson
4.1.7. Gertrude, gen. Morgan Lewis
4.1.8. Aleda, gen. Armstrong, late secretary of war
4.1.9. Hannah, P. R. Livingston
4.1.10. Catharine, rev. mr. Garretson.
- 5.1. Aleda, the wife of Samuel Bayard
6. Johanna, whose husband was Cornelius Van Horne, by whom she had
- 6.1. one daughter, Aleda
6.2. and one son, Garret, who married Ann Read.
Volume 1, pages 34-35:
NEW YORK, N.Y.
38. (Monument inscription) : This monument is erected by the order of Congress, 25 january, 1776, to transmit to posterity a grateful remembrance of the patriotism, conduct, enterprise, and perseverance of major general Richard Montgomery, who after a series of successes, amidst the most discouraging difficulties, fell, in the attack on Quebec, 31 December, 1775, aged 37 years.
Invenit. et. sculpsit. Parisiis.
J.J. Caffieri. sculptor. regius.
anno. Domini. CD.DCCLXX.VII.
Note. - The monument, adorned with various warlike devices and surmounted with an urn richly gilt, the whole of exquisite workmanship, is placed in the front of St. Paul's Church.
Volume 1, pages 112-113:
NEW YORK, N.Y.
115. (Epitaph) : Vault built in 1738. James Alexander, and his descendants, by his son William, earl of Sterling, and his daughters, Mary, the wife of Peter V. B. Livingston, Elizabeth, the wife of John Stevens, Catharine the wife of Walter Rutherford, and Susanna, the wife of John Reid.
Note. - James Alexander, esq. arrived from Scotland, at New York, 1715. He was secretary of the province, and for many years a member of the council. He did not excel as a publick speaker at the bar but, for sagacity and penetration, he had no superiour in his profession in that part of the country. He departed this life, in 1756.
The honourable William Alexander was a native of the city of New York, but spent a considerable part of his life in New Jersey. He was a major general in the American army, and was distinguished as a brave officer. He was thought by many to be the rightful heir to the title and estate of an earldom in Scotland. He went to the land of his fathers in quest of his supposed right, but did not succeed in obtaining it. Through the courtesy of his friends, however, he was complimented with the title of lord Sterling. Having lived to the age of 57 years, he died, at Albany, in 1783.
Volume 4, pages 244-247:
826. Note - The hon. Robert R. Livingston was born, in 1746, and died, on the 26 of March, 1813. He was a son of the hon. Robert Livingston, who, for a number of years, was one of the judges of the supreme court, but who was finally ejected from office, by governour Tryon, on account of his attachement to the rights of his country and opposition to the unjust, impolitick, and tyranical measures of Great Britain. Mrs. Maria Livingston, widow of the subject of this article, deceased at Washington, 22 March, 1814.
Two persons of the name, Livingston, an uncle and nephew, came from Scotland, to this country, about the middle of the seventeenth century, from whom many families of distinction have descended. One of their ancestors was the celebrated mr. Livingston, whose preaching, on a certain occasion, at the kirk of Shotts, was attendend with most astonishing effects, as recorded by Fleming and others. His portrait is still preserved in the family of the late Philip Livingston, esq.
The subject of this memoir, was educated at the college in New York. He was appointed to the office of recorder in this city, which he accepted and held till dismissed by governor Tryon on account of his political tenets. He had the honour of being a member of the first national congress and was one of the committee for draughting the magna charta of American independence. in 1777, he was one of the convention, which met at Aesopus for the purpose of forming a state constitution, and was chairman of the committee, which prepared this instrument. He was one of the council of safety and was chancellor of the state of New York, from the adoption of its constitution till his appointment to the court of France.
For two or three years, before the peace of 1783, he was secretary of state, for foreign affairs, under the congress of the United States. In 1788, he represented the city and county of New York in the convention for discussing and adopting the federal constitution. He opened the debates of that body with an eloquent and masterly address in favour of the proposed constitution. Had it not been for his efforts, in connexion with those, no less influential, of Jay and Hamilton, the state of New York would unquestionably have rejected it. When Washington was inducted into the office of president of the United States, it devolved upon chancellor Livingston to administer the prescribed oath to that illustrious father of America.
In 1801, he was appointed minister plenipotentiary to the republick of France. Through his negociation, the vast regions of Louisiana were added to the territory of the United States, for the sum of $15,000,000.
The subject of this memoir was the principal founder, and the president, of the New York Academy of Fine Arts, from its establishment to the time of his decease and, on his suggestion, Bonaparte, when first consul of France, was elected an honorary member of this society. The letter expressing his acceptance of the proffered honour, with his sign manual, is carefully preserved in the archives of the Academy. The institution was enriched by a donation of splendid engravings and other articles, from this wonderful character, which probably could not have been purchased for $10,000. An excellent portrait of the chancellor adorns one of the rooms of this noble institution.
Agriculture, however, was his greatest delight and to this, he devoted the most of his time during the latter years of his life. His experiments so beneficial to the farmer, his written essays on the importance of gypsum as a manure, his patriotick example of introducing the merino sheep into the state of New York, his readiness to co-operate with Robert Fulton, esq. in furnishing the Hudwon with steam boats, affording a safe, rapid, and pleasant conveyance up and down that majestick river, are well known.
A full narrative of the leading events in the life of chancellor Livingston would fill a volume. This article shall be closed with an extract from the oration, still in manuscript, delivered by the rev. Timothy Clowes of Albany, at the request of the Society for the promotion of Agriculture and Arts, of which the chancellor was president from its first formation to the day of his death.
&ldquoIn the near prospect of death he said that he now found that the truest philosophy consisted in pardon and peace through a Mediator. This peace he enjoyed through the course of his long illness, and so highly did he esteem its heavenly origin, that, he described it, as passing all understanding nor would he exchange it, he said, for all the health, wealth, and honours, that time could bestow. It was his support under suffering humanity and had taken from him all fear of death.
&ldquowhile speech remained, he continued to use it for the christian benefit of those around him particularly for his near relatives, to whom nature had united him by the dearest cords of love. These ties were now soon to be broken and, as his last and best legacy, he besought them to seek religion, through redeeming love, as a source of happiness, here, and a foretaste of their better portion, in the life to come.&rdquo
Volume 5, page 187:
1004. Note - The hon. John Cleves Symmes, a gentleman well known for his enterprising spirit, the flattering prospects he once had in view, and for his reverse of fortune, departed this life at Cincinati, in February, 1814. A large and respectable procession attended his remains from the residence of general Harrison to a principal landing place on the Ohio river, where military honours were performed by the infantry company commanded by captain M'Farland. The corpse was taken thence in a barge, to North Bend, and interred on the spot, which mr. Symmes had previously selected.
Robert Livingston Papers
Robert R. Livingston Jr. (1746–1813) is among the most significant but neglected political and judicial figures of the American Revolutionary and Early Republic periods. Livingston is best known for his nearly twenty-four-year tenure as the inaugural chancellor of New York State. Elected to the most senior judicial position during the New York constitutional convention of 1777, he sat on the Council of Revision—a small group of officials empowered to veto legislation—and was chief judge of the state’s court of equity. Equally significant, after Thomas Jefferson’s presidential election in 1801, Livingston agreed to succeed Gouverneur Morris as minister to France. Livingston, then known simply as “The Chancellor,” was instructed to secure trading rights in New Orleans or gain possession of another port on the Mississippi River. But during his negotiations he saw an opportunity to secure the United States’ position among the powers of the earth. Creative and thoughtful with Napoleon, then first consul of France, and Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, French minister of foreign affairs, and going beyond his instructions, he proposed France cede Louisiana to the United States. The French agreed, selling the territory for $15 million and doubling the size of the US. “We have lived a long time,” Livingston wrote of the Louisiana Purchase, “and this is the noblest work of our lives. The treaty we have just signed has not been obtained by guile or dictated by force equally beneficial to both contracting parties, it will change vast solitudes into flourishing countries.” “Today,” he went on, “the United States take their place among the powers of first rank.”
But Livingston’s involvement in the founding of the United States was ubiquitous. After graduating from King’s College (Columbia) and practicing law with John Jay, Livingston served as the recorder of New York City for two years. He was removed, however, after he signed the First Continental Congress’ Articles of Association. Then, in 1775, he was elected to the New York Provincial Congress for Dutchess Co. and was later elected as a delegate for New York to the Second Continental Congress. During his time in Congress, Livingston established himself as the leader and spokesperson for the New York delegation. He drafted “The Twelve United Colonies, by their Delegates in Congress, to the Inhabitants of Great Britain,” a draft of which was recently discovered and attributed to Livingston, shedding new light on his role in shifting the Continental Congress toward independence. In June 1776, he was appointed to the Committee of Five, tasked with drafting what became the Declaration of Independence. He also served on his state’s Committee of Safety and in state constitutional convention, working closely with Jay to draft the new constitution. Between August 1781 and August 1783, he served as the secretary of foreign affairs, then as a member of the Temporary Council that governed New York City after the British evacuation and, in 1788, as a representative for New York Co. at the convention that formed to debate the ratification of the federal constitution. Again, he established himself as a leading figure, cementing a prominent state and national reputation. On 4 July 1786 he was elected as an honorary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati, and on 30 April 1789, Livingston administered the oath of office to President George Washington. Aligning himself with the Democratic-Republicans, Livingston was overlooked for multiple federal positions, including chief justice and secretary of the treasury, and was a public sympathizer with the French Revolution. He distanced himself with his old friend and colleague John Jay, opposing the Jay Treaty in the New York Argus in 1795. Washington, eventually, offered Livingston a post—French minister—but he refused, noting his political differences with the Federalist administration would make it impossible to complete his duties.
The Committee of Five present their work in June 1776 detail of John Trumbull's 1819 painting Declaration of Independence
Outside of public service, Livingston was active in agriculture and the arts. In fact, writing in 1809, Livingston considered his diplomatic work in France as complementary to his agricultural endeavors: “The hope of acquiring such useful information in agriculture and the arts as would be useful to my fellow citizens, was not one of my smallest motive for accepting a foreign mission.” In the early 1790s, he cofounded the New York Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Manufactures, and the Useful Arts (now Albany Institute of History and Art) and as the founding president of the Academy of Fine Arts (later part of the National Academy of Design). Between the late 1790s and early 1800s, Livingston pursued steam navigation. In 1802 he partnered with Robert Fulton, whom he met in Paris, and in 1807 they launched the first steamboat, named the North River, revolutionizing water transportation, travel, and commerce. Later, Fulton and Livingston served on the Commission to Explore a Route for a Canal to Lake Erie and Report. In addition, Livingston became a leading promoter of fine-wooled Merino sheep and published Essay on Sheep (New York: T. and J. Swords, 1809).
Livingston was also a substantial landowner. After his father died in 1775, Livingston inherited Clermont, a large Hudson Valley estate, and 500,000 acres in the Hardenburgh Patent in the Catskills, becoming the leader of the Clermont branch of the Livingston family. Soon thereafter, he acquired around 250,000 acres in Dutchess Co. Much of Livingston’s land was tenanted. His Clermont tenants held roughly 70 acres and the average rent was 25 bushels of winter wheat, four hens, and a day’s riding. Leases, generally, lasted three lives. During the Revolutionary War, the British Army burned Clermont and Livingston’s residence, Belvedere.
Along with members of his family, Livingston was also a slaveowner. According to the first federal census of 1790, he owned at least fifteen enslaved people. But Livingston’s attitudes toward race and slavery were complex. When he served on New York’s Council of Revision, he helped veto legislation that provided for the gradual abolition of slavery but prohibited Blacks from holding public office and voting. Of emancipated slaves, Livingston wrote they could not “be deprived of those essential rights without shocking the principle of equal liberty,” adding, “Rendering power permanent and hereditary in the hands of persons who deduce their origins from white ancestors only” would establish a “malignant … aristocracy.” Despite this somewhat enlightened statement, Livingston used enslaved labor at Clermont. In his September 1796 will he stipulated that all slaves over thirty years old would be freed and those who were younger could be freed under certain circumstances. By 1810 he owned at least five slaves. In addition, the Chancellor owned several brothels in lower Manhattan, which made have been homes for Black servants, or prostitutes.
Since Livingston’s death, only one full-length biography has been published, George Dangerfield’s Chancellor Robert R. Livingston (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1960), even though he generally figures in articles, monographs, and text books on the Revolutionary and Early Republic periods, as well as in books on agriculture, steam engines, diplomacy, landholding, and, recently, slavery and higher education. He also occupies a prominent role on secondary histories of New York City and New York State and legal histories of the United States. But much of what is written about Livingston is simplistic and does not engage deeply with the extant Livingston manuscripts that are in repositories in the United States and abroad. Though there are exceptions to this rule, scholars have infrequently consulted and worked with Livingston’s manuscripts for almost all aspects of his life.
For many, Livingston’s manuscripts have been overlooked because interest in the history of New York during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries has waned. Others may view his manuscripts as inaccessible. Scholars can gain access to the main corpus of his materials at the New-York Historical Society, but a finding aid is not publicly available and the sheer bulk of materials has meant that any scholar attempting to use those documents must spend considerable time at the Society to gain any sense of familiarity with the materials.
In the American Historical Review of July 1961, Aubrey C. Land noted: “Livingston cannot be consigned to passing mention or footnote treatment,” adding, “His papers … pointedly suggest him as a subject” (p. 1057). In the New York Times, Carl Bridenbaugh described Livingston as “Affable, genuinely humane … and cultivated.” “Livingston was far more than an individual he was an institution” (27 Nov. 1960). Broadus Mitchell described him as “subtler, less solemn than Monroe,” “less pretentious … than Jefferson,” and “more brilliant than Madison” ( Journal of American History, June 1961, p. 103). Benjamin Franklin once labeled Livingston the “Cicero of America.” In the nineteenth century, William Raymond noted in his Biographical Sketches (1851) that Livingston was “a benefactor of the human race” (p. 43) Lockwood L. Doty wrote in A History of Livingston County (1876) that he was “that best product of the human race, a patriot statesman of the Revolutionary period” (p. 348).
Cession of Louisiana by Constantino Brumidi. François, marquis de Barbé-Marbois (standing), French minister of the treasury, showing a map to U.S. minister Robert Livingston (right) and U.S. minister plenipotentiary James Monroe (center)
The historiographical neglect that has surrounded New York and Livingston can no longer be sustained. His papers are exceptionally rich for all aspects of his life and align neatly with the founding and establishment of the United States, allowing scholars a unique insight into the political, legal, economic, diplomatic, and agricultural development of New York and the United States from before the American Revolution until the War of 1812. Often simply described as the man who inaugurated Washington, his manuscripts need to be made more accessible to the public and to scholars.
To that end, The Gotham Center for New York City History at The Graduate Center, CUNY, with institutional support and sponsorship from the New-York Historical Society, is pursuing the establishment of a documentary editing project to publish a digital edition and letterpress edition befitting the significance of Livingston’s papers.
Livingston County Named, 1798
Historical Marker #801 in Smithland commemorates the namesake of Livingston County, Robert R. Livingston.
Robert Livingston was born in New York City in 1746. He was educated at King's College and studied law soon thereafter. Livingston was elected to the New York provisional congress, and, as a member of that body, was selected to serve in the Continental Congress. He was selected to the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, but returned to New York before signing the document.
Livingston's political stature was enhanced when he was selected as the Secretary of Foreign affairs (Secretary of State) while the United States was governed under the Articles of Confederation. As a member of New York's legislative body, Livingston pushed for the ratification of the Constitution. In fact, it was he who administered the oath of office to President Washington in 1789. In 1801, President Jefferson named Livingston as the U.S. minister to France. While in that role, Livingston helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.
Kentucky became the fifteenth state in 1792. Six years later, Livingston County became the twenty-sixth county of the state. Livingston County was created from part of Christian County. The county's unique geographical position, bordered by the Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers, ensured that it would have many future connections to the steamboat world.
It was after Robert Livingston had been honored by Kentucky that he met steamboat innovator Robert Fulton. Livingston quickly became intrigued with the potential of steam-powered water travel. However, it was Fulton and Livingston's steamboat, the "New Orleans," that made the inaugural trip from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1811. That voyage forever changed the way people and products were transported. Unfortunately, Robert Livingston died less than two years after this trailblazing voyage.
Livingston County steamboat ports, including the county seat, Smithland, located at the confluence of the Cumberland and Ohio Rivers, served as exchange centers where raw materials like iron and quarried limestone went off to distant markets. Crops and finished industrial goods from upriver at Nashville, Tennessee, went to places like Louisville, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. Others went to Memphis, Natchez, and New Orleans.
In the time since the steamboat the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers have been dammed by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Today, these waterways still serve as vital commercial links and as recreational outlets.
History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925Robert Francis Livingston
[This information is from Vol. III, pp. 240-243 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925 , edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]
Portrait: Robert Francis Livingston
Fortunate is the man who has back of him an ancestry honorable and distinguished and such a one is the subject of this brief review, Robert Francis Livingston, attorney at law, of Little Falls, New York. He was born in Stratford, New York, on December 17, 1871, his parents being James C. and Margaret E. (James) Livingston. James C. Livingston was born in Livingston Manor, New York, in 1857, and is now living in Little Falls, a retired manufacturer of pianos and piano parts. He is the son of Robert Francis and Anna Maria (Casey) Livingston. Robert Francis Livingston was born in Livingston Manor in 1812, and died in 1876. The lineal descendants of Robert Livingston, the first lord of Livingston Manor, were his son, Philip Livingston, the second lord of Livingston Manor, and his son Robert Livingston, the third lord of Livingston Manor. The Livingston Manor comprised what is now Dutchess and Columbia counties in the state of New York and consisted of one hundred and sixty thousand two hundred and forty acres. It was patented to Robert Livingston by King George I of England, in 1715. The Livingstons were Scotch from Ancram, Scotland. The distinguished Livingstons were Robert R. Livingston, a statesman and first chancellor of the state of New York, who administered the oath of office to George Washington. He was minister to France in 1801, consummated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and was chairman of the committee which drafted the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin called him the "Cicero of America". Philip Livingston was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Edward Livingston was the author of the Louisiana Code. He was also minister to France and was secretary of state. William Livingston was governor of New Jersey during the Revolutionary war. Margaret E. (James) Livingston, mother of the subject of this sketch, was born in Castleton, Vermont, in 1852, and now resides in Little Falls. She is the daughter of James J. and Margareta (Holden) James. James J. James was a marble quarryman in Vermont.
Robert Francis Livingston acquired his early education in the public schools of Little Falls, and graduated from the Academy in that city in the class of 1890. He then entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied medicine for two years and graduated in a course of natural history in 1892. Two years later he was graduated from Cornell University, with the degree of B. S. He then went to Washington, D. C., and entered Columbian University and was graduated in law in 1896, with the degree of LL.B., after which he came to Little Falls, and took up the practice of his profession. He has practiced it successfully since that time and is considered one of the best lawyers in his home city.
On June 1, 1903, in Little Falls, Mr. Livingston was united in marriage to Miss L. Belle Eaton, who was born in Little Falls, and is the daughter of John Irving and Anice (Keyser) Eaton. John Irving Eaton was born on a farm near Little Falls, and died in Little Falls in 1916. He was a high type of citizen and agriculturist and his word was considered as good as his bond. He was the son of John Eaton who came from Connecticut and settled in what is now known as Eatonville, New York. He was a prosperous farmer and brought his brothers to the place and together they opened up that section. Anice (Keyser) Eaton, mother of Mrs. Livingston, was born in Manheim, New York, and is now residing in Little Falls. She is the daughter of Jacob P. Keyser, a descendant of the early Dutch of Palatine who lived on a farm near Little Falls. Mr. and Mrs. Livingston have one daughter: Gracia Belle Livingston, who was born December 5, 1908, and is now a student in the high school at Little Falls.
On December 28, 1905, Mr. Livingston was appointed county judge and surrogate of Herkimer county, New York, by Governor Frank Higgins and served two and one-half years and filled out the unexpired term of Justice I. R. Diefendorf [i.e., Devendorf]. He is a director in the National Bank of Little Falls and holds membership in the Order of United American Mechanics the Maccabees Little Falls Lodge, No. 81, F, & A. M. of Little Falls Lodge No. 42, Benevolent Protective Order of Elks and Rockton Council, No. 337, Royal Arcanum. He is also a member of the Little Falls Chamber of Commerce and of the Little Falls Country Club and in politics is a stanch republican. His church associations are with the Presbyterian church of Little Falls. In early days his chief diversions were fishing and hunting. As a lawyer Mr. Livingston is noted for his integrity and is remarkable among lawyers for the wide research and provident care with which he prepares his cases.
http://www.schenectadyhistory.org/resources/mvgw/bios/livingston_robert.html updated June 10, 2018
Copyright 2018 Schenectady Digital History Archive — a service of the Schenectady County Public Library
The first American ancestor was Robert Livingston. He is known as Robert Livingston the Elder.
Robert the Elder married Alida Schuyler, (this family is also related to David Abeel). When Robert the Elder died he divided the Manor by willing the majority of the land to his eldest son Phillip. He gave a much smaller piece of the land to his son Robert as a reward for detecting a "Negro plot" to kill all the white people in their neighborhood. This division of the land also created a division in the family.  Phillip did not like the fact that Robert had also been given land. Robert was very successful in his land which became known as the Clermont Manor. His piece of the land grew as he acquired more land and tenants which increased the jealousy Philip had towards him. 
Robert of Clermont willed the manor to his eldest son Robert R. Livingston. Robert was a judge so he is known as Robert the Judge. He married Margaret Beekman, who was heir to twenty four thousand acres of land just south of Clermont.  They had at least two sons, Robert R. Livingston and Henry Phillip Livingston. Robert R. Livingston son of Robert the Judge was also a lawyer and later became chancellor of New York. He is known as Robet the Chancellor. 
I am uncertain about which Robert is the person I am looking for. According to Lepore, Robert Livingston was an English lawyer and sea captain. Lepore made a mistake about Robert Livngston's origin. The Livignstons were not English, they were Scottish. Lepore also lists Livingston as a member of the Court Party and his wealth was estimated at 175 pounds. He also lived in the Dock ward.  So far I have not been able to find anything that says any Robert Livingston was a sea captain. I found many lawyers and a judge but no sea captain. Lepore may have made another mistake. If this is true then Robert of Clermont or his son Robert the Judge could be my elusive immigrant.
The Livingston family was famous for their patriotic spirit. Many members of this family served in the Continental Army and were distinguished by others as good soldiers.  The lawyers of the family worked with the new government drafting and signing important documents such as the Stamp Act, and the Declaration of Independence. Others joined the revolutionary groups such as the Sons of Liberty. The Livingstons became targets for the Loyalists because the they were known as true patriots in the revolutionary cause. After Robert the Judge's death, his manor burned by Loyalists. His widow was able to save her children and slaves. She was forced to relocate to Connecticut.  
The Livingston family was also very generous to their Church. I found the names of many Livingstons as generous donors, deacons, and wardens to their church. I found the names of two Robert Livingstons as donors to the Church of Christ in Poughkeepsie. 
I have decided not to pursue the search for Robert Livingston because I do not think I will discover any accurate information about him. Any information I may provide may be a fabrication of the lives of all the Robert Livingstons put together. I have done my best but I feel pursuing this case will take more time than I have available.