Ash and Eucalyptus,
Chinese Elm and common Plum;
Bark of generations built from
Lansing, Bell and Livingston.

Each spring will see them waken
To their pulsing blood-red sap,
And set upon their outstretched hand
A leaf.

A leaf.

A small and fragile promise
To the wind and to the sky
That dreams of long dead leaves
Can live again and never truly die.

To trust there will be warmth again.
To trust there will be birth.
To trust that fallen leaves
Are not forgotten on the earth.

I never knew my father
And yet I've come to know him well
Through the stories writ in crumbled leaves
And the tales our old tree tells.

He was a soldier and a poet,
And a lover and a man,
And I feel his passion flood my veins
As I hold his phantom hand.
                                Mary S. Van Deusen


I was awakened one morning by an enthusiastic gentleman, Robert Hancock, with a wonderful story about Dunder and Blixem. Laurence Hancock, his father and a judge then still on the New York bench, had been a friend of an Episcopalian priest and Henry descendant, Father Harold Thomas. Father Thomas was held in the deepest respect by the Hancocks, and I had already received one letter from someone else who wanted to tell us about this wonderful man. The story that Father Thomas had frequently regaled his friends with was about Henry's authorship of the poem. The names of the reindeer, Father Thomas had said, were those of the horses in Henry's stable! Now that would have set me back on my heels if I weren't already flat on my back. What a wonderful way to wake up. The idea was simply perfect and felt so right.

But my attempts, and those of my cousin Steve, to follow this particular thread have, so far, led nowhere. A pointer to another Henry descendant, Maud Katzenbach, brought out more anecdotes of Father Thomas, but she and her sister had been too young to be interested in an old man's stories, and had paid them no mind. Henry's Day Book was no help because when thinking about the horses as sources of debt or credit, Henry used descriptions rather than names.

Feb 28 '75 Gave my black horse to John Van Kleeck for a pied Mare and 6 to boot. If I dislike her I am to return her.

Mar 2 '78 I sold my brown horse to Farbus Ostrom for 55. He paid me 27 down & gave me a note for 28.(1)

The only horse whose name was used and, in fact, repeated on many occasions, was Hero, a horse he used for breeding purposes, where its name was part of its value. But if the story about the reindeer was out there once, it may still be, and someday we may all learn about an old family pony named Blixem. It could happen.

Another fascinating lead was provided by Susan Schock, who had noticed a connection between Washington Irving and the Livingston family in a small biography of Dr. Edward Livingston. Since Don had moved back the date of creation of the Saint Nicholas story to around the time of the writing of Knickerbocker's History of New-York, connections between Henry and Washington Irving interested us greatly. I purchased Irving's Journals and did find one fascinating entry. On August 8th of 1803, Irving is in Utica New York on a Sunday, and notes that he went to Church, then to Whitesboro for tea with Mr. Platt(2). There was no footnote for that line in the heavily footnoted volume(3), so the editor must not have known what we know - that Mr. Platt was Jonas Platt, Henry's brother-in-law, and the mentor of Henry's son-in-law, Arthur Breese, who lived a few doors down. So we haven't gotten Henry and Washington Irving together quite yet, but we have gotten them within calling distance of one another!

But it turned out that Santa's pack of presents wasn't quite empty yet. Just before Christmas 2001 a member of the Moore family was invited to give a presentation on the famous Christmas poem. In searching the Internet for information, Terrie O'Neill found me.

I have spent the last two days at your Henry Livingston website, fascinated by your research and your resulting conclusion that Henry Livingston was the author of A Visit From St. Nicholas. I have ordered Don Foster's book and will order yours tomorrow and read them thoroughly before jumping on the HL bandwagon, but from what is on your website, the evidence is pretty convincing.(4)

Terrie's Moore ancestors were John Moore and Judith Livingston. Since Judith was Henry's first cousin, Terrie was going to be related to the poem's author no matter who he was. Vassar President Henry MacCracken had been very interested in John and Judith, noting that two of their daughters were married to students of Rev. Benjamin Moore, Clement Moore's father. Daughter Lydia had married Rev. William H. Hart in 1815, and Maria, Rev. David Moore in 1809. To tie the families tighter, Lydia and William's daughter Frances had married a Clement Moore Butler, while David Moore's father was, in fact, a brother-in-law of Rev. Benjamin Moore. (Your instincts are quite right. This is another plate of genealogical spaghetti.) Since David Moore was settled in Virginia, his family seemed to be a good candidate for the eventual Southern destination of the governess of Livingston family stories, the couple marrying in 1809, a date not long after Don's date for Henry's writing of the Christmas poem.

But Terrie had something more to bring to the conversation because she knew just where John Moore fit into the Moore family tree. John was, in fact, the brother of David Moore's father. !(5) So when you finish unsnarling the spaghetti, you end up with the brother of Clement Moore's uncle being married to Henry's first cousin. John and Judith, by the way, were also Henry's next door neighbors in Poughkeepsie! For that wonderful connection I was perfectly happy to clean the spaghetti sauce out of my Christmas stocking.

I will be forever grateful to Robert Hancock and Judge Hancock and Maud Katzenbach, to Susan Schock, Professor Black and Terrie O'Neill, and to all the experts and researchers and friends and cousins for their help, and to Don Foster and Steve Thomas for their friendships.

My debt is great to all the research institutions that gave so much help to us in our quest - the Dutchess County Historical Society, Adriance Library, New York Public Library, New York Historical Society, Museum of the City of New York, Carnegie-Mellon Library, Brown University Library, New York State Archives, Connecticut State Archives, and Illinois State Archives. I am deeply grateful to all.

While acknowledging Henry's debt to the older writers identified by Don Foster's patient research, one has to stand in amazement at the font of originality from which Henry drank. It flows out from between the rocks of trust in religion, empathy for humanity and reverence for nature. These rocks are sunk deep into the soil of Locust Grove, and into the soul of Henry. Enriched by the medium in which it originates, the water bubbles and sparkles into a cascade that has never been constrained by the puny laws of nature to fall straight down. Instead, Henry's waterfall tumbles sideways into the shape of a Shawnee warrior sharing a prehistoric forest with the dinosaurs, or shoots upward to hear the wise thoughts of a respected elder statesman tree.

I use these analogies because that kick in Henry's gait is so very familiar to me. From earliest years I can remember the desperate yearning to be the uppermost spout in the dancing waters of Chicago's Buckingham Fountain. To slip sideways, when all the others march straight ahead. There is a wonderful thing that happens when you look deep enough into someone you admire, and find those delightful eccentricities that humanize them and make them approachable. Whether or not you share their blood, you can almost always find some trait of theirs that you share, and which lets you cry out, "Yes! I'm like that. And if I am, maybe I, too, am smart or brave or simply blessed." And maybe your back gets a little straighter, and your head raises up a little higher. And maybe you will be.

If we could bring Henry forward through time to this new millennium, I think he would be very comfortable with so much of what we've made of this country for which he worked and fought. He would applaud the respect demanded and given for all members of our society. Though he would probably mourn how long it took to get it. The footprints on the moon would thrill his soul, but he'd be pressing NASA to sink them into the dust of other worlds as well.

Henry would have loved the Internet. If he were alive today, he'd be rump deep in newsgroups and message boards, the modern equivalent of the Committees of Correspondence. Instead of reading his New York Sentinel, he'd be surfing from one newspaper site to another, no longer having to wait for someone else to satisfy his curiosity. His mailbox would be flooded with email from family and friends, and every one of his descendants would be inundated with reminders of how very much they were loved.

Could he still be a farmer in New York state today? Most likely. Between his Dutch practicality and his incessant curiosity, he'd quickly learn the modern ways of working the land efficiently. Because he'd still have to be on the land. He'd still need to walk through his fields, and watch them pass through nature's seasons. He'd still use the earth to tie himself to God.

Trying to understand an historical figure by putting them into different contexts makes you distill down the essence of a character. It's an exercise, much like examining artwork through half-closed eyes, or by turning it upside down, tricks I was taught by my mother. The more directions from which we examine a subject -- the more we think "out of the box" -- the more chance we have of coming up with a new and original understanding. Of speaking with the seasoned wisdom of a pine tree.

I started researching my father's family because that was the only window I had through which to see my father. But this quest for Henry has had the wondrous side effect of blowing a large hole through to another long dead army Major and poet. Thanks to my husband, and to research techniques learned from Don to find Henry's poetry, I now have several months of a poetry column of my father's in the University of Chicago Maroon, a column in which he courted my seventeen year old mother poetry, and in which she replied in kind. I watched father's attempts to catch mother's interest and, the very next week, I shared their moonlit walk beneath the same cathedral spire where I, myself, would walk some thirty years later. And then I watched mother leave father, much as she would again one day, and I watched his first anguish, the precursor of so much later pain. His poems were alternately funny and sad, and some of them broke my heart but, for the first time, I understood.

And in the group of contributors to father's column I saw the precursor to those storied Greenwich Village parties and, again, I wished I could explain to mother what I saw. Father used his own energy to create an environment in which people felt clever and witty and literate. And when the army transferred him away from Chicago to New York, I watched the remains of the Chicago group suspend in midair without his support and then, gradually, fall to earth. And I recognized so well the way father had used his own energy to hold up the group, because I've used that same transferring of energy myself when I needed to get things done.

Finally I know without question that I am my father's daughter as much as I am my mother's, and I know these things because of Henry, and Don, and my husband Paul. I went looking for my father, and they brought him to me. I'll never be able to thank them enough.

Outcast men of the world are we,
Sunk in the depths of iniquity;
Detested by all and loved by none.
A blot on the face of the kindly sun.

Men of training and breeding and birth,
Who knew full well what the game was worth.
Who played their hands,     and lost,     and then,
Lost themselves from the world of men.

We hid ourselves in the Island world
Where the flashing coils of the "Snake" are curled.
We sought the depths to hide our shame,
The "thing" we had made of an honored name.

We swam the Bay in the early dawn
But the Shark came not, and we lived on.
We sought the end in the bolo's steel
But hearts wounds live, while flesh wounds heal.

We went unarmed to the Moro's "jil"
But they called us "mad" and they would not kill.
And the Padre came with his tale of Grace
But we knew better, and laughed in his face.

We twined our hearts in a woman's hair
Then tried to forget in the din and glare
Of a "tienda down on the opal bay
Where many men come and some men stay.

We lost ourselves in the Army then,
Our identity merely "Enlisted Men"
But at dusk, when shadows start to crawl
In their weird, wild dance on the barracks wall;

A ghastly pageant that comes to stir
Our memory again to what we were.
We bow our heads and stifle a cry
For we don't know how, and we'll never know why.(6)

El Tigro
Nov 7, 1928

Epilog Notes:

1. Henry's Day Book

2. Stanley T. Williams [Ed.] Journal, 1803 By Washington Irving (New York: Oxford University Press) p.12 "Sunday Aug 8. In the afternoon we rode to Whitestown about 4 Miles distant a handsome flourishing settlement we drank tea with Mr Platt here and then returned to Utica."

3. Michael L. Black email to Mary S. Van Deusen, Professor Black says that a new edition of the 1803 Journal identifies Jonas Platt as the probable identity of Mr. Platt. After we spoke on the phone, and I described to him my search of the New York census records of 1800 and of 1810 for families of Platts, Professor Black accepted that the visit was, in fact, to Jonas Platt.

4. Terrie Bradford O'Neill email, December 7, 2001.

5. John Moore (1746-1828) was the brother of Rev. Thomas Lambert Moore (Abt. 1760-), the husband of Judith Moore (1756-), the sister of Rev. Benjamin Moore (1748-1816). Judith Livingston was the daughter of Dutchess County sheriff James Livingston and, like Henry, the granddaughter of Gilbert Livingston and Cornelia Beekman.

6. Major Bradley T. Van Deusen, Nov 7, 1928, University of Chicago, The Daily Maroon.


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