Henry Livingston, Jr.
A Century and a Half Quest To Prove The Author of
"A Visit From St. Nicholas"


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The Original SearchersThe Searchers of Today
It Started With the WomenEveryone Searches
Henry LivingstonMary S. Van Deusen
Dr. William Sturges ThomasDon Foster
Jeanne Livingston Hubbard DenigStephen Livingston Thomas
W. Stephen ThomasMacDonald P. Jackson
Pres. Henry N. McCrackenResearch Sources

It Started With the Women
Catharine Breese Griswold, her daughter Cornelia Griswold Goodrich,
and her three granddaughters
Cornelia Goodrich, Anne Livingston Goodrich, and Mary Goodrich Montgomery

The knowledge of Henry Livingston's authorship of "Night Before Christmas" traveled as family stories down multiple lines of Henry's children. Three of the children - Charles, Sidney and Edwin - remembered the event. A fourth person to have been there was Eliza Brewer, Charles' wife. She had been raised by her aunt and uncle, who lived next door to the Livingstons. Her aunt and Henry's 2nd wife Jane were sisters. The date the children put to the creation of the poem was roughly from 1805 to 1810. Looking back, they could only date it by how old they thought they had been when Henry read them the poem.

Henry & Sarah Henry & Jane
Catharine [L] Breese 1775-1808 . .
     Samuel Livingston Breese 1794-1870  Charles P. Livingston
 +Eliza Brewer
     Jane {L} Hubbard
          Jeanne [H] Denig
               Robert Denig
                    James Denig
     Sarah [B] Lansing
          Henry Livingston Lansing
               Sarah [L] Burnett
                    Catharine [B] Van Deusen
                         Bradley Van Deusen
                              Mary Van Deusen
 Sidney M. Livingston
          Henry Livingston
               Julia [L] Livingston
          Lavinia [L] Haugen
          Maria [L] Hewins
     Elizabeth [B] Sands 1797-x  Edwin G. Livingston 1798-1863
     Catharine [B] Griswold
          Cornelia [G] Goodrich
               Cornelia Goodrich
               Anne Goodrich
               Mary [G] Montgomery
                    Helen [M] Krasicki
 Jane Patterson Livingston
          Henry L. Thomas
               William S. Thomas
                    W. Stephen Thomas
                         Stephen L. Thomas  
          Gertrude Thomas
          William R. Thomas
               Harold L. Thomas
          John Thomas
               Helen [T] Blackwell
     Sidney Breese 1800-1878  Helen [L] Bradley 1802-1859
     Susan [B] Stout Proal 1802-1864  Elizabeth [L] Thompson Lansing 1805-1886
     Arthur Breese, Jr. 1805-1838  Susan [L] Gurney
          Jeanie L. Gurney
     Mary [B] Davis 1808-1884  . .
Green background for descendant lines down which the family stories are known to have spread.

In some cases, it's unclear how the stories came down the lines. Catharine Livingston, Henry and Sarah's oldest child, had married Arthur Breese only a few months after her father had married Jane Patterson, so her children were the same ages as Henry's and Janes's, their uncles and aunts. But Catharine had died in 1808. While it's known the families interacted, it's never stated by Catharine's daughter, Catharine [Breese] Griswold, just how she learned about Henry writing the poem. But she did. And she taught all of her children to know he did, as well.

Catharine Walker Breese Griswold was thirty years old when her grandfather, Major Henry Livingston, died in 1828. At the time of her own death in 1886, her granddaughter Cornelia was forty-four, Anne was thirty-five and Mary, twenty-seven. So the stories the three girls heard over the years were from someone who had known Henry Livingston directly.

In 1879 Major Henry's daughter, Eliza Livingston Thompson Lansing, replied to a letter of Anne Livingston Goodrich. Eliza was too young to have heard the poem originally recited, but what she could speak to was the knowledge of the family. "It was approved and believed in our family to be Father's, and I well remember our astonishment when we saw it claimed as Clement C. Moore's." She continued: "Many years after my father's decease, which took place more than fifty years ago [1828]; at that time my brother [Sidney] in looking over his papers found the original in his own handwriting, with his many fugitive pieces which he had preserved."

brother found original
From Eliza Livingston Thompson Lansing to Anne Livingston Goodrich, 4 Mar 1879

Seven years later Anne's sister Cornelia tried to interest Dutchess County historian Benson Lossing in making public Henry's authorship. Lossing replied: "The circumstantial evidence that your G. G. Grandfather wrote "The Visit of St. Nicholas" seems as conclusive as that which has taken innocent men to the gallows." He asked Cornelia for more evidence but all that she had was, indeed, circumstantial.

brother found original
From Benson J. Lossing to Cornelia Griswold Goodrich, 25 Nov 1886

Just after Christmas 1899, Cornelia saw a Letter to the Editor of The Sun, a New York newspaper, which asked about a claim made by Henry Livingston of Babylon LI that his grandfather, Henry Livingston, was the true author of the poem.

Cooper's letter to the editor
An associate of Henry Livingston of Babylon LI asking if there was any basis to the Livingston story.

Henry of Babylon LI
Cornelia corresponded with that Henry Livingston, and he replied. He confirmed the stories that she had heard about the children hearing his grandfather read the poem as his own, and added the information that his father had had the original manuscript of the poem. On his father's death, it was inherited by his father's brother Edwin, who had taken it with him when he moved to Wisconsin, and there the manuscript had burned in a house fire.

Sidney's son Henry's story
From Henry Livingston of Babylon LI to Cornelia Griswold Goodrich, 10 Jan 1900.

Though the stories were similar, in the end neither felt they had the proof to go public with. In 1902 Anne Livingston Goodrich died and was buried in the same Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery where Henry Livingston lay. But the other sisters weren't about to give up on Anne's quest.

There was another branch of the family to be questioned and, for the next few years, Cornelia and sister Mary corresponded with their half first-cousin Gertrude Thomas, a granddaughter of Henry's and daughter of Henry's daughter Jane. Gertrude kept none of the letters from the sisters, but they kept hers, from which their questions can be inferred.

In 1905, Gertrude replied to a letter from Cornelia, which had passed along questions from sister Mary. Gertrude's mother Jane had been too young to have heard her father recite the poem originally, so Gertrude was only passing on stories that she heard from Jeannie Hubbard, the daughter of Henry and Jane's son Charles. As Gertrude explained, Jeannie had seen the printed copy of the poem but, after it was lost, had no memory of the date or paper in which it had been published.

In 1909 Cornelia contacted Gertrude again with questions. Gertrude explained that Charles had told his children exactly where Henry had sat when writing the poem and of how he came out to recite the poem to the family. In 1912, even Mary's daughter was catching the bug. Gertrude answered Helen's letter, saying that the only thing she could add was that she'd been told that the poem had been published in the Poughkeepsie Journal. An undated reply to Mary noted that Uncle Charles' daughter, Jeannie Hubbard, still owned the bookcase in whose drawer the published poem once lay, but that Jeannie had no notion how or when the poem was lost. To a question of Mary's regarding other poems of Henry's she might have, Gertrude explained that she only had a few but wasn't sure when they'd turn up. Another undated letter to Mary's sister Cornelia repeated Gertrude's earlier statements. Uncle Charles remembered his father writing the poem and reading it to the family. The poem was published in a Poughkeepsie paper. Charles had owned the published copy of the poem and proudly read it to family and friends. On Charles' death, the poem was inherited by his daughter Jeannie, who had subsequently lost it.

In 1914, Mary Montgomery decided to try her hand at bringing the dispute public. She wrote a five page Letter to the Editor of The Sun, a New York paper. So far I find no indication that the letter was published. But she tried.

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Henry Livingston, Babylon LI

Henry Livingston of Babylon LI, a newspaperman from the age of fifteen, was the son of Major Henry's son Sidney Montgomery. At the time he was in correspondence with Cornelia Griswold, this Henry was the owner and editor of the South Side Signal. Though Henry never published his belief in his grandfather's authorship in his own newspaper, he would tell people the story, One of those he told was Simon W. Cooper, who had been his associate editor on the Signal. In 1899, Cooper had written to The Sun, a New York newspaper, asking whether it was possible Moore might not be the author. The editor was dismissive, saying: "Moore's title to the authorship of 'Night Before Christmas' is founded on his own claim and the general acceptance of it for nearly a century."

Even after that public statement of Major Livingston's claim, his grandson still did not contribute to public discussion and the topic died a quick death. Besides being in touch with the descendants of his Uncle Charles, Babylon Henry Livingston was also in touch with the descendants of his Aunt Jane. In 1900 Henry Livingston Thomas wrote him about the recent publication of Major Henry's war journal.

Babylon Henry Livingston died in 1906. In 1920, after Major Henry's authorship had finally made the papers, Cooper was reminded of his friend's stories. As a columnist now for The Sun, Cooper retold his story with more detail, but with still a strong sense of skepticism.

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William Sturges Thomas

Sometime before the first world war, a great grandson of Henry Livingston, William Sturges Thomas, became interested in the search. It's doubtful when he began researching the topic that he would ever have imagined that he'd spend forty years of his life on this quest.

By 1917 Charles' daughter, Jane Livingston Hubbard, was dead, but Jeanne Hubbard Denig was able to share with the descendant of Henry's daughter Jane the stories that had descended down the line of Henry's son Charles.

Jeanne Denig
Jeanne Hubbard Denig
William Sturges Thomas
Wiliam Sturges Thomas
Henry Livingston + Jane Patterson
    Charles Livingston + Eliza Clement Brewer
        Jane Livingston + Lester Hubbard
            Jeanne Hubbard + Commodore Robert G. Denig
    Jane Livingston + Rev. William Thomas
        Henry Livingston Thomas + Alice Phinney
            William Sturges Thomas

Jeanne Hubbard Denig to William Sturges Thomas - March 12, 1917
A few years ago I was much interested in trying to prove that the Night Before Christmas was written by Henry Livingston. I had letters from my mother, your father, & all the others of that generation. All bore testimony to the pleasant tradition & belief that their grandfather had written the verses. But where is the proof?

Jeanne Denig writing of her mother, Jane Livingston Hubbard

I hope you will find it! My mother said that her grandfather used the "Dunder & Blitzen" as familiarly as some other people say "Great Scott!" etc etc etc! But alas! It is all hear-say and say-so - no proof.

I was taught to believe that my great grandfather Livingston wrote it. I have taught the same to my children & now my grandchildren believe it.

Pelletreau [A Moore apologist] says it was written in 1822. Grandmother Livingston said she knew the poem before that date. She was born in 1800.

Jeanne Hubbard Denig to William Sturges Thomas - March 14, 1917
I once heard a legend that a young lady - either a guest or a sort of governess - was in the Livingston family, and upon leaving she took with her a copy of "The Night Before Christmas" & it was thus introduced to the Moores.

Jeanne's husband, Commadore Robert Denig, tried to help by looking up Moore's volume of poetry to see if there were any hints to be found there, but his search through Philadelphia for a copy of Moore's book turned up none. Moore's fame as the author of A Visit From St. Nicholas was immeasurably aided by the lack of public access to any of his other poems! If his work had been widely available, and Henry's claims and works examined widely as well, it seems likely that the public would have been able to decide the authorship question for themselves.

Besides corresponding with Jeanne Denig, Thomas searched out Cornelia Griswold Goodrich through Cornelia's cousin, Edward Lind Morse, the son of S.F.B. Morse, and another descendant of Henry.

Thomas's papers in the New York Historical Society show that he and Mr. Tryon, a gentleman who planned to publish the story in the Christian Science newspaper, went to visit Cornelia in 1920 to try and get a brain dump of her information so that they could sift it for clues she might have missed. But the interview didn't go as planned.

Enthusiastic before the interview and anxious to see Henry identified as the author ("The right & truth does not always come out in this life but it surely will in the next, and then woe to Clement Moore!" CGG), Cornelia came out of the interview absolutely hysterical with the thought that contradicting an American icon, Clement Clarke Moore, would end up in causing some material to hit the proverbial fan that would not increase the fragrance of her immediate environment. She begged him not to continue or, if he had to publish, to emphasize Henry Livingston for his own good qualities rather than for his authorship of the poem she firmly believed her ancestor had written.

Her panic had the effect of softening Tryon's article, as well as the one that Thomas published in the 1919 Yearbook of the Dutchess County Historical Society. Cornelia did finally calm down enough to give a talk on the topic for the Poughkeepsie Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

Besides collecting letters and witness statements from other descendants, Thomas searched New York newspapers for the published version of the poem that some of Henry's children thought had appeared near the time of its authorship. And though he put his heart and soul into the search, at the end, Thomas was still unable to convince anyone of the substance of the family claims.

Jeanne Hubbard Denig to William Sturges Thomas - May 4, 1932
Of course Henry Livingston wrote the "Night Before Christmas." Grandmother said he did & others Knew, remembered all about it. She lived "next door", literally next estate.

Any how, she played constantly with the Livingston children & she & her husband, my grandfather, were sweethearts from childhood.

Grandmother was greatly exercised when the first printed Xmas copy [1860, not 1844!] appeared (I have it.) and said there was a mistake that should be rectified. That Henry Livingston wrote the verses.

This is my only proof. The word of my stately, truthful, dependable grandmother, Eliza Clement Brewer Livingston.

When Thomas died, his material was inherited by his son, W. Stephen Thomas. The important papers were kept by the family, and the unimportant ones were donated to the New York Historical Society, although this wasn't at all clear, of course, in the collection description. Working through the Thomas collection was particularly frustrating. Some exciting event would begin to be documented, such as the letters exchanged with Cornelia Griswold Goodrich, and just when you expected to come across the cream of the information (in the above case, the interview notes), there would be nothing there! The rediscovery by today's Thomas descendant, Stephen Livingston Thomas, of the papers kept by the Thomas family, was simply a godsend to our quest.

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Jeanne Livingston Hubbard Denig and James Livingston Denig

Jeannie and James Denig
Jeanne Denig and her grandson, James Livingston Denig

The first publication of An Account of a Visit From St. Nicholas was in 1823 in the Troy Sentinel, when the poem appeared anonymously, submitted by someone who had taken the poem from the Clement Moore household. Henry Livingston was 74 years old at the time of the poem's publication, but still mentally active, and still writing clever and creative poems. Whether Henry or his family knew about that publication is unclear but, if they did, they wouldn't have thought much about it. Many of Henry's poems were published or reprinted anonymously. Besides, Henry had continued writing poetry for the family for the seventeen or so years after he had read it to his family, so it wasn't as special to his family as it was to a public that had never seen it. There was certainly no reason for Henry or his family to make a public claim to yet another anonymous printing of Henry's work.

During the Christmas season just before Henry died in 1828, the poem was published in the Poughkeepsie Journal. Since the version of the poem that appeared was one that had been modified through a progression of editors, it wouldn't have been submitted by Henry's family. But this might well be the published copy that Henry's son Charles took away with him to Ohio, and read to all his friends.

Though Henry's family had heard the poem about 1808, Clement Moore's family first heard the poem about 1823. And Moore told them that the poem was his own. As the poem gained in reputation, the pressure from Moore's proud children must have been intense to associate his name with the piece. Year after year, versions of the poem appeared in newspapers, almanacs and periodicals. Finally, in 1837, fourteen years after its publication in the Troy Sentinel - and nine years after Henry's death! - Moore allowed a friend to publish the poem under his name. In 1844, Moore then included the verses in a volume of his own poetry.

But it was 16 years after that, in 1860, before any of Henry's children saw the poem printed with an attribution to Moore.

The daughter of Henry's son Charles, Jane Patterson Livingston, was born the year after her grandfather died, in 1829. While she was growing up, before Moore's name was ever associated with the poem, both her father and her mother regaled her with readings of the poem and descriptions of her own grandfather reading it to the family. Her mother and father had independent memories of the poem being read, because her mother, Eliza Clement Brewer, had only lived next door and had been a frequent visitor to the household.

grandmother heard
Jeanne Denig writing of her grandmother, Eliza Clement Brewer Livingston

Henry Livingston + Jane Patterson
    Charles Livingston + Eliza Clement Brewer
        Jane Livingston + Lester Hubbard
            Jeanne Hubbard + Commodore Robert G. Denig

But it wasn't until 1860 or 1862 that granddaughter Jane came across a copy of the poem printed under Clement Clark Moore's name. Raised to know the poem was written by her grandfather, she immediately brought the book home to show her mother, her father having been dead about 13 years by then. Eliza was adamant that a mistake had been made, and that the poem was definitely the work of her father-in-law, Henry Livingston.

mistake made
Jeanne Denig writing of her mother, Jane Livingston Hubbard, and grandmother

The story by grandmother Eliza, of hearing the poem read by Henry near the turn of the century, and the story by mother Jane of the family's shock at finding Moore taking credit for the poem in 1860, was told over and over again to Jane's children, Jeanne and Charles, by both Jane, now Jane Hubbard, and by Jane's mother. Jeanne Hubbard was 22 years old when her grandmother Eliza died, so the oral stories stayed vividly in her mind until she wrote them out for a later Livingston family researcher.

And Jeannie passed on the stories. In 1936, her grandson, James Livingston Denig, published an article giving details of style arguments, as well as the general outline of the dispute.

Over the years, Henry's descendants would periodically pause their lives to trade among themselves their memories of the family story. They gathered together their stories to witness their faith in the hope that someday someone might be able to right their wrong.

jane's obit

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W. Stephen Thomas

W. Stephen Thomas
Just before he died, Dr. Thomas was planning to publish a a second article in the Dutchess County Historical Society Yearbook. His son, W. Stephen Thomas, was generous enough to turn over all of his material to Helen Wilkinson Reynolds, and the article that his father had hoped to write was eventually written and published in the 1942 OR 1944 Yearbook by historian Helen Wilkinson Reynolds.

With the death of his father, W. Stephen took up the quest to have Henry's authorship of the Christmas poem acknowledged. But where his father spent the majority of his time in searching for a smoking gun, W. Stephen concentrated more on publicizing the arguments on Henry Livingston's side of the authorship conflict with Moore. And he was quite successful in that goal, if you look at the enthusiasm of his convert, Vassar President Henry Noble MacCracken.

It was also undoubtedly due to Thomas's efforts that Unicover came out with a First Day Cover, in 1977, saying that Henry was believed by scholars to be the author of the poem.

It is said that Washington Irving, one of America's earliest authors, had much to do with the renewed popularity of St. Nicholas in the early 1800's. He even founded a "St. Nicholas Society." But it was the appearance of a catchy story, which begins, "Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house . . ." which spread the word of Santa Claus and practically made him an American invention. For years it was thought that Clement Clarke Moore wrote and first published the story in 1844. But it has come to be accepted by scholars that Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828), who had been a major in the Revolution, wrote it about 1800, a time when America was searching for its own traditions.
Back of First Day Cover

But after all the years of struggling, after throwing himself into the quest with every drop of passion that fired his blood - through talks and interviews, magazine articles and exhibitions around the country - the lack of a smoking gun caused W. Stephen's search, too, to come to nothing in the end.

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Vassar President Henry Noble MacCracken

Henry Noble MacCracken (Bridges to the World: Henry Noble MacCracken and Vassar College, by Elizabeth A. Daniels) was born in 1880, and served as President of Vassar College for thirty-one years, from 1915-1946. He was, himself, a literary scholar and had edited works of Chaucer and Shakespeare. MacCracken would have loved Don's book!

An enthusiastic historian of Dutchess County, McCracken mentions Major Henry Livingston, in Old Dutchess Forever, more for his Revolutionary War journal than for his poetry, though MacCracken does include Henry's poem to his wife's first cousin, little Timmy Dwight.

In Blithe Dutchess, MacCracken devotes twenty pages to Henry Livingston,arguing strongly for his fellow Dutchess County resident as the author of the famous Christmas poem. MacCracken's comments on Moore are particularly damning.

Without quoting the entire volume [Moore's Poems], I cannot prove to my readers that no other poem than the Visit could possibly arouse anything so ungenteel as a good hearty laugh. On the contrary, that still more vulgar exhibition, the protracted yawn, is the only physical exercise produced by a further perusal.
The great concern which this moralistic professor of Hebrew felt for the morals of young ladies is illustrated by an extract from To My Young Countrywomen. The poem rises to heights of indignation worthy of Savonarola.
There runs through all Professor Moore's verse a kind of frustration. he feels he should be a greater man than he is, a greater poet. The public did not agree with him, even about his poetry.
He [Moore] was a self-torturing Midas; all around him was a rich harvest of poetry, which he turned to lead.
Mrs. Griswold, granddaughter of Major Henry, had a daughter, Mrs. Samuel Finley Breese Morse, who lived at Locust Grove. Mrs. Griswold recalled that a former governess of her grandfather's family had gone South to serve a Moore family. Mary Montgomery, another descendant [Cornelia Griswold Goodrich's sister], had the same story from Edwin Livingston, second son of the Major. Mrs. Mary L. Hewin of Oakland had it from her cousin, Jeanne Currey, daughter of "Aunt Susan Livingston." Mary Livingston, a great granddaughter, repeated it in a letter of 1917. Thus the story of the governess seems well attested.

We can now trace the route of A Visit from St. Nicholas in its album with some degree of probability. From Locust Grove to Judith Livingston Moore's children is the first step. One of her daughters leaves an album containing the poem at the home of Dr. C.C. Moore. There a Miss Butler finds and copies it. She takes it to Troy in 1823, though without the Doctor's permission for anything in an album is "in the public domain." When asked where she got it, she tells the editor of the Troy Sentinel, "at the house of Dr. Moore." The editor makes the guess that the poem is Dr. Moore's, and surmises that it was taken without permission. He therefore publishes it anonymously, though with hints that become broader with successive reprints, for the public of Troy and vicinity had much better taste than the Orientalist professor who was reputed to be the poet.

No one so far has made any mis-statement. Dr. Moore, at some later date, unknown, hears of the newspaper piracy, but lets the matter go. The poem is trivial and worthless. He is deep in a new Hebrew lexicon. Time goes on, and greatness is thrust upon him when the American public takes the poem to its heart, as the image of happy childhood and gift-bringing at Christmas. Why throw the poem back upon anonymity? Henry Livingston is long dead (1828). Miss Butler insists she found it in a Moore album. Perhaps he did amend it, in a foolish moment. Let it ride. Is there anything wrong in that?

The ending of this 1958 chapter has a subtlety which, unfortunately, did nothing to help spread President MacCracken's strongly held beliefs. Sometimes subtly is best left to the subtle. What Henry needed was a little less subtlety and a lot more publicity!

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Everyone Searches For The Holy Grail

Throughout our research, what we have heard from every historian and every curator of the various small and large museums in Dutchess County, as well as some of the surrounding areas, is that they, too, have searched in vain for the proof of Henry Livingston's authorship. Those who had read for themselves the poetry of both men, were convinced that the Christmas poem had not been authored by Clement Moore. The problem was how to prove it to a world that had taken Moore's word on the subject for more than a century.

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Mary S. Van Deusen

Mary Van Deusen

I didn't start out planning to add myself to the list of searchers. It was actually sort of accidental that I stumbled over Henry. What I was trying to do was discover something about my father. Father had been a Major in the army. And a poet in Greenwich Village. He was also, unfortunately, an alcoholic, a problem not so uncommon in the New York City of the 1930's.

Mother had left father when I was just six weeks old, and tried to leave all trace of him behind, as well. But when he died at the early age of 49, she couldn't avoid the box of photographs that came, and so she packed them away in her files. I found them there, as well as a set of letters he wrote begging her to come back. One of them hit hard the daughter trying desperately to know her dead father.


Father might have given up, but he also said that he trusted me - me, this daughter he'd last seen as a six-week old infant - to help him. I was determined that I was not going to do without him, and I figured that the future would just have to take him, too.

But when I tried to find his poetry, I failed. And so the hopes I had built up, that I could find a virtual way to bring father back, failed as well.

But I don't give up easily, and I kept worrying the problem. I finally decided that another path to father might be through his family. One of them must have a copy of his poetry book. Along with the photographs was an obituary for his mother. That was my starting point.

According to the small scrap of paper, Catharine was the daughter of Henry Burnett and descended from Henry B. Gibson of Canandaigua NY. She was also carried to her grave by the governor of Colorado and three generals! I figured I had a chance.

In Canandaigua I had my first genealogical shock. Henry B. Gibson turned out to be one of the richest men in western New York. He was Gibson Street in Canandaigua, Port Gibson NY, a canal company (which never built anything), a bank and two railroads, the latter of which was merged with several others to form the New York Central. I sat down pretty hard.

There was a file on Henry in the Ontario Historical Society that had in it a family tree. Henry Burnett showed up as a a general. Not too surprising, given grandmother's pallbearers. It took longer than I expected, though, to find out anything about him because he wasn't a battlefield general. He was, second genealogical shock, one of the special judge advocates at the Lincoln Assassination Trial, that is, one of the prosecutors! I sat down for awhile over that one.

In Goshen New York, where General Burnett lived toward the end of his life, I discovered a 40 page paper on his memories of the trial. I also found his grave high up on a hill overlooking what turned out to be his horse farm. It was a huge monument, built so that he would be remembered. But the only thing carved into the stone was the surname BURNETT. The details of who he was were gone, stolen along with the plaque which had been attached to the stone.


And so great grandfather, like father, was lost to the future.

By now I was adopting ancestors like stray puppies. I hurt for great grandfather disappearing, and wanted to find some way to bring him back, especially since I had been able to do nothing for father. I put the General's paper onto the Internet, and I found a local historian who thought that we could get a grant to have the plaque remade -- if we could find out what it said. But when I tried to find out, I failed there, too.

So I turned up my collar against the mental rain and went back to butting my head against father's tree, hoping to shake something loose. Between Henry Gibson and Henry Burnett there was one another ancestor to examine, Henry Livingston Lansing. Do we begin to note a predominance of Henrys in my tree?

Up to then I hadn't even known many men of that name, though I had chosen it as the title of a movie screenplay that was flogged for me in Hollywood by Writers & Artists. There was, too, the white Bichon draped over my arms as I typed, a pup I had named Henry in memory of the play. Henry was suddenly getting a lot of company.

Brigadier General Henry L. Lansing turned out to be the brother of Brigadier General Henry Seymour Lansing. Now it was just silly. I sighed with relief when Henry and Henry's father turned out to be Barent Bleecker Lansing, and his grandparents, Arthur Breese and Catharine Livingston. It was on Catharine that I got stuck. Trying to track down a Catharine Livingston gets harder when there are twenty-six of them.

There were, in fact, so many of them that I had no idea how to find out which one was mine. So I did what I tend to do when stuck, I reached out and touched someone. Bless AT&T. Well, in this case, the Internet. I sent mail to Bob Livingston, a U.S. Representative in D.C., asking whether he knew of any Livingston family associations. A day later the phone rang and a deep male voice announced, "Hi, this is Bob Livingston. Welcome to the Livingston family!" That had to count as genealogical shock number three.

From Bob I got a pointer to the Clermont estate on the Hudson River, and to the Friends of Clermont. And from them I got Catherine's parents - Henry Livingston, Jr. and Sarah Welles. (There are only twenty-four Henry Livingstons!)

I also got a very deep respect for a politician who reaches out to people, not for what they can do for him, but because he genuinely loves people. A rare quality in any politician.

Anyway, back to the dance. Armed with Henry's name, I threw it into a search engine on the Internet. And that's when I discovered a webpage describing him as the actual author of "A Visit From St. Nicholas." I'd count this as genealogical shock number four if I had believed it. But I didn't, so I won't. I did decide to go to Poughkeepsie, though, to learn more about this particular Henry.

It was at the Dutchess County Historical Society that I found a transcript of Henry's poetry manuscript book. It was funny and charming and, in some way, it was compelling. One of the poems, actually a letter to his youngest brother, Beekman Livingston, sounded amazingly like the Christmas poem. That's when my nose started twitching. But I was still a Missouri skeptic. I had to be shown. I decided it was worth the effort to search out Moore's poetry. Little did I realize what effort I was about to get myself into.

It was three weeks later, and I was in the library at Brown University printing out pages from a microfilm copy of Moore's 200 page book, Poems. I had found not a single reprint of the book, something that had surprised me. But now, as I sat watching the pages slowly print out, it all became clear. The reason there was no reprint because no one would have bought it! This was terrible poetry. It was self-absorbed, egotistical, and moralizing. And it was remarkably consistent.

As a writer myself, I believe that who we are shines out of every paragraph we write. Styles can be changed, pace and pattern can be varied, but psychology usually stays the same. I could feel Clement Clarke Moore in every word he wrote. And I wouldn't have gone to lunch with him if he'd begged!

Now Livingston I already knew from his writing. I knew that he wrote frequently in the style of the Christmas poem. And I had already realized that his points of view were consistent with those of the Christmas author. That is, he was a kind and good man who could slip easily into the point of view of a child.

But sitting in front of that microfilm machine, with Moore feeding out page after page, genealogical shock number four started setting in. Henry Livingston, Jr. really was the true author of Night Before Christmas.

And if I had thought father and great grandfather had been crying out for my help to be remembered, this new relative was screaming.

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Don Foster

Don Foster If you've ever imagined the power of a tornado being encased within a human being, you've already imagined Don Foster. Listening to him race through ideas, whip down temporary rabbit holes of theory, and navigate mazes of confusion searching for the way out that must be there, is exhausting even to remember, as I think back to the day I first called Don in the late summer of 1999.

Don is thin. It's as if his mind burns off the calories in his body while he's just sitting in a chair. I called Don because I needed help. A thirty-five year career in computers, much of that in research, might give me the right mindset for the task I was laying out before myself, but the knowledge base I was missing in the field of literature was a yawning hole that could suck me down and never let me up again. There was just no way I could do this alone.

It was Don's friend, Ian Lancashire, who pointed me to Don. When I described my problem to Ian, his response was that what I clearly needed was an expert in the field of anonymous text attribution. A detective of the written word. Don Foster.

Don's name was legend in the field. A relatively young Vassar professor, Don had already made his reputation through his identification of a Funeral Elegy as having been written by Shakespeare! As a lark, Don decided to try to identify the anonymous text that was all in the news, Primary Colors, a Clinton scandal book whose author was the subject of fervid speculation. When Don came up with Joe Klein, it might have looked like pulling a name out of a hat. But then Klein fessed up. Don was on his way.

I knew I needed Don. The problem was that Don didn't need me. What Don needed was a lot more sleep, not to mention a doubling of the hours of the day so that he could fulfill all the obligations he had already taken on. But I was persistent, and he was sweet. The result? We had a ball!

For almost a year we worked together on the problem. He set me tasks and I ran for my life. And Henry's reputation! I'd bring back what I'd gathered and Don would whip through it, throwing this fact here and that fact there, and always ending our conversations with a new and longer task list. Sometimes it felt as though he wanted the moon. Sometimes that pressure made me rethink ways I worked until I almost believed I could get him the moon.

If you've ever thrown yourself, heart and soul, into a project with a friend, you understand it all. We had ups and downs, triumphs and failures. We bonded into a friendship from the very intensity of our effort. Usually, in work like this, I was the one transferring my energy into others. Suddenly I was the one absorbing another person's energy. And learning the lesson of exhaustion from the other side! What we were racing against was the publication deadline for his book. Win or lose, it was all going to be down in black and white.

I think we won. The issues, thanks to Don, are now laid before the public. People have access to information that will let them make up their own minds, and researchers can push on our data and test its strength and sensibility. And if, in the future, some of our data points prove to be wrong, we still win, because research's beauty is its openness to following facts wherever they lead. The authorship conflict will be pushed and prodded, pinched and kicked. But, in the end, what will emerge will be a clearer vision of both Moore and Henry. And that's what research is all about.

As for Don and I? Well, we've won personally as well. For Don, there was a welcome break from the darkness of his criminal cases, the identification of the Unibomber's screed with Ted Kaczynski, the examination of the Jon-Benet Ramsey kidnap note. Searching into Henry's soul had to be lighter on Don's, as well.

For me, the knowledge that I've gained would be winning enough, but putting that together with the friends that I've gained, and the connection I've made to a very good man, Henry Livingston, and I am thrilled to my very soul. But the most important win which has come out of this search is that my husband and I were finally able to find my father's poetry. We found, in fact, a college newspaper column where father courted mother in poetry, and she answered him back in kind. For all of this, I have Don and I have Henry to thank. So I guess I'd have to say that Henry and I have done pretty well by one another.

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Stephen Livingston Thomas
Stephen Livingston Thomas
Coming from a small nuclear family, it never occurred to me that my very concept of family could ever change into something so widely encompassing and warm. I thought with the years that my family would grow smaller but, instead, it's just expanded again and again. Genealogy might start out as intellectual curiosity, but it develops into something so special that you are blessed by it for life.

Steve Thomas is just a few years younger than myself. He was raised in New York, while I was only born there. But we quickly reached an understanding that had to have been born in our genes. He's a writer, an expert in the field of multimedia, a video producer and a general computer guy.

We share not only these pursuits, we share also some habits of mind more rare to find. We both joyously stack our conversations into digressions leading here, there, and anywhere! And then we unwind our way back and go on. We love to pause and discuss the meta-issues brought up in our conversations then, again, continue merrily on. We both just love to talk.

Steve grew up knowing the story of Henry and the Christmas poem. Every Christmas, while all the other children were merrily speculating on potential loot, Steve, who was also looking forward to getting his own share, was also having to pretend not to notice the sad eyes of the kindly gentleman hanging on the wall. And one more Christmas would be coming and going with great celebrations and paens of praise being given to someone for a poem that had been stolen from the man with the sad eyes.

Steve and Henry have bonded over the many years. Given the passion which Steve's grandfather and father brought to the quest for Henry's authorship to be acknowledged, it's amazing there wasn't an empty plate kept on the dining room table for the man. When Steve's grandfather died, it took a while before Steve's father was ready to take up the burden in his turn. And with Steve's father still alive, it really wasn't clear when the burden would have to become Steve's. And just imagine how heavy that burden would be. A brilliant doctor and a brilliant scientist had both failed in their turns, and their eyes are turned toward Steve with the hope that he will succeed where they couldn't.

What was so wondrous was that Steve and Don and I all came together with the conviction that we could do together what Steve's ancestors couldn't do alone. We could form a gestalt that would be greater than the sum of its pieces. And we did.

Steve took on the problem of discovering the original documents that had been lost over the years. All we had for sure were typed transcripts from the Dutchess County Historical Society that showed Henry writing up to around 1790. But if the family stories put the creation of the poem in the first decade of the 1800's, there was no proof that Henry was writing that late in his life at all. And just when Don was losing hope, because our only information was ten to twenty years too soon, Steve was able to find, and bring to Don, Henry's poetry from the last years of his life. Poetry that was just as strong, and clear, and kind, and witty as what Henry had written as a young man.

Thanks to Steve, we now have Henry's poetry manuscript book, music manuscript book, and a number of other loose documents that provide a glimpse into the soul of a man who's been dead these 173 years. Way to go, Steve!

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MacDonald P. Jackson

In December of 2011 I was contacted by MacDonald P. Jackson, an Emeritus Professor of English from the University of Auckland [New Zealand], who wanted to continue the examination of the authorship controversy. He, like Don, was an attributional scholar, but Mac's approach emphasized statistical analysis. What he needed from me was access to databases of information about the poetry of both men.

The simplest type of such a database is, of course, just a searchable text file that contains every poem of every man. But once you think about the concept "database," it's not that hard to start coming up with a lot more. You can create a report that shows the number of words, or lines, in every poem and total up the number of words or lines in the poetry of each man. The first complicated report we created was the alphabetical, color-coded by author, list of every word in every poem by each man and by the Night Before Christmas author, who becomes the third man. After that it was Daisy bar the door. If Mac wasn't asking for it, I'd come up with wild possibilities and, if Mac went for it, would work with my husband Paul, a computer scientist since the 1960's, and my good friend Lyn to create databases with the information crunched down to make it easy for Mac to investigate and see what looked promising to investigate further.

The project is not databases. Data is just data. The project is Mac's understanding of how to use data statistically to prove or disprove hypotheses that he makes. So if he wants to know if one man uses a particular word more than the other man, we can give him tables that show how many times the word is used in all poems, and total up the times. Only Mac understands how to weight the data because of differing lengths of lines of poetry, differing numbers of words in the body of poetry of each man, etc. The data is nothing without Mac's interpretation. And only Mac makes those interpretations. This is Mac's project alone. We give him data he's approved us to collect. He examines the data statistically, and only Mac knows what he can extract from the data and what significance that extracted information has.

Mac is a gentle soul who is always willing to explain what he's looking for, and what he needs to achieve it. He vets my data over and over with endless patience, and corrects my errors with unfailing kindness. The term "gentleman" fits him perfectly. He frequently tries to explain what he's doing, but statistics make my eyes cross, and I can only trust when he tells us that he is finding value in what we send him.

Mac is slowed down by all the other obligations he still has, even though he's retired. He's been responsible for a chapter of one book, and has just come out with his own new book from Oxford Press. As I write this, Mac is off to another conference in Australia, having recently returned from one in England. This combination of limited time and our giving him more data than he ever expected to get has slowed him down, but we seem to have the endposts now in sight. .


From: MacDonald P. Jackson
December 17, 2013

During my forty years as a tenured staff-member of the University of Auckland's English Department I taught a very wide range of courses (anything from Beowulf to Beckett and beyond), but my publications have mostly been on Shakespeare and his contemporaries and on New Zealand literature, with a sideline on nineteenth-century poetry.

In Shakespeare's time playwrights often collaborated on the writing of scripts, and many plays were published anonymously or under the wrong name. So a lot of my research has been devoted to determining "who wrote what when". It used to be thought that Shakespeare, like God, performed his acts of creation alone. But over the last few decades it has become clear that, like others involved in the early modern entertainment industry, Shakespeare wrote several of his plays jointly with other dramatists. And it now seems probable that, early in his career, he contributed to at least two plays published without any author's name on the title page.

It was because of my interest in problems of authorship connected with Shakespeare and his great contemporary Thomas Middleton, in particular, that I read Don Foster's book Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous (New York, 2000). I had met him and knew his work as a Shakespeare scholar. He gained deserved celebrity for discovering stylistic quirks and preferences that identified the author of the anonymously published political novel Primary Colors (1996) as Joe Klein. But he had also argued that the "W.S." who wrote a poem called "A Funeral Elegy" was William Shakespeare. I had disagreed with him over that attribution, but enjoyed his new book and found the chapter on "The Night Before Christmas" not only stylishly written but persuasive. It made a case for concluding that the true author of this poem, among the best-known ever written by an American, was not Clement Clarke Moore, as generally believed, but Henry Livingston. I soon discovered that Moore's champions had plenty to say in reply. But they seemed to me not to have satisfactorily answered Don's most telling points.

Here was the kind of literary whodunit that lures me into trying to be the Sherlock Holmes who solves it. I checked out all the arguments on either side of the debate. I read Moore's Poems (1844) and the poems by Livingston made available on Mary Van Deusen's splendid website. Livingston's poetic personality immediately appealed. His moving "God Is Love" sums him up: he was full of love for everything and everybody in the world around him. I admired his warmth, empathy, bonhomie, eye for detail, and good-hearted wit. There was an endearing delicacy about the poems on the death of a young niece's pet wren (in the tradition of Catullus' on the death of Lesbia's sparrow, a poem that he refers to in one of his own) and of the little dog Belle. He could enter into a child's world. He relished the essential being of all living creatures. In one of his rebus puzzle-poems he refers to the eighteenth-century novelist Lawrence Sterne, the author of Tristram Shandy, as

"The author of Shandy, all laughter and glee
Whose pencil from gall was forever kept free."
He himself was not ALL laughter and glee - his epitaphs and elegies are heartfelt, and his accounts of the year's events in his New Year addresses are realistic - but as a poet he is remarkably free from "gall."

Nobody could say the same about Clement Moore's verse, which, in contrast, is that of a satirist and moralizer. And whereas Livingston's poems teem with detailed concrete references to individual persons, animals, birds, insects, and things, Moore's tend towards the abstract and generalized. Livingston's verse shows many signs of the lively, whimsical fancy, and the narrative skill that could create "The Night Before Christmas." Moore's, at least in Poems (1844), does not. Livingston knows how to shape a poem into "beginning, middle, and end", whereas Moore is inclined to just meander on. I could find no evidence in Moore's verse, even his manuscript pieces for his children, of the imaginative zest of "The Night Before Christmas."

However, it is not unknown for writers to surpass themselves and achieve an uncharacteristic one-off hit, and questions of authorship cannot be settled by mere impressions. It is necessary to devise objective tests. I contacted Mary, and she and Paul, with their exceptional IT expertise, provided a wealth of data to be explored and lots of clues to be pursued.

Every test, so far applied, associates "The Night Before Christmas" much more closely with Livingston's verse than with Moore's.

Writing up the results takes time, but when they are published I hope other attribution scholars will try their own different approaches to the issue. It will surprise me if all reliable kinds of testing do not reach the same conclusions.

Mac    email

Research Sites, Almost All Personally Visited
Dutchess County NY
New York City
Other New York Sites
Other States Sites
Rhode Island

Connecticut State Library
State Archives
Connecticut State Library
231 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106
Mon-Fri 10:00 a.m. - 4:15 p.m

Stamford Historical Society
1508 High Ridge Road
Stamford, CT 06903
Tue-Sat 12 noon - 4:00 pm
Papers of Rev. Noah Welles

Yale University Library
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Peabody Museum - 1-203-432-5050
Mon - Fri 8:30 am-5:00 pm
Search catalog: http://www.library.yale.edu/orbis
Papers of Rev. Noah Welles and NJ Governor William Livingston

Dutchess County NY
Adriance Library
Adriance Memorial Library
93 Market Street
Poughkeepsie NY 12601
1819 Carrier Address; Microfilm of Poughkeepsie newspapers

Dutchess County Historical Society
Clinton and Glebe Houses
PO Box 88
549 Main Street Poughkeepsie, NY 12602
Tel: (845) 471-1630
Eileen Hayden, Director
Tue - Fri, 10:00 - 3:00; appointment helpful, not required
Index to Dutchess County Year Books; Year Books; Typed copy of Henry Livingston, Jr. poetry mss

Dutchess County Surrogate Court
10 Market St.
Poughkeepsie NY 12601

Franklin D. Roosevelt Library
511 Albany Post Road
Hyde Park, NY 12538
Mon-Fri 8:45am-5pm, except for federal holidays
Carrier Addresses

Locust Grove
Samuel F.B. Morse Historic Site
PO Box 1649
3370 South Road
Poughkeepsie New York 12601-5234
Mon - Fri, 9:00 - 5:00
Location of Henry Livingston, Jr. house

Mills Mansion State Historic Site
PO Box 308
Route 9
Old Post Road
Staatsburg NY 12580
Sun-Sat 9am-5pm; by appointment for manuscript collection

Oneida County Surrogate Court
Oneida County Office Building
800 Park Avenue
8th floor
Utica, NY 13501

Poughkeepsie Journal
PO Box 1231
Poughkeepsie, NY 12602

Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery
342 South Ave
Poughkeepsie, NY
Graves of Henry Livingston, Jr. and family

Vassar Library
Special Collections
Vassar College
Campus Box 20
124 Raymond Avenue
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604-0020
Mon-Fri 10am-12noon, 1-5pm during term; appointment out of term

Wilderstein Preservation
Box 383
Rhinebeck NY 12572
845-876-3336 By appointment only


American Antiquarian Society
185 Salisbury Street
Worcester, Massachusetts 01609
Mon-Fri 9-5
All publications in which Livingston published; GREAT people

Boston Public Library
700 Boylston Street
Copley Square, Boston, MA 02117
Mon-Thur 9-9, Fri-Sat 9-5, Oct through May Sun 1-5
Microfilm: Mon-Sat 9-5
Rare Books & Manuscripts: Mon-Fri 9-5

New England Genealogical and Historical Society
101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116-3007
Tue, Fri & Sat 9am to 5pm
Wed & Thu 9am to 9pm

New York City

Columbia University Library
535 W 114th
New York, NY 10027
Information: 212-854-5153
Reference Desk: 212-854-5590
Information/Hours: 212-854-2271
Reference: 212-854-2241
Catalog Information: 212-854-224
Mon: noon-7:45; Tues-Fri: 9-4:45

The General Theological Seminary, St. Luke's Library
175 Ninth Avenue
New York, NY 10011-4977

Museum of the City of New York
Fifth Avenue and 104th Street
1220 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10029
Wed-Sat 10-5
Sunday 12:00-5:00
'Coast is clear' Letter; 1830 Troy Sentinel Broadsheet; Clement Moore letters to 'Mother'; Clement Moore handwritten poetry mss; GREAT people

New York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
2 West 77th Street at Central Park West
New York, NY 10024-5194
Hours: Tues-Sat 11-5; Tues-Fri summers
Dregs of W.S. Thomas Collection; Henry Livingston, Jr. Daybook (1771-1789); GREAT people!

The New York Public Library
5th Avenue and 42nd Street
New York, NY 10018-2788
Reference Phone: 212-340-0849
Hours: Tues-Sat 10-6 Henry Livingston, Jr. letters and surveys (Gilbert Livingston Collection)

Other New York Sites

Clermont Mansion
Located off Woods Road
1 Clermont Ave.
Clermont, N.Y. 12526
Grounds open all year 8:30 a.m. to sunset.
House open Tuesday - Sunday, April 1-October 31

New York State Archives
Cultural Education Center
Room 11D40
Albany, NY 12230
Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m
Henry Livingston, Jr. letters and surveys, inc. Astor notes; Henry Welles Livingston Letter
(They can't keep their Henry Livingstons straight; there are 2 Henry Welles Livingstons; first one died as an infant; second one died unmarried lawyer 1816)

New York State Library

Oneida County Historical Society Museum
1608 Genesee St.
Utica NY 13502
Open Tuesday-Friday 10 am-4:30 pm

Rensselaer County Historical Society
Troy NY

Sunnyside - Home of Washington Irving
West Sunnyside Lane
Irvington NY

Troy Public Library
Mon 9-9 Sat 10-5

Van Cortlandt Manor
Home of Sister Joanna and husband, Lt. Governor Pierre Van Cortlandt

Other States Sites

Carnegie-Mellon University Libraries
Fine Arts and Special Collections
Anne Haigh "Night Before Christmas Collection"; GREAT people

Rhode Island

Newport Historical Society
Tuoro St

Redwood Library
Redwood Library and Athenaeum
50 Bellevue Avenue
Newport, RI 02840-3292
Moore donated book

John Hay Library
Brown University
Box A
Providence RI 02912
In 1999, the only place I could find accessible copy of Moore's "Poems"

Fun Activities for Christmas
  65 TV Xmas Music Videos
  Antique Illustrations to musical NBC Recitation
  CBS Good Morning America, 2000
  Comic Book Poetry with antique postcards
  The Poem's Story in Anapest
  Antique Illustrated Editions
   Antique Santa Postcards
And after the fun, fall asleep to Clement Moore's Poetry

All Henry Livingston's Poetry,     All Clement Moore's Poetry     Historical Articles About Authorship

Many Ways to Read Henry Livingston's Poetry

Arguments,   Smoking Gun?,   Reindeer Names,   First Publication,   Early Variants  
Timeline Summary,   Witness Letters,   Quest to Prove Authorship,   Scholars,   Fiction  

   Book,   Slideshow,   Xmas,   Writing,   The Man,   Work,   Illos,   Music,   Genealogy,   Bios,   History,   Games  

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