William Livingston, the babe who grew up to became a signer of the United States Constitution, was born on November 30, 1723, in Albany, New York; he was the son of Philip Livingston, signer of the Declaration of Independence. William attended local schools and was further educated by tutors. When he was 14 years old, William spent a year with an Anglican missionary among the Iroquois Indians in the Mohawk Valley. When he returned in 1738, he enrolled at Yale College where he graduated in 1741. From there he went to New York City to study law and became a law clerk for James Alexander and William Smith.
William married Susannah French in New Jersey in 1747, and the couple became parents of thirteen children. This site listed only seven children: Henry Brockholst Livingston (married Catharine Kettletas), Susannah Livingston (married John Cleves Symmes), Sarah Van Brugh Livingston (married John Jay), William Livingston (married Jane ?), Judith “Kitty” Livingston (married John W. Watkins), Mary Livingston (married James Linn), and Catharine Livingston (married Matthew Ridley).
William was admitted to the bar in 1748 and started practicing law in New York City. Along with William Smith and John Morin Scott, William founded a weekly journal in 1752 and titled it the Independent Reflector. “The Reflector was New York’s first serial non-newspaper publication and the only one being published in British North America at the time…. Publication of the Reflector ceased with the fifty-second issue after political pressure was brought to bear upon its printer, James Parker.” William served one term in the New York Assembly but stayed politically active in New York until 1769.
In 1770 William moved to Elizabethtown – now Elizabeth, New Jersey; there he built a “large country home” – Liberty Hall - for his growing family. The home, also known as the William Livingston House, still stands today and is a National Historic Landmark and museum located on the Liberty Hall Campus of Kean University.
William attained “considerable influence” among the “local patriots” and was elected to represent New Jersey at the Continental Congress. There he served as a delegate from July 1774 until June 1776. During the same period of time, he was commissioned by the New Jersey Militia as a brigadier general in October 1775.
William was elected Governor of New Jersey in August 1776 and was re-elected as governor each year until his death in 1790. His family was located in Parsippany for most of the time between 1776 and 1779 for their safety. There was a “substantial reward” offered for the capture of Livingston, and British troops or naval forces frequently visited Liberty Hall looking for him. The Livingston family returned to their looted home in 1779 and began their restoration efforts.
Governor Livingston led the delegation from New Jersey to the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1787. There he took part in the deliberations and became one of the signers of the Constitution. He died on July 25, 1790, in Elizabeth, New Jersey; he was originally buried in Trinity Church, New York, but was later reinterred at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, on May 7, 1844. (The Livingston family burial crypt was established in 1727 at Livingston Memorial Church and Burial Ground.)
William Livingston’s legacy includes having the township of Livingston, New Jersey, Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, and the Livingston campus of Rutgers University New Brunswick named in his honor.
Livingston “played a key role” in the founding of the New York Society Library in 1754, and the library is still in existence. His daughter Susannah married John Cleves Symmes in 1780 and became the stepmother-in-law of President William Henry Harrison. Another of his descendants was Julia Kean, whose husband Hamilton Fish became Governor of New York and United States Secretary of State.
The Livingston family of New York is a prominent family that descended from William, 4th Lord Livingston and migrated from Scotland to the Dutch Republic to the Province of New York in the 17th century. Besides having members sign the Declaration of Independence (Philip Livingston) and the United States Constitution (William Livingston), the family also includes United States Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, First Lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt, Congressman Bob Livingston of Louisiana, much of the wealthy Astor family, New York Governor Hamilton Fish, actor Montgomery Clift, and actress Jane Wyatt.
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