New Jersey’s revolutionary-era governor William Livingston was constantly on the run during the war. Here, for example, is historian James Gigantino on Livingston during the British occupation of New Jersey in 1776:
Livingston’s whereabouts from mid-December to early January remain unknown; not known even if he remained alive, John Hancock addressed a late December letter to “Governor Livingston or the present Executive power in New Jersey.”
Livingston managed to survive several assassination plots. His home in Elizabeth-Town (Liberty Hall) was damaged by the British. And he was forced to move his family back and forth between Liberty Hall and Parsippany.
Here is Gigantino again:
Livingston had good reason to request personal protection. British troops attacked Elizabethtown in February 1779 with the intention of capturing or assassinating him at Liberty Hall. Finding only his wife and daughters, they hoped to seize the governor’s papers, but the quick-witted Livingston women instead proffered a pile of old law papers and correspondence from a recently captured British ship….Apparently , the governor agreed that a strong “conspiracy against me” had formed in Essex [County, New Jersey]. After the summer of 1779 and until the end of the war, he never returned for significant periods to Liberty Hall. He believed that both he and his wife had to accept the inevitability that the British would burn their home and that the couple should “prepare ourselves to bear it with Christian fortitude.”
This is the context for understanding a letter that I read over the weekend. A twenty-six-year-old British spy (and a former member of the Elizabeth-Town militia) named John Cunningham wrote the February 26, 1780 letter to William Tryon, the loyalist governor of New York. It contained intelligence on the Continental Army. Here is a relevant taste:
The Assembly is now sitting in Mount Holly in West Jersey. It is hard to say where Governor Livingston is to be found….In general the old County man may be said to be disgusted…They openly say the country has been cheated by the cry of Liberty, and that it is all a Delusion….Dr. Witherspoon is turned out the Congress–Mr. Livingston the state Governor less and less tolerated. He is called Cruel and miserly & cowardly both by Whigs and Tories. He is universally spurned at for dodging up and down the Country and shunning his own house where he leaves one of his daughters almost always alone.
According to Cunningham, things were not going very well in New Jersey in the winter of 1780. Earlier in the letter he discusses the dire conditions among the Continental Army at Morristown and notes that the people of Morristown are tired of having the army in town.
Source: (CO 5/1110 The British Nation Archives, Adam Matthew Database).