Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Kilsyth, A Parish History
Chapter IV

Declaration of American Independence—The Signatories— Robert Livingston—-Birth and Removal to Holland — Emigrates—Settles in Albany—Marriage—Appointments— Indian Raids and Negotiations—Lords of Trade—With Earl of Bellomont fits out Adventure Galley—William Kidd—The American Landowner—“Livingston” on the Hudson—Kidd turns Pirate—A Desperate Career—Livingston’s Estates Confiscated—Captured—Again in London—Regains Position— Colonial Speakership—Death.

The Declaration of American Independence was signed at Philadelphia on the 4th July, 1776. The subscribers were Thomas Jefferson of Virginia; John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Robert Livingston of New York. Everything pertaining to the lives and careers of these several gentlemen is, as may well be imagined, of intense interest to the people of the United States. The ancestry and achievements of all the signatories have been subjected to the closest literary sifting. The result has been the concentration of attention on the extraordinary and romantic career of Robert Livingston, that ancestor of the last subscriber, who first came from Scotland, and settled at Albany, and finally, purchasing a vast estate on the Hudson, became one of the founders of America, and the progenitor of one of its leading families.

Robert Livingston was the youngest son and fourteenth child of the Rev. John Livingston, of whom account has just been given. Robert was born at Ancrum, Roxburghshire, where his father was minister, on the 13th December, 1654. His mother took him with her to Rotterdam in 1663, when she went to join her husband in banishment. Thus early removed to Holland, the boy attained to a complete knowledge and mastery of the Dutch language. It was his ability to speak English and Dutch with equal fluency which led to his subsequent promotion. At the age of eighteen, and upon the death of his father, the young man found himself thrown upon his own resources. Many different reasons in serious crises of their fortunes have tempted men to turn their eyes to America. Twice his venerable father had attempted to reach that country, that he might escape persecution, and worship God after a manner pleasing to his own conscience. Robert Livingston looked towards the land of the West, in the hope that it might provide him a field where he could earn for himself an honest livelihood, or afford him opportunities of embarking in a career that might possibly carry him forward to fame and fortune. Full of that enthusiasm which distinguished him in all the events of his life, having buried his father, he returned with his mother to Scotland, and on the 28th April, 1673, he took ship at Greenock for New England. Landed in the West, and finding that New York was on the point of being transferred from the Dutch to the English, he made his way with all haste to that State, and with considerable prescience sailed up the Hudson and took up his quarters in the town of Albany, after New York then the next important city in the. State. Albany being near the Indian frontier, and the centre of a lucrative trade with the Indian trappers, his knowledge of Dutch and English stood him in excellent stead. The people being largely Hollanders, and the government British, he was the kind of man in demand from the very nature of the circumstances. He was at once appointed secretary to the Commissaries who superintended the officers of the Albany district. Discharging his duties with energy, the solitary, friendless young Scot rapidly rose in favour. In a short time he was appointed town-clerk, collector and receiver of customs, and secretary for Indian affairs. His position was strong, but he strengthened it still more by marrying, in 1679, Alida Schuyler, a bright young widow, in close connection with the best Dutch families, and only a year older than himself. Albany was his home until he transferred his residence to his house on his own lordly manor. Under Providence, Livingston’s success may be attributed to his fortunate settlement in Albany, his knowledge of Dutch, and his marrying Alida Schuyler. Albany being a frontier town, and in close proximity to the hunting grounds of that powerful Indian federation—the Iroquois or the Five Nations—the authorities of the city required to exercise in their dealings with the Indians the very greatest circumspection. This was all the more necessary as the Iroquois were being continually worked upon by the French, who were then the holders of Canada. Being determined to gain the Indians to their own side, they were perpetually intriguing amongst them, and inflaming them against the English. Their swift wild raids kept the colonists in a state of perpetual trepidation. When* consequently they were not engaged in fortifying themselves against their attacks, they were equally busy in carrying on with them peaceful negotiations. A raid in which the French and the Indians pounced upon an Albanian village, massacred the inhabitants, and carried off a number of prisoners, brought matters to a head. Leisler, the Governor of New York State, was furious, laid the blame on Livingston, and determined upon his arrest. The threat was never carried out. Livingston pointed out that matters would never be right until an attack was made upon the Canadian French. At a meeting held with the Iroquois chiefs at Albany, largely through the instrumentality of Livingston, the Indians were conciliated, and agreed to stand by the English in the proposed struggle. In the circumstances in which he was placed, Livingston had advanced a large sum for the security of Albany, where he held his various official positions. The Governor of New York State being an enemy of Livingston, and refusing to give him any interest on his advances, he had no alternative but to sail for London, and lay his case before a Committee of the Lords of Trade. When his cause was tried there was one William Kidd, the master of a brigantine, who appeared as a witness in Livingston’s favour. The result of the deliberations of the Lords of Trade was that Livingston got all he asked, and something more. He received £3000, and in acknowledgment of his services was ordered to receive a pension of £100 a year, to be paid from the funds of the New York State.

To Livingston an idle existence was insufferable, and, while his case was dragging its slow length along before the Committee, he planned in London a scheme for the suppression of the numerous pirates that then preyed on our colonial merchantmen. There being a French war, none of the vessels of the navy could be procured for the undertaking. Along with Richard Coote, Earl of Bellomont, the Adventure Galley was fitted out as a privateer, and William Kidd was appointed captain. Kidd had done a bold stroke of seamanship when New York was threatened by the pirates, and had received from the State for that service an honorarium of £150.

Kidd was fairly well known to Livingston, and probably the latter may have been prepossessed in his favour from the fact that Kidd was a Scotchman, and had been born in Greenock. Bellomont fitted out the vessel, and, in the case of the project proving unsuccessful, he received from Livingston a bond of ^10,000 and from Kidd another bond of ^20,000. Kidd’s commission was to fight with pirates wherever he could find them, despoil them of their goods, and bring them to justice. Kidd had chosen his crew, but the press-gangs boarding his ship forced the very best of them into the King’s direct service. This being so, he had eventually to take such seamen as he could get. There can be no doubt his crew was composed for the most part of desperate men—men of ruined reputation, and eager for any chance, however questionable, of establishing their broken fortunes. Kidd sailed from Plymouth in the month of April, 1696. He steered his course for New York. Arrived there, Governor Fletcher allowed Kidd to beat up for volunteers, with the result that he got a contingent of men of a still lower grade than even those he had embarked at Plymouth. When Kidd found himself afloat it is more than probable that such a company of rascals and cut-throats never before, and certainly never since, sailed under the British flag to prosecute a cause receiving the direct sanction of the Sovereign.

About the time Kidd left Plymouth, Livingston sailed for New York. A keen man of business, and living with his eyes open, Livingston had been engaged in a far more magnificent enterprise than the fitting out of the Adventure Galley, an enterprise which was now coming to fruition. At that time land with a frontage to the Hudson was in great demand, and the position of the land-owner was such as well to make it an object of ambition. The land-owner was endowed with baronial honours, and held courts whose judgments were final. His tenants rendered him military service. He had the power of a feudal chieftain, and was the autocrat of his territory. Such a positionI Kingston was anxious to secure, that he might lay the double foundation-stones of influence and fortune. On his frequent journeys between Albany and New York, Livingston had noticed that there was only one valuable tract of land with extensive river frontage still unheld by any white man. It was forty miles south of Albany, on the east side of Hudson River, and near Catskill. The Indians being willing to sell, on the 12th July, 1683, an estate of 3000 acres passed into his hands. After Livingston got a footing his estate rapidly increased in size, till finally, in 1715, the river frontage was 12 miles long, the extent equal to 160,000 acres, and the boundaries running 19 miles inland right up to the Massachusetts territory. Not for a while was it all plain sailing with our eager and speculative Scotchman, but still, thus by one of our own countrymen was founded on the Hudson the famous American manor of Livingston. The Earl of Bellomont was appointed Governor of New York, Massachusetts Bay, and New Hampshire, in 1697, with strict instructions for the suppression of piracy. Fletcher, the former governor, having refused to carry out the instructions of the Lords of Trade regarding Livingston, one of Bellomont’s first acts was to see justice done by his friend. He had, however, scarcely assumed the reins of office when ugly rumours began to be circulated about the doings of Kidd, of whom little had been heard for the past three years. Bellomont and Livingston were shocked when they found the rumours prove true. Kidd having been unable to come up with the pirates, his crew, who were to have been paid out of the prize money, became insubordinate. Resisting them as long as he dared, he hoisted the black flag, and became pirate on his own account. He snapped up traders and merchantmen wherever he could find them; he respected neither flag nor nationality. He put in his sickle, and reaped the illicit harvest of the ocean. Bent on large spoils, he set sail for the East India coasts. At the entrance of the Red Sea he attacked a fleet of Mocha merchantmen, but was beaten off by their Dutch and English convoy. Some days after he took the Quedah Merchant, a rich, fine vessel of 400 tons. Burning the Adventure Galley, he embarked in his prize, and his lucrative but perilous game still went on. Kidd gathered an enormous treasure of ill-gotten gain. His success was his ruin. He became so well known that he began to have great difficulty in finding supplies. Seeing the game was nearly up, he resolved on a bold move. Leaving the Quedah Merchant and his great accumulation of treasure in Hispaniola in the West Indies, he sailed for New York, and communicated with Bellomont. When he landed, to make matters secure, the Governor had him arrested. Kidd’s move was to be tried in New York, where there was a large contraband traffic, and where he would have been certain of getting a lenient sentence and a certain amount of sympathy. The earl suspected his intention and sent him to England. Before this step had been taken Kidd besought the Governor to allow him to visit the West Indies under guard, and bring home his treasure from the place where he had it concealed. The request was refused, and at the Old Bailey, on the 8th and 9th May, 1701, Kidd was tried on the charge of piracy and murder, and condemned and hung. In fitting out the Adventure Galley, Bellomont had been assisted by some of the leading statesmen of his party. In Britain the Tories, taking advantage of the great popular excitement, got up a wonderful hue-and-cry over the affair of Kidd; and on the other side of the Atlantic the enemies of Livingston made themselves equally busy. Both parties were entirely unsuccessful in their attempts to inculpate their political or personal enemies with the piracies of the notorious buccaneer. The amplest investigation only made clearer—although the adventure had turned out badly—the zeal of Bellomont and Livingston in the King’s service. Kidd’s treasure is acknowledged on all hands to have been vast. Though often sought after, it has not been found to this day. Poe’s “Gold Beetle” is the most notable example of that extensive literature to which Kidd’s extraordinary career has given birth.

Livingston having been acquitted of complicity with Kidd, was engaged in pressing upon the Home Government the necessity of establishing Christian missions among the Indians when his friend, the Earl of Bellomont, died. This was both a grief and a misfortune. Livingston’s enemies getting a majority in the State Council, took steps to crush him. Carried away by a fierce hatred and a baseless political rancour, they called him to account for his intromission with the State funds. Livingston promised to do so, but wished first to have time to take copies of his accounts before letting them out of his hands. Deeming his demand for time but a frivolous excuse, they at once confiscated his estate, loaded it with an indemnity of ^17,000, and hurled him in disgrace from his public offices. All these things were embodied in an Act of the State Assembly! And so, in 1701, Livingston, at the end of thirty years of incessant toil of brain, and hand, and foot, found himself stripped, at one fell swoop, of the whole of his property, and cast upon the world in a worse position than when he first set foot in America. His native resolution at this juncture stood him in splendid stead. He refused to be crushed, and resolved again to visit Britain, and lay his case before the Lords of Trade, When he was nearing our shores he was captured in the Bristol Channel by a French privateer. An English frigate coming in sight, the Frenchman abandoned his prize, but not until he had plundered her of everything he could carry away. Amongst the other things stolen were Livingston’s records and papers. This threw a tremendous difficulty in the way of establishing his complaints. After, however, a prolonged examination, in 1705 Livingston succeeded in getting all his claims acknowledged, and an order for reinstatement in his estates. Again he beguiled the tedium of waiting on the law by pressing on the Government the necessity of attacking Canada. When he returned to America his position was too strong to be further resisted, and he soon found himself in the midst of his manor exercising a princely hospitality. In 1715 he became a member of the Colonial Assembly, and four years later he was elevated to the distinguished position of Speaker to that body. He filled the chair of the House with great credit to himself and much advantage to the colony till the infirmities of increasing years compelled him, in *725> to tender his resignation. He had now become, as it were, a part of the State, and on his vacating the Speakership the Assembly paid to his character and labours a touching tribute. But the duties of life were more to him than life itself. Inability to work meant really to him inability to live. Two years after resigning the Speakership, his life, so full of startling incident and adventure, came to a quiet close, His wife bore him nine children, and he named his eldest son John after his own Covenanting father, who had played by the Garrel, chased butterflies on the High Craigends, and bird-nested in the Barrwood.

Return to the Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus