Philip Livingston

Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Philip Livingston((January 15, 1714 – June 12, 1778)

Philip Livingston was born in Albany, NY. His father was a merchant, involved in the founding of Albany and obtaining its charter. In the merchant trade, the Livingstons engaged in what is known as the “Triangle Trade”, carrying manufactured goods from Europe to Africa, slaves from Africa to the Colonies and West Indies, and carrying tobacco, sugar, and other raw materials from the Colonies to Europe.

Did Philip Livingston own slaves?

In 1750 Livingston & Sons had three vessels working the African coast. They also owned shares in the Stork and the Sarah and Elizabeth.[7] When the Wolf docked in New York Harbor in May 1751, 66 slaves had survived the voyage out of 147 boarded.

Philip’s mother was Catherine Van Brugh, daughter of the Mayor of Albany. Philip had three elder brothers. His father and brothers joined in the merchant business and slave trade. Philip probably received his early education from a combination of a the local reverend and private tutors. He entered Yale College in 1733, and graduated in 1737. He immediately joined his father in the merchant business, and his industry and business sense made him quite successful. His ancestry links him with Robert the Bruce and Alfred the Great.

In 1740, at twenty-six years of age, he became smitten with Christine Ten Broeck. Her father was prominent in Albany society, and before long they were married. She was twenty-one. They attended the Dutch Reformed Church. Their first son, Henry followed that same year.

During the time of the war, Christine was forced like other signers wives, to flee with her children to avoid capture. She spent much of the war in Kingston.

“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.” Melvin Phillip Livingston, descendant, 2008

In 1754, he ventured into politics, and was elected alderman at age forty. Albany had grown to 10,881 people. Philip continued to serve as alderman for nine years, ably representing the people of his district. In this capacity, he promoted Kings College and the founding of the New York Public Library, New York Hospital, and St. Andrews Benevolent association.

In 1763 he was elected to the New York provincial assembly, and two years later protested the Stamp Act with that assembly. Like others, he wished for rapproachment with England. He became increasingly doubtful of that prospect, however.

“When his [the King’s] service requires it, we shall ever be ready to exert ourselves with loyalty, fidelity, and zeal; and as we have always complied, in the most dutiful manner, with every requisition made by his directions, we, with all humility, hope that his majesty, who, and whose ancestors, have long been the guardians of British liberty, will so protect us in our rights, as to prevent our falling into the abject state of being forever hereafter incapable of doing what can merit either his distinction or approbation. Such must be the deplorable state of that wretched people, who (being taxed by a power subordinate to none, and in a great degree unacquainted with their circumstances) can call nothing their own.”

Colonial Hall, Philip Livingston

The Declaration of Independence

In 1774, Philip was elected to the Continental Congress. His oratory represented New York, and helped to tip the scales toward independence, as the Crown refused to listen to the colonists. He voted for independence, and signed the Declaration with the rest in 1776. During the war, since Britain controlled most of New York, he lost his lands, confiscated by the Crown.

In April of 1777, Philip became a senator for the newly formed state of New York, having participated in the drafting of its state constitution. He was then elected to the United States Congress, but the stress of the war years, fleeing from the British, took its toll, and he died in 1778 of dropsy, or congestive heart failure. He was sixty-two. He did not live to see the firm launch of the new nation. Some say he actually dropped dead during a session of Congress. 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.

“Mr. Livingston is said to have been naturally silent and reserved, and, to strangers, to have appeared austere. Yet be was uncommonly mild and affectionate to his family and friends. He was a firm believer in the great truths of the Christian system, and a sincere and humble follower of the divine Redeemer.” As with most real people, some had one impression of him, others another, as is seen in these quotes:

Colonial Hall

“In the Second Congress, Philip served on a number of important committees, including the marine committee, the committee on Indian affairs, the committee on commerce, and the treasury board. “He was very useful”, a delegate said, “in committees where a knowledge of figures or commercial subjects was required”. Another delegate said, “There was a dignity, with a mixture of austerity, in his deportment, which rendered it difficult for strangers to approach him, and which made him a terror to those who swerved from the line or faltered in the path of personal virtue and patriotic duty.” Another member of Congress reported, “There is no holding conversation with him. He blusters away.”

On the eve of independence there were four Livingstons in Congress: Philip, his younger brother William, young cousin John Jay and the still younger cousin Robert. All Livingstons believed that America should be free, yet not wholly independent of the mother country. It was Philip’s cousin, Robert, who perhaps summed up the family’s attitude best of all, “Every good man wishes that America should remain free, in this I join heartily; at the same time I do not desire she should be wholly independent of the mother country. How to reconcile their jarring principles, I profess I am altogether at a loss.” Once the vote for independence was in, however, the Livingston family abandoned this position and accepted reality. Philip was the only Livingston present on the day the Declaration was signed. Thus he signed for the family.

Following the war, most of his lands and belongings were restored to his family, except those in Kingston, which the British burned to the ground. His wife Christine lived to see his dream, returning to their home in Albany, where she died June 29, 1801 (82) .

Among his descendants were First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, actress Jane Wyatt, writer Harry Crosby, and cinematographer Floyd Crosby and his son David Crosby.