Hamilton & Burr: Local Adversaries

A version of the following article authored by Bill Jeffway was published in the Northern/Southern Dutchess News/Beacon Free Press on June 26, 2019 as part of DCHS’s Decoding Dutchess Past series.

Hamilton and Burr. These names have such iconic status that we might forget that these “mere mortals” put one foot in front of the other in the daily pursuit of ordinary life and work. In the spirit of understanding them in this way, let’s retrace some of their lesser-known footsteps in Dutchess County. We intentionally leave aside the better known steps, such as Hamilton’s leading role in getting state endorsement of the US Constitution in 1788 in the State Convention in Poughkeepsie.

Aaron Burr, in his role as a lawyer for Red Hook client John Reade, 1793

The letter that is part of the DCHS Collections and is shown here, is a letter from Aaron Burr, in his role as lawyer, to client John Reade of Red Hook, Dutchess County.  Dated November 29, 1793, it says, “Dear Sir [John Reade], Mr. Bostwick has shown me your letter relative to the Bond for which he has so often applied, and to which I believe has now a good right. If you will be pleased to submit the Bond to my care, I will dispose of it in such way as will be safe & proper. Respectfully, Aaron Burr.”

A bit dry, perhaps, conducting some basic legal business, but revelatory in that John Reade (1745 – 1808) was married Catherine Livingston, the great-granddaughter of the Robert Livingston, First Lord of Livingston Manor. Serving the Livingstons as a lawyer was important. Those who were wealthy and well connected had to engage with the Livingstons, in some way, given their sheer numbers and influence. The best way was to marry one. The second best was to serve them well as a lawyer, which is what Burr did. Reade’s father-in-law, Gilbert Livingston, in his will, made Burr the trustee of his estate relative to any minors.

Among the ways Hamilton & Burr were adversaries, was as lawyer to local clients

In the dispute between the Manor Livingstons and the Clermont Livingstons, each managed to advise on opposite sides

Robert Livingston, the First Lord of Livingston Manor, died in 1728. In his will he broke 15,000 acres off from the larger Manor to leave not to his eldest son, Philip, but to another son, Robert, which became the Clermont Estate. Their descendants, as cousins, fought over the location of the border for generations. Hamilton advised the Manor Livingstons, but unofficially as he did not it want it known publicly. Burr advised the Clermont Livingstons, as a paid lawyer. The dispute was never fully resolved. But, over time, Hamilton managed to both support, and contest, the Livingstons, at different times.

Remnants of legal chipping at the hand of Alexander Hamilton on behalf of the Hoffmans is the irregular county boundary today

If not battling each other, the Livingstons were battling the large landowning family to their south, the Hoffmans of Red Hook. During the years 1784 to 1786, Hamilton ultimately successfully defended the rights of the Hoffman family of Red Hook relative to their border claims with the Clermont Livingstons to the north. Hamilton was also able to “finesse” the argument in a way it did not fully alienate the Manor Livingstons.  The multi-year legal battle focused on the creation of the Manor borders in 1683 that had used “the southernmost bough (or bend) of the Roelieff Jansen Kill” as the starting point for all measurements. We can well imagine Hamilton, with surveyors, lurking around that southernmost point of the stream, which is easily visible from County Route 50, just less than two miles east of the Taconic Parkway, in Pine Plains.

Dutchess Columbia Border Annotated Hamilton Effect Compare

Political enemies met at the commong ground of Hendrickson’s Tavern, on Market Street in Poughkeepsie, near the Courthouse

After the close of the tumultuous years of the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr both became practicing lawyers in New York in 1782. To earn a living. They were based in New York City, but the state’s capital and highest courts were in Albany. Halfway between the two cities, Poughkeepsie was a perfect waystation. Dutchess County Militia Captain Stephen Hendrickson had converted his home to an Inn, and it became the popular stopping place for a drink, conversation, or overnight stay for lawyers and politicians. Both Hamilton and Burr are known to have frequented the establishment, as did Jefferson, Madson, Governor Clinton and many others. Today some historical markers to the south of the County Government building on Market St. note the evolution of the location as an Inn of many owners, from Hendrickson’s, to Forbus House, eventually to Nelson House, over the centuries.

ddp Hendrickson Forbus Nelson ddp Hendrickson Forbus Nelson Signs