Robert Livingston

Robert Livingston (1654-1728), colonial politician and landowner, was secretary for Indian affairs in New York province and greatly influenced British policy respecting western lands.

Youngest son of an eminent Presbyterian pastor, Robert Livingston was born on Dec. 13, 1654, in Ancrum, Scotland. His father was exiled in 1663 for resisting attempts to Anglicize the Scottish Church. Robert grew up in Rotterdam, Holland, where he received business training and became fluent in Dutch. Following his father's death in 1672, he emigrated to New England and then moved to Albany.

New York had just been restored to the English, and Livingston's background ideally suited him to become an intermediary between Dutch burghers and proprietary officials. From 1675 he was secretary to the commissioners directing affairs in the Albany area and ex officio town clerk. His marriage in 1679 to Alida Schuyler (widow of Nicholas van Rensselaer) allied him with the province's leading Dutch families, and his knowledge of the Indian trade enabled him to purchase prime tracts of land, including thousands of acres on the eastern bank of the Hudson River. In 1686 Livingston received a patent which allowed him to consolidate his landholdings into Livingston Manor.

As secretary for Indian affairs, Livingston fought against the trade in French furs and promoted England's commercial influence to the west. Albany wholesalers successfully blocked his attempt to prohibit, and then tax doubly, their Montreal traffic. However, Livingston's meticulous records bolstered New York's claims to the western lands in 1780. He also stressed the necessity of friendly relations with the Iroquois. Successive colonial governors came to rely heavily on Livingston's reports and recommendations.

Though favoring the dethroned James II, Livingston accepted the succession of William and Mary to the English throne. But his hostility to Jacob Leisler's rebellion in New York led his foes to attempt sequestration of his lands and offices; trips to England were required to confirm his posts and properties. He served on the councils of several governors, carefully invested his income from official positions, obtained dual salaries for holding more than one job, and probably profiteered in public contracts, such as the one (1710) for provisioning the Palatine German immigrants.

Livingston was elected from Albany to the New York Assembly in 1709 and after 1716 represented his own manor there. Chosen Speaker in 1718, he supported the Assembly in disputes with the governor. However, Livingston broke with most of the assemblymen over furtrading restrictions. Gradually he arranged for his son Philip to succeed him in administrative posts and in 1725 retired because of ill health. He died in early October 1728.


Further Reading on Robert Livingston

A scholarly account, generally favorable, of Livingston's career is Lawrence H. Leder, Robert Livingston, 1654-1728, and the Politics of Colonial New York (1961). Edwin B. Livingston, The Livingstons of Livingston Manor (1910), is somewhat limited by its almost exclusive reliance upon official records.