Robert Livingston the Elder

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Robert Livingston the Elder
Robert Livingston (1654-1728).jpg
1st Lord of Livingston Manor
In office
1715 – 1728
Preceded byCreated
Succeeded byPhilip Livingston
Personal details
Born(1654-12-13)December 13, 1654
Ancrum, County of Roxburgh, Scotland
DiedOctober 1, 1728(1728-10-01) (aged 73)
New York, British America
(m. 1679; died 1727)
RelationsSee Livingston family
Children9, including Philip, Robert, and Gilbert

Robert Livingston the Elder (December 13, 1654 – October 1, 1728) was a merchant, fur trader and government official in colonial New York. He was granted a patent to 160,000 acres (650 km²/ 250 sq mi) of land along the Hudson River, becoming the first lord of Livingston Manor.

Early life[edit]

Coat of Arms of Philip Livingston

He was born in 1654 in the village of Ancrum, near Jedburgh, in the County of Roxburgh, Scotland. Robert one of seven children of Rev. John Livingston. He and his father were lineal descendants of William Livingston, 4th Lord Livingston, ancestor of the earls of Linlithgow and Callendar, and a minister of the Church of Scotland.[1]

In 1663, his father, John Livingston, was sent into exile due to his resistance to attempts to turn the Presbyterian national church into an Episcopalian institution. The exiled family settled in Rotterdam, in the Dutch Republic, where English merchants also worked. Robert became fluent in the Dutch language, which helped him greatly in his later career in New York and New Jersey, part of the former Dutch colony of New Netherland.[2]


Following the death of his father in 1673, Robert Livingston returned to Scotland for a time. He sailed for Boston to find his fortune in North America. Livingston's father was well known in Puritan Boston, and a merchant advanced the young son enough stock and credit to undertake a trading venture to Albany, New York. Livingston arrived in Albany in late 1674. With his business and language skills, in August 1675 he became secretary to Nicholas Van Rensselaer, director of Rensselaerswyck, who died a few years later in 1678.

Map of Livingston Manor in 1777

In 1686, he and his brother-in-law, Pieter Schuyler, persuaded Governor Thomas Dongan to grant Albany a municipal charter like that awarded to New York City a few months earlier. Appointed as clerk of the city and county of Albany, Livingston collected a fee for each legal document registered.[2] With Pieter Schuyler, he led the opposition in Albany to Leisler's Rebellion. He served as Secretary for Indian Affairs from 1695 until his death. He was elected repeatedly to the New York provincial assembly, serving from 1709–1711, and 1716–1725; he was elected speaker in 1718.

According to Cynthia Kierner, "Robert Livingston valued public life primarily as a source of private profits. Livingston's generation looked upon politics as a business."[3] In 1696, Livingston backed Captain William Kidd's privateer voyage on the Adventure Galley.

Livingston Manor[edit]

Through the influence of Governor Thomas Dongan, and confirmed by royal charter of George I of Great Britain in 1715, Robert Livingston obtained a patent to 160,000 acres (650 km²/ 250 sq mi) along the Hudson River south of Albany; this would become known as Livingston Manor in Columbia and Dutchess counties.[2] He offered land on both sides of the Hudson River to Queen Anne's government of England to be used temporarily as work camps for German Palatine refugees, who were to harvest lumber and produce naval stores: timber for masts, turpentine, etc. for the English navy. Nearly 3,000 refugee Germans arrived in Manhattan in 1710, on ten ships from London. They worked for years in the camps to pay off their passage, before being granted land in the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys. Livingston made a substantial profit by selling supplies to the work camps and was paid by the English colonial government.

His will provided for the establishment of the Livingston Memorial Church and Burial Ground.[4] The original church of 1721 was replaced by another built in the late 19th century. Burials at the cemetery ceased in 1890. The 19th-century church and ground was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.[5]

Before entailing the bulk of the estate to his eldest son, Philip, Robert Livingston bequeathed about 13,000 acres to his third son and namesake, Robert. The younger man developed the property as an estate known as "Clermont". It is now recognized as a state historic site.[1]

Personal life[edit]

In 1679, Livingston married Alida Schuyler (1656–1727), the widow of Nicholas Van Rensselaer. She was the daughter of Philip Pieterse Schuyler, vice-director of Fort Orange, giving Livingston an important connection in the community. Robert Livingston amassed one of the largest fortunes in 17th-century New York. They had nine children together:


Livingston was the uncle of Robert Livingston the Younger, grandfather of Philip Livingston and William Livingston. Philip Livingston's granddaughter, Catherine Livingston married Abraham De Peyster. He was a loyalist Officer who served with the King's American Regiment and was at Battle of King's Mountain.

Through his son, Gilbert Livingston, he was the grandfather of Margaret Livingston (1738–1818), who married Peter Stuyvesant, a great-grandson of the Peter Stuyvesant who commanded the New Netherland colony on Manhattan island, and Joanna Livingston (1722–1808), who married Pierre Van Cortlandt (1721–1814), the first Lieutenant Governor of the New York.[14][15]

Many Americans are descended from the Livingston family, including George W. Bush, the entire Fish and Kean families, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of New York Anna Morton, actors Montgomery Clift and Michael Douglas, actress Jane Wyatt, poet Robert Lowell, cinematographer Floyd Crosby and his son David Crosby, author Wolcott Gibbs, and almost the entire Astor family.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Livingston, Edwin Brockholst (1910). The Livingstons of Livingston manor; being the history of that branch of the Scottish house of Callendar which settled in the English province of New York during the reign of Charles the Second; and also including an account of Robert Livingston of Albany, "The nephew," a settler in the same province and his principal descendants. New York: The Knickerbocker Press. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Bielinski, Stefan. "Robert Livingston", New York State Museum
  3. ^ Kierner, Cynthia A., Traders and Gentlefolk: The Livingstons of New York, 1675-1790, Cornell University Press, 1992
  4. ^ Neil Larson (July 1985). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Livingston Memorial Church and Burial Ground". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Archived from the original on 14 October 2012. Retrieved 4 July 2010.
  5. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 13 March 2009.
  6. ^ "From the Harvard Art Museums' collections Mary Winthrop Livingston (Mrs. John Livingston) (c. 1683-1713)". Harvard Art Museums. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  7. ^ "Livingston, Robert (1688-1775) to Robert Livingston re: death of Mary Winthrop Livingston". Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  8. ^ Lamphier, Peg A.; Welch, Rosanne (2017). Women in American History: A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia and Document Collection [4 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 149. ISBN 9781610696036. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  9. ^ Hess, p. 84
  10. ^ Vetch, Robert Hamilton (1885–1900). "Vetch, Samuel" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  11. ^ Plank, p. 44
  12. ^ Lamb, Martha J. (1877, 1896). History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise and Progress. Volume 1. A. S. Barnes and Company. p. 301. {{cite book}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)
  13. ^ Collections of The New-York Historical Society For The Year 1898. New York: The New-York Historical Society. 1899. p. 415. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  14. ^ Judd, Jacob (1977). Van Cortlandt Family Papers Vol II. Tarrytown: Sleepy Hollow Restorations. pp. xxxviii, liv. ISBN 0-912882-29-8.
  15. ^ Van Cortlandt, Pierre (1721-1814) at The Political Graveyard

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]