The Parsonage Between Two Manors.



Pages  268-273

[Page 268]          

     While Claverack's nearest neighbor, the town of Hudson, was progressing so rapidly, the quiet Dutch village and country-side were not forgetting their old neighbors and friends in  Livingston and Clermont.

     Chancellor Livingston's residence held a prominent place among the important homes of the upper Hudson.  He had married a daughter of that John Stevens who owned the most of the site of Hoboken, and who was also a sister of the second John Stevens, the builder of the first ocean-going steamer.  Her charming presence in the home added to the luster and renown of its hospitalities.

     Each step of the Chancellor's advance had been watched with interest, from his selection as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, to the appointment of Chancellor of the State of New York, and when the State [page 269[ Convention met at the old Van Kleeck house at Poughkeepsie to consider the Constitution, with the Chancellor, Philip Livingston, Hamilton, Jay, and Philip Schuyler among its warmest advocates, no section of the State was more alive to its outcome, than that along Chancellor Livingston's own stretch of the river, on the east side of the Hudson.

     During the six weeks in which the debates continued, the subject was equally, if not as learnedly discussed through the country-side, and at last, when it was known that New York had unconditionally ratified the Constitution, the friends of its advocates, both personal and political, in Claverack, Livingston and Clermont, were jubilant, and the publication in the newspapers of the Constitution of the United States in full, found most earnest and interested readers in the men of the upper Hudson.

     At the Lower Manor of Claverack, there was a double reason for rejoicing.  Part of the Constitution had been drafted by Alexander Hamilton in one of the rooms of General Schuyler's house at Albany.  As in other cases, it was a family as well as a State affair, [page 270] and on the evening of the announcement of the ratification, the Schuyler mansion was brilliantly illuminated in celebration of the great Federal victory.

     In 1801 Chancellor Livingston was appointed, by President Jefferson, as ambassador to the Court of France during the First Napoleon's reign, and his negotiations for the purchase of Louisiana, the successful conclusion of which doubled the extent of the country, giving the United States the whole valley of the Mississippi, the Rocky Mountains, the great plains, and a large stretch of the Pacific slopes, could not but excite intense interest in his fellow countrymen.

     He returned from his stay in France to enter heartily, with Robert Fulton, into the plans for the first steamboat, proving himself an ideal friend, as well as an able coadjutor in the great project.  In the absence of public encouragement in their venture, Fulton and Livingston found in each other a mutual inspiration, which carried them on a wave of courage and hope toward their great final achievement.

     Though prominent in so many events of national importance, the Chancellor's interest in country life, [page 271] its possibilities and improvements, gave his estate at Clermont a warm place in his regard, and his opinions in agricultural matters a value with the farmers of the section.  He was keenly alive to all of nature's blessing, delighted in producing rare varieties of fruit, and was instrumental in introducing the race of Merion sheep into the United States.  He himself owned at one time a flock of one thousand sheep of this breed, and a neighbor of his, Beriah Pease, who kept a flock on the "Fonda Hill Farm," gave the name, "Mount Merino" to the sightly elevation at the south of the city of Hudson.

     His own home at Clermont was eloquent of the Chancellor's love of nature and the charms of a country life.  The spacious mansion which he built a little south of the one which was burned during the war of the Revolution, had a river front of over one hundred feet and was almost as deep, built in the form of the letter H.  In one of its wings the Chancellor is said to have had a fine library of over four thousand volumes, and the house itself was furnished with beautiful tapestry and furniture specially imported from France by its [page 272] owner.  The silver service was also among the most magnificent of its time.  Outside of the house were wide-sweeping lawns on three sides, skirted by the virgin forests, and the beguiling water-view of the Hudson river and Catskill mountains.

     There were long planted avenues of favorite trees, favorable to a study of the Chancellor's views on the subject of tree-culture, and offering his guests enticing walks in the early dew-crowned morning, and the hours of sunset, or the witching hours of moonlight.  These vistas of tree-planted avenues could tell stories of lengthy discussions of a political nature, between statesmen who found at the Chancellor's home a place of relaxation from the strain of the jarring world, or of younger people who met there at house parties, and found the dignity and charm of their surroundings conducive to the play of fancy, and the growth of sentiment.  This house of history and story, with its past associations, is still standing on the banks of the Hudson, one of the old landmarks of the Manor days.

     So courtly were the Chancellor's manners, so [page 273] up-right his integrity, so full of honor the acts of his public and private life, it is not strange that his presence at Clermont was most highly esteemed.  A student of men and of books, a man keenly interested in scientific pursuits, his life was a broad one, carrying through all its manifold activities of a strong faith in God, as the guide and director of the lives of men.

     Under Chancellor Livingston's name and the date of birth in the family Bible, one reads the prayer, "The Lord bless and be with him.  Amen."

     His friendships were strong, one of the closest being that with John Jay, who was his law partner for a short time in his early life.  The correspondence of the two great men is among the gems of literature.

     The Chancellor often ended his letters to his friends with "God bless you," as his ultimate wish for their well-being.  When he died in 1815 the grief along the Clover-reach of the Hudson held a peculiar quality, in which respect and proprietorship, pride and affection, were equally mingled.