William Livingston
Portrait by John Wollaston, c. 1750.
1st Governor of New Jersey
In office
August 31, 1776 – July 25, 1790
Preceded byWilliam Franklin
as Royal Governor
Succeeded byElisha Lawrence
Acting Governor
Member of the New York General Assembly
In office
Preceded byRobert Livingston
Succeeded byPeter R. Livingston
Personal details
Born(1723-11-30)November 30, 1723
Albany, Province of New York, British America
DiedJuly 25, 1790(1790-07-25) (aged 66)
Elizabeth, New Jersey, U.S.
Resting placeGreen-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York City
Political partyFederalist
Susannah French
(m. 1745; died 1789)
Children13, including Sarah, Brockholst
Parent(s)Philip Livingston
Catherine Van Brugh
RelativesSee Livingston family
Alma materYale College

William Livingston (November 30, 1723 – July 25, 1790) was an American politician and lawyer who served as the first governor of New Jersey (1776–1790) during the American Revolutionary War. As a New Jersey representative in the Continental Congress, he signed the Continental Association and the United States Constitution. He is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a Founding Father of New Jersey.[1]

Early life and education

William Livingston's coat of arms

Livingston was born in Albany in the Province of New York on November 30, 1723. He was the son of Philip Livingston (1686–1749), the 2nd Lord of Livingston Manor, and Catherine Van Brugh, the only child of Albany mayor Pieter Van Brugh. His older siblings included Robert Livingston (1708–1790), 3rd Lord of Livingston Manor, Peter Van Brugh Livingston (1710–1792), New York State Treasurer, and Philip Livingston (1716–1778), a member of the New York State Senate.[2]

Livingston received his early education from local schools and tutors. At age 13, he was sent to live for a year and prepare for college with the Anglican missionary catechist and Yale College graduate Henry Barclay who lived among the Iroquois in the Mohawk Valley at Fort Hunter.[3] Livingston enrolled at Yale in 1737 and graduated in 1741. He went on to New York City, where he studied law and became a law clerk for the eminent lawyer James Alexander. He left Alexander's office in the spring of 1746 before finishing his apprenticeship because of a disagreement[4] and joined the office of William Smith Sr.[5]

Career in New York

He became a lawyer in 1748[4] and began his practice in New York City. In 1752, he founded a weekly journal, the Independent Reflector, along with fellow Presbyterian lawyers William Smith Jr., the son of his law teacher, and John Morin Scott. The three were called by contemporaries "The Triumvirate".[6] The Reflector was New York's first serial non-newspaper publication and the only one being published in British North America at the time. It was used as a platform by the political upstate Presbyterian land-owning "country faction" led by Livingston for challenging the powerful downstate Anglican and Dutch Reformed merchant or "popular faction" led by Chief Justice James De Lancey. Most notably the Triumvirate attacked the founding of King's College as a conspiracy by Anglicans to install a bishop in America, including his former tutor Rev. Henry Barclay, rector of Trinity Church, and his former law teacher James Alexander.

Publication of the Reflector ceased with the fifty-second issue in late 1753 after political pressure was brought to bear upon its printer, James Parker,[5] but Livingston and his allies continued to attack the college over the next year with columns in newspapers.[7] By raising divisive issues, he managed to divert half the funds raised by a state lottery for the college to fund the construction of a new jail and a detention house for sailors from diseased ships. King's College was defiantly opened despite Livingston's efforts by President Rev. Samuel Johnson in July 1754 and granted a charter by the king on October 31, 1754.[8] Though he failed to close the college, no bishop arrived as predicted.

Livingston remained politically active and was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1768 and served one term in the New York General Assembly until his political allies lost power in 1769 and was replaced by his nephew, Peter Robert Livingston, the eldest surviving son of his brother Robert.[9][5]

Career in New Jersey

A March 23, 1778, letter from Governor Livingston to Israel Shreve

In 1772, he moved to Elizabethtown in the colonial-era Province of New Jersey, where he rented a house in town. A young Alexander Hamilton lived with Livingston for at least the winter while he attended Francis Barber's grammar school.[10][11]

Livingston started construction of a large country home to house his growing family. The house, known as Liberty Hall, still stands.[5] After attaining considerable influence among the local patriots, Livingston was elected to serve as one of New Jersey's delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where he served from July 1774 to June 1776. New Jersey's Provincial Congress declined to reappoint him to the Second Continental Congress, however, since he did not favor immediate independence, so he was not a signatory to the Declaration of Independence that was unanimously adopted on July 4, 1776. William Livingston's older brother, Philip Livingston, who remained as a strong member of the New York delegation, did become one of the only 56 signers.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Provincial Congress, instead, offered William Livingston, command of its state's militia, an offer he declined. So when William Livingston returned to New Jersey from Philadelphia that summer of 1776, he relied on his previous commission (of October 1775) as a brigadier general of the New Jersey Militia.

In August 1776, he was elected Governor of New Jersey.[5] Between 1776 and 1779, the family was located in Parsippany for safety. Liberty Hall was frequently visited by British troops or naval forces since there was a substantial reward for Livingston's capture. One attempt to kidnap him took place in mid-June 1779. False information about Livingston visiting his second home in Parsippany resulted in a raid by Loyalists and their subsequent capture. The Loyalist mayor of New York City, and a distant cousin through the Schuyler family, David Mathews, was suspected by being behind the attempted capture of Livingston.[12] The family returned to Liberty Hall in 1779 to begin restoring their looted home. He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1782.[13]

Later years

Livingston joined the New Jersey Delegation to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and was one of the signers of the U.S. Constitution.[5] He was appointed United States Minister to the Netherlands in 1788 by the U.S. Congress, but turned down the opportunity. He continued to be reelected governor of New Jersey each year until his death in 1790.

Personal life

Further information: Livingston family

Livingston married Susannah French (1723–1789) in New Jersey in 1745. She was the daughter of landowner Philip French III and Susanna (née Brockholst) French.[14] Her paternal grandparents were Phillip French, the 27th mayor of New York City, and Annetje (née Philipse) French (the daughter of Frederick Philipse). Her maternal grandparents were Susanna Maria Brockholst and Anthony Brockholst, an acting governor of colonial New York under Sir Edmund Andros.[14][15] They had 13 children, including:[16][2][17]


Livingston's daughter, Sarah, was born in 1756 and was educated at home in penmanship, English grammar, the Bible, and classic literature. At a time when women were usually relegated to the kitchen, she was brought up to be politically aware, even serving at times as her father's secretary.[19] Sarah, at the age of 17, married John Jay. Sarah accompanied Jay to Spain and then Paris, where he, along with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Laurens, negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1783. She is credited with writing the celebratory Treaty of Paris dinner toast. When Sarah and John returned to New York, Jay was appointed U.S. Foreign Secretary, and her Parisian training came in handy, as she and her husband established the custom of weekly dinners for the diplomatic corps and other guests in the U.S. capital city of New York. Sarah served in her hospitality role as the wife of the first Chief Justice of the United States and First Lady of New York.

Among the other prominent descendants of William Livingston were Julia Kean, wife of United States Secretary of State and New York Governor Hamilton Fish, a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch Director-General of New Amsterdam; Thomas Kean, the 48th Governor of New Jersey and the grand-nephew of Hamilton Fish, Edwin Brockholst Livingston, a historian, Henry Brockholst Ledyard, mayor of Detroit.[20]

Death and legacy

Livingston died on July 25, 1790, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and was originally buried at Trinity Church in Manhattan, but on May 7, 1844, was reinterred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

In 1747, Livingston wrote and published a long pastoral poem entitled, "Philosophic Solitude, or the Choice of a Rural Life". One of the first successful original poems written by an American colonist, it was anthologized numerous times into the 19th century. In 1754, Livingston also played a key role in founding the New York Society Library, which is still in existence over a quarter of a millennium later. Livingston also authored a commentary upon the government of England in comparison to the United States Constitution, titled 'Examen du Gouvernement d’Angleterre comparé aux Constitutions des Etats-Unis', which was cited approvingly by Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès in his pamphlet 'What Is the Third Estate?'.

Livingston, New Jersey in Essex County, New Jersey,[21] Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, and the Livingston campus at Rutgers University were each named in his honor.

See also


  1. ^ "Founding Fathers of New Jersey". archives.gov. National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved March 6, 2022.
  2. ^ a b 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 November 16, 2017.
  3. ^ Dexter, Franklin Bowditch, Biographical sketches of the graduates of Yale College: with annals of the college, Holt, 1885, Volume 1, pp. 503–504
  4. ^ a b Dexter, p. 682
  5. ^ a b c d e f Wright, Jr., Robert K. & MacGregor Jr., Morris J. "William Livingston". Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution. Washington, DC: United States Army Center of Military History. CMH Pub 71-25. Archived from the original on November 13, 2019. Retrieved June 10, 2010.
  6. ^ Lustig, Mary Lou, Privilege and Prerogative: New York's Provincial Elite, 1710–1776, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1995, p. 83
  7. ^ McCaughey, Robert A., Stand, Columbia : a history of Columbia University in the city of New York, 1754–2004, Columbia University Press, 2003, pp. 18–19
  8. ^ McCaughey, pp. 21–22
  9. ^ Bell, Whitfield J., and Charles Greifenstein, Jr. Patriot-Improvers: Biographical Sketches of Members of the American Philosophical Society. 3 vols. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1997, 3:476–480.
  10. ^ Hamilton John C., The Life of Alexander Hamilton, D. Appleton, 1840, Volume 1, p. 8; Hamilton John C., History of the Republic, D. Appleton & Company, 1857, Volume 1, p. 46
  11. ^ "Where Did Alexander Hamilton Live While Attending Grammar School in Elizabethtown, New Jersey? – Discovering Hamilton". Discovering Hamilton. January 22, 2018. Retrieved January 30, 2018.
  12. ^ McBurney, Christian. Abductions in the American Revolution, 2016, p. 74
  13. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter L" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  14. ^ a b "Susannah French Livingston". womenhistoryblog.com. History of American Women. January 30, 2009. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  15. ^ Hoffman, Samuel Verplanck (1903). Collections of The New-York Historical Society for the Year 1902 | Publication Fund Series. New York: Printed for the Society. p. 91. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  16. ^ "America's Founding Fathers – Delegates to the Constitutional Convention: New Jersey". U.S. National Archives & Records Administration. Archived from the original on June 6, 2016.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Reynolds, Cuyler (1914). Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York and the Hudson River Valley: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Building of a Nation. Lewis Historical Publishing Company. pp. 1335–1336. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  18. ^ Rapelje, George (1834). A Narrative of Excursions, Voyages, and Travels, Performed at Different Periods in America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Published by the author. p. 12. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  19. ^ About Sarah Livingston Jay. Accessed October 13, 2014.
  20. ^ Society, Chicago Medical (1922). History of medicine and surgery and physicians and surgeons of Chicago, endorsed by and published under the supervision of the council of the Chicago Medical Society. The Biographical Publishing Corporation. Retrieved April 26, 2017.
  21. ^ About Livingston Archived July 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed March 9, 2007.

Further reading

Political offices Preceded byWilliam FranklinRoyal Governor Governor of New Jersey 1776–1790 Succeeded byElisha Lawrence Acting Governor