On November 27, 1746, Robert R. (or R.R.) Livingston—later known as “the Chancellor”—becomes the first of nine children eventually born to Judge Robert Livingston and Margaret Beekman Livingston in their family seat, Clermont, on the Hudson River in upstate New York.
The Livingston family were proprietors of large land claims in the Hudson Valley and their attempt to enforce restrictive leases led to tenant uprisings in 1766, during which tenant farmers threatened to kill the lord of Livingston Manor, Robert Livingston (R.R.’s relative), and destroy his opulent homes. The British army suppressed the revolt, saving the Livingstons.
In 1777, the British army burned down Clermont and another of R.R.’s estates, Belvedere, in retribution for Livingston’s decision to side with the Patriots. During the 11 years between the tenant uprising and the burning of Clermont, Robert R. Livingston, who had graduated from King’s College (now Columbia University) in 1764, had established himself as a lawyer and political leader. He represented the Provincial Congress of New York at the Continental Congress in 1776 and helped to draft the Declaration of Independence, although he returned to New York before he was able to sign the document.
During the War of Independence, Livingston served as secretary of foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation. In 1783, he accepted the post of chancellor of the state of New York; he bore the title as a moniker for the rest of his life. “The Chancellor” was a Federalist delegate to the ratification convention in New York, and as New York’s senior judge administered President George Washington’s first oath of office. Under President Thomas Jefferson, Livingston negotiated the Louisiana Purchase and, while minister to France, sponsored Robert Fulton’s development of the steamboat.
Livingston died on February 26, 1813. Today, both a bust in the U.S. Capitol and the name of New York’s Masonic Library memorialize R.R. Livingston as “the Chancellor.”