By Capt. Franklin Ellis283
The whole of Clermont was included in the several grants made to Robert Livingston, the first lord of the manor, and was first settled by tenants under the conditions of he manor. On the 26th of October, 1694, Livingston conveyed twelve hundred acres of land, south of Roeloff Jansen's Kill,--six hundred acres east of the village of Clermont, and the remainder in that part of the town lately annexed to Germantown,--to Dirck Wessel Ten Broeck, a merchant at Albany, and one of the early immigrants from Holland. The deed for this land states the Janse Shipper, Janse Agonstran, and Jacob Vosburgh were at that time residing in what is now Clermont; and these were undoubtedly the first settlers. All of them lived on the flats along the creek. A dozen years later, Dirck Wessel Ten Broeck--better known as the mayor, from his having filled that position at Albany form 1696 to 1698, a son of the purchaser--came to live on the land, and died there at the house of his son, Tobias, in 1717. Another son, Samuel, had married Maria Van Rensselaer and settled in Claverack, some time after 1712. He became the ancestor of the Ten Broecks of that town, as well as of the many persons of that name in Clermont at a later period. After Tobias Ten Broeck's death, in 1724, his son John sold his interests to Dirck Wessel Ten Broeck, of Claverack, and removed to New Jersey, where he became the ancestor of Ten Broeck, the celebrated turf-man. The above Dirck Wessel Ten Broeck had a son, Samuel, born in Clermont in 1745, who served in the Revolution, and afterwards became a general of militia. He lived in the house known as the "old Ten Broeck place," east of Clermont village,--which was erected before the Revolution. He was a highly-esteemed citizen. His brother Leonard was born in 1752, and also served in the Revolution. His home was north of the Tinklepaugh place. Leonard W., a son of the latter, became an active politician, was a general of the militia, and a sheriff of Columbia county. The Ten Broeck property was exchanged by that family for the Walter T. Livingston place in Livingston, some time after 1808.
The second conveyance of land was made by the lord of the manor to his second son, Robert Livingston, Jr., an attorney at Albany, as a reward, it is said, for having discovered and frustrated a plan of some hostile Indians to make an incursion on the manor. The will which devised this property was executed Feb. 10, 1722, and became effective on the death of the devisor, in 1728. It bequeathed all that part of the manor southwest of the Roeloff Jansen to said Robert Livingston Jr., and entailed it upon him and his male heirs by the name of Livingston, except the 6000 acres purchased by the crown for the Palatines, the Dirck Wessel Ten Broeck land, before alluded to, and the farms in the tenure of Jacob Vosburgh, Cornelia, widow of Brom Docker, Hendrick Chissim, John Chissim, Jacob Houghtaling, and Captain Johannes Dyckman, all located on the lowlands of the Roeloff Jansen, from its mouth to Elizaville. These, then, were settlers at that period, 1722, as well as twelve or fifteen families,--Palatines,--living in the western part of the town. Some time after his father's death, Robert Livingston erected a very fine stone mansion on his demesne, on the banks of the Hudson, and, to distinguish it from the old manor-house in the town of Livingston, this house, and the property belonging thereto, were sometimes called the "Lower Manor." In his old age, Mr. Livingston lived here with his only son, Robert R., also an attorney, and better known as the judge, from his holding that position on the King's bench. The latter married the lovely Margaret Beekman, in 1742, and was the father of the chancellor and others of that illustrious branch of the Livingston family, a fuller account of which appears elsewhere in this book. Both Robert Livingston and his son, the judge, were outspoken adherents of the American cause, but neither lived to witness the independence of the struggling colonies. The former died in June, 1775, soon after the battle of Bunker Hill, his death being hastened, it is supposed by the report of American disaster in that engagement. The judge, though less sanguine of the ultimate result of the impending conflict than his father, warmly abetted the patriots after the war had begun, and erected a powder-mill on his estate, which was operated during the Revolution by his son, John R. Another son, Henry B., was a colonel in the Federal army, and was with the gallant General Richard Montgomery the judge's son-in-law, at the storming of Quebec, in the fall on 1775. Soon after this battle the judge also passed away, thus leaving a widowed mother and daughter in that household which had been thrice afflicted by death in 1775.
Just before this period, Robert R., the chancellor, had built himself a fine country-seat, a little south of the old home, in which, at this time, lived his mother and youngest brother, Edward. His zeal in the cause of freedom had made him and others arch rebels in the estimation of the British, and the objects of summary punishment. Accordingly, when General Vaughan made an incursion up the Hudson, in the fall of 1777, to afford a diversion in favor of the imperiled army of Burgoyne, at Saratoga, he burned Kingston, the home of several patriots, and sent a detachment of troops to destroy Clermont, the home of the future chancellor. Before landing the troops, the commander fired a cannon-ball at the house, which struck a locust tree, removing several branches. This tree is still standing on the lawn at Clermont.
It is said that shortly before the advent of the British Mrs. Livingston had hospitably entertained two wounded officers of that army, who proposed to extend their protection to the house and family. This was refused by the sturdy mother, who would rather suffer the loss of the property than have it protected by the enemies of her country. "The wounded men were sent to the house of a Tory neighbor, and preparations for the quick departure of the family made. All were busy, the females of the household all giving a hand to assist the general packing for the removal of clothing and all movable valuables. Silver and other articles of value were buried in the wood; books were placed in the basin of a dry fountain and covered with rubbish; wagons and carts were piled with baggage and all necessary articles required by a large family, both for immediate use as well as preservation. Even at this hour, Mrs. Livingston burst into a hearty laugh at the odd figure of an old black woman perched upon this miscellaneous assortment of trunks and bundles. There was not much time to spare, for as the last load from the house had disappeared, and when the carriages containing the family had reached the top of the hill overlooking the house, they beheld the smoke already arising from its walls. It had been fired as soon as entered by the British soldiers, one party of whom had arrived from Rhinebeck, which place they had burned, and another had landed from the British ship-of-war, which lay a little south of the house."*
After destroying both the mansions at this place, the British heard of the capitulation of Burgoyne, and did not proceed farther up the Hudson, but returned to New York. Madame Livingston and her family had meanwhile taken refuge in Salisbury, Mass., just beyond the State line, in a stone house, which is still standing there, near a picturesque lake. Hearing of the retreat of Vaughan's forces, they soon returned to their old home, desolated by the ruthless enemy. The following year Madame Livingston rebuilt her mansion, using the same side walls, which had remained firmly standing. On the 19th of November, 1778, she wrote to the American commandant of this section, asking for the exemption of certain mechanics living in Clermont, who were on duty in the companies of Captains P. Smith, Tiel Rockefeller, and Clum. She desired the men to assist her in rebuilding her house and barns. This house is yet standing, and is illustrated on another page. It is now the home of Clermont Livingston, a grandson of the chancellor, and great-grandson of the patriotic Margaret Beekman.
After the war the chancellor erected a more elegant mansion than the British had destroyed, a little south of the old place, and connected it with the maternal home by a beautiful walk. Both mansions are finely situated, and the latter was described by Spafford, in 1812, as follows: "Its front on the Hudson is 104 feet, depth 91 feet, and it consists of a main body of two stories and four pavilions. The south, or garden front, is a green-house, with bathing-room and offices adjoining. Over these is a large, elegant breakfasting-room and four bedrooms.
"The second story is conveniently divided into rooms, connected by a long gallery. One of the pavilions contains a well-chosen library of 4000 volumes in various languages. The north faces a fine lawn, skirted on one side by a beautiful wood on a bank raised about ten feet, terminating in a second lawn, from the rear of which springs precipitately a rocky ridge covered with shrubs, trees, and evergreens, affording a fine, rich background. This is balanced on the opposite side of the lawn by a beautiful avenue of locust-trees, planted irregularly, through which winds the road to the house. The Hudson is seen in broken views through the branches of these trees. From the front of the house, which faces the river, the view is extensive and highly picturesque. The Hudson is partially hidden by clumps of trees on its banks, and some islands covered with wood add a pleasing variety to its scenery, while the opposite shore is in full view, with the adjacent fields, farms, and forests rising like an amphitheatre toward the Catskill mountains, which terminate the view by an altitude of 8000 feet. The elegant display of light and shade occasioned by their irregularity, their fine blue color, the climbing of the mists up their sides, the intervention of clouds which cap their summits or shroud their slopes only with their occasional reflection from the surface of the Hudson, succeeded by the bursting terrors of their thunder-gusts, all combined from this point of view, associate a mass of interesting, picturesque, and sublime objects.
"The south front of the house overlooks the pleasure-grounds and a fine, grassy vale in the highest cultivation, skirted with a flowering shrubbery, with a rich and extensive background of various fruit-trees.
"The bold and lofty banks of the Hudson, affording a greater variety of forest-trees than I ever recollect to have seen before in the same area, have given to Mr. Livingston the ready means of forming an elegant walk of near two miles long under their shade, from which at every step you catch a new view of the Hudson and the scenery on the opposite side. In the style of all these improvements art is so blended with nature that it is difficult to discriminate their respective beauties. The natural features are everywhere preserved, though softened and harmonized by the happiest effects of art."
The essentials of this place remain the same as described sixty-six years ago. Here the chancellor lived after his retirement from public life, and fostered Fulton's project to build a steamboat, which was named after his home, "The Clermont." He was deeply interested in agriculture, and her first employed the use of gypsum in New York, and introduced the race of merino sheep into the United States. He died March 26, 1813, and was interred in the family vault in Clermont.
The only children of the chancellor married Robert L. and Edward P. Livingston, members of other branches of the original family. These occupied the two mansions in 1825, when Lafayette last visited America. He was the guest of the Livingstons, and was tendered a grand reception on these grounds. "The lawn for half a mile was crowded with people, and the waters in front were white with vessels freighted with visitors from the neighboring counties, and all the cups, plates, gloves, and slippers bore the image or name of Lafayette."‡
The author above quoted is a son of David A. Clarkson, an attorney of New York, who married a daughter of Edward P. Livingston. In 1858 the sisters of this gentleman purchased the Chancellor Livingston property and placed it in complete repair; and it is yet, as in years gone by, one of the most magnificent country-seats on the Hudson.
It has been stated that some of the Palatines were early settlers of Clermont. Among these may be mentioned, as being there as early as 1715, families bearing the names of Sagendorph, Rockefeller, Ryfenbergh, Haver, Minckler, Kilmer, Kun (Coon), Ham, Gardner, and Lasher. The latter settled south of Germantown, and the numerous persons of that name in the southern part of that county are the descendants of three brothers, Conrad, George, and John. The old stone house erected by Conrad in 1752 near the Lutheran church, just across the town line, is still standing, and is now the home of E. and P. G. Lasher. The other brothers built houses near by, which have been removed, the three forming a triangle. They had a well in common, which yet remains, as well as an old pear-tree, said to have been planted by Conrad more than one hundred and twenty-five years ago. The Coon family lived on the neck of Clermont, east of Elizaville. In 1790 there were, besides those already mentioned, living in the town, in the northwestern part, families named Proper, Gyselbergh, Gardner, Peter Herder, J. Canroe, Loveman, and J. Minckler; in the vicinity of and at Clermont village, P. Ham, M. Cooper, H. Best, the Ten Broecks, Dr. Thomas Broadhead, and Dr. Wm. Wilson. The latter came in 1784 from Scotland at the solicitation of Chancellor Livingston, whose family physician he was. Dr. Wilson succeeded Peter Van Ness as a first judge of the county. He died in 1828. A son, Wm. H. Wilson, now eighty-eight years old, occupies the homestead. The latter engaged in the War of 1812 as hospital surgeon, and was appointed surgeon in the regular army before the close of the war, when but twenty-two years old. South of this place lived the Rev. Mr. Romeyn, Ira Gale, Andries A. Bortel, J. Mickler, P. D. Rockefeller, Jan Ham, James Haines, and H. Blass; and from the post-road west, toward the Hudson, A. Minckler, J. Minkler, Philip H. Clum, I. Fingar, N. and W. A. Sagendorph, John Cooper, G. Denninger, H. Coon, M. Smith, and Peter Feller. The latter lived on the place at present occupied by the family of Uriah Feller, a grandson. Jacob Feller lived east of the post-road, on the place now occupied by his grandson, Geo. W. Feller. And still farther west than those above named were the Collins, Clum, Lawrence, Meyer, and Van Valkenbergh families. The system of life-leases hindered the advancement of the town, and kept its inhabitants from attaining the prosperity enjoyed in some other parts of the county. In 1875 the population was nine hundred and thirty-seven, eighty-four less than in 1870.
‡ Clarkson's "Clermont"
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