Traders and Gentlefolk: The Livingstons of New York, 1675-1790

Traders and Gentlefolk: The Livingstons of New York, 1675-1790

Traders and Gentlefolk: The Livingstons of New York, 1675-1790

Traders and Gentlefolk: The Livingstons of New York, 1675-1790


Including among their number a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the founder of an ironworks, the Livingstons were a prominent family in the political, economic, and social life of colonial New York. Drawing on a rich array of sources, Cynthia Kierner vividly recreates the history of four generations of Livingstons and sheds new light on the development of both the elite ideology they represented and of the wider culture of early America.

Although New York's colonial elite have been considered self-interested political intriguers, Kierner contends that the Livingstons idealized gentility and public-spiritedness, industry and morality. She shows how New York's most successful traders became gentlefolk without abandoning their entrepreneurial values, how they forged a distinct culture, and how the Revolution ultimately occasioned the rejection of elite political authority.

Traders and Gentlefolk focuses on the lives of four members of the family: Robert Livingston, a Scottish emigrant who, with his wife Alida Schuyler, attained substantial political influence and acquired Livingston Manor; their son Philip, whose outstanding commercial talents secured his descendants' financial security; Philip's son, William, an outspoken civic leader and energetic supporter of American independence; and Robert R. Livingston, a jurist and diplomat whose aristocratic temperament prevented him from playing a vital role in post-Revolutionary politics.


Over four generations, the story of the Livingstons' family business demonstrates the persistence of entrepreneurial values throughout the colonial era. the entrepreneurial ideal of the founding generation of colonial Livingstons lauded industry, sobriety, and above all success. Such values impelled successive generations to expand and diversify the enterprises established by Robert and Alida.

The growth of the Livingstons' family business was symptomatic of more general changes in New York's colonial economy. New York's economy was dynamic and expansive; a growing population meant increased productivity, which in turn led to a remarkable growth in colonial commerce. As trade grew, it became more diversified, as colonial merchants experimented with new products and new markets. At the same time, they also developed industrial enterprises to complement their commercial interests. the growth of the Livingstons' commercial fortune thus encouraged them to build the mills and the ironworks that put them on the cutting edge of industrial development in eighteenth-century America. On the other hand, the growth of the family itself helped them expand their trading networks by delegating various commercial tasks to willing sons and brothers.

Robert Livingston's success in politics and trade enabled him to give his children the advantages he himself had lacked when he . . .

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