| 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
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
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.