Christmas Poet Cover

Source Materials
Henry Livingston
Dr. William S. Thomas
Duchess County Historical Society
1919 Yearbook, pp.32-46.

Early Days After Jane, the 2nd Family
Revolutionary War Goodnight to You
After Sally, the Rhyming Years x

Henry Livingston's Early Years

Henry Livingston was born on the 13th of October, 1748, in his father's home, the Livingston Mansion, on the bank of the Hudson River, a mile south of what was then the village of Poughkeepsie. The Phoenix Horseshoe Works now occupy the spot.

Identity of their names must not cause the son to be mistaken for the parent, Henry Livingston, born 1714, who came early from Kingston to Poughkeepsie, served as Clerk of Dutchess County fifty-two years (1737-1789) and as a member of the Provincial Assembly from 1759 to 1768.

Of the boyhood of Henry Livingston, Junior, little is known. Aside from the place and time of his birth, the first being found recorded of him is that in March, 1770, during a long sojourn in New York City and while at the home of his kinsman, Col. Henry Beekman, his brother, Gilbert, wrote a letter to him from Poughkeepsie.

Three years later he was courting Sarah, the pretty daughter of the Reverend Noah Welles, of Stamford, Conn., when, on December 30th, 1773, he wrote her from New York:

A happy Christmas to my dear Sally Welles.
Next Tuesday evening I hope to see the Girl for whom alone I would well bear to live. Year, my dear creature, next Tuesday evening, if my God spares my life, I hope to tell you I am as sincerely your friend, as constantly your admirer & as religiously your lover as when I sat by your side & vow'd everlasting affection to you
Miss Bostwick will give you an account of the destruction of our Governor's house in the Fort last night; of the terror of the Inhabitants & the great loss our worthy commander in chief has received.
I wish I had been prudent enough to have procured a good private stable for the horse I shall ride up & keep in Stanford this winter--however, I must look about when I come there. Tomorrow I expect to send up my necessarys with Capt. Sellick.

Remember me, my dear Love, to my friends and relations at Stanford; and remember, my Love, that of all your friends, none loves you so sincerely as your
Harry Livingston

During his early manhood he was a frequent sojourner in New York City and, with his brother, the Rev. John H. Livingston, pastor of the Middle Dutch Church there, belonged to the Social Club. Their names appear in a list of its members who were dropped by the ruling Loyalist majority at the outbreak of the Revolution. Opposite the names of the Livingston brothers appears the entry, "Disaffected, but of no political importance." A Tory social club was no place for Henry Livingston, who was already on record as one of the Associators of Dutchess County and in whose private music book may be seen the title to the British national anthem, changed by his quill pen as follows:


This manuscript music book tells something of its maker. It is eight by twelve and a half inches in size and contains over two hundred pages of words and music, varying from psalm tunes to jigs. There are love songs in plenty, martial tunes, hunting songs, marches, reels and minuets, besides selections from eighteenth century operas such as "The Jolly Beggars" and Sheridan's "Duenna." The songs are written in great part for the tenor voice and other music of the violin and flute. Joy in its preparation is suggested throughout the book by its carefully written score and its almost engraving-like script and the exuberance of its pen flourishes.

Shortly before the Revolution, the girl he loved accepted Henry Livingston, her father joined them in marriage and the couple settled down to live about two miles south of Poughkeepsie Court House at Locust Grove, a farm of two hundred and fifty acres, lying between the post road and the river. Their dwelling house which stood in the midst of a broad lawn dotted with large locust trees, has since been razed, but there are persons living today who remember the old house which once stood on what is now the property of Mrs. Wm. H. Young, south of the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery.

The ancient 79th milestone from New York, which may still be seen, stood close to the stone house, which, with a smaller wooden wing extending from its west end, faced south toward the driveway leading in from the post road. It had dormer windows in its second floor, with tight shutters and there was a covered porch along the front of the main, or stone, portion. A large stone chimney was at the east end of the house nearest the main road.

Entering the front door, one saw a large square hall from which narrow stairs led up to the floor above. "We had in our antique domicile," wrote a daughter of Henry Livingston, "a particularly quiet, out-of-the-way-of-noise little nook, known as 'The Arch.' Hither father used to betake himself, when the family were too turbulent for him to think." Near to the house was a well, forty feet deep, from which the water bucket was drawn by a wheel and chain.

Revolutionary War

Henry Livingston was twenty-seven years old and his wife twenty-two when their first child, Catherine, was born at Locust Grove, on August 18th, 1775. The Revolution was in progress and he was already commissioned major of the Third New York Continental Regiment, commandered by Col. James Clinton. The regiment was ordered to join the Canada expedition under Gen. Richard Montgomery, whose wife was the major's great-aunt, Janet Livingston [Error: Janet was one year older than Henry, and was his 2nd cousin].

Until the demolition of the old house by the Phoenix Horse Shoe Works, the patched hole
through the shingled sheathing of its front was to be seen - a silent witness of
English "Schrectlichkeit" of Revolutionary Days.

Two thousand Americans under Montgomery invaded Canada, besieged and conquered the British fortress of St. John's, which commanded the approach to Montreal, and that city was entered in triumph on the twelfth day of November, 1775. But this campaign, which promised so well, finally resulted in the fall of the gallant and beloved Montgomery and in the failure to wrest Canada from the enemy.

To participate in this campaign, Henry Livingston left behind him his young wife and their first baby, Catherine, one week old. His part as a field officer in the expedition is told in a journal kept by him and later edited by his kinsman, Gaillard Hunt, and published in the Pennsyslvania Magazine of History and Biography for April, 1898. Here he recounted how, on August 25th, 1775, he set off in a sloop with Col. Clinton and other officers in company with a fleet which sailed up the Hudson River, arriving at Albany two days later. Here the regiment remained, perfecting its organization and equipment until late in September, when the march northward began. Meanwhile Major Livingston embraced the opportunity to take side trips, visiting the Mohawk Valley, observing things from a farmer's point of view and making notes. Five days of the time of the regiment's halt in Albany he spent ina visit to his heartside and its loved ones.

The route of Montgomery's little army lay up the Hudson River, along Lakes George and Champlain and down the outlet of the latter, the Sorel River, together comprising the natural highway between Canada and the mouth of the Hudson, a thoroughfare repeatedly fought over as the key to military supremacy in what are now the middle Atlantic states. The major's description of his battalion's journey down Lake Champlain sounds strangely to us, who think of armies moved in fifty-thousand-ton transport ships, troop trains and roaring motor lorries.

October 4.-At 4 in the afternoon set of from Ticonderoga with Coll'o Clinton, Cap't Nicholson, Billings & Johnson & 165 men in 14 battoes. That evening reach'd Crownpoint. Left that place next morning & got as far as one Nights 27 miles from Crownpoint in Company with 2 Battoes besides my own. The rest went forward 2 miles. The next evening my battoe reach'd a point of land opposite the southern part of Grand Isle; at which Island the rest of the boats all stay'd. We kept on the point till 10 in the evening d then with a small breeze stood down the Lake & went slowly on till 3 in the morning when we touch'd on shore & rested in the boat till day light & again stood down the Lake *** at evening landed on the east side of the Lake at 7 miles distance to S. of Isle Aux Noix-pitch'd our tents on the sand, & early next morning set of again in a violent rain which lasted without any Interruption till we arrived at Isle Aux Noix where we came abt noon.
By trailing I catched a fine pike 2 feet long & a clever Bass with which kind of fish & yellow perch & sunfish the Lake abounds.

Of Canada and the Canadians he comments: "A land of slaves will ever be a land of Poverty, Ignorance and Idleness."

An enemy officer prisoner, one Dr. Daniel Robertson, surgeon's mate of the 42nd British Regiment, stated in a letter written from La Prairie, near Montreal, on October 23, 1775, "I *** delivered myself up to Major Livingston who received me as a friend and showed me every indulgence possible and much more than I could expect from a stranger. He really convinced me of the nobleness of Liberty by his most generous behavior."

During the latter days of the campaign, Major Livingston, fell ill, and was obliged to make a difficult journey home, delayed by suffering and prostration. The diary tells part of the story:

December 1.-This morning me set out from Fort George 3 Ox teams carrying our Baggage. On one of them I rode. 4 miles on the north of Fort Edward I b't a horse, being too sick to ride on a Cart.

December 2-I was very Ill when I set out from Smiths and riding on a Bearskin without any stirrups, thro a small snow too, did not contribute to alleviate my distemper. I got as far as Saratoga & lodg'd at the Generals, Mrs. Schuyler & her daughter being there.

The journal tells of places and people strange to him, of pow-wows with delegations of friendly Indians, of his baptism by enemy fire, of the fighting about St. john's and of its surrender, and of his month-long homeward journey. The last entry in the journal is dated December 22, 1775:

December 22.-A little after noon I arrived in safety at my house. The God of all mercy be adored for his goodness to an unworthy sinner!

Three years afterward a Christmas gift came to the Major's family in the form of a first-born son to whom was given the name of Henry Welles. He died of a burn when but a year old. In accordance with a custom of the time, the same name was given to the next son who was born a year and a half after his brother.

The Major's military career terminated, it seems, at the time of his illness but he served later in the war as one of the commissioners of Sequestration of Dutchess County. They took over the property of Tories, sold it and turned the proceeds into the State. They transported the families of disaffected persons and gave leases of their houses and farms to others who were loyal to the cause of the Revolution. In the New York Packet, published weekly in Fishkill by Samuel Loudon, appears the following advertisement, 18th January, 1781:

To be Sold at Public Vendue
The Mill and Stones, iron work and other matierals belonging to the grist, fulling and saw mills at the Continental Village, late the property of Beverly Robinson. The vendue to be held on Monday the 29th inst. at the premises by
Jonathan Lawrence
Henry Livingston, jun.
Theo. Van Wyck
Commissioners of Sequestration.
After Sally, the Rhyming Years

Mrs. Livingston died on September 1st, 1783. The Rev. Timothy Dwight, chaplain to the Connecticut Continental troops and later President of Yale College, preached the funeral sermon. He was a connection and friend of the Major's family. [Rev. Dwight was married to Mary Woolsey, the first cousin of Henry's wife, Sarah.]

That Henry Livingston ws a writer of verses is witnessed in a manuscript book in his handwriting. it contains forty-four metrical compositions, religious, elegiac, satirical, descriptive, domestic and social. One piece is marked "versified 1776, but all other dates entered are included between the years 1784 and 1789.

"A New Year's Address of Richard and George, two boys of the Printer, N(icholas). Power, 1787", is a rhyming appeal printed by their employer and handed out by the newsboys.

Before the friends of Mr. Power
In this good-natured happy hour
Respectfully we both appear
And wish you all a happy year.
After a discourse upon the readiness of the Journal to capture all the news and set it before its readers, the boys are made to confess:
And now the end of all this clatter
Is but a small and trifling matter;
A puny sixpence or a shilling
From willing souls to souls as willing.
Among several rhyming "rebuses" in the book is one which conceals in its description of her, the name of a belle, well known in her day and long afterward among Poughkeepsie people, as Nancy Crooke.

A glimpse into Major Livingston's home life at Locust Grove and an ideal of social dealings there are presented in his

Letter to my Brother Beekman,
who then lived with Mr. Schenk
at New Lebanon - 1786

To my dear brother Beekman I sit down to write
Ten minutes past eight & a very cold night.
Not far from me sits with a baullancy cap on
Our very good couzin, Elizabeth Tappen,
A tighter young seamstress you'd ne'er wish to see
And she (blessings on her) is sewing for me.
New shirts and new cravats this morning cut out
Are tumbled in heaps and lye huddled about.
My wardrobe (a wonder) will soon be enriched
With ruffles new hemmed & wristbands new stitched.
Now for news my sweet fellow - first learn with a sigh
That matters are carried here gloriously high,
Such gadding - such ambling - such jaunting about,
To tea with Miss Nancy - to sweet Willy's rout,
New parties at coffee - then parties at wine,
Next day all the world with the Major must dine
Then bounce all hands to Fishkill must go in a clutter
To guzzle bohea and destroy bread and butter

A love of out-door nature is often shown in his verses. In "An Invitation to the Country," he writes,
What is all the gay town can bestow?
That all its inhabitants share?
But trifles and glitter and show,
That cloy and displease as they glare.

By the side of a murmuring stream,
Where willows the margin imbrown;
We'll wander, unheeded, unseen,
Nor envy the taste of the town.
[These two verses are reordered from the original.]

Among other titles found in his fragmentary collection of Henry Livingston's verses are the following: "To my Niece, Sally Livingston, on the Death of a Little Serenading Wren she Admired"; "The Vine and Oak, a Fable"; "Careless Philosopher's Soliloquy"; "To a Gentleman, On his Leaving Pakepsy"; "Apostrophe of Rispah, the concubine of Saul, when Davied slew her Sons for Saul's Crimes".

Henry Livingston's authorship of the verses in the book cited is shown by their internal evidence and by their chronology. Some of them are addressed to members of his family, as quoted above, while those which were published appeared in print subsequently to the dates given to them in the manuscript condition.

He was wont to make pictures for the amusement of his children. Some of the drawings appeared as frontispieces in the montly issues of the New York Magazine and Literary Repository between the years 1791 and 1794. Each of these illustrations was accompanied by his own short descriptive article. The identity of the artist and writer is disclosed by Henry Livingston's initials or name subjoined to the illustrations and by editorial notes referring to pictures and stories, at times mentioning the frequently used intial "R".

Plate from The New York Magazine for May 1791
Built by his father, Henry Livingston, Senior, this house was the birthplace of Major Henry Livingston, Junior,
but it was not here that "A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS" was written. "Locust Grove" was half a mile south of this scene.
The drawing is by the Major.

An allegorical story used by him entitled "The Happy Vale" appeared in the January, 1792, number of the New York Magazine and was illustrated by one of his essays at picture making. The story tells the adventures of "an English gentleman of the name of Millbray, who was Midshipman on board the Cato, of 71 guns, commanded by Admiral Hyde Parker, and which was wrecked in 1771 on the coast of Ave." He discovered in his travels a Utopian region, the manners and customs of whose inhabitants were just as one would wish to have among his own countrymen.

After Jane

After remaining a widower for ten years, on the first day of September, 1793, Henry Livingston married Jane McLean paterson, the second daughter of Matthew Paterson, Esq., of the town of Paterson in Dutchess (now Putnam) County. At the time of this second marriage, two children of the four born by his first wife were still living. These were Catherine, now eighteen and Henry Welles, fifteen years of age. They continued to live for some time at Locust Grove.
[There were 3 children still living. Daughter Catharine left home to marry Arthur Breese two months after Henry's wedding. Cornelia died about six months after Henry's second marriage. So only one child, Henry Welles, lived at home for a time until he went off to school to become a lawyer.]

While there is ground for assurance that the farm did not lack his attention between the years 1793 and 1820, or at any other time, yet during this particular period, he gave not a little time and attention to surveying and map making. In the state archives at Albany are eight official manuscript maps made by Henry Livingston of seconds of land along the Hudson River. Besides maps of land under water, there are maps of the townships of Poughkeepsie, Beekman and Fishkill and another of what was then the newly separated county of Putnam. There is in the Dutchess County Clerk's Office an original large scale map made by him of the village of Poughkeepsie at the time of its incorporation in 1799, showing the names and locations of the residences of individual householders.

During his later years Henry Livingston was no longer spoken of as "Major", but came to be known as "Judge". The title appears to have been attached to his positions as Justice of the Peace and as principal assessor of taxes for the federal district which included Poughkeepsie and other townships. A notice signed by him appears in the Poughkeepsie Journal of March 5, 1799 which reads in part as follows:

The valuations of lands and dwelling houses and the enumeration of slaves.....may be seen and examined at my dwelling house......on the 7th day of March next and.....during 15 days thereafter appeals will be received and determined by the subscriber.....relative to any erroneous or excessive valuations or enumerations made by the assessors. All persons who suppose themselves aggrieved are desired to enter their appeals within ten days from the aforesaid date.
Henry Livingston,
Principal Assessor of 2nd District

By the death of his father on the 10th of February, 1799, Henry Livingston's name lost its appendage of "Junior", which it had borne for half a century. His father's will provided for an equal distribution of the estate among his children and their heirs with the one exception of Henry, who received his birthright in property 28 years before in the parent's deed of gift of Locust Grove with its 250 acre farm.
[Gilbert was also required to reimbuse the estate for his education, and John Henry for the expenses of educating him to the ministry in Holland.]

Henry Livingston's name is seen occasionally in the Poughkeepsie newspapers shortly before and for some time after 1800, as a signer, with other citizens, of appeals to electors to vote for Federalist candidates for public office, particularly when John Jay stood for re-election as Governor and when David Brooks ran for State Senator.

The newspapers of this period also contain references to Henry Livingston as a commissioner in bankruptcy.

His second marriage, that with Miss Paterson, had as issue eight children. A peep at the Locust Grove folks in 1802 is to be had by perusal of a letter from its master who wrote from the Highlands of the Hudson while on a surveying trip there. This letter was addressed to his son by the first marriage, Henry Welles Livingston, then studying law in Poughkeepsie and a frequent visitor at his step-mother's house.

When you see dear mamma, bow down to the very floor and kiss your left hand and press it to your bosom for me, and squeeze and kiss Jane and Edwin heartily for ditto. Shake Sid's and Charley's fists. You have my best affection my sweet boy.
In 1809 Henry Livingston gave a sixty-six-foot-wide strip of land, extending the whole length of his farm, to be used as part of the new turnpike, now called the South Road. By this change the old post road ws shifted twenty rods to the east, thus giving the house a more secluded position.

In the spring of 1817 Henry Livingston surveyed the land for the plant of the West Point Foundry, at Cold Spring, headed by Gouverneur Kemble. The works here became famous for their manufacture of the parrott gun, a type of cannon used by the Union Army during the Civil War, and they remained in operation until 1894.

A glimpse into the intimate family life of Locust Grove appears in a rhyming letter dated June 11, 1821, from Henry Livingston's twenty-two year old son, Edwin George, sent to his elder brother, Dr. Charles Paterson Livingston, then practicing medicine in Kaskaskia, Ill. After assuring the absent one that true fellowship continued to exist at home, he writes that

With seeing our friends and returning their calls,
No care intervenes or trouble enthralls.
He tells of a party at which
Our sisters, myself, with about thirty more
Made as social a group as e'er crowded a floor,
We parted at twelve and soundly at one,
Slept I in the famous old mansion of stone;
The visions of gaiety cheering till morn,
When the magic is broke by the loud breakfast horn.

Jane, Helen and pa tomorrow set sail,
And anxiously wait the glad summons to hail
That calls all on board and off for New York;
The tight "Sally Frances" plies shrewdly to work.
A fortnight at least they'll stay in the city.

Pa returns in a week, for naught at his age
Amuses - the fashions and gay equipage;
Far dearer to him is the still country shade
Than the bustle of cities, their pomp and parade.

In this letter Edwin speaks of "Cousin Harry" and here again the reader is cautioned not to mistake Henry Livingston for a kinsman of similar name. The cousin Harry referred to was Henry Alexander Livingston, or Col. Harry Livingston, as he is remembered by some Poughkeepsie people living today. Colonel Harry was the son of Henry Livingston's brother, the Reverend John H. Livingston and both of them resided at the Livingston mansion on the river bank, but never at Locust Grove.

On his expedition up the Hudson, in October 1777, to burn Kingston, the new Capital of the newly created Sate of New York, the ruthless Vaughn saw in this beautiful, peaceful home on the river's bank only a tempting target for his malignity. He fired a round shot from a cannon one one of his boats through the front of the house, shown with pillared porch in the above picture, reproduced from a beautiful photograph taken by Henry Booth, Esq.

Colonel Harry represented Dutchess County in the State Legislature as Assemblyman and as Senator. As his uncle Henry Livingston declined in years and strength, Colonel Harry became a prominent citizen of the town and of the State, so that to the older generation of inhabitants of Poughkeepsie today, the uncle is lost in the mists of the past and the name of "Henry Livingston" suggests to them only the personality of the nephew, who survived the older man by nearly twenty years.

A Goodnight to You, Henry Livingston

Henry Livingston of Locust Grove died on February 29th, 1828, in his eightieth year. In the family record it is noted that "His mind was serene and tranquil throughout, and death seemed disarmed of the terrors in the dissolution of our father. Thus, after a pious, useful and happy life, we may truly say, he fell asleep in Jesus. He lived and died a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. His bones lie beside those of many others of his family in the Livingston burying ground, now a part of the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery.

This happy-hearted man had a vivacious spirit, wont to express itself in music, verse and story. The descendants of this same dweller in Dutch Hudson River surroundings are unanimous in their belief in a family tradition taught them from infancy, that he was the author of the verses beginning with the lines:

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

His own children and grandchildren have borne written testimony to their belief that he wrote the poem. The circumstances of its production, its first reading to the family by him, as he brought it forth from "the arch" years before its anonymous publication in the Troy Sentinel in 1823, the loss of the manuscript by fire - all these details are matters of common talk among his posterity. A critical comparison of the "Visit from St. Nicholas" with the acknowledged verses of Henry Livingston adds internal evidence supporting the correctness of the family tradition. The story of Livingston's authorship of the poem and of the events which caused it to be credited to another is too long to allow of its presentation here. Some of its salient points are touched upon in an article by Mr. Winthrop P. Tryon, published in the Christian Science Monitor for August 4, 1920.

The matter is referred to here in the hope that its publication may elicit new evidence.


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