The British Are Coming to Clermont
By Mindy Potts Sept 2002
Webpage and Notes by Cliff Lamere 9 Nov 2003
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This historical article about Clermont, Columbia County, NY is part of series written by Mindy Potts for publication in the monthly newspaper "OK Times & The Hudson River Sampler", Northern Columbia County Edition. Published in Stuyvesant, Columbia Co., NY, the newspaper also distributes a Southern Columbia County and Northern Dutchess County edition. The text and title of the original article may have been slightly revised for this webpage so that they would be more meaningful to a geographically diverse audience.
Original publication: Sept 2002, pg 1
Original title: The British Are Coming to Clermont
(Introduction by Cliff Lamere)
The British Are Coming to Clermont
On September 21, at the site of the Livingston Family manor, Clermont State Park, there will be a demonstration. Reenactors of British soldiers will be
showing techniques for fighting and using weapons of the time of the Revolutionary War, 225 years ago. There will also be, as a part of the
normal tour of the house at Clermont from September through December, a display of weapons and other military artifacts and letters written during and about the war. Another part of the exhibit are panels describing the findings of an archeological dig at Clermont.
The reason for this exhibit is that October 17th marks the 225th anniversary of the burning of Clermont, the Livingstons' home. The Livingstons, a wealthy and powerful family in Columbia County had been very active in the Revolutionary War almost from the start. Their house was not
the only target in the fall of 1777, the town of Kingston and other houses along the Hudson River were also attacked. The burning of these sites along the Hudson River was actually part of a larger campaign.
But first let's start with an introduction of the British leaders during the Revolutionary War. There weren't many British officers willing to come over and fight in the colonies because they saw the colonists as fellow Englishmen, but Commander-in-Chief of the North American British forces was General Howe. Under him were three officers who had key roles in this part of the war in 1777, Colonel St.Leger, General Clinton and General Burgoyne.
General Burgoyne had a three pronged attack plan for capturing the colony of New York. He would take his troops in from the north through Canada and battle his way down to Albany. Colonel St. Leger would take his troops in through Oswego and down the Mohawk to Albany and General Howe was to make his way up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany, and the three military forces would pin in the rebels and take New York.
General Howe, under the impression he was to go up the Hudson only if General Burgoyne needed him, left General Clinton in charge at New York City and proceeded to take Philadelphia. Colonel St. Leger fought the Americans at the bloody battle of Oriskany and won. After receiving word that the American General Arnold and his troops were coming to aid the rebels, the Native Americans abandoned the British. Without their help, St. Leger was forced to retreat to Canada. General Burgoyne originally was making headway into New York but then he began having trouble. Clinton got word of this and moved up the Hudson to attack the Fort Montgomery and Fort Clinton and took them successfully. Clinton then attacked Fort Constitution, but the Americans had retreated. At the same time this was happening, General Burgoyne was losing to the Americans at Saratoga. General Clinton assumed his battles had helped draw American forces away from Burgoyne and awaited word from him, but when he heard nothing, he sent General Vaughn up the Hudson River to try and get information about Burgoyne. Vaughn set fire to Kingston and over 200 other homes and barns along the Hudson River. By destroying these places, Vaughn was under the impression he was destroying crops and supplies that were for the American Army. Vaughn stopped his destruction at Clermont. He had been hearing reports that Burgoyne had surrendered at Saratoga and while not fully believing these reports, there are also American troops beginning to line the banks of the river. Vaughn decided to retreat back down the Hudson.
The Livingston family escaped before the British reach the manor. They were tipped off by a British officer who had been injured and staying at Clermont. This man was a relative of Livingston Family matriarch, Margaret Beekman Livingston's son-in-law and he was a wounded officer and the family allowed him to remain with them. When word came that Clermont could be
burned, the officer offered to remain and protect the house, but Margaret Beekman Livingston would not be protected by the enemy. They buried some valuable items. Hid some items and carried away some items and the entire household packed up and left for Salsbury, Massachusetts. When the Livingston's returned, they rebuilt their home and the house and the land surrounding is has become Clermont State Historic Site.
I mentioned earlier that the Livingstons had been involved in the war almost since its start. Of Margaret Beekman Livingston's 10 surviving children, six were either serving in the war or married to men serving in the war. According to Travis Bowman and Matthew Zembo's "Calamities of War," "Chancellor Robert R. Livingston is the family member most active in the
Revolution. Due his prominence in New York, he occupied several important government positions throughout and after the war. In April of 1775, he was elected as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. A year, later, he is given the honor of being one of the five men chosen to draft the Declaration of Independence. Although Thomas Jefferson wrote most of the document, Robert Livingston's inclusion on the committee would help insure New York support of the document. In 1777, he is elected Chancellor of the state, the highest judicial position. It is in his capacity as Chancellor that Robert Livingston will administer the oath of office to George Washington as the first President of the United States." The stories of our history can easily seem like - just that - stories - not dramatic and traumatic events that happened to real people. Maybe its difficult for us to imagine a 6 year war on our own doorsteps, in our backyards. But its easy to imagine the pride they felt for their homes, the heartbreak they felt for loved-ones, the passion they felt for their country. It might be easy to forget a specific battles in a war that happened 225 years ago, but if we remember the stories of individuals, if we visit historical societies and historical sites and read the letters written by those who were there, those who were touched by the war, we can remember the sacrifices that gained us the country we have today.
You can visit Clermont daily. The grounds are open from dawn until dusk. If you'd like to see the exhibit and go on a tour, you can go on a tour anytime from 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily except Mondays through October 31st. After October 31, winter schedules take over and tours are only on weekends.
A special thanks to the staff at Clermont, especially Heidi Hill and Curator of Collections, Travis Bowman, for their help with this article.
Website to the Clermont State Historic Site: http://www.friendsofclermont.org/
Visitors since 9 Nov 2003
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