A Catskill Catalog: May 12, 2010
Lincoln R. Long was a teacher, Methodist clergyman, public-school administrator and state legislator. Born in 1861, Long grew up in Jefferson, over in Schoharie County, and taught, preached, or administered schools, at various times, in Sidney, Callicoon, Hancock, New Paltz, Walden, Kingston, and Margaretville. In Margaretville he served, first, as Methodist pastor, then as high school principal, and, finally as district school superintendent.
In 1918, Lincoln R. Long was elected from eastern Delaware County to the New York State Assembly.
At the end of his career, Long traded his village home in Margaretville for the New Kingston farm of his friend, Thomas Winter. It was in 1920s New Kingston that Long spent his retirement, writing a column on local history, published regularly in the Catskill Mountain News in the middle years of that decade.
My friend, Pete Palen, gathered many of those columns into a book, “The Long Papers,” published as part of the 1972 New Kingston Valley Whoop-de-doo, a 35-odd-years-ago celebration of all things rural. Copies of “The Long Papers” can still be found at used bookshops.
Long made a startling statement in his March 28, 1924 column. He began an article about the Livingston family by noting that there were “still two or three farms in New Kingston Valley paying rent to the assigns of the original leaseholders.” This was in 1924!
Long’s observation reminds us that we are not very far removed from the days when vast stretches of the Catskills belonged to land-rich aristocrats, or, at least, to people who could somehow trace a line of inheritance or purchase or possession of land back to land-rich aristocrats. Everybody else just rented. Or leased, actually. A typical Catskill Mountain lease charged a yearly rent of two fat hens, and one day’s labor, given to the landlord, with wagon, sled, or plow, drawn by a yoke of oxen or pair of horses, with driver. That labor would be on the landlord’s projects within 10 miles of the tenant’s farm.
The labor charge could be satisfied by payment of a dollar and a quarter, plus 20 bushels of wheat. In good years, that was easier.
Odd that Long’s lease-paying neighbors were in the New Kingston Valley, since New Kingston was free land, given outright by Chancellor Robert Livingston to the burned-out residents of Kingston, who lost their homes to the British attack that sacked that river village in 1777. The Chancellor gave 5,000 acres to the Kingston folks. The valley is simply bigger than that, so some farms fell within the Great Tracts that comprised the vast acreage of the lease-holding aristocrats.
These particular valley farm-leases were “given in 1829 by Edward Livingston of Louisiana acting through attorneys in this region.”
Edward Livingston was the Chancellor’s younger brother, and, I think, a bit of a scamp. Rumor has always said he lost his Catskill Mountain estate in a poker game.
Not that Edward Livingston wasn’t an accomplished player in early American politics, law, business, and civic affairs. He was. He was just…well, he was just the younger brother of a great man; that can never be easy, so we’ll forgive him his moments of failure and loss.
Edward was born in 1764 when his brother Robert, the future American founder and state Chancellor, was already 18 years old. Edward was the 10th and youngest child of Judge Robert R. Livingston and his redoubtable wife and life-partner, Margaret Beekman Livingston.
Both his father and his powerful grandfather died when Edward was 11 years old. His mother and 29-year-old brother now directed the boy’s upbringing.
Edward walked 18 miles every Monday morning from his home at Clermont to his school in Kingston, taught by Dominie George Jacob Leonard Doll, pastor of Kingston’s Dutch Reformed Church, and a passionate supporter of American independence. On Fridays, Edward would walk 18 miles home, boarding in Kingston during the week.
When Edward was 13, he witnessed the destruction of both his Kingston school and Clermont home, both burned down by the British. After the Brits left, the Dominie conducted school outdoors.
Soon, Edward received an unexpected inheritance. Chancellor Robert Livingston, as first-born male, could have kept all his father’s and grandfather’s holdings intact. Instead, he split the Hardenbergh Patent lands, the Catskills, among his siblings.
Edward Livingston got his 8,000 acres or so, and had a Catskill Mountain manor house erected, but, in the early years of the American Republic, he was busy elsewhere. A three-time Member of Congress, Edward was a lawyer who served as United States Attorney and was elected Mayor of New York.
He was tireless in his leadership during the city’s yellow fever epidemic, but a series of reverses left Edward Livingston bankrupt and ill and he left New York for the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. There, Edward Livingston became Mayor of New Orleans, inviting General Jackson to occupy the city in 1812.
And, it has always been said, he lost his Catskill Mountain estate, called Locust Grove, in a New Orleans card game.
So, I was thrilled when the fine regional historian, Diane Galusha, traced Locust Grove back to “a Frenchman named Anthony Laussat” in a recent article published in The Bridge, Dispatches from the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown. The Frenchman and his wife “reputedly established an elegant country dwelling they named ‘Solitude’ on a large expanse of land acquired from Edward Livingston.”
Who better to lose an estate to in a New Orleans poker game than a Frenchman named Laussat?