I was determined to make one more pass through the boxes of the Thomas files at the
New York Historical Society, and it was good I did. On a small scrap of paper I found the box
number of the 1819 Carrier's Address for which we had unsuccessfully searched! But when I
called Lynn Lucas, the Adriance Library Local Historian librarian, she didn't think that was
going to help since the library no longer used that filing scheme. I encouraged her to try, and was
thrilled when she called back with the broadsheet in hand! When the copy arrived in my
mailbox, there was the written note, "By Henry Livingston, says Aunt Gertie." Gertie was
Henry's granddaughter. The poem was marvelous.
But hark what a clatter! the Jolly bells ringing,
The lads and the lasses so jovially singing,
Tis New-Years they shout and then haul me along
In the midst of their merry-make Juvenile throng;
But I burst from their grasp: unforgetful of duty|
To first pay obeisence to wisdom and Beauty,
My conscience and int'rest unite to command it,
And you, my kind PATRONS, deserve & demand it.
On your patience to trespass no longer I dare,
So bowing, I wish you a Happy New Year.(1)
As far back as 1803, Christmas and New Year had been joined in Henry's mind.
All hail to the season so jovial and gay,
More grateful to News-Boys than blossoms of May,
Bespangled with gold and with diamonds o'erlaid;
Give me surly winter, bald-headed and bare,
Cold nights, frosty mornings and keen piercing air,
With storms roaring round him; rain, hail, sleet and snow,
While hoarse from the mountains the howling winds blow;
For Summer and Autumn and fair-bosom'd Spring,
With their pinks and their peaches no holidays bring;|
But now comes blithe Christmas, while just in his rear
Advances our saint, jolly, laughing, New-Year.(2)
You can see Henry standing at his half-opened Dutch door, looking out at the trees
bending under the wind. Nature. That's what kept him to the country and to his land. He could
have followed his relatives into the law or politics, but he had a different calling. It came from
the earth and it grew in him before he was old enough to know there was another way. He was
nature's child, and glad of it. He was a farmer. He bought the seed, and planted it, and then
watched it grow. He waited for the rain when it was dry, and worried over the late frost. This
was the closest he could get to the power of his God while still on this side of life's curtain.
Henry's Day Book records the life of Locust Grove. From its peach and apple trees, to
its wheat and rye, the grass which Henry rented out for the grazing of livestock, bees and honey
made by Sarah, cherry wine stored for brother Gilbert, cows and butter, trees for lumber, hogs,
chickens and eggs, oxen, goats, and sheep's wool.
On February 25, 1806, the Political Barometer announced the formation of an
Agricultural Society for Dutchess County, with Henry Livingston chairing the kickoff meeting,
then serving on the board for the first year. Fourteen years later he touted the organization to
Sidney Breese as a way to spread information.
January 27th 1820
To my very dear Grandson S.B. peace & health!
... For 5 weeks past the cold has been steady (but not so
intense as that of 1780) & the snow now in the woods is 2 feet:
sleighing superb from Hudsons bay to the city of New york.
Snowing began between Christmas & New year. Notwithstanding
the snow, the ground is quite dry: Many wells fail in water & the
lesser mills are shut up -- The Hudson is frozen down to the bay.
Thousands of small fish are taken by gilling in small square nets:
Charlie knows how.
The Missouri slave question agitates every body here.
Happy Illinois! Thine is exclusively the land of the FREE.
If you ever see Morris Birkbeck Esq. give my complements
to him & thank him in my name for the pleasure I received on
perusing his tour in France. He mentions that he saw, near Paris,
the operation of forming artificial stone by ramming earth in
moulds. I wish he would reconsider what he there saw & write a
detailed account of the process -- Could he be induced to do this I
would present it to our Dutchess agricultural society who would
print it & send it far and wide.
Interest in agriculture was widespread. Chancellor Robert Livingston wrote a book on
a subject popular in the press of the day. It was from the wool of sheep raised on
Livingston's property that James Madison's waistcoat and small-clothes were made for his
inauguration as President(5).
The merino flocks were one of the reasons for the creation of so
many stone walls. Because it wasn't cost effective to hire shepherds, as was done in Europe,
sheep were kept penned in by the walls. Not surprisingly, a good number of sheep were lost to
wolves, who weren't bothered a whit by the walls, and sheep raising went the way of other good
An intimate association with the earth wasn't unusual for a landowner, even one with
many more acres than Henry's. Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston, Henry's cousin, was voted
a sword by Congress to honor his bravery. A man of courtly manners, Col. Livingston could be
found plowing furrows in his fields in silk stockings and silver-buckled shoes.(6)
For at least fifty-five years, Henry contributed to his income by surveying land. It was a
trade he had learned from his father, Henry Sr., who created the first map of Dutchess County in
1738. Henry Sr. most likely learned the trade from his own father, Gilbert, who had been taught
the trade by his father, Robert Livingston. Surveying was a popular occupation, since it could be
a pathway to financial success. For anyone interested in real estate speculation, it was a way to
get first-hand information, a way to get a jump on the competition.
To own property, you have to be able to specify the exact boundary lines of what you're
claiming. Specifying boundary lines sounds like it should be an exact science. Good luck. A
tree marking a corner can die or be chopped down. A creek used as a boundary line can change
course over the years. And how do you figure out how many acres are in a plot bounded by a
winding stream anyway? Say you want to divide a piece of property into two equal lots, how do
you compute the size of the lots when one has a hill on it?
Surveying land in the 18th and early 19th century required good problem solving skills, a
meticulous nature, a knowledge of the appropriate mathematics, and a strong enough
constitution, since many of Henry' surveys are dated December and February. A text from 1833
begins with logarithms, geometry, plane trigonometry, and shows how to choose the most
appropriate mathematical approach to use for each different surveying problem.
(7) In the field, the
most important pieces of equipment were the surveying chain and the compass. The chain was
66 feet long. If you laid out a square that was the length of a chain on each side, the area
encompassed would be exactly one tenth of an acre, a great convenience for calculations. And he
made his surveys through forests and swamps, and over hill and over dale. Henry even did
surveys for land under the Hudson River! And sometimes what he found was quite surprising.
For the New-York Magazine
If all the phenomena of nature were faithfully registered, besides the
satisfaction resulting to the public from novel relations, natural history would
receive important additions.
On the 18th day of the last month, I was surveying in the woods about a
mile west from Hudson's river, and eighty miles north of the city of New-York. At
noon, the sky being perfectly clear, and the sun shining hot, I remarked that the
whole forest glistened in a manner not less uncommon than beautiful.
I at first imagined it occasioned by either rain or dew, till, upon a
moment's reflection, I found it could not be the former, as there was not a cloud to
be seen, nor the latter, as it must long before have disappeared in a day so warm
and serene. Some of the company declared they had observed similar appearances
before, and called it honey-dew. Every green leaf on the trees, as well as those that
were dry under our feet, were covered with a substance perfectly transparent, and
in taste not inferior to dissolved sugar-candy. We could not refrain continually
drawing the foliage between our lips to taste a syrup that fresh from heaven.
The preceding night had been clear and still, and a small southern breeze
blew all morning. It is probably that this modern manna would have been
discernable by the taste in the morning, but it was not noticed till the heat of the
meridian sun gave it the appearance of an elegant varnish.
I have seen accounts of this phenomenon in the Connecticut newspapers,
which determine its extension above an hundred miles -- perhaps it has covered a
considerable part of North America. When it is considered that every leaf of every
tree, and each blade of grass upon the thousand hills of an extensive country was
perfectly candied over with the purest sugar, palpable to the touch, visible to the
eye, and poignant upon the palate, the quantity must have been prodigious.
R. June, 1791.(8)
Walking the land with his father had taught Henry to recognize its value by understanding
how the land could be used, and it was this expertise of land valuation that led to his
appointments as commissioner of sequestration, commissioner of bankruptcy, and principal
assessor. And it was also what led John Jacob Astor to hire Henry for one of the great property
lawsuits of New York.
John Jacob Astor arrived in New York from Germany in 1783.(9) Setting up shop in the
city, he sold German toys and knickknacks, musical instruments and furs. The latter was the
profit maker. The way to get furs at the lowest price was to go to the source and trade with the
Indians, then prepare and press the furs so that they could be sold at the highest prices. With the
profit from his fur trading, Astor turned to real estate, which was even more profitable. It was his
interest in the Philipse property that brought him together with Henry Livingston.
Because they were Tories, the estate of Roger Morris and his wife, Mary Philipse, which
encompassed about one third of Putnam County, was confiscated during the Revolution and sold
to small farmers. In 1809, Astor met the heirs of the Morris family and learned that the takeover
of the estate was arguably illegal because of the deed's small print. As the owners of only a life
interest in the property, rather than the property itself, the argument of the heirs was that the
property couldn't be confiscated. Astor thought enough of their argument to have it checked out
by his lawyers. They agreed with the reasoning, and Astor bought the land.
Because the property had been confiscated and sold, there were now 700 small farmers
living on, working and improving the land. Henry got the job of explaining Astor's claims to the
new owners. For 9 ½ days conferring with Astor, and 10 ½ days touring the properties, Henry
billed Astor a day rate of 28 shillings per day, which totaled, with expenses, 33-14-6 pounds.
Astor was not expecting the farmers to buy their land for a second time from him. What
Astor wanted was for the Legislature to pay him a profit on his purchase price, based on the
argument that the illegal confiscation was the state's error. In 1819, the Legislature agreed to
have a survey made. On May 1st, Henry wrote to the Surveyor General asking for the work. His
advantage, he argued, was that he had already surveyed a tract of land containing fifty of the
farms, as well as a number of individual pieces of land within the Philipse Patent. And even
though much of the land was under cultivation, and therefore had known boundaries, some of the
land was mountainous and rugged, so that knowledge of the original boundary monuments would
be invaluable, and there were few people still alive who knew them. Since Henry was a young
man during the Revolution and was now seventy years old, he was probably exaggerating that
there were even a few working surveyors around who had worked back then.
He got the job.(10)
Judge Henry Livingston
The lack of a law degree was not an impediment to Henry Jr.'s appointment as a Dutchess
County Justice of the Peace. The position was the lowest level of the judiciary, and the solid
citizens so appointed could always avail themselves of Benedict's Treatise(11), a guidebook on
being a judge. Today we think of a Justice of the Peace as someone who marries people. In
Henry's time, it was the court where the lowest level of civil or criminal cases was brought.
Which means it was a pretty busy place. We can assume that this appointment was due to
Henry's standing in the community, rather than to any reputation gained by his proposed law for
the fair treatment of horse thieves.
ANTICIPATION. Extract from an Act, entitled An Act for encouraging
Horse Stealing. Passed the 13th day of February, 1791.
Henry's legal and judicial connections were as extensive as his political ones. Jonas
Platt, sister Helen's husband, spent 7 years on the New York Supreme Court, where Henry's son-in-law was
Chief Clerk and brother Gilbert's son-in-law, Chief Justice.
"WHEREAS in a country like our own, just emancipated from foreign
ntrol; it is necessary that the minds of the citizens be as speedily as possible
weaned from every restraint whatsoever, that they may not return to former ideas
and situations. And whereas certain bold and ardent spirits, if properly supported,
might in times of peril and danger render important service to their country.
"And also whereas, altho' a late law of this state, has removed most of the
terrors which formerly impended over the heads of Horse-thieves, yet still the said
law, so far from granting rewards for the aforementioned fears, enacts certain
corporeal infelicities, equally undelectable with these felt by the filtcher of a
gammom to the great injury of the object to be obtained by this act: for experience
has shown, that since the passing of the said law, Horse-stealing has not increased
more than four-fold.
"And lastly whereas, divers propositions and remarks have appeared in
almanacs and other profound compositions proving irreflagably, that the practice
of making oxen subservient to all the purposes of agriculture ought to be preferred
to the general use of horses: That the latter animal is a moth in the land -- eats the
children's bread -- engrosses the undue attention of thousands to the ruin of their
households -- is the rival of many a lovely mistress and affectionate wife -- in
short is the root of great and manifold evil.
"Therefore be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the
first day of May next, whoever shall either by night or by day, secretly and
dextrously take and carry away any horse, mare or gelding, to be in his, her or
their possession at least eight days, and shall produce sufficient proof of the
exploit, shall besides keeping such horse, be entitled to a plated bridle, a cisingle
and portmanteau, to be provided by the town wherein such horse, mare or gelding
"And be it also enacted by the authority aforesaid, That for the second
acquisition as aforesaid, and due proof thereof made, the horse as aforesaid, shall
be the property of the captor or captors; and the town wherein such horse was
taken, shall reward him, her or them with a new saddle with blue broad-cloth
housings trimmed with silver lace, and a pair of spurs made of solid bullion, or at
least the value of two guineas.
"And further be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That for the third,
and every successive horse, mare or gelding taken and conveyed away as
aforesaid, a reward of half the value of such horse (to be ascertained by the
appraisement of nine indifferent men) shall be paid to the taker or takers, and the
horse, mare or gelding so seized, to be and remain his, her or there sole property.
"And finally it is enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no town,
precinct, manor or district, in the distribution of the premiums and rewards as
above-mentioned, presume to present to any thief or thieves, or even dare to
mention in his, her or their presence, that terrifying suffocating implement called a
A true copy. Attest, R--(12)
Although James Kent and Gilbert Livingston had parted company over politics, Henry
Livingston, like Kent, was a strong supporter of Jay, and his brother's quarrel with the man did
not seem to affect Henry's respect for the man. Kent had moved to New York City after his
Assembly loss and had become a law professor at Columbia. The seven students of his first term
became two in his second, and none in his third. Kent then resigned his teaching post. But
Kent's support of Jay had not gone unnoticed in political circles, and the lawyer who didn't enjoy
the practice of law as much as he enjoyed its theory was appointed Master of Chancery in 1796,
and put on the New York Supreme Court in 1798, becoming Chief Justice in 1804. In 1814
Kent became New York's Chancellor, following Chancellor John Lansing and Chancellor Robert
R. Livingston. He was replaced as Chief Justice by his former law clerk, Smith Thompson,
Gilbert's son-in-law, Thompson going on to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
Though Kent had once seen Livingston brother-in-law Jonas Platt as one of those arrayed
against him, their differences had fallen away with time and the shared interests of the court.
Kent's sister Hannah was married to Jonas Platt's brother William
When Platt died, Kent said of him "This was one of the more pure & perfect Men that ever lived,
& through a long life one of my most valued Friends."(13)
Three of Henry's sons - Henry Welles, Sidney and Edwin - all read law. Grandson Sidney
Breese hung his shingle out on the frontier of Illinois, where he received a continuous stream of
love and encouragement from his grandfather, as well as good advice.
January 27th 1820
To my very dear Grandson S.B. peace & health!
I felicitate you in your legal diploma. That you will soon be
an HONEST lawyer, I am confident. I hope & believe you will be
a great one. Study hard my son, but think more! To be a
"Compleat Jurist" is a sublime character. Our celebrated
Chancellor Kent began under auspices not superior to yours.
In examining witnesses, sift them thoroughly, but ever treat
them with politeness, at least with humanity. No wise or great
advocate will shock the feelings of an audience by treating
testimony indecorously. It is not probable that many bystanders
will become pleaders, but every one may be a witness. Never let
me hear that you are only a mere collector of debt. At your first
contest speak. If you are even frightened at the cadence of your
own voice, still speak on. If you blush & stammer, no matter, go
on. Hearers always will always pardon this in a new [lawyer] &
beginner. It is a complement to them & nothing disreputable to
That you are a competent map man there is no doubt-- I go
a step further & say that every lawyer ought to be a theoretical
surveyor. I have heard many gentleman of the bar mention this.
The late General [Alexander Hamilton] learned it of his
father-in-law General Schuyler.
May 27th 1821
Dear! very dear Grandson!
After all, my dear boy, Illinois is the spot for you. You
have thriven very well, you know and are known, you are every day
ripening into more & more notice & usefulness, & one day or other
you will assuredly be the Governor of the State. You will be in
Congress even before you wish it.(15)
Henry was right, and the success of the young lawyer was not long in coming. At the age
of twenty-two Sidney was appointed Illinois State Attorney and, later, U.S. District Attorney,
Kaskaskia postmaster, U.S. Senator, Speaker of the Illinois House, Illinois Circuit Court Judge,
and Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. In the Illinois Capitol building in Springfield, a
full size statue of Sidney Breese adorns the inside of the dome, and Sidney's home in Carlisle,
Illinois is now a museum, where a fully furnished court room reminds visitors of what life was
like when Henry was on the bench. On Sidney's gravestone are the words, "He who sleeps
beneath this stone projected the Illinois Central Railroad."
His grandfather would have been proud.