William Livingston


William Livingston was born in Albany, New York, in the year 1723. His grandmother raised him till the age of fourteen. He attended Yale and graduated in 1741. He was married to Susanna French, whose father was a New Jersey landowner. She had 13 children. The three oldest daughters came to be known as the three graces because they were so lovely.


Livingston then chose to pursue a career in law. In three years he became known as the supporter of causes against the more conservative factions in the city. He had risen to leadership of his faction by 1758. He was an excellent writer and wrote verses. Unfortunately Livingston and his supporters split due to issues over British taxation of the colonies.


In 1760 Livingston had purchased land in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, which he moved to after he had retired. Here he built Liberty Hall in 1772 and 1773. He lived at Liberty Hall for only short periods. It was not safe for him and his family because Liberty Hall was often invaded because he was wanted by the British. He continued to write verses and planned to live the life of a farmer. However, the Revolutionary upsurge brought him back from retirement. He joined the Essex County, New Jersey, Committee of Correspondence. He also became a representative in the First Continental Congress in 1774 and a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in 1775-1776.


Livingston left Congress in June 1776 to command the New Jersey militia as a brigadier general. He held this post until he was elected as the first governor of the state later in the year. He held his position strong through the war. In fact, he held it for 14 years until his death in 1790, being re-elected each term. Livingston contributed much to the state. During his administration, the government was organized, the war was won, and New Jersey was on her way as a sovereign state.


Livingston was selected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Though his duty as a governor kept him from attending every session. He did not arrive at the Convention until June 5 and then also missed several weeks in July. But he performed vital committee work; he was chairman of the committee that reached a compromise on the slavery issue. Livingston supported the New Jersey Plan. He urged New Jersey’s rapid ratification of the Constitution in 1787. Yale then awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree.


On July 25 in 1790 Livingston died at age 67. He was buried at the local Presbyterian Churchyard. A year after his burial his remains were moved to a vault that his son owned in Manhattan at Trinity Churchyard. Then they were moved once again in 1844 to Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. Livingston was so remarkably plain in his dress and manners. He was easy going, mild, witty, and fond of anecdote. He was very Christian like. He had acquired an elegance of style, which placed him among the first writers of his time.