JANET LIVINGSTON MONTGOMERY 1743 - 1828
Aristocrat, Estate Founder, Agricultural Entrepreneur and Founding Mother
Janet Livingston was born on August 27, 1743, into the famous Livingston family of New York, and was a sister of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, a prominent New Yorker who was later on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. She spent her girlhood at Clermont, the family home on the banks of the Hudson River.
In late 1772 or early 1773, Richard Montgomery, an Irish-born British army officer, moved from England to America. By the time he arrived, the difficulties between England and the Colonies were brewing; Montgomery quickly adopted the colonists' cause. He bought a farm at King's Bridge, 13 miles north of New York City. While adjusting to his surroundings, he met Janet Livingston, whom he had briefly met during his previous service in America.
After receiving her father's blessing, Janet married Richard Montgomery on July 24, 1773.
After their wedding, Montgomery leased his farm to a tenant and moved to a small house in Rhinebeck, New York, for a little more than two years. He bought some surrounding land and set to work fencing, plowing fields, building a grain mill, and laying the foundation for a larger home.
He said that he was "never so happy in all my life," but followed that up by saying "this cannot last; it cannot last." Three months after their marriage, Janet told him of a dream she had in which Montgomery was killed in a duel. Montgomery replied, "I have always told you that my happiness is not lasting... Let us enjoy it as long as we may and leave the rest to God."
Richard then accepted one s a first commissions of general in the Continental Army. He served under Philip Schuyler, the commander of the Northern Department of the Continental Army in a 1775 expedition against British-held Quebec.
When General Schuyler became ill, Montgomery took command of the expedition and was killed on December 31, 1775, while leading a winter assault against the well-defended fortress during the Battle of Quebec – becoming the first hero of the American Revolution.
Janet always referred to him as my general or my soldier, and fiercely guarded his reputation.
After his death, she moved to the house near Rhinebeck that Richard had begun work on before the war. Janet remained interested in politics for the rest of the war, and was always a harsh critic of Loyalists.
After the war, former Continental Army General Horatio Gates proposed marriage, but Janet declined.
Janet Livingston Montgomery became a revered widow and prosperous landowner.
In 1802, fifty-nine year old Janet Montgomery surprised her family by acquiring a 434-acre working farm. At the end of a half mile-long lane bordered by deciduous trees, Janet built a new Federal-style house of fieldstone, which she named Château de Montgomery, or Montgomery Place.
She built it to honor General Montgomery's memory and to provide a fitting legacy for his heirs. The property is an amazing example of Hudson Valley estate life. Each of the estate's features has a story to tell about changing American attitudes toward nature, landscape, and home design.
Adjacent to the mansion she developed a prosperous commercial enterprise of orchards, gardens, a nursery and a greenhouse, and capably managed her land interests.
Entertaining family and friends at her country home was one of Janet's favorite pastimes. Planting flowers, fruits, and trees also brought her much pleasure. In an 1809 letter to her brother Edward Livingston, she wrote "If I have a pleasure it is in cultivating my plants... the garden is a sheet of blossoms and flowers."
After forty-two years, General Montgomery's remains were removed at the request of the state legislature to New York City and interred in St. Paul's Chapel churchyard. The journey from Quebec to New York was attended by civic honors at Albany on July 4, 1818. Janet stood on her porch and watched the steamer Richmond bring her husband's remains down the Hudson River.
When his remains arrived in New York City, 5000 people attended the procession. Janet was pleased with the ceremony and wrote, "What more could I wish than the high honor that has been conferred on the ashes of my poor soldier." The city of New York erected a monument under the portico of St. Paul's Chapel on the Broadway front. A tablet was also erected on the spot where he fell at Quebec by the Sons of the American Revolution in 1901.
Janet Livingston Montgomery lived a full and rich life and died in November 1827 at the age of 85 at Montgomery Place.
General Montgomery's heirs had predeceased her, and so Janet left the estate to her youngest brother, Edward Livingston. His fascinating lifetime of public service included terms as mayor of New York City, United States Representative and Senator from Louisiana, Secretary of State, and minister to France during the Andrew Jackson administration.
Edward's cosmopolitan and well-traveled widow, Louise Livingston, and their daughter, Coralie Livingston Barton (1806-1873), used Montgomery Place as a summer home. They transformed the property into a self-sufficient estate, adding a conservatory, intricate flower gardens and architectural features. The estate has recently been named a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior.