Philip Livingston, Signer of the Declaration of Independence and “Lord of the Manor” by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

Born to a wealthy family of the Hudson River Valley of New York (like 160,000 acres on the eastern side of Hudson River wealthy), Philip Livingston was a merchant and a philanthropist. The Livingston family’s wealth provided them with political power. They were presented with the concept of a “manor,” meaning they were given one seat in the New York royal legislature, and they could act as judges within the territory. Like many of his family, Philip settled in New York City and took up the import business. Residing on Duke Street in Manhattan, he also spent time on a 40-acre estate in Brooklyn Heights. He married Christina Broeck in 1740. They had nine children (Philip, Richard, Catherine, Margaret, Peter, Sarah, Abraham, Alida, and Henry), his youngest son Henry serving with George Washington during the War. He was one of the two Dutch American signers of the Declaration of Independence. 

“Philip Livingston was born in the well-to-do and prominent Albany Livingston family. His family controlled a large landholding grant, called Livingston Manor. Philip had the benefit of a good education and graduated from Yale College in 1737. He became prominent as a merchant, and was elected an alderman of New York City in 1754. Livingston became active as a promoter of efforts to fund and raise troops for the War of Independence. In 1759, he was elected to the New York [then a colony] House of Representatives. In October 1765, he attended the Stamp Act Congress, which was a prelude to the American Revolution. When New York established a rebel government in 1775, Livingston became the President of the Provincial Convention, and a delegate to the Continental Congress. In the Continental Congress, he strongly supported separation from Britain, and in 1776 he joined other Continental Congress delegates in signing the Declaration of Independence.” (The New Netherland Institute)

In the early days of the “revolution,” Livingston was considered a moderate. He was conscious of his import business and the large market the British connections brought to the American colony. Reportedly, he was a privateer during the French and Indian War. He wished to be an Englishman first and foremost. Even so, he opposed the taxes imposed by the English government. In Congress, Livingston came to heads with John Adams, for Livingston often “stonewalled” the more radical ideas of independence. Livingston was of the belief that without England’s guidance that America would become warring civil states. Eventually, his stance mellowed, but was not totally abandoned. 

“He was born January 15, 1716 at Albany, NY, the son of Philip Livingston (the second Lord of the Manor described below) and Catharine Van Brugh. Catharine was the daughter of Captain Peter Van Brugh, a mayor of Albany. Philip “the Signer” was one of three Livingstons who were members of the Continental Congress at the time of the great deliberations concerning the future of the 13 colonies. Although Philip was the only one who actually signed the Declaration of Independence, his brother William of New Jersey, and his first cousin once removed Robert R. Livingston, later the Chancellor of New York, were very active Continental Congress contributors. In addition, at least twenty other members of the larger Livingston family served during the Revolutionary War as officers, either by Congressional or State Legislature appointments.

“Just who were these Livingstons who risked so much in terms of their families, their fortunes, and their very lives in the cause of freedom from the oppression by their mother country. In America, they all trace their lineage back to Robert Livingston, a native of Scotland who immigrated to the New World. His father, Reverend John Livingston had been exiled with his family to the Netherlands in 1663 for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to King Charles II. Nine years later, his father having died, he returned to Scotland. He decided a career in the New World appealed to him and in 1673, he set sail. Fluent in both English and Dutch, Robert decided that Albany in the colony of New York was the place for him to settle, and a wise decision it was. He soon established himself in the fur trade and ingratiated himself to both the old Dutch families and their new English masters. Many important political appointments followed, including Secretary for Indian Affairs, town clerk, collector of customs, and clerk to the colony’s largest private landholding, the Patroonship of Rensselaerwyck. He eventually married the widow of the owner of Rensselaerwyck, Alida Schuyler Van Rensselaer. Thus established into the aristocracy of colonial New York, he was granted ownership of the ‘Lordship and Manor of Livingston’ by the English Royal Governor, Thomas Dongan, in 1687. The manor consisted of 160,000 acres on the east side of the Hudson River about forty miles south of Albany. Robert preferred to be known as the “first proprietor” of the Manor of Livingston, but he and his two successors were later referred to as ‘Lords of the Manor.’ Two of Robert’s sons had large families, which multiplied through the first several generations. A son Philip became the second Lord, and his oldest son Robert became the third and last Lord of the Manor when the property was sub-divided and much of it eventually disbursed. The Lords of the Manor are buried beneath the Livingston Memorial Church near where the original Manor House had been in the Town of Livingston.

“The Livingston’s ancestry in Scotland through Rev. John Livingston is quite impressive. In one genealogy, the family traces its roots to Egbert, the first Saxon King of all England. Included in this genealogy are Alfred the Great and other Anglo-Saxon kings, Edward the Elder, Robert the Bruce, Robert Stuart, and other kings of Scotland. Another genealogy focuses on the Livingston name, and carries it back to Sir Andrew de Livingston, Knight, who was sheriff of Lanark in 1296. This genealogy carries the name down through Rev. John Livingston, and includes the six Lord Livingstons of Callendar. Sir Alexander de Livingston, Lord of Callendar, Knight, was the guardian of King James II. The fifth Lord Livingston of Callendar was the guardian of Mary, Queen of Scots at Linlithgow Palace. The magnificent Callendar House exists today and is a museum under the Scottish Trust near Edinburgh. Linlithgow Palace is a ruins, but is extensively used for performances, tours, and other public events.” (The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence)

When the British attacked New York, Livingston’s family abandoned their home, taking refuge in Kingston, the temporary capital of New York. The British used his property in Brooklyn Heights as a “hospital,” but later burned it. Livingston was forced to sell off some of his smaller properties to sustain him until the War’s end. Even so, the combined Livingston family built 40 houses along the Hudson and built up their wealth to include land holdings larger than the state of Rhode Island. (Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnest, Signing Their Lives Away, Quirk Books) After signing the Declaration, Livingston was elected to the New York State Senate in 1777. Unfortunately, his health deteriorated, and he passed at the age of 62 on 12 June 1778. He is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery in York County, Pennsylvania. Part of his legacy includes the founding of King’s College, which later became Columbia University. 


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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