SUSAN LIVINGSTON (1748-1840) was the oldest daughter of William Livingston and Susannah French. (The couple had thirteen children.) Her father was the governor of New Jersey, a member of the Continental Congresses, and a brigadier general in the New Jersey militia. Susan, her younger sisters, Sarah and Catharine (Kitty), known as “the three graces,” were very popular. Sarah became the wife of John Jay in 1774. The Livingstons often had the care of Peter Augustus, the couple’s son, during the war. Susan wrote her sister Sarah on November 1, 1777 in care of John Jay who was in Kent, Connecticut at the time. The letter contains details of the military activity in the area and around Philadelphia as well as family news. (The Livingston home, Liberty Hall in Elizabethtown, was looted and damaged during the Revolution by both sides.)
Dearly beloved Sarah
I am in expectation of the arrival of the Post every moment, he usually comes in on Friday Evening, and returns next Morning as he goes no further than Morris Town. . . . I do not know where to direct to you; we are afraid Mr. Jay has lost all his Clothes that were at Kingston. Mama says if your warm Petticoat is lost, she can spare you one, rather than you should suffer for want of it.
Papa has been home since Sunday Evening, the Accounts he brought are old now, and not worth writing, on the 23d Inst. 5 or 6 Men of War, warped through an opening they had made in the lower Cheveaux de Frieze*, and came up to attack our Fort and Ships and Gallies but they found the Navigation so difficult, that they set Fire to the Augusta of 64 and the Apollo of 32 Guns, and the rest made the best of their way back again. A few days before 2500 of the Enemy (most of them Hessians) under the command of Count Donolp. attacked Fort Mercer or Red Bank, and were soon obliged to retreat in a most shameful and confused manner, leaving behind them killed and wounded 1500. The Count is a Prisoner—they also left 12 pieces of Artillery.
The 22nd our Troops attempted a stroke upon a detachment of six Regiments lying at Grays Ferry [near Philadelphia] where they had thrown a Bridge over the River. They marched all night and reached the Ground about Sunrise, but the Birds were flown, they had suddenly the preceding night deserted the Post, left all their works unfinished and broke up the Bridge. To day Sen’night there was a very warm Engagement, but reports respecting it are so vague, and contradictory, I cannot pretend to give you any account of it.
The Articles of Capitulation that appeared in Loudons last Paper are not relished this way, neither by Whigs, nor Tories, the latter say if Mr. Burgoyne was in a Situation to obtain such Terms he ought to have fought, the Former say if Burgoyne was obliged to surrender at all, Gates might have brought him to what Terms he pleased, so that it looks as if the two Generals wished to avoid fighting. The troops will go home and Garrison the Forts abroad, and let those Garrisons come to America—so it will be only an exchange of Men.
The Doctor proposes to Inoculate our little Fellow next week. He is now a fit subject for it, his blood is well purified, he has pretended to inoculate him often, so he will not be afraid of it. You know old Woodruff, that carts for us, his Son that lived next door to Dr. Darby, died a few days ago of the Small pox the natural way, and now his Widow and Child have it, the old Man has never had it, he stayed in the same House with his Son till a day or two before he expired, they are not entitled to much pity, for they say the Avarice of the old Man prevented their being inoculated. The Child will perish with it, it is thought.
. . . . Our house is a Barrack there was a whole Artillery Company in it, so I expect every thing will be destroyed.
We have not heard from B[rockhol]st [her brother]** since the last action to the Northward. (I have no doubt but his Letters have miscarried) but Mama has allmost persuaded herself he is among the Slain, and if there was any mourning to be purchased, I do not know but she would exhibit a dismal Spectacle of bombazeen and crepe. . . .
We had the Taylor here (that you engaged) these three weeks, which has kept Kitty tightly employed. She is his Journey-woman. Mr. Jay’s green suit is turned. Papa has brought home a Cargo of broken things, so that we have not eat the bread of Idleness since you left us. . . .
I think this scrawl as it is . . . entitles me to a few Lines from your fair hand. This I submit to you and whether you write or not, I am yours most Affectionately.
* An object of timber and spikes placed in a river to rip the hulls of vessels attempting to pass
** Brockholst was a lieutenant colonel and an aide-de-camp to General St. Clair in 1776 and 1777.
Susan makes reference to the battle of Saratoga which the Americans under General Horatio Gates won over the British and Hessian forces under General John Burgoyne. The Articles of Capitulation were very generous allowing what was called the Convention Army to to return to Britain on the condition that they not serve again in America. Both Gates and Burgoyne were criticized as Susan notes. Can you imagine a man, especially a buttoned-up one like John Jay, wearing a green suit!!
Source: John Jay: The Making of a Revolutionary, 1745-1780, edited by Richard. B Morris (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 445-47.