Henry Livingston, Jr.
1823 Troy Sentinel


The arguments for Henry as the author of A Visit From St. Nicholas are persuasive. They range from witnesses telling their children and grandchildre that they heard the poem read by Henry, to considerations of style. Don Foster's approach to the authorship issue was to compare the work of three people: Henry Livingston, Clement Moore, and the unknown author of the Christmas poem. His conclusion: the literary influences on Henry and the unknown author were almost identical; the influences on Moore completely different.

Smoking Gun?,   First Publication of NBC,   Timeline,   Clement Clark Moore's Poetry  

From 1879 on, the Livingston family tried to bring Henry's claim to the public, but their efforts were unsuccessful. In 1920, William Sturges Thomas took up the quest from his older relatives with far more success. But though he was able to make his case public, the public wasn't ready to believe the son of an Episcopalian archbishop had plagarized a piece of writing. W. Stephen Thomas took up the quest for his generation, and did convince Vassar President MacCracken, but that still didn't carry weight with the general public. In 1999, another descendant, Mary Van Deusen, brought the problem to Don Foster, an expert in attribution of anonymous works. With Don supplying the direction and the analysis, Don and Mary the low-level research, and Stephen Livingston Thomas making available the collected materials he had inherited, Don put a major stake into the ground for Henry's claim.

Jill Farringdon, a British researcher into authorship attribution by a different method than Don Foster's, subjected the writing of Henry Livingston and Clement Moore to her Cusum analysis. Her conclusions were that:
  1. the anonymous poem had been written by a single author   2. The poem was clearly distinguishable from the utterance of Moore
  3. The poem was INDISTINGUISHABLE from the utterance of Major Livingston

While the world was falling in love with the Christmas poem, Henry's children were teaching their children that their grandfather had written it. By the time the Livingston family finally learned that Moore had taken credit for the poem in 1844, it was already 1860, Henry was long dead, and the original was ashes in a Wisconsin fire. From then on, descendants pooled their memories in the hope that someday someone could prove the case they didn't know how to prove.

Xmas Poem Variants

As part of his investigation, Don Foster examined text variations in early publications to see if Moore's 1844 version owed anything to an earlier editor. And, indeed, it did. The major change in the poem, the reindeer name rhythm, was actually made by Norman Tuttle, the owner of the Troy Sentinel.

Santa Wheelbarrow

Wherever practically possible, full texts of source materials are available. You'll find everything from a Clement Moore apologist's brushing off of Henry, to the defense of Henry's authorship by Dr. Henry Noble MacCracken, president of Vassar College.


A fictional account of Henry's writing of the Christmas poem.


Don Foster's book, Author Unknown, hit the world with the force of a bomb. The New York Times published a story on the front page of an inside section, and took up a second page, as well. Two page spreads were the order of the day, from People Magazine to the Washington Post.

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Arguments,   Smoking Gun?,   Reindeer Names,   First Publication,   Quest to Prove Authorship,   Scholars,  
Witness Letters,   Early Variants,   Sources,   Publicity,   Timeline,   Clement Moore's Poetry,   Fiction,   Letters from You

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