By August of 1775, the war with Britain was clearly on. America had not yet laid down
the gauntlet of declaring itself free, but the fighting was real and bloody, whether or not the war
was considered official.
Enlisted as a Major of the third Regiment of Troops on August 2, 1775, it was 3 weeks
before Major Henry Livingston, Jr. embarked from Poughkeepsie on a sloop. Two days later, on
the 27th, he arrived at Albany and, from the 28th of August to the 15th of September, worked
with the other officers to turn volunteers into semi-military types.(1) On September 23rd, Henry
and his men began their march north to meet up with General Montgomery. It took them three
days to reach Fort George, at the southern end of Lake George. From Fort Edward, it was
another 40 miles by boat across the lake, and then a 3 mile march after that to reach Fort
Ticonderoga. The group continued up Lake Champlain in a small flotilla of boats, sometimes
stopping and setting up camp for the night, sometimes sleeping in the boats.
Montgomery was waiting at St. John when they arrived at noon on the 9th of October.
Fort St. John, on Lake Champlain, was strategically important because it guarded the approach to
Montreal, 25 miles to the north.(2) If that fort and one other fell, the way to Montreal was open.
Richard Montgomery, the son of an Irish baronet, had joined the British army and been
sent to America, fighting at Ticonderoga and Montreal in 1765.(3) It was during that campaign
that he first met Janet Livingston. In 1772, feeling that he had been passed over, Montgomery
resigned from the British army and settled in New York. This time he married the girl. When
war came, Montgomery was offered the military position of Brigadier General in the American
army, to fight against men he had previously fought beside. And so, leaving behind his young
wife, Montgomery joined his commander, Major General Philip Schuyler.
General Schuyler was intended by Congress to lead the mixed command of New York
and New England militia up into Canada.(4) In part because of long years spent arguing state
borders, a task led by Schuyler, there wasn't a lot of love lost between the two groups. What they
did share was not likely to warm the heart of a military commander. Individuality was an
American institution, and these citizen-soldiers saw no reason that they should be forced to give
it up just because they had joined the army. They believed in democracy, not discipline. After
all, that's what they were fighting for.
The area around St. John was generally unhealthy, and sickness had taken its toll.
General Schuyler, who had been with Montgomery for the assault on St. John, directed
operations from his bed for a week before he had to be sent back to Ticonderoga. What started
out as a 1700 man force, was whittled down by sickness to 1100.
By some perverse coincidence of fate, the commander of Fort St. John, Major Charles
Preston, was the British officer who had been given the promotion Montgomery had wanted, the
loss of which had driven Montgomery to leave the army, settle in New York, and change
The weather was good when Henry and the rest of Colonel Clinton's regiment arrived,
and they immediately pitched tents. An exchange of cannon fire in the evening was the only
indication that they had found the war. After another quiet day and evening, a report suddenly
came into camp that the British were coming out of their garrison to attack the Americans.
Clinton's whole regiment was immediately mobilized and marched out to meet the enemy in the
blackness of night. The report was false, and the regiment had to turn around and march half a
mile back to their camp.
With the new men added to his siege force, Montgomery decided to move a battery of
guns that were not very effectively placed as a threat. The move would put the battery on the
same side of the water as the fort, and closer to it. While Montgomery saw this as a good
strategic move, the officers, who would have to man the battery and wait for the expected
counterattack, were not as enamored with the plan. On October 11th, two days after Colonel
Clinton's regiment arrived, General Montgomery called all his officers to his tent for a Council of
War. He explained the plan, hoping to get support that would let the plan be effectively sold to
the ones who'd have to carry it out. It didn't work. With great Yankee initiative, the officers put
the plan up to a vote. Montgomery lost. Henry's diary describes the meeting:
A Council of War held at the Generals Tent at which only
the Field officers of the army attended. The General recommended
building a Battery west of the forts of St. John. But the motion was
unanimously opposed by the Officers, who were of the opinion as
one man that a Battery erected on the east side of the lake opposite
the Forts would make a greater impression on our enemies.(5)
The officers did agree, however, that the battery could be moved closer, and Henry was
the lucky choice picked to move the battery to its new position in a swamp. With two companies
of his choice, Henry set off in seven small boats. From inside the Fort came a brisk firing of
grapeshot, but the artillerymen overshot and Henry's men settled themselves uncomfortably into
the woods for the night and, in the morning, set up their camp some distance back from where
they'd be working.
Throughout the next day, Henry and the men were engaged in creating faschines,
porcupine-like cylinders of tree trunk spikes that were used as barriers to slow down attacking
ground troops. All through the night built the foundation and protection walls for the cannon.
They spent the next day bringing up the heavy guns over the soggy ground and getting them into
the prepared places, and bringing up a supply of powder and shot. The next night was spent
clearing a line of fire from the newly installed batteries to the besieged Fort.
The following day, October 14th, Henry's exhausted troops rested while the new artillery
began to fire. The Fort wasn't slow to respond, and Henry's men stayed close to the protection of
the newly constructed batteries. And, though shells continually burst overhead or at their feet, no
one was wounded. The fort defenders then decided to take a boat out, so as to get close enough
to damage the battery, but it wasn't the Americans who got damaged. "We shot so many Balls
thro her that next morning she lay careen'd so low that the water ran into her port holes."(6)
It was decided by Montgomery that two could play the Schooner game, and the
Americans sent theirs to harass nearby Fort Chambly. Unfortunately, they forgot to notify the
Americans entrenched around the fort, and the Schooner took a number of friendly hits, but no
casualties, before they were able to convince the shooters that they were all on the same side.
For the next few days, cannon fire went back and forth to little effect.
On October 18th, on rumors that a force of British regulars and Canadians was heading
for the Caghnawaga Indian Castle near Laprairie, a town near Montreal, Henry was ordered by
General Montgomery to take 100 men and march to the Indians' support.
While the New York men were marching down the swampy night path in the light rain,
two American ships with cannons snuck past the British and presented themselves to a surprised
and pleased General Montgomery. They were immediately sent to attack Fort Chambly, the
weaker fort, and the next morning Henry's troops heard the happy news of the fort's surrender.
It had been a long march for Henry and his men to Lapraire and, while they waited for the Indian
representatives to arrive, Henry took some time to look around the French-Canadian town.
The Village of Lapraire contains abt 30 houses small and great. The
former by far the most numerous, and here as in every other part of Canada that
ever I saw (even in Montreal itself) every house is white, being rough cast with
Lime & sand whether built of wood or stone...
The town is badly supplied with fuel. Firewood is as dear here as in New
York, and the wood they have is bad being chiefly poplar. Mills are scarce in this
part of the Country. Besides an old crazy windmill in Town there are but 2 in 10
miles round. The best of those belong to the Caghuawaga Indians & is 6 miles
from Lapraire. ... The Canadians in General have good kitchen gardens; as their
chief diet is soup it's necessary they should take particular care of them; Their
Onions and Cabbages are especially large and fine, more so in gardens that lie on
the banks of St. Lawrence where the soil is richer than farther back.
The urbanity of the peasants is very singular. The meanest of our soldiers
that enter'd one of their houses was instantly regal'd with a large bowl of Bread &
Milk or any other eatables their Houses afforded; and altho our soldiery seldom
made them any gratuities, their kindness was still unremitted. But altho their
hearts are good their Economy is by no means so. After a peasant's house is once
built and the rain shut out, no more water ever touches their floors, save a little
holy water every morning which follows a partial sweeping. A broad hoe supplies
the place of a scrubbing. No house has more than one fire place which is only for
cooking. In the room where the family resides, a stove in the center of the room
keeps them, even in the coldest weather, as warm as they wish.
Just by the Bedside of each master of a Family is placed a crucifix,
generally a foot or foot and a half long, some very coarse & Ill made, others gilt &
pretty. I never saw a Bad bed in Canada. It seems as if they were resolv'd to lie
well if they liv'd poor - many of them have two feather beds on each other. Their
other furniture but so so. Everything that is made among them, very bungling and
coarse indeed. Their Carpenters are far from being Sir Christopher Wrens. They
carry on but very little manufactures among themselves, even the simple art of
knitting not a woman in 20 understands. In general, I found the men and women
much more dilatory and Idle than the people among us; to attain a bare subsistence
seem'd to be the height of their wishes.
A land of slaves will ever be a land of poverty Ignorance & Idleness!
Among the common people all the learning is confin'd to the women, who
are sent to school when young, which the men seldom or never are- not one in 30
of the latter can read.
All their religion consists in going very regularly to Church every Sunday
and as regularly Horseracing, Boxing, wrestling, & gaming between services;
Sunday with them is the merriest day in the week. Sincere piety and rational
devotion is but too little known among them. Yet I never saw people so generally
old & young, attend divine service, or more solemnly go thro the round of follies
their absurd religion calls upon them to attend. I enquired if there was not some
protestants in this part of the country but could not hear of a single family. There
liv'd at Lapraire Two Ministers. One an old Jesuit & Rector of the parish, an Arch
Villain & a Tory. The other a fat Jolly thing of a Curate who did all the preaching
and praying, and a thorough Whig. ...
They were very much averse to the Act of parliament enforcing the
French laws-and hated Governor Carleton with perfect hatred. It appeared
amazing to me how he would have the effrontry to tell the Ministry or their
Master that he could arm & bring into the field 10,000 Canadians when, at the
same time, he must have been sensible he could not arm & produce 10 willing
men in all Canada.
Some considerable time before our troops invested St. Johns, Mr. Carleton
endeavored to assemble the militia companies about in the Country, and altho he
gave a Dollar gratuity to each man who appeared in Arms, very few came indeed;
in the large district of Lnpraire not one man would appear. At Longuiel but 7 or 8
came, & so more or less in the rest of the parishes. As during the whole stay of
our Troops among them, they were regularly paid for every article they furnished
us with, and had a good deal of attention shown them. It was visible our conduct
had a good effect, for whenever our officers required a supply of carts etc., they
were always ready at the smallest notice to oblige us. But when carts were
wanting to convey the regular prisoners' baggage from Lapraire to St. Johns, they
produced them with great reluctance.
The regular officers, seeing their backwardness, advis'd us to cuff and kick
them well about, & they would be much more obliging. From that, I concluded it
was no uncommon thing for the poor Canadians to suffer abuses from the
regulars. Nor any wonder that they so heartily joined us against those tyrannical
slaves to tyrants.(7)
Two days after Henry's unit reached Laprairie, the Caghnawaga chiefs arrived. Henry's
Livingston and Schuyler ancestors and relatives had long been involved in Indian affairs, so he
was familiar with the neighboring tribes and comfortable with them. Colonel Peter Schuyler,
Henry's great uncle, was known to the Six Nations as "Quidor"(8). Long after Peter's death, the
authorities in Albany were always called Quidor by the Indians. And when Congress came to
negotiate with the Six Nations for their neutrality during the Revolutionary War, they introduced
themselves as, "We, the representatives of the Congress and the descendants of Quidor." In 1710
Peter Schuyler took four Mohawk chiefs to England to impress them with the power of the
country. They were the sensation of the London season.
Had the honor of dining with the chiefs of the Caghnawaga nation, 6 in
number, and 20 others but whether they were people in office cannot tell, rather
think they were not. I had an elegant Dinner provided for them at one Mr Killips,
a Tavernkeeper in Town. I had sent for them as soon as I came in Town, to know
whether they wanted us at their Castles or not. The chiefs told me that General
Montgomery had been imposed on by some of their meaner people who had been
frightened at nothing. That they feared no invasion from Mr. Carleton at all, &
that if he did attack them they thought themselves able without assistance from
abroad to defeat him, or at least hinder him from landing. That however they were
highly oblidg'd to the General for his readiness to assist them; & faithfully
promis'd to transmit to me all the Intelligence they could get of the motions &
designs of our Enemies.
In compliance with their custom I opened my business with them in a set
formal speech, which was interpreted by a One ey'd Chief who understood
English very well- & they answered me with all that deliberation, firmness &
seriousness peculiar to the Indians.
All this was done before dinner & it was well it happend so- for after
drinking 18 bottles of Claret I question whether they would have talked as
rationally as they did. I cannot help doing justice to the keenness of the
Caghnawaga Gentrys' stomachs. I took especial care that each one had a full plate
continually - Soup - Beef - Turkey -Beans, potatoes - no matter how
heterogeneous the mixture it was equal to them & all went down.
They seem'd highly pleased, and told me that Mr. Carleton had often sent
them belts and made speeches to them- But had never din'd with them. The
General had given me directions to treat the Indians with much attention...
By all the observations I could make I have reason to believe that the
Caghnawagas were sincere in their professions of Friendship. I am told that they
have a fine Church at their village- & I took notice myself that they were good
Catholics by their frequent crossings and short prayers at particular times of the
day. The Indians have generally horses to ride about on, & what I could not help
noticing was that they all had saddles, whereas not one Canadian farmer in 30 has
any at all, but do all their riding on a Bearskin girted on.
The Indians frequently brought me down Cows for sale but they were
almost always so poor that the soldiers would not eat them- from thence I
concluded pasturage is not so good with them as abt Lapraire and Longeuiel.
Their Castle lies 9 miles west of Lapraire, the road running all along upon the
banks of St. Lawrence is exceeding pleasant. The Chiefs told me that they could
muster 300 fighting men.(9)
For the next 15 days, Henry stayed in Laprairie. Fears of the sudden arrival of British
forces produced false alarms in outlying American positions, and Henry was kept busy sending
out and bringing back men to reinforce these positions. There was one real attack from General
Carleton, the commander of Montreal, on troops two miles away from Laprairie, but it was
surprisingly ineffective and wasn't repeated. This military dance was cut short by the arrival of
General Montgomery, who had used the stores captured at Chambly to raise the spirits of his
troops enough to make a new attempt on St. John. After 55 days of siege, Major Preston
surrendered the fort, freeing Montgomery to move his troops forward to Laprairie.
For three days Montgomery's forces gathered at Laprairie. With 500 men, the General
crossed the St. Lawrence, putting them only a mile and a half from Montreal. Governor
Carleton, defending Montreal, was well aware the city was indefensible, and evacuated the town
by boat. He was almost caught when his ship was stalled by adverse winds but, dressed as
civilians, he and his aides managed to escape.
On November 13, General Montgomery entered Montreal. The next day Henry and his
men arrived to join them.
For some time, there had been dissatisfaction in the ranks. The citizen soldiers saw their
service as being a contract between themselves and the new government. One of the promises in
that contract was the payment of a bounty for joining, and a monthly wage. Since large families
were frequently left behind while their breadwinners went to war, these weren't monies that could
be casually ignored. The initial enlistments were for six months and, when those months were
over, the troops felt that they had fulfilled their side of the contract.
Generals Montgomery and Schuyler were squeezed in the middle between Congress and
the troops. They had accepted the short enlistments, but hadn't the foresight to make contingency
plans for what would happen if Montreal was not taken on schedule. They could ask Congress
for funds, as generals would throughout the entire war, but they were dependent on Congress
sending them the funds. To professional soldiers, the important thing was the mission. To the
citizen troops, it was the contract. The pride of democracy filled the population, and the new
government had not yet come to grips with how to ask men to fight for democracy in the
totalitarian environment of the army.
On November 15th Henry, normally verbose, wrote in his journal only that, "A Council
of War held by the General at the India House."(10) Two days later he added, "Left Montreal on
my return home in Company with Coll'o Waterbury & best part of his Regiment."(11)
The National Archives Papers of the Continental Congress give the other side of the story
in Montgomery's letter to General Schuyler. "I have had great difficulty about the Troops. I am
afraid many of them will go home. However, depending on my good Fortune, I hope to keep
enough to give the final Blow."(12)
Henry's journal again became expansive as he described Montreal and the inside of Fort
St. John, which had been seized by Montgomery while Henry and his men were building
batteries across the river. "November 27. At 3 in the afternoon we arriv'd under the Fort
[Ticonderoga] & saluted it with 13 guns, landed & waited on General Schuyler." Although
Henry didn't elaborate on the meeting with Schuyler, we do have the letter which Schuyler wrote
that same day to John Madison, President of the Continental Congress, about the enlistment
problem and the men's underwear.
I may be asked why Warner's Regiment were suffered to
come away & some other of the Troops of this Colony, as the Form
for which they were engaged would not expire until the last day of
the next month: The unhappy cause is this. At St. John, those
Connecticut Troops were so very importunate to return home that
General Montgomery was under the necessity of promising that all
those that would follow him to Montreal, should have leave to
return home. ...
I find it is the intention of the New York Congress that the
Troops raised in that Colony should pay for the under clothes that
were given them. I cannot learn that the Troops expected to have
any thing stopped out of their wages on that account. The greatest
Part of them are now in Canada, & I fear that few of them will
remain in the Service if it should be the Case.(13)
On November 28th 1775, within a day of leaving General Schuyler, Henry was struck
down with the same high fever and illness which had taken such a toll on the troops. The trip
was hellish. Open boats, horseback and carts. He was able to buy a horse, but couldn't keep up
with the others and had to let them, and his luggage, go on without him. He made it to Fort
Edwards, south of Fort George, and then as far as General Schuyler's, where he was able to stay
with the General's wife and daughters. General Schuyler was Henry's 2nd cousin, and his wife,
Catharine Van Rensselaer, Henry's 3rd.
The next night Henry made it as far as Parson Graham's at Stillwater, but was so ill that
he stayed with his family's old tutor for the next two weeks while recovering. It took five more
days of traveling for Henry to reach home, and the family he had missed so much.
But back in Albany, Gen. Schuyler was finding more to worry about than wool skivvies.
Albany January 13th 1776
Within this half Hour, Mr. Antill arrived with the
unfortunate Account contained in the enclosed. My amiable and
gallant Friend General Montgomery is no more, he fell in an
unsuccessful Attack on Quebec on the 30th Ult. My Feelings on
this unhappy Occasion are too poignant to admit of Expression.
May Heaven avert any further woes.(14)
Though the homes of the widow of Robert R. Livingston at Clermont, and that of her son,
the Chancellor, were both burned by the British, the only direct damage for the Poughkeepsie
clan was a cannon ball(15) fired by Sir William Wallace from a ship sailing up the Hudson River in
October, 1777.(16) The collateral damage, however, was much greater. Reverend John Henry
Livingston, staying with his parents at the time, along with his new wife and baby, burned his
personal journal for fear that it might provide something of use to the wrong people. Given the
rich source of information that the young man left behind in a subsequent journal, this was a
significant tragedy for our understanding of the Poughkeepsie Livingstons.(17)
Not knowing what would follow the shelling of their home, the whole Livingston family
hurriedly packed up the kids, the parents and the wagons and headed out of town. Henry Sr.,
fearful for the records he maintained as Dutchess County Clerk, took them along as well, an act
that must earn him the grateful thanks of later historians. The family stayed only a few weeks in
either Sharon, Connecticut or Amenia before deciding it was safe to return.
It's surprising, in fact, that more damage wasn't visited on Poughkeepsie. Not only had
the state government moved to Major Henry's town, but half a mile north of his father's home,
on property belonging to his Uncle James Livingston, was a shipyard used to build the frigates,
Congress and Constitution.
As the years following the war's end passed, the conflict took on almost a mythic
memory, and General Montgomery became an American legend. His wife, Janet Livingston, had
never remarried, though General Gates did propose to her. When, on February 27, 1818, his
body was returned to the United States for burial, Governor Clinton informed Montgomery's
widow when the boat containing his mahogany casket would pause in front of her Hudson River
mansion and the band would begin to play. She told her family and friends that she would wait
alone for "her soldier." When the ceremony was over and the ship had passed, and Janet had still
not rejoined the group, they went to see if anything was wrong. The seventy-four year old widow
lay in a faint on the veranda. Her husband had finally returned from the war.(18)
All along the Hudson River, crowds lined the shore to watch the barge pass by. Only the
funeral of George Washington surpassed this event in moving the passions of the people. With
his home on the river, and with the memories of his commander still alive in the shape of
Henry's son, twenty-two year old Sidney Montgomery Livingston, Henry must have been there,
too. He was seventy years old now, and we can only imagine his thoughts as he watched the
acting out of his own long-distant words, written at the death of his cousin, Gilbert Cortlandt.
The renovated vessel will be seen;
Transcendent floating on the silver stream!
Its joyful ensigns waving in the air,
The tides propitious and the zephyrs fair!
'Til safe within the destin'd port of bliss,
Each sail is furl'd, and all around is peace.(19)
Henry never published the journal he wrote forty-three years before, but he did publish
the journal of another soldier.
For the New-York Magazine
Journal of an Asiatic Expedition attempted by me,
Alexander the son of Olympia,
(and perhaps the son of Philip.)
446th Olympiad, June 23. Eight o'clock in the evening. Confoundedly tired
with marching through this sun-burnt oriental country. A puddle of fresh water is
a natural curiosity, and my canteen is half full of sediment. But the hope of filling
our knapsacks with Persian gold keeps us from repining. I mean to measure my
mattress in less than an hour, and if that slut Thais keeps me in bed till six o'clock
to-morrow morning, I'll know why. There is no campaigning with or without
24th. Ten in the morning. Just finished reviewing my troops --
Adjutant-general Parmenio is as formal as his old maiden sister -- to receive and
return the salutes of a thousand fellows is worse than to be engaged in a decent
skirmish. I ever hated ceremony. Give me a girl, a bottle, and a battle, sans souci.
25th. Three in the afternoon. My scouts have this moment come in and
inform, that I can easily reach the banks of the Granicus in two hours; and that the
Persians, gay as gems and gold can make them, and numerous as locusts, line the
eastern shore as far as the eye can reach. My men expect a scratch, but I and
Darius's general perfectly understand each other. I have promised him a province
when I shake his hand at Babylon, and I know the coward will rely upon me. I am
to make the onset with great play fury, and he is to retreat as ostentatiously as he
--Seven o'clock. Well, the farce is over, and we Invincible Macedonians
have got the Granicus in our rear! My opponent behaved pretty well; although he
ought to have pretended resistence a little longer than he did. I believe the rascal
thought more than once that we were in earnest. I will give one of the half starved
poets that hang upon me, a pistareen and mug of grog, to describe this days'
bustling as a battle of amazing magnitude: Paint Bucephalus as plunging thro' the
foaming current, and bearing me resistless at the head of thirty thousand veterans
on a foe, valiant, tho' unequal -- describe the eagle of victory hovering over my
helmet -- and the Fates fainting on the shore. The fools of posterity perhaps may
read the nonsense and believe it.
26th. I could not get down my bohea and mulcovado this morning for
vexation -- Poor Bucephalus has got the wambles most furiously -- I feared some
mischief might befall, when I lent him last night to that pimp Hephestion, to ride
to a watermelon frolic. I am confident that the varlet tied him up to a post without
a morsel to eat, while he was cramming fruit and cutting capers with the girls. I
will punish the puppy by keeping on scout for a fortnight altogether -- he hates
fatigue almost as much as he does fighting.
[Here a roll or two appear to be missing.]
April 10th. Huzza! the battle of Arbela is over, and I have got, with the
Persian empire, an exquisite bevy of bona-robas; thanks to my good friend Darius.
A betrothed wood-chuck would have defended his oney-doney more
magnanimously than this Asiatic poltroon did his Haram. I will treat the
high-mettled dames very ceremoniously by day -- they have already hinted that
they will be perfectly accommodating by night.
14th. Of all the bamboosing bouts I ever was in, that of last night exceeds.
Thais, and I, and Parmerio, and Antipater, Hephestion, Philtas, and every mother's
son and daughter of us as drunk as so many Kickapoos. Persepolis in flames
served as a flambeau to light us to our paviloons -- Glorious prerogatives pertain
to us heroes, and we generally are careful not to neglect their exercise --
To-morrow it seems I am to make what they call my triumphant entry into
Babylon. I ever did, and ever will, abominate parade and fuss.
15th. Eleven at night. The rary show is past, and I am as tired as a carman's
horse. The flattering rascals called me the son of Jupiter, at the very time that I
felt like a puppy, the son of a bitch. I could, with good will, kick the cringing
Persians to the devil -- the avaricious Macedonians after them -- burn this
metropolis of the world -- and turn farmer at Wethersfield and raise onions. R