Livingston's Yuletide Legacy

by Steven Mann

A Visit from St. Nicholas, now referred to as The Night Before Christmas, is perhaps the best known of the Christmas holiday children's stories. Poughkeepsie's own Henry Livingston Jr. has been credited with writing this beautiful story. Many of Henry's published stories and poems were written between the time his first wife died and his marriage to the second.

As part of the recent historic tour of the cemetery cosponsored by the Friends, one of the impersonators was Michael Frazier of Rhinebeck. Michael is a retired local educator and in retirement is serving as Treasurer of the Rhinebeck Historical Society and is a former President of The Museum of Rhinebeck History. He has authored a history of Rhinebeck published by Arcadia Press. He portrayed Abraham Lincoln in Rhinebeck on July 4 and was the perfect choice for portraying Henry Livingston

Henry was the son of Dr. Henry Gilbert Livingston and Susannah Storm Conklin. His grandfather was the noted Capt. Jan Storm, a founder of the First Reformed Church of Poughkeepsie. He was born October 13, 1748, in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess, NY and died February 29, 1828 in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess, NY. He married (1) SARAH WELLES May 18, 1774 in Stamford, CT, daughter of the noted REVEREND NOAH WELLES of Stamford, CT's First Congregational Church and ABAGAIL WOOLSEY. Sarah was born November 07, 1752 in Stamford and died there in September 01, 1783. At that time he had his children boarded out and he concentrated on writing. He married (2) JANE M. PATTERSON September 01, 1793. She was born January 22, 1769 and died August 26, 1835.

Known as Major Henry Livingston for his service in the Revolutionary War, he was also a Judge, having been appointed by Governor Clinton. Like his father he was a surveyor and map maker by profession. Of course, he may be best known for his prowess as an author. Henry is buried in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery with many other family members. Henry and Sarah had ten children, not all of whom lived to marry. He later had five children with Jane.

During his widowerhood of ten years, the Major was occupied with poetry and drawings for his friends and family, some of which ended up in the pages of NEW YORK MAGAZINE and the POUGHKEEPSIE JOURNAL. Although he signed his drawings, his poetry was usually anonymous or signed simply, "R".
There has been great controversy over the years about Livingston having written the Christmas poem as it first appeared in the TROY SENTINAL on December 23, 1823. The poem definitely came out of the home of Clement Moore, and the person giving the poem to the newspaper, without Moore's knowledge, certainly believed the poem had been written by Moore. It is documented, however, that several of Livingston's children remembered their father reading that very same poem to them a good 15 years prior to the 1823 publication date.

It has been recorded that as early as 1837, Charles Fenno Hoffman, a friend of Moore's, put Moore's name on the poem. In 1844, Moore published the poem in his own book, POEMS. At various times in his later life, Moore wrote out the poem in longhand to give to his close friends. Even English department faculty at Vassar College have gotten into the controversy in the last decade and are quite sure Livingston did author the original document
The mystery remains tucked away, perhaps with the remains of the esteemed Henry Livingston, in his burial plot at the historic Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery.

 

All Rights Reserved Friends of the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery, Inc. 2008-2017.