My first trip to Poughkeepsie had been in the spring of 2000, and was part genealogy research
and part pleasure trip with my husband and some friends. I'd managed to make a stop at the
Dutchess County Historical Society, and had picked up transcripts of approximately 40 of
Henry's poems. From the tall stack of Livingston information which Eileen Hayden, the
Society's director, had laid before me, I was clearly not the first to ask about Henry Livingston.
But what I hadn't thought to ask was the whereabouts of the book from which the transcripts had
been taken. Don Foster had immediately seen the importance of that original manuscript, and
finding it was our major goal for my second Poughkeepsie visit.
All that I knew about Don on that August 18th 2000 drive from Boston to Poughkeepsie
for our first meeting, was that he spoke quickly and passionately on the telephone, and left me
mentally panting to keep up. I loved it and couldn't wait to meet him. Unfortunately, though,
the rapidly dimming headlights of my car meant that I was going to have to wait a little longer.
Despite having been in the computer field since 1967, I'm mechanically inept. The first
time I used an ATM card on a business trip to California, the ATM machine ate the card. I came
by this mechanical disability genetically. It was while replacing the third of my mother's electric
blankets that I'd figured out that the problem with each of the blankets had not been electrical, it
was just that mother didn't know how to turn them on. I thought about mother's blankets as I sat
on the side of the road after having so proudly made my very first cell call. The rather long
conversation with my newly discovered cousin, Steve Thomas, hadn't solved the problem of the
missing manuscript, but it had planted a seed that would later bear fruit. My immediate problem
was that I was holding a dead cellphone while sitting in a car whose battery was dying. One day,
two car repairs and a rental car later, my three dogs and I reached Poughkeepsie. I do not give
up! Because the original materials in the Adriance Library and the Dutchess County
Historical Society had come from a somewhat haphazard break-up many years ago of the
Poughkeepsie Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution collection, it isn't always
clear why one thing is in one place and another somewhere else. When Don and I asked each
archive whether they had the poetry book, each of them felt pretty sure they didn't have it, and
suggested trying the other. I understood the problem perfectly.
For the last ten years that Paul and I had worked for IBM Research in New York, we'd
commuted between our Boston house and our New York apartment. If I was looking for a book
in Boston, it felt pointless to search too long when it was just as likely that the book was lying on
a table back in New York. But when I couldn't find the book in New York, it was never clear
whether I should go into major search mode there, or whether the problem was that I just hadn't
looked long enough in Boston. The Poughkeepsie archives had that exact problem, with the
additional complication that encouraging the search at the other location meant that the first place
didn't have to do the work of looking. And that was the other problem. Even though you clearly
know what you want, you can't do the looking, yourself.
Archive searching feels like standing in the doorway of an attic filled with trunks and
boxes from which marvelous things spill out. You know there's a treasure in there somewhere,
but you can't walk in and search for yourself. You have to tell someone else to search, and if you
don't ask just right -- Mother May I -- you lose. And what we were losing was a poem from
1819, a newspaper boy's Carrier's Address, that looked remarkably similar in style to the Night
Before Christmas. A Carrier's Address was a poem printed on New Year's, and given by the
newsboys to their customers in the hope of receiving a tip in return. According to an article in
the Dutchess County yearbook of 1943(1), the poem was somewhere in the Adriance. We tried
explaining that to Lynn Lucas, the local history librarian.
It wasn't that Lynn didn't want to help, she was very supportive of what we were trying to
do. It was just that if the item didn't show up in her catalog, she had no idea where to start
looking. And while I would have been willing to spend days carefully sifting through unsorted
original documents, library policy didn't allow me to try. The high theft rate by researchers at
archives have forced many institutions to develop stringent rules to protect their collections.
I love old documents, and collect for myself whenever possible, so I did understand the
care they took of their trust. One of the first jobs I'd held was at Chicago's Adler Planetarium.
I'd polished gold and silver astrolabes, and inventoried the oldest books ever printed. (If you're
into useless information, one of the oldest alarm clocks is made up from a small sundial, a
magnifying glass, and a little cannon.) So, while I found the restrictions on our research
completely understandable, it was still incredibly frustrating!
I left Poughkeepsie with no clearer idea where the poetry book might be, or the 1819
Carrier's Address, but with something that I'd find to be of even greater value - the start of a
friendship. Don Foster is a tall man. He's thin with an energy that makes you feel that any extra
flesh is burnt away by the passion with which he charges through life. And it was that passion
which spoke so strongly to me because of the passion I have, myself, for life. I had no idea what
would be the end of our quest, but I knew already that the rainbow we were trying to slide up was
going to give us a great ride whether or not we found the golden proofs at the rainbow's end. I
thought it was just the sort of ride that Henry would have loved.
You never hear Henry regretting throwing his heart into life. Loving Sarah with all his
strength, he still had the best insurance against the pain of her loss - his faith. He took the
images of beauty that had been with him since childhood, the small, bright boats of pleasure and
commerce on the Hudson River, and sailed those boats right into heaven.
To the memory of Sarah Livingston|
who was born on the
7th of Novr. 1752 &
died Sepr. 1st, 1783
BEYOND where billows roll or tempests vex
Is gone the gentlest of the gentle sex!
Her brittle bark on life's wild ocean tost
Unequal to the conflict soon was lost.
Severe her sufferings! much, alas, she bore,
Then sunk beneath the storm & rose no more.
But when th' Archangel's awful trump shall sound
And vibrate life thro all the deep profound
Her renovated vessel will be seen,
Transcendant floating on the silver stream!
All beauteous to behold! serene she glides
Borne on by mildest & propitious tides;
While fanning zephyrs fill her snow white sails
And aid her passage with the friendliest gales
Till safe within the destin'd port of bliss
She furls her sails and moors in endless peace.(2)
Henry had feared for Sarah's death from the moment they had become engaged, but his
fear wasn't the one that almost anyone else would have had, the fear of being left behind,
Henry's empathy was so strong that when he thought of Sarah's death, it was mainly for her, not
for himself. He told her in a letter of attending the funeral of a young married friend.
not one relation of her own by blood near her, no mother, no sister, not the most distant cousin to
drop the tear of real distress.(3)
But it wasn't to awaken fears in Sarah that he wrote but, rather, to comfort and reassure.
My heart bleeds. I will not think any more on it- But if you should my
dear, the God of all nature will take care of his particular jewels. He will my dear, & will bless
you and will delight to make all your ways, ways of peace- And your Husband will be to you
instead of every other relative.
But when Sarah's health did break far from her family, Henry took her home.
My dear wife Sarah was born at Stamford on the 7th of November 1752. Died there on the first
day of September 1783, aged 30 years 9 months & 25 days. The Lord gave and the Lord has
taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. On the first day of September 1783 my dear wife
died at her mother's house in Stamford and was interred in that place. Her funeral sermon was
preached by Doctr Timothy Dwight, now president of Yale college. She was the beautiful Sarah
Even supported by his faith, Henry needed some time to put his life back together as a
single, working father. Until he could do that, he left his two older children, eight year old
Catharine and a new, five year old Henry Welles, in Stamford with their widowed grandmother
and their aunt Mary and uncle John Davenport, a Yale Tutor. Three year old Cornelia was
temporarily boarded closer to home.
It was in the first year after Sarah's death that Henry began his poetry manuscript book.
His thoughts throughout that year were centered on the comfort to be found in religion but, as his
grief abated, the subject of the poems changed, too. Now, again, the warm and loving friend
shone through, as in his poem for Rev. Dwight's son Timmy's ninth birthday.
An Epistle to a young Friend just in Breeches
MASTER Timmy brisk and airy,
Blythe as Oberon the fairy;
On thy head thy cousin wishes,
Thousand and ten thousand blisses!
Never may thy wicket ball,
In a well or puddle fall:
Or thy wild ambitious kite
O'er the elm's thick foliage light.
When on bended knee thou sittest
And the mark in fancy hittest,
May thy marble truly trace
Where thy wishes mark'd the place.
If at hide and seek you play;
All involved in the hay,
Titt'ring hear the joyful sound,
"Timmy never can be found."
If you hop or if you run,
Or whatever is the fun;
Vic'try with her sounding pinion
Hover o'er her little minion!
But when hunger calls the boys
From their helter skelter joys,
Bread and cheese in order standing
For their most rapacious handling,
Timmy, may thy luncheon be
More than Ben's, as five to three.
But if hasty pudding's dish,
Meet thy vast capacious wish:
Or lob-lollys charming jelly,
Court thy cormorantal belly;
Mortal foe to meagre fast,
Be thy spoonful, first and last.(5)
And there, again, is Henry's empathy, front and center. Instead of making adult wishes
for Timmy, like health, wealth, or good grades, Henry wishes for Timmy what Timmy would
wish for himself - that his cleverness in hiding would be recognized by his playmates, that his
Timmy grew medicine and, with some poetic justice, published "Chronic Debility of the
Stomach," to critical applause for its originality and excellence.
Timmy grew up to become a prominent merchant in New Haven, endowing a divinity
professorship to honor his father's Yale presidency. As for Ben of the luncheon contest, he went
on to study medicine and, with some poetic justice, published "Chronic Debility of the Stomach,"
to critical applause for its originality and excellence.
By 1786, Henry's poems take on a more romantic slant, with a poem for a Poughkeepsie
belle, a Valentine verse,
a complaint of a suitor addressed to his lady's lapdog, and a piece that is
The Vine & Oak, A Fable
A vine from noblest lineage sprung,
And with the choicest clusters hung,
In purple rob'd, reclining lay,
And catch'd the noontide's fervid ray:
The num'rous plants that deck the field
Did all the palm of beauty yield,
Pronounc'd her fairest of their train,
And hail'd her Empress of the Plain.
A neigh'bring Oak, whose spiry height
In low-hung clouds was hid from sight,
Who dar'd a thousand howling storms;
Conscious of worth, sublimely stood
The pride and glory of the wood.
He saw the Vine defenceless lay
To each invading foe a prey,
And wish'd to clasp her in his arms,
And bear her far away from harms.
'Twas love -- 'twas tenderness -- 'twas all
That men the thrilling passion call.
He urg'd his suit, but urg'd in vain;
The Vine, regardless of his pain,
Still flirted with each flippant green,
With seeing pleas'd and being seen;
And as the syren Flattery sang,
Would o'er the strain extatic hang,
Enjoy'd the minutes as they rose,
Nor fears her bosom discompose.
But now the boding clouds arise,
And scowling darkness veils the skies;
Harsh thunders roar -- red lightnings gleam,
And rushing torrents close the scene.
The fawning, adulating crowd,
Who late in thronged circles bow'd
Now left their mistress of a day
To the o'erwhelming flood a prey;
Which, swell'd a deluge, poured around,
And tore her helpless from the ground:
Her rifled foliage floated wide,
And ruby Nectar ting'd the tide.
With eager eyes, and heart dismay'd,
She look'd, but look'd in vain for aid:
"And are my lovers fled," she cry'd,
"Who at my feet this morning sigh'd,
"And swore my reign would never end,
"While youth and beauty had a friend?
"I am unhappy, who believ'd!
"And they detested, who deceived!
"Curse on that whim call'd maiden pride,
"Which made me shun the name of bride,
"When yonder Oak confessed his flame,
"And woo'd me in fair Honour's name.
"--But now repentance comes too late,
"And all forlorn I meet my fate."
The Oak, who safely wav'd above,
Look'd down once more with eyes of love;
Declared her coldness might suspend,
But not his gen'rous passion end:
Begg'd to renew his am'rous plea--
--As warm for union now as he,
To his embraces quick she flew,
And felt and gave sensations new.
Enrich'd and graced by the sweet prize,
He lifts her tendrils to the skies;
Whilst she, protected and carest,
Sinks in his arms, completely blest.
Banks of the Hudson, Feb. 8, 1791.(6)
Henry was getting frustrated! But if he was, he knew where to go for the cure - that old
purveyor of patent medicine cures - the Wizard.
If a young lady, deeply in love, applies for relief, he takes three or four sighs, warm from her
heart, melts them in a soft pomatum gallipot, with a little rosin scraped from a violin and virgin
wax, makes the whole into a salve; a small plaister of which, put upon the tip of her tongue, will
extract all the venom from her bosom, and cause it to evaporate in colloquial nonsense.
Coquetry he relieves by a process diametrically opposite to the
aforegoing; by taking a few energetic declarations immediately as
they fall from the lips, and forging them into the form of a magnet:
this he applies under the stays next her heart -- sympathy does the
The prude is cured by simply bringing her mouth into
contact with that of a coquette when the latter is above mediocrity
in her character: this process is called in Cochin-China, inbibition.
Pride, in men or women, is eradicated, by mixing half a
dozen whistles of the humility, (a meek little bird of the snipe kind)
with an ounce of the honey of the humble bee, and cramming a
pellet of it in each nostril, when in their haughtiest distension.
If a husband is morose, the kindest expostulations of his
wife must be tied up in a small blue silk bag, and kept warm in his
bosom; if he is jealous, he must take three scruples of
Shakespeare's Othello, reduced to an impalpable powder, and diet
himself and spouse upon oatmeal gruel: if he is hen-peck'd, he may
live a fortnight upon soup made of the hearts of Bantam cocks, and
read Catherine and Petruchio twice every day.
He compels inconstant swains to employ themselves
without the least intermission in building cages for turtle doves;
and nymphs afflicted with the same malady, to sit and look on the
Henry's views on women would be considered progressive today. On the birth of his
daughter Catharine, he had exulted at the thought of educating the girl, and when he offered
birthday wishes for his sister Joanna, one of the blessings of which he reminded her was her
marriage to someone of similar mind.
On my sister Joanna's entrance into her 33rd year
On this thy natal day permit a friend -
A brother - with thy joys his own to blend:
In all gladness he would wish to share
As willing in thy griefs a part to bear.
Meekly attend the ways of higher heav'n!
Is much deny'd? Yet much my dear is giv'n.
Thy health, thy reason unimpaired remain
And while as new fal'n snows thy spotless fame
The partner of thy life, attentive - kind -
And blending e'en the interests of the mind.
What bliss is thine when fore thy glist'ning eye
Thy lovely infant train pass jocund by!
The ruddy cheek, the smiling morning face
Denote a healthy undegenerate race:
In them renew'd, you'll live and live again,
And children's children's children lisp thy name.
Bright be the skies where'er my sister goes
Nor scowling tempests injure her repose -
The field of life with roses thick be strow'd
Nor one sharp thorn lie lurking in the road.
Thy ev'ry path be still a path of peace
And each revolving year thy joys increase;
Till hours and years of time itself be o'er
And one eternal day around thee pour.(8)
There is often a moral to be found in Henry's writing,. But in case it might taste a little
bitter, he sweetens it with a little humor, a touch of faith in human nature, and a spoonful of his
own kind disposition. It took two more years, but the wizard's prescriptions finally worked on
On the 1st of September, 1793, three months after the death of his mother(9) and ten years
to the day after having been widowed, Henry Livingston remarried.(10) Jane McLean Paterson was
the sister of Henry's neighbor, Margaret Patterson Mitchell, and only twenty-five years old, a full
twenty years younger than her new husband.
In a time when women were frequently seen as second class citizens, Henry fell in love
with a strong woman who knew her own mind. On the first Sunday after their marriage, Jane
came downstairs wearing a bright scarlet cape. Henry asked, rather diffidently, whether her
outfit might not be just a tad gay for church, but Jane held her ground. He'd known that she
liked wearing cheerful clothes before they married, she replied, and said that she saw no reason
to change her mode of dress now. Henry accepted this statement and went upstairs himself,
returning in his three-cornered hat, paste-buckled shoes and best coat with big brass buttons.(11)
If anyone was going to criticize his wife, they could criticize him, too!
There must have been the smell of orange blossoms lingering in the autumn air because,
two months later, Henry's daughter Caty married Arthur Breese(12), a lawyer from Whitesboro who
used to sail up to Henry's dock to court the girl. A cousin later described Caty to Caty's
daughter, "I recollect your Livingston mother well. She had light hair, blue eyes, beautiful rosy
complexion, angelic form, graceful step and [was] full of life."(13)
Whatever sadness Henry felt at his oldest daughter moving so far away must have been
eased by the happiness of being in love. As Henry later told a grandson, "With some experience
I announce that celibacy is good, but marriage is better."(14)
With Catharine gone, only young Harry and Cornelia were still at home. And with the
coming spring, there was only one. "My daughter Cornelia was born July 2nd 1780. Died April
28th 50 minutes past two in the afternoon, anno 1794 aged 13 years 9 mos. 26 days. Her whole
life was a scene of unparalleled sufferings, exemplary patience and displays of a mind
uncommonly energetic."(15) Henry was devastated. He must have asked God if it were he that was
cursed, because in the July 1794 issue of New-York Magazine, he publishes a poem about
Rispah, a concubine of King Saul, whose children were hung by David for the sins of their father.
And did ye, O my hapless offspring! bleed
For your unhappy father's thoughtless deed?(16)
Three weeks later, Jane delivered their first child, a son that they named Charles.(17) In his
bible Henry had written on the death of his first wife Sarah that "The Lord gave and the Lord has
This time, the Lord reversed Himself. There would another small stocking hung at Henry's mantlepiece this Christmas.
For someone who loved children as dearly as Henry did, Jane was, herself, a gift from
heaven. She brought him a happiness as bright as her scarlet cape, and filled his home with
babies. A poem from Henry's manuscript book gives a glimpse into this happy second family.
Dialog Between Madame L. and her Children
Pray dearest mother if you please
Cut up your double-curded cheese,
The oldest of the brotherhood.
It's ripe, no doubt and nicely good!
Your reputation will rise treble
As we the lucious morsel nibble.
Praise will flow from each partaker
Both on the morsel and the maker!
Your suit is vain, upon my word,
You taste not yet my double-curd;
I know the house, the very minute
In which I'll plunge my cutteau in it;
Am I to learn of witless bairns
How I must manage my concerns?
As yet the fervid dog-star reigns
And gloomy Virgo holds the reigns.
Be quiet chicks, sedate and sober
And house your stomachs till October;
Then for a feast! Upon my word,
I'll really cut my double curd.(19)
It was a credit to both Jane and Henry that the two families merged so seamlessly, as seen
in an 1802 letter from Henry, then in the Hudson Highlands, to his thirty year old son, Henry
Welles. "When you see dear mamma [Jane], 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."(20)
In 1808, after having served a term in the New York legislature, Caty's husband Arthur
accepted the newly created position of Clerk of the Supreme Court, which met in Utica, the
larger town adjoining Whitesboro. But the stresses of a new job and home were suddenly
compounded when Caty became ill following the birth of her ninth child. Seven months later,
she was dead.(21)
Henry Welles Livingston, having recently passed the law bar, moved to Utica and
received his license to practice before the Supreme Court, of which his brother-in-law, Arthur
Breese, was now Chief Clerk. On September 9th 1813, while taking a niece to Boston to spend a
year with her Aunt Salisbury(22), Henry Welles wrote his father, "In about three weeks I shall be
rendered happy by greeting those I love. ... Give my best love to Dear mama and the children."(23)
But the greeting to which Henry Welles looked forward would have to be in Heaven.
Upon getting word that his son was ill in Hartford, Henry and nineteen year old Charles rode off
to help, while Jane and the children prayed them on their way. But when father and son returned,
they were alone, and the black armbands on their coats told the waiting family that they need
look no longer for the return of young Harry.(24) All of Sarah's children were with their mother.