Home for Henry Jr. was Poughkeepsie. He was born there on the 13th of October 1748,
not far from where he now lies buried. Henry's father, Henry Sr., moved to Poughkeepsie from
Kingston with the blessings of his parents, Gilbert Livingston and Cornelia Beekman, and rented
a house from Captain John Jan Conklin, a Poughkeepsie militia commander and local
landowner, who owned about 1700 acres on the Hudson River. But a house was the least of
what Henry Sr. was after from the Conklins. What he wanted was the Conklin's 17 year old
daughter Susannah. Both families were against the match for reasons now lost but, in 1742, the
young man took the matter into his own hands, and Susannah onto his horse, and the couple
By December of that year their first child, Gilbert, was born, and Captain Conklin was
reconciled enough to sell his son-in-law the house in which the couple lived. Gilbert's birth was
followed by John Henry's in 1746, and by Henry Jr. two years later.
Poughkeepsie was a wonderful place to grow up. Henry's front yard was the river and his
backyard an orchard of fruitbearing trees and fields rich with crops. With ten brothers and
sisters, it was a home filled with happy and healthy children, only one of whom died, and that
when Henry Jr. was already an adult. "Humble, exemplary and affectionate(1)," Henry's mother
Susannah provided the warmth and love from which Henry's upbeat view of life developed.
Henry's Livingston grandparents had both died before Henry was four, but they left him
six uncles and aunts surviving out of a family of fourteen children. Uncle James Livingston, for
many years a politician and the sheriff of Dutchess County, lived near by. Uncle Robert Gilbert
had made an early move to New York City, and amassed a fortune as a merchant, and Aunt Alida
had married Henry Van Rensselaer, a member of another old New York family. Aunt Catharine
married Jonathan Thorn, and many of their children were born in Poughkeepsie, though they later
moved to Hartford CT. Uncle Gilbert lived in Bermuda.
Aunt Joanna had married Pierre Van Cortlandt and moved to the Van Cortlandt Manor, in
Croton-on-Hudson NY. It was in that home that Aunt Joanna entertained Washington and the
other notables of the Revolution. New York Lt. Governor Van Cortlandt had been one of those
who met in Convention to ratify the Declaration of Independence for New York state.(2)
Aunt Margaret's husband was named for his ancestor, colonial governor Peter
Stuyvesant. Fond of land, Stuyvesant owned 120 acres in the heart of Manhattan. Aunt
Margaret's home was situated on a hill overlooking the Hudson River, and she and her husband
built a home for their daughter Elizabeth, at 21 Stuyvesant Street, when the girl married Colonel
Nicholas Fish. It was in that home that Margaret's grandson, New York Governor Hamilton
Fish, was born. New York's Stuyvesant Square was once part of Aunt Margaret and Peter
Henry's other grandparents, Captain Conklin and Joanna Storm, were nowhere near that
well to do, though they were one of the wealthier of the Poughkeepsie residents, as seen by the
tax roles. But the Captain and Joanna provided Henry with nine more aunts and uncles, the
youngest being only two and a half years older than Henry.
With a total of 22 aunts and uncles born to Henry's grandparents, Henry had over 80 first
cousins. Whatever Henry's problems in life would be, they weren't going to include loneliness!
Henry Jr. was also close to his grandmother's brother, Colonel Henry Beekman. Because
Beekman had only a daughter, Henry's father, named for the Colonel, took on many of the tasks
for his uncle that a son would have performed, acting as land agent and political lieutenant until
the Colonel's daughter Margaret married, and Beekman's son-in-law, Robert R. Livingston
(Henry Sr.'s first cousin), was able to take on the role.
The home in which Henry Jr. was raised was not as fancy as those of his Livingston or
Stuyvesant or Van Cortlandt cousins. Even though he was a Livingston, he was the grandson of
the poorer of the three Livingston branches. As a younger son of parents who believed in the
oldest son inheriting almost everything, grandfather Gilbert had expected a small share of the
Livingston estate, but his financial problems made his parents decide to leave him one-seventh
part of the Saratoga patent, which was even less than they'd first planned to be his inheritance.
Gilbert's oldest brother Philip became the second Lord of Livingston Manor, with palatial
mansions in New York City, Albany, and on the Manor. His middle brother Robert inherited
13,000 acres on the Hudson River that became known as the Lower Manor, and on which Robert
built the Clermont mansion.
Gilbert's experience made him sensitive to the matter of inheritance, and he willed his
own estate to be divided equally between his ten children. This even division carried through
with Henry Sr.'s estate, as well. The result was a striking lack of jealousy among Gilbert's
children and grandchildren, and strong bonds of affection holding the family close together.
In a New-York Magazine article, Henry Jr. notes that the property where he grew up
wasn't formally decorated in fountains or statuary, but that "nature, in her kindliest mood, has
undulated the hills around, smoothed the terrain where the buildings are erected, laved the shores
with the majestic Hudson, and made the whole delightful."(3)
The New-York Magazine would turn out to be a rich source of material by Henry. In
1791, for example, twenty pieces of his poetry and prose appeared in 10 out of 12 issues of the
magazine. Most of what Henry published there was under his usual pseudonym of "R." From
Don's database searches we knew that the pseudonym appeared in many more publications and
newspapers than that, but without looking at each piece of writing, we had no way to know
which pieces were by our "R," and which ones weren't. To make the search for Henry's work
even harder, we also had to look at anything signed Henry or HL or H, etc. And because we
knew that some of Henry's work was published anonymously, we had to keep an eye out for
anonymous poems in Henry's style, as well.
Going through newspapers on microfilm is slower than turning the pages of real papers.
If you're in close enough to read the text, then you can't see a whole page, so you have to scan up
and down the page to make sure you don't miss anything. But at least the pain is in your wrist
from turning dials, rather than in your back from bending over. Because the state of New York
makes microfilms of early New York papers and periodicals available through Interlibrary Loan,
I was able do the scanning at libraries near home instead of traveling constantly to New York.
The problem was that there were always other people who needed to use the same machine, and
there just weren't enough hours in the day that the library was open. I talked it over with my
husband and we decided to buy our own microfilm reader. Now I could scan material directly
into our computer until dawn, if I could stay awake that long, I felt like a vacuum cleaner,
sucking up information like this ad for Henry's father's property.
The delightful Mansion and Farm, of about eighty acres, of
the late Henry Livingston, Esq of the town of Poughkeepsie, in
Dutchess county. This place has been long and deservedly
celebrated for its conveniences and elegance, being possibly the
most delightful spot which the banks of the Hudson afford; those
who know it need no information.
A short description may be
necessary to those who are strangers to it. The mansion, although
not new, is still good and commodious, containing eight rooms
besides two passages, a pantry, a large kitchen, and a servant's bed
room. Hudson's river flows within fifty yards of the door, and the
terrene in front of the house is shaded with aged locusts, and is
particularly fine. The garden is large and productive; of fruit trees
there is great abundance and excellent; of Peaches alone, there are
at least three hundred bearing trees; the apple orchard contains
between five and six hundred trees in prime order, many, of the
very best grafted fruit, and the locust plantation consists of more
than five hundred trees, many of which are large. The soil is a
fruitful loom, and is equally fit for the scythe or plough.(4)
The ad seems not to have been successful, since Henry Sr.'s home was eventually
purchased by his grandson, Colonel Henry A. Livingston, the son of Rev. John Henry Livingston.
It stayed in the Livingston family until 1870, when it became an office for the Phoenix Horseshoe
Company. With the creation of the north-south railroad line along the River, the peace of the old
place was incessantly broken by the railroad that ran not many feet from the front door . In 1910,
the building was finally torn down.(5)
Henry wasn't the only one of his siblings to respond to the call of the land. In June of 1771, his younger brother, John Henry, a minister now installed
in a New York city ministry, wrote back to Rev. Laidlie, still in the city, about the young man's visit home.
I arrived home on Friday, P.M. being 48 hours on the water. A kind providence to my whole family gives me fresh opportunity to rejoice in the goodness of the Lord. Last Sunday, A.M. I preached here, and was much assisted to speak of Jesus and salvation through his merits. I thought much of our Church in New-York the whole day, (as indeed every day that is much on my heart,) and especially sympathized with my dear Laidlie; my prayers were for you, that God would support and bless you. The country air, the new amusements, and caresses of near relations, have refreshed both soul and body. I feel cheerful and hearty, and am convinced that it is necessary sedentary persons should now and then take tours of this kind. When I am walking among the trees, and ascend a hill, or gain from any little eminence a fine extended prospect, I draw in the wholesome air, and am apt to say — 'Man was made to live in the country, to trace the footsteps of his Maker's power and wisdom in the vegetable world.' Nothing certainly but the pleasures and superior advantages of society, can compensate for the loss of those pleasures which the country affords superior to the town.
Henry Jr. built his own home on 470 acres given him by his father in 1771. Because of
the profusion of locust trees, Henry named it Locust Grove. In fairness to his other children,
Henry Sr.'s will reduced his son's estate share by 1,350 pounds to cover the gift of the land, as he
also reduced the share of two other sons - John Henry for the cost of his European education, and
Beekman for financial help when he needed it.(6) In 1779, Henry Sr. transferred 215 acres to
Like many Dutch houses, though not his father's, Henry's house was made of stone. It
presented its chimneyed narrow end to the road, and its face to the lawn. Where his father had
built near the river, Henry put his house up on the hill off the road leading into Poughkeepsie.
The second floor had dormer windows with tight shutters just made to be "torn open," and a
smaller wooden structure was added later. Stone was more than just a beautiful building
material, as Henry explained, it was also important for fire safety.
A modern American house is none other than a tinder box:
post, beams, braces & rafters of white pine - sided with white pine
& roofed with white pine or whole cedar shingles & the whole
smeared over with linseed oil. In a July drought what more
inflammable can be conceived? In the city of Paris a fire is
scarcely heard of, because in Paris it is almost impossible to set a
house on fire. Every door & window frame & every flight of stairs
are of cut stone -- the roofing of slate or tiles & much of the
flooring of marble or tiles. Whenever you build, my son, crowd in
as much brick or stone as you can & roof with slate tiles or sheet
tin if you can get the materials but, if you must shingle, cover it
once a year with lime made into wash by strongly salted water.(8)
From one of Henry Jr.'s descendants we get a picture of the inside of his home. Entering
through the front door put a visitor in a large open hallway facing a flight of narrow stairs leading
to the second floor. The hall beside the stairs went to the rear of the house, and beneath the stairs
was a little nook called "The Arch," to which Henry escaped when the house was just too noisy.(9)
The old Dutch door divided in the center and painted green
like the blinds, always swung open, when I as a child used to
wander in and out of the deserted rooms (the house was then 160
years old) and mounting the creaking stairs(10), with imaginary
gnomes and ghostly beings following me, I would sit by the big
Dutch fire-place which recalled the golden legends of the past to a
Child's free imagination, and gaze with awe and wonder about me,
for here my Great [Great] Grandfather's "Den" was located, and of
yore he emerged from this Sanctum to read before the glowing fire
the many lovely & quaint poems and Rebus's his cultivated taste
and leisure brought forth for the pleasure of his family.
The old green latticed well in those days stood sentry to the
flowing bowl and good cheer within. It is reminiscent of quite a
thrilling incident, when a wee child, Catharine, the Major's
daughter, broke loose from her nurse (who was doubtless flirting
with the gardener and oblivious to all else) and climbing the well
disappeared over its side, the nurse only turning in time to see the
child's heels vanishing below. In her terror she rushed to her
rescue, and scrambling down the jagged stones of the well
succeeded in catching hold of the child, the water being fortunately
low, and bringing up my future great grandmother in the old oaken
bucken, none the worse for her ducking!(11)
Many years after Henry Jr.'s death, his property came back into the family when it was
purchased by Samuel Finley Breese Morse(12), the nephew of Henry's son-in-law, Arthur Breese,
and the husband of Henry's great granddaughter, Sarah Elizabeth Griswold. Morse, the inventor
of the telegraph and a fine artist, described his Poughkeepsie purchase to his brother Sidney with
I am almost afraid to tell you of its beauties and advantages. It is just such a place
as in England could not be purchased for double the number of pounds sterling. Its
"capabilities," as the landscape gardeners would say, are unequaled. There is every variety of
surface, plain, hill, dale, glens, running streams and fine forest, and every variety of different
prospect; the Fishkill Mountains toward the south and the Catskills towards the north; the
Hudson with its varieties of river craft, steamboats of all kinds, sloops, etc., constantly showing a
varied scene. ... Singularly enough this was the very spot where Uncle Arthur [Breese] found his
wife. The old trees are pointed out where he and she used to ramble during their courtship."(14)
By sheer coincidence, Morse gave his property the same name that Henry had given it so
many years before, Locust Grove. Because of Morse's fame, his house and land have now
become an historical landmark. Henry's old house is no longer there, but a marker stands beside
the place where once it stood, the only reminder now of Henry's old "mansion of stone."
It's still possible to wander the grounds of the Morse estate and see with Henry's eyes
the land that he loved so much. With three miles of walking trails on one hundred and fifty
acres, one can find streams and a waterfall, a small lake, and stands of oak, tulip, and locust trees,
many of which were probably there when Henry walked his land.
An Invitation to the Country
The winter all surly is flown,
The frost, and the ice, and the snow:
The violets already have blown,
Already the daffodils glow.
The forests and copses around,
Their foilage begin to display;
The copses and forests resound
With the music and disport of May.
E'er Phoebus has gladd[e?d] the plains,
E'er? the mountains are tip'd with his gold.
The sky larks shrill matin proclaims,
A songster, harmonius as bold.
The Linnet, and Thrush, thro the day,
Join notes with the soft cooing dove;
Not a bush, but can witness a lay;
Or the softer endearments of Love.
At eve, when the shadows prevail;
And night throws her mantle around;
The nightingale warbles her tale
And harmony dwells in the sound.
The grasshopper chirps at our feet,
The butterfly wings it along,
The season of love will compleat
What they want in the raptures of song.
Not an insect that flits o'er the lawn
But gambols in pleasure and play,
Rejoicing the winter is gone,
And hailing the pleasanter May.
These snares may entangle the weak;
But never the rational soul;
The flimsy enchantments will break
Where reason can never control.
By the side of a murmuring stream,
Where willows the margin imbrown;
We'll wander, unheeded, unseen,
Nor envy the taste of the town.
In scenes, where confusion and noise
And riots loud voice is unknown;
We'll humbly participate joys,
That ever from greatness have flown.
Let avarice smile o'er its gain,
Ambition exult at its height,
Dissipation unloose every rein,
In pursuit of forbidden delight.
We'll cling to our cottage, my love,
There a meeting with bliss we ensure.
The Seraphs who carol above
Must smile on enjoyments so pure.
Let us join in their revels my dear!
To innocent joy give a loose!
No surfeits or harm can we fear
The pleasures we cannot abuse.
What is all the gay town can bestow?
That all its inhabitants share?
But trifles and glitter and show,
That cloy and displease as they glare.(15)
Living close to the River meant being close to transportation, though before the
development of steam boats by Henry's cousin, Chancellor Livingston, and by Robert Fulton, it
was a mode of travel that required keeping an open schedule. You traveled with the wind, and
when the wind didn't blow, you waited until it did.
One of the most historically interesting of Henry's drawings is one of West Point showing
the chain laid on pontoons across the Hudson River to try to prevent the British fleet from
traveling north past that point.(16) The chain was made by Theophilus Anthony, a blacksmith who
worked just south of Locust Grove.(17) Lossing describes his own sketch of West Point(18) as based
on one in the November 1791 New-York Magazine.(19) Henry's drawing!
Henry was a doodler, and his pen was always torn between being held by the
mathematical surveyor or by the writer of fantasy and humor. In his typical fashion, he just
mixed up the two. Few of his surveys are simple delineations of boundary lines. Somewhere
there's usually a curlicue, a scroll, a tree or a house appearing in some corner of the paper.
Several watercolors by Henry still survive, and in this medium he was far more successful.
A natural extension of Henry's love for his river was his passion for the canal systems
which New York needed to deal with the Appalachian Mountain Range transportation problems.
And the guiding vision behind this visionary project was Henry's brother-in-law, Jonas Platt.
New York Senator Platt was visited, in 1810, by a friend hoping to solicit his support for
a small, privately built canal(20). Platt described to his visitor, instead, a much more ambitious
project to connect together the Hudson River and Lake Erie. The conversation continued
throughout the night and, in the morning, they went to DeWitt Clinton, an important New York
politician and nephew of the first Governor of New York, George Clinton.
De Witt Clinton was unfamiliar with the issue and even with western New York, but his
imagination was fired. He encouraged Platt to submit a bill to examine the feasibility of such a
project, and said that he would support it. Platt submitted his bill on March 13th, 1810. There
was opposition to the idea because the path would run through swamps, as well as unexplored
and uninhabited wilderness, but Clinton supported the project, and the bill passed.
Thirteen years later, Clinton invited Platt to a Erie Canal celebration, and told him in the
invitation that, "Your signal services in initiating, and promoting, our great system of internal
navigation will be remembered to your honor when we are no more." Platt kept the note.
Henry's imagination, too, was fired by the Erie Canal. The country to the west of the
Appalachians - Ohio, Indiana, Illinois - was the stuff of dreams. The stories told of soil that
wasn't filled with rocks and tree stumps but was, rather, flat plains of rich black loom, where
crops could almost grow themselves. Everyone wanted to move west.
Even at the age of seventy, Henry devoured information on the "big ditch" and inundated
his grandson in southern Illinois with questions and dreams of what was possible if the
midwestern states would build canals to connect with the eastern canals through the Great Lakes.
Poughkeepsie June 13th 1819
My very dear grandson Sidney Breese!
I wish your influential men would accommodate navigable
water to communicate with Lake Michigan, & to the Wabash as
forming a water line with the Erie. Our great western canal is
progressing rapidly & steadily-- No doubt is entertained of its
entire completion in 3 more seasons added to the present. The
expense be sure is great, but a great state undoubtedly looks it in
the face. Could you in 3 or 4 years carry your Illinois or Wabash to
the lake, old as I am I might in my own barge come to your very
door & bid you good morning. I am an old man & probably may
be too visionary. Mr. Kane & you are young and will live to see
I verily believe that in less than 10 years a tour from
Poughkeepsie to Kaskaskia will be mentioned with less emotion
than 40 years ago a voyage from Poughkeepsie to Newbury port
would have been contemplated.(21)
Public confidence in the dig waxed and waned, and many times the project hung by a
thread. At a time when the opposition seemed to be winning the public relations battle, Clinton
decided to finish the middle section and have a Grand Opening.
On October 23, 1819, as the Utica church bells rang and a band on board began to play,
the single horse started up along the tow path, pulling the Chief Engineer, behind him by means
of an 80 foot long tow rope, at the sensational speed of four miles per hour. Hundreds of
spectators followed the boat, cheering as they went. Arriving very soon at Whitesboro, an
artillery company boomed a salute. Then it was on to Rome and, finally, a triumphant return to
Utica. The actual time of transportation for the 30 mile round trip was, a newspaper bragged,
only 8 hours and 20 minutes. The first piece of Henry's dream was coming true. Now it was
time to get on with connecting the midwest to the Great Lakes.
Poughkeepsie July 2 1820
Dear grandson Sidney Breese!
The re-election of Gov. [De Witt] Clinton is an event
auspicious to the great canal - It now will go thro without the least
doubt. I very much wish your people would do something in a
similar way & meet us either at Sandusky or Chicago -- Sooner or
later it will come to pass -- The day will come when you yourself,
Madam at your side, with a blooming little Isaac in her lap, seated
in an elegant gondola will in one fortnight glide along from Illinois
to Dutchess. My old eyes I think will not -- but other eyes will
behold & bless them.(22)
January 13th 1822 [to Sidney Breese]
If your people succeed in completing a communication with
Michigan you may set out from your door in a boat, ascend the
Mississipi & Illinois, navigate the Michigan, Spend an hour at
Mackinaw, take a pup at St. Mary (a little out of the shortest water
path) Halt a minute at Detroit -- shake hands with J. Platt at
Buffaloe-- Hail your Father at Utica & finally land in your
Grandfathers cove a short half mile from the old stone mansion
every inmate of which sincerely loves you. In 24 months probably
all this may be effected.(23)
The canal was such a success with the public, that politicians who were against it had to
go underground. DeWitt Clinton had retired as Governor of New York in 1822, and it was
assumed that he wouldn't run for office again. Instead, he concentrated on his work as a canal
commissioner. But when the critics of the canal, in early 1824, used their power to throw him
out of his job, the citizens of New York were furious. There was an immediate movement to
reelect Clinton to the governorship, a move which put Clinton back in office by about 103
thousand votes to Colonel Samuel Young's 87 thousand.(24) It was a landslide. Clinton had his
revenge on the skeptics. By the end of 1824, the almost completed canal had already collected a
third of a million dollars in tolls.
On October 26, 1825, the last piece of the canal was dug, and it was finally possible to
reach the Hudson River. New York state went crazy(25). Taking casks of Erie water on board the
Seneca Chief, DeWitt Clinton and another group of dignitaries made ready to celebrate the canal
again. But this celebration would put the last one to shame. At exactly ten o'clock, the first
cannon boomed the news and four packet boats began to move out from Buffalo, each boat
pulled by a matched team of grey horses. Cannons had been stationed all the way from Buffalo
to New York City, and were fired in a booming sequence along the entire route. In one hour and
twenty minutes, the last cannon announced the news to the city, which fired off their own grand
salute, which was then sent back to Buffalo the same way.
Along the route were continuous celebrations, with each town trying to outdo the one
before. A flotilla of boats joined, the procession growing longer and longer as the boats moved
along the canal. Illuminated messages lit by candles and lanterns shown out from carved wooden
boxes, and homes along the canal lit candles in their windows. By the time the flotilla reached
Albany, seven days later, the boats numbered in the hundreds.
The following day, the official flotilla boats were attached to two powerful steamboats
and began the last stage of their trip down the Hudson river. As the boats passed Kingston and
Poughkeepsie, and all the other towns along the route, the river filled up with an honor guard of
small crafts. Those not in boats, waited on the shore to cheer. With homes directly on the river,
the Livingston clan had first-class seats for the celebration.
Henry's dreams were coming true.