Susannah French Livingston
Wife of William Livingston, Signer of the Declaration of Independence
1723 – 1789 A.D.
Few women experienced more of the annoyances of war without real suffering to themselves or immediate friends, than Susannah French Livingston, wife of William Livingston, first popular governor of New Jersey, and her three eldest daughters, William Livingston was distinguished no less for his militant patriotism, which the British found so mischievous that they set a price on his head, than for his three daughters, know as the “Three Graces,” for their wit and beauty. William Livingston was a brother of Philip Livingston, son of Philip Livingston Second Lord of Livingston Manor and one of the great landed proprietors, who, like the Schuylers, the Van Rensselaers, and Van Cortlandts, threw the weight of their wealth and influence with the patriotic wealth and influence with the patriotic cause.
Susannah French Livingston was a granddaughter of Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brockholst, of Albany, and inherited much of the public spirit and shrewd sense of that doughty old patrician. She and her husband were very close together in thought and purpose, and it is known that they relied greatly upon her. He was wealthy, on of the foremost lawyers of New York, and a keen incisive writer. In 1772, he built a mansion near Elizabeth, N.J., which became known as “Liberty Hall,” famous for its hospitality and gaiety, even in the darkest days of the Revolution. Many stories are told of the pranks of the Livingston girls and their wit and audacity.
In 1776, upon Sir William Howe’s arrival on Staten Island, it was thought best by Governor Livingston to remove his family from Elizabeth, and they went to Basking Ridge in Somerset, N.J., where Lady Stirling, a sister of the Governor lived. In the spring, Mrs. Livingston and her three daughters were on their way back to take up there residence again at Elizabeth, when they were met by General Washington, who persuaded the mother to return to Basking Ridge, as it was extremely dangerous to go to their old home.
The first attempt made on Governor Livingston’s life was in July, 1777. The family were then living at Percipany, N.J., and in the night a number of Tories and a small force of British troops came to the house and decided to wait until morning to capture him. All unconscious of the danger, the Governor arose, just before daybreak, as was his custom, saddled his horse, and when the cordon surrounded the house as the sun was coming up, was miles away.
In June of 1779, the British made an incursion into Elizabeth, burning villages of Springfield and Connecticut Farms, only a few miles from Elizabeth and the Livingston home. At the mansion there were only Mrs. Livingston and her three daughters, Governor Livingston being away on business and the younger children at Basking Ridge. About midnight the ladies were aroused by a band of drunken soldiers who came swearing that they would burn the rebel house. The male servants had fled to the woods, the maid fastened herself in the kitchen, and the ladies locked themselves in their room. The ruffians stamped up and down the halls, calling upon them to come out. One of the daughters, said to have been Catharine, opened the door. One of the party seized her by the arm. Breaking away, she grasped the fellow by the collar; at the same moment, a flash of lightening illuminated the hall and the light fell on the white dress of the lady. “My God, it is Mrs. Caldwell that we killed today!” exclaimed the man staggering back the whole party soon went away. It was this same “Kitty” Livingston, who once in spirit of fun declared that she was going to ask General Washington for a lock of his hair. The Commander-in-Chief and the Governor were warm friends and someone told the General of the remark. He at once wrote a note to the young lady, inclosing [sic] a lock of his hair.
Catharine Livingston was married in 1787 to Matthew Ridley, an Englishman who had come to America in 1770 and established himself as a merchant in Baltimore. He became an enthusiastic patriot and was appointed in 1781 to secure a loan in Europe for the State of Maryland, an undertaking which he carried out successfully.
Sarah, eldest daughter of Governor and Susannah French Livingston, became the wife of John Jay, the distinguished young New York Lawyer, who afterward became Minister to Spain, Chief Justice of New York, Ambassador at London, and Governor of New York. His bride accompanied him to the Court of Madrid as did her brother Brockholst
Livingston, who became secretary to Minister Jay.
Susannah, the third of the “Three Graces,” married John Cleves Symmes, who became Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey. It was their daughter Anna Symmes, who at the beginning of another century is said to have eloped from the same room, in which her mother had hoodwinked a British officer, with a young man of whom her parents did not approve, William Henry Harrison, afterward the ninth President of the United States.
Reference: The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. Third Volume, Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.