Philip Livingston was a member of the wealthy and politically important Hudson River Livingston family. 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.
Philip Livingston the Signer, merchant, philanthropist, and statesman was graduated from Yale in 1737.He grew up in the Albany area, dividing his time between his father’s Albany Townhouse and the Manor House built in 1699 in Linlithgo, at the junction of the Roeliff Jansen Kill and the Hudson River. It is part of the Town of Livingston today. Like many of his relatives, he settled in New York City where he entered the import business. He lived in a stone townhouse on Duke Street in Manhattan and also had a forty-acre estate in Brooklyn Heights. He was a successful importer, and Sir Charles Hardy, Governor of the Province of New York, wrote of him in 1755 that, “among the considerable merchants in this city, no one is more esteemed for energy, promptness and public spirit than Philip Livingston.”
Philip married Christina Ten Broeck April 14, 1740. She was a daughter of Colonel Dirck Ten Broeck and Chrystyna Van Buren. Dirck came to Albany in 1662 from New Amsterdam (New York), where he became a prominent citizen. His positions included magistrate, commissary, alderman, recorder and mayor from 1696 to 1698. He was also a member of the first five Provincial Assemblies, Commissioner of Indian Affairs for many years and political agent to Canada four times. Philip and Christina had 9 children, five boys and four girls. From only marriages to Dutch women, Philip was only one quarter Scots, and his children were seven eights Dutch. Only one son, Philip Philip and three daughters, Catherine, Margaret, and Sarah had issue. Philip’s youngest son, Henry Philip Livingston was a captain in General Washington’s Guard during the Revolutionary War. Upon hearing of his father’s failing health, he obtained a leave and was present when Philip passed away.
Among Philip Livingston’s early accomplishments were: advocacy of the founding of Kings, now Columbia, College, establishment of a Professorship of Divinity at Yale in 1746; building of the first meeting house for the Methodist Society in America; and helping to organize the New York Public Library in 1754. That same year, he first entered public service when he was appointed alderman of the East Ward of New York City. Beginning in 1759, he served 3 terms as an elected representative to the Provincial Assembly (British) from New York City. Like many of the early patriots, he initially did not necessarily desire to make a complete break from the mother country, but eventually he aligned himself with the rising opposition to the arbitrary measures the British were imposing on the colonists. In 1764, he assisted in the preparation of the address to Lieutenant-Governor Colden, requesting his help to secure that “great badge of English liberty, the right of His Majesty’s subjects everywhere to be taxed only with their own consent.” He was a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. In 1768, he was elected to the NY Provincial Assembly representing Livingston Manor and was chosen Speaker. However, in 1769, the Assembly determined he could not represent Livingston Manor because he did not live there. The Provincial Assembly was dissolved by the Royal Governor in 1769. Livingston founded the first Chamber of Commerce in 1770, and in 1771, he was one of the first governors of New York Hospital. In 1774, he was a member of the Committee of fifty-one, which chose the New York delegates to the First Continental Congress, and was one of the five selected. While in Congress, he had to divide his time because he was also a member of the New York State Provincial Assembly, of which he was president in 1775. In July 1775, he signed the Olive Branch Petition, a final attempt to achieve an understanding with the Crown. The petition appealed directly to King George III to cease hostilities and restore harmony. But the King refused to respond to the plea and proclaimed the Colonies to be in a state of rebellion.
Philip’s brother William Livingston was a prominent lawyer in New Jersey. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774 to June of 1776, when he was called to command the militia of New Jersey. He was thus not present for the voting on adoption of the Declaration on July 4, 1776, or the signing by the delegates in August. He went on to be the first Governor of New Jersey and to be a signer of the Constitution of the United States.
Philip’s first cousin once removed, Robert R. Livingston was also a member of the Continental Congress and served on the committee of five who were appointed to draw up and prepare the Declaration of Independence. At the time when the signing was taking place, he was also a member of several important New York State committees, and was likely not present at the signing because of these duties. Robert R. Livingston went on to become the first Chancellor of New York State, the highest judicial office. In that position he administered the oath of office to President George Washington. He also distinguished himself as Minister to France in negotiations with Napoleon that led to the purchase in 1803 of the Louisiana Territory. He later became a partner with Robert Fulton in the building and operating of steamboats on the Hudson River. Four members of the New York State delegation were present to sign the Declaration: William Floyd, Francis Lewis, Philip Livingston, and Lewis Morris.
The Constitution of the State of New York was adopted at Kingston NY in April 1777. Philip Livingston was chosen as a senator for the southern district and attended the first meeting of the first Legislature of the State of New York. He remained a member of the Continental Congress and then in May 1778, Philip took his seat in the new United States Congress which was being held in York, Pennsylvania because Philadelphia was under occupation by the British. Despite his health being very precarious at the time, he continued to serve his country in the positions to which he was elected. He died in York June 12, 1778 at age 62. Congress attended his funeral as a body, and declared a mourning period of one month. He is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery in York, Pennsylvania.
Philip’s New York residences played a part in the turmoil of the Revolutionary War. General Washington and his officers met at Philip’s residence in Brooklyn Heights after their defeat in the battle of Long Island, and decided to evacuate the island. The British subsequently used Philip’s Duke Street home as a barracks, and his Brooklyn Heights residence as a Royal Navy hospital. As the British occupied New York City, Philip and his family fled to Kingston, NY where he maintained another residence. Later, the British burned the city of Kingston to the ground as they did Robert R. Livingston’s mansion, Clermont, across the Hudson River.
It was said of him, “In his temper, Mr. Livingston was somewhat irritable, yet exceedingly mild, tender, and affectionate to his family and friends. There was a dignity, with a mixture of austerity, in his deportment, which rendered it difficult for strangers to approach him. He was silent and reserved, and seldom indulged with much freedom in conversation. Fond of reading, and endowed with a solid and discriminating understanding, his mind was replenished with various extensive and useful knowledge. He possessed, in an extraordinary degree, an intuitive perception of character.”
There are several memorials in Washington, DC celebrating the lives of Philip and Robert R. Livingston. Near the Washington Monument is a memorial park honoring the signers, and one of the 56 granite blocks there is engraved with the name of Philip Livingston. In the Rotunda at the National Archives Building is a large mural painting by Barry Faulkner showing a number of the members of the Continental Congress including Robert R. Livingston. In the Rotunda of the US Capitol is the famous painting by John Trumbull entitled “The Declaration of Independence.” Philip Livingston is seated at the extreme right, and Robert R. Livingston is shown standing in the center with the drafting committee of five members. In Statuary Hall in the US Capitol, in the Crypt is a statue of Robert R. Livingston by Erastus Dow Palmer.
Philip Livingston’s grave in Prospect Hill Cemetery, York Pennsylvania, is marked by an obelisk erected by his grandson Stephen Van Rensselaer. Part of the engraving states, “Eminently distinguished for his talents and rectitude, he deservedly enjoyed the confidence of his country and the love and veneration of his friends and children.” A DAR marker is in place that identifies him as a “soldier of the Revolutionary War.” In 2005, the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence attached a plaque to the obelisk identifying him as a Signer of the Declaration. A dedication ceremony was held with a number of his direct descendants participating.
Melvin Phillip Livingston, descendant, 2008
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- Livingston, Philip, descendant
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