Where is Governor Livingston?

Liberty Hall Kean

William Livingston’s Liberty Hall

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).

Liberty Hall Museum Appoints New Director

Liberty Hall

Liberty Hall, once the home of New Jersey’s first governor William Livingston, has a new executive director.  Her name is Rachael Goldberg.

Here is the press release:

UNION, N.J.Oct. 24, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Liberty Hall Museum, Inc., the organization devoted to the preservation and protection of New Jersey’s first Governor’s house, announced today that Rachael Goldberg has been named as Executive Director.

Rachael is a long-term employee, who has served in a number of capacities at the Museum.  Her new responsibility now will be to provide direction as the Museum strengthens its unique school program and looks for ways and means to encourage repeat visitors.

John Kean, President of the Museum said, “We are particularly fortunate to be able to promote someone within our organization who has such exceptional qualifications.”

Rachael began working for the Museum more than 10 years ago and has served in a number of different assignments. She is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island where she earned her degree in History.  She holds a Master’s Degree in American History from Monmouth University, as well as a certificate in historic preservation from Drew University.

Liberty Hall was the home of New Jersey’s first elected Governor, William Livingston.  Built in 1772, on the eve of the American Revolution, and passed down through seven generations of the Livingston and Kean families, Liberty Hall has been a silent witness to more than 200 years of American history.

The Livingston/Kean family has produced governors, senators, congressmen and captains of industry.  No less accomplished were the ladies of Liberty Hall.

A chronicle of New Jersey and American history, as glimpsed through the experiences of one family, this Victorian-style mansion is a treasure trove of historic riches.

This is of interest to me for two reasons:

  1. I continue to work on a new history of the American Revolution in New Jersey.
  2. I am consulting on Kean University’s William Livingston’s World project.

Review of James Gigantino, *William Livingston’s American Revolution*

GigantinoYou can read my review of Gigantino‘s new book William Livingston’s American Revolution in the recent issue of New Jersey Studies.

Here is a taste:

William Livingston (1723-1790) was a prominent Whig lawyer, prolific writer on behalf of the cause of liberty, member of the Continental Congress, and the governor of New Jersey during the American Revolution. His personal papers are widely accessible to historians. It is thus surprising that until James Gigantino’s William Livingston’s American Revolution, the only biography of Livingston was James Sedgwick’s hagiographical A Memoir of the Life of William Livingston, published in 1833.

Read the entire review here.


The Author’s Corner with Jim Gigantino

51TXFAw4vAL._AC_US218_Jim Gigantino is Associate Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. This interview is based on his new book William Livingston’s American Revolution (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write William Livingston’s American Revolution?

JG: In my first book, The Ragged Road to Abolition, I stumbled on William Livingston, specifically his interactions as a quasi-abolitionist and his wartime leadership in New Jersey in its relation to sustaining slavery. What stunned me about him was that he had a vast collection of papers, was a member of the Continental Congress, Constitutional Convention, and a governor in a state central to the Revolution for fifteen years and no one had ever written a book about his relationship with the country’s founding since the 1830s. When I was thinking about a second project, Livingston kept coming into my head so I figured I should listen to him!

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of William Livingston’s American Revolution?

JG: William Livingston’s American Revolution explores how New Jerseyans experienced the American Revolution and managed a state government on the war’s front lines. It illustrates the operations of revolutionary era governments and those who guided the day-to-day operations, administrators, like Livingston, who served as the principal conduits between the local wartime situation and the national demands placed on the states.

JF: Why do we need to read William Livingston’s American Revolution?

JG: If you want to see how the war was prosecuted at the ground level, then this book is for you. As a wartime bureaucrat, Livingston played a pivotal role in a pivotal place, prosecuting the war on a daily basis for eight years. He is the perfect example of a second-tier founding father, those who actually administered the nitty gritty of the war. Through Livingston’s life and political career, we can examine the complex nature of the conflict and the choice to wage it, the constant battle over loyalty on the home front, the limits of patriot governance under fire, and the ways in which wartime experiences affected the creation of the Constitution.

JF: What courses do you teach at the University of Arkansas?

JG: Well, right now, I do not teach much of anything since after three years as our department’s Associate Chair & Director of Graduate Studies, I assumed the role of Department Chair this past July.  In the spring, I will get back into the classroom teaching a survey course but most of my courses are mainly upper-level Colonial America and Revolutionary America courses.  I also teach the first half of African American history when I have a free spot but with these administrative duties, that unfortunately is getting less and less often.

JF: What is your next project?

JG:  I am working on a project tentatively titled 1804: The Year that Changed America. Through five interconnected vignettes (beginning of gradual abolition in the North, the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis & Clark’s Expedition, Haitian Independence, and the burning of the USS Philadelphia in the Barbary Coast War), 1804 illustrates how specific events in a single year influenced the course of American history. Each vignette explores one of three themes set into motion in 1804: sectional antagonism that culminated in the American Civil War, the destruction of Native American power in North America, and the economic and political expansion of American power globally. The book will integrate all of them into a single narrative that illustrates the domestic and international pressures that transformed how Americans saw themselves and their place in the world. It is still in its early stages but it has been exciting to explore a whole host of issues I have not touched for quite some time.

JF: Thanks, Jim!

A Day with the History Department at Kean University

Liberty Hall Kean

Liberty Hall at Kean University.  Liberty Hall was the home of William Livingston, the first governor of the state of New Jersey. 

As I posted earlier this week, I spent the day on Tuesday with the History Department at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.  I am working with Kean as a “public humanities consultant” for their National Endowment for the Humanities program “William Livingston’s World.

First, was very impressed with the Kean History Department and the hospitality I received during my visit.  Special thanks to Jonathan Mercantini (Acting Dean of the College of Liberty Arts) and Elizabeth Hyde (Department Chair).

In the morning, I talked about public engagement with the faculty and campus archives staff.  We had a spirited discussion about whether or not our public engagement as historians should be more political and activist-oriented than our classroom teaching.  I think it is fair to say that we were divided on this question.

In the afternoon, I met with four honors students who wrote papers and created websites on William Livingston.  During this session we watched the “director’s cut” of the Liberty Hall 360 re-enactment of the Susannah Livingston-John Jay wedding.  Several of the students worked on the script.  It was fun chatting with undergraduates who have traveled to archives with Livingston collections, read Livingston’s letters, and tried to make sense of the political, intellectual, and religious life of this New Jersey founding father.

One of these students approached me after the session with a signed copy of Why Study History?  My inscription read: “Caleb, keep studying history and I hope you do so at Messiah College.”  It was dated 2014.  Needless to say, we did not land Caleb at Messiah, but he certainly had a wonderful undergraduate career at Kean.  Caleb asked me to sign the book again with an inscription that began “four years later….”  It was a great encounter with a big undergraduate fish I was unable to land!  🙂

Finally, I met with five adjunct faculty members who teach the department’s general education course: “HIST 1062: Modern World Civilizations: Crises of the Contemporary World.”  We had a great discussion about how to teach historical thinking skills to non-history majors.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and hope to return soon to continue consulting on the William Livingston project.  As I noted in my previous post, I think this is a model grant for any history department interested in merging public history, public humanities, career preparation, and the undergraduate history curriculum.

William Livingston’s World

Liberty Hall

Liberty Hall Museum, the home of William Livingston

Today I am in Union, New Jersey working with the History Department at Kean University.  The department just received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund MakeHISTORY@Kean: William Livingston’s World.  It is a three-year project intended to develop  the Kean history curriculum around the concept of a History Lab.  The project incorporates the unique and untapped archival and historical resources of Kean University, Liberty Hall Museum, and the Liberty Hall Academic Center.  Undergraduates will generate a portfolio of original historical research to be shared with a broad public through talks, exhibits, websites, lesson plans, and other genres.

Initially, students will focus their work on the world of William Livingston, a brigadier general during the Revolutionary War, New Jersey’s first popularly elected governor (1776-1790), and signer of the U.S. Constitution.

The project also teaches history majors to think about how their work in the field of history intersects with a variety of career options in business, digital, and STEM to produce graduates who possess the communications and critical thinking skills employers need.

The “William Livingston World” program is already underway.  Students are working on a recreation of the 1772 marriage of Sarah Livingston and John Jay, which occurred in the Great Hall at Liberty Hall (on Kean’s campus).  Check out this video:

I will be talking with faculty and students today as the project’s “Public Humanities Consultant.”  It should be a great day and I am excited to learn more about this project.

The Livingstons Liked Their Wine

Liberty Hall

Three cases of Madeira wine were found recently at Liberty Hall, the former home of William Livingston, the first governor of New Jersey and a signer of the United States Constitution.

Here is a taste of an article at NJ.com:

A restoration project at Liberty Hall Museum’s wine cellar unearthed spirits 221 years old that had been shipped to the sleepy Elizabethtown cottage shortly after the American Revolution. 

During the six-month revamp, the museum discovered almost three cases of Madeira wine from 1796 and about 42 demijohns from the 1820s.

Some of the original Madeira stock was shipped to the second generation who lived at Liberty Hall, in anticipation of John Adams’ presidency. Although Liberty Hall President John Kean was well aware of the wine collection, he couldn’t have imagined its historical significance…

The museum, originally constructed in 1760, was built as a country getaway by the then prominent New York lawyer, William Livingston. Livingston would go on to serve in the First and Second Continental congresses, become New Jersey’s first elected governor and sign the United States Constitution.

The Kean family was the second generation to live at Liberty Hall, taking over the original estate in 1811. Multiple generations of the Keans continued to live at the estate until 1973, when the home was designated a National Historic Landmark. The family has worked to preserve and enhance the estate’s invaluable character.

It’s Always a Good Idea to Let Them Know You are Coming

livingston_williamHere is a March 1, 1777 letter written by New Jersey’s  revolutionary-era governor William Livingston (or one of his assistants) to Robert Blackwell, a patriotic Anglican minister serving New Jersey churches (in this specific case, Coles Church in Coles-Town, Gloucester County) with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel:

Thursday next being appointed to be observed as a day of fasting & Prayer the Governor & Council propose to attend Divine Service at your Church, which it is thought proper to give you this Notice…

And here is Blackwell’s March 2, 1777 response:

According to the directions of your Proclamation I have appointed to preach at Coles Church on Thursday next, at half past eleven in the morning.  If your Excellency & the Council think proper to attend, we shall be glad to see you there.

I love this stuff!

Source: The Papers of William Livingston, ed. Carl Prince (Trenton: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1979), Vol. 1: 264

NOTE:  Prince’s footnote on p.264 is wrong.  He says that the church in question here is in Colesville, Sussex County.  When I read this I found it odd that Livingston, who was living at the time in Haddonfield, would travel all the way of up to Sussex County to attend service on a day of fasting and prayer.  Upon further investigation, I learned that this it is more likely that this is a reference to Coles Church (St. Mary’s) in Colestown, Gloucester County (today Camden County), New Jersey.  This makes more sense.  Colestown is only about four miles from Haddonfield.

New Jersey Forum Wrap-Up

Last Saturday I had the honor of presenting one of the keynote addresses at the New Jersey Forum, a biennial conference on New Jersey history organized by the New Jersey Historical Commission. This year the conference was hosted and co-sponsored by Kean University in Union as a celebration of New Jersey’s 350th anniversary.

My lecture was titled “New Jersey’s Presbyterian Rebellion.”  It focused on some of my research on Presbyterians and the American Revolution (currently on hold at the moment while I finish this American Bible Society project) and some of the thoughts I hope to include in a new narrative history of the revolution in New Jersey that will appear in a few years with Rutgers University Press. I focused my discussion of the Presbyterians in revolutionary New Jersey on John Witherspoon (a man), the Greenwich Tea Burning (an event), and Elizabeth-Town (a town). 
I also attended a great breakout session on pre-revolutionary New Jersey.  Jonathan Sassi of CUNY-Staten Island presented a very interesting paper on anti-slavery in New Jersey prior to the Revolution (1773-1775).  He focused on the attempt of New Jersey Quakers to get the colonial legislature to pass an abolition bill.  Ironically, this bill was derailed by the American Revolution. In the end, New Jersey proceeded down the path of gradual, not immediate emancipation. This story is chronicled quite well in James Gigantino’s book, The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865).
I was thoroughly entertained by Brian Regal‘s presentation on the origins of the so-called “Jersey Devil.”  Regal traced the history of this New Jersey folk tale back to the 17th century Leeds family of the Pine Barren region and explained how the Leeds Devil became the “Jersey Devil” thanks to a curiosities museum in Philadelphia who tried to use the legend (and a kangaroo from Albany) to attract visitors.
Timothy Hack of Salem County Community College offered a historiographical overview of the American Revolution in New Jersey and challenged future historians to bring African Americans, women, religion, loyalists, and the Atlantic world into the narrative of the revolution in the colony. (Challenge accepted!).  He also challenged museums and historical sites to plan early for the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution by making documents accessible to researchers.  Hack called for an updated version of Larry Gerlach’s collection, New Jersey in the American Revolution, 1763-1783.
Finally, Chris Belitto, a church historian and medievalist at Kean, gave a fascinating talk on the way that New Jersey revolutionaries John Kean and William Livingston employed the classics in their arguments for independence.  Belitto’s talk made me realize that I need to know a lot more about Livingston as I move forward with my work on Presbyterians and New Jersey.
It was also a pleasure to chat with so many friends and colleagues from the New Jersey history community, including Jean Soderlund, Richard Waldron, Niquole Primiani, Jonathan Mercantini, Joseph Klett, John Fabiano, Tom Winslow, Rich Rosenthal, Richard Veit, and Karl Neiderer.
As a kid who grew up in the Italian-Slovakian New Jersey working class and was a first-generation college student, it was an amazing honor for me to get to speak at the 350th anniversary celebration of my home state.  I want to thank Sara Cureton, Niquole Primiani, and the rest of the conference organizers for inviting me.
While I was writing this post I noticed that Mary Rizzo, a public history professor at Rutgers Camden, storified the conference tweets.  Thanks, Mary.

Making the Best of a Crazy Day on the Road

Museum and Visitors Center:  Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown, NJ
I am in New Jersey this week hitting up a host of different archives related to the consulting work I am doing for the Elizabeth Presbyterian Church and my current research on Presbyterians and the American Revolution.  On Monday we (I am with trusty research assistants Megan and Brianna) spent the day in Elizabeth.  We started with a tour of the Presbyterian Church, the graveyard, and the Academy building which sits on the spot where Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr attended school.  (Our visit here will be the topic of next week’s Virtual Office Hours.  Stay tuned).  We also got an insider’s tour of Liberty Hall, the home of New Jersey’s revolutionary-era governor William Livingston, and Boxwood Hall, the revolutionary-era home of founding father Elias Boudinot.  Despite the pouring rain, it was a very useful day.  I am a firm believer that historians must “walk the land” where their subjects walked.  Sometimes this requires an act of the imagination, but it is till worth it.  I will now look at my work on this project in a whole new light.  The only downside of the day was that I lost my cellphone somewhere in Elizabeth.

On Tuesday, filled with anxiety over my lost phone, we headed down to Princeton University to do some work on James Caldwell, a 1759 graduate of the College of New Jersey and the revolutionary-era pastor of the Elizabeth-Town Presbyterian Church.  We arrived at the Mudd Manuscript Library, registered, and began working through Caldwell’s alumni file when, after about fifteen minutes of work, we were forced to leave the building and evacuate the campus due to a bomb scare. 

Megan and Brianna took to their iPhones and found a nearby Dunkin Donuts where we could get some iced coffee, regroup, and rethink the day.  It was here that I learned that my cell phone was found in the parking lot of the Elizabeth Presbyterian Church.  We also managed to make a few phone calls and get an afternoon appointment at the library and archives of Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown, NJ.  Thanks to Jude Pfister for accomodating us at the last minute.  We hopped in the car and drove from Princeton to Elizabeth to pick up the phone.  It was a sunny New Jersey day so we were able to add some additional footage to the Virtual Office Hours that we had filmed the day before.  We then followed Morris Avenue most of the way to Morristown.  It was a productive few hours in the archive and I was able to identify a host of mircofilmed material relevant to my work. 

So what turned out to be a wasted day filled with bomb scares and lost phones was eventually redeemed with the help of the good folks in Elizabeth and Morristown.  Today our traveling research road show is headed to Newark, NJ.

This Day in History: December 24, 1781

New Jersey governor William Livingston was lamenting the death of his pastor:

The most notorious incident of military officiousness had occurred Nov. 24, 1781, when a soldier at Elizabethtown shot and killed the reverend James Caldwell.  The minister was carrying a parcel that belonged to a New York woman travelling under a flag of truce when he was stopped by a soldier who suspected him of smuggling.  Caldwell agreed to return the package to the ship but was shot by the soldier as he stepped on board.

William Livingston (probably quoting a newspaper) to Benjamin Lincoln, December 24, 1781, William Livingston Papers, ed. Carl Prince, vol. IV, pp.354-356