George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Livingston, 15 August 1789

From John Livingston

Manor Livingston Augt 15. 1789


From a desire, to be servicable to my Country, I take the liberty of offering myself to your Excellency, as a candidate, for the office, of a Commissioner, for Indian Affairs, oppertunities have presented, which have given me an extensive Acquaintance, with the principal Sachams, and Cheifs of many of the Northern & Southern Nations of Indians, and I flatter myself, it is No Vanity to Say, that I have a considerable degree of influence over them,1 For the truth of this fact I can appeal to Gentlemen high in the public Confidence and conversant on this Subject, and have reason to beleive they will give me a sutiable recommendation. I have the Honor to be with the utmost respect. Sir Your Excellency Most obedient Humble Servant

John Livingston


John Livingston (1750–1822) was a younger son of Robert R. Livingston, third lord of Livingston Manor. In addition to extensive land speculation, Livingston was at this time engaged in a short-lived cotton and linen manufactory. He received no federal appointment.

1Livingston’s experience with Indians, while indeed extensive, was not necessarily such as to qualify him for the post of Indian commissioner. In 1787 he was one of the leaders in the New York-Genesee Land Company’s attempt to circumvent the provision of the New York constitution that forbade direct land purchases from the Indians by negotiating 999–year leases for thousands of acres with Cayuga, Oneida, and Seneca chiefs for a nominal rental. The scheme was widely criticized and officially condemned by the New York legislature in February 1788, and Livingston was forced to negotiate an agreement with the leadership of the competing Phelps-Gorham Purchase. In 1793, however, the Genesee company was able to secure patents for a tract of land 10 miles square from the New York legislature. The struggle over the validity of the leases—also called the Lessee claim—continued well into the nineteenth century (Livermore, Early American Land Companies, description begins Shaw Livermore. Early American Land Companies: Their Influence on Corporate Development. New York, 1939. description ends 198–203; [Holland Land Company], Refutation of the Claim of John Livingston, Esquire, to Lands in the Western District of the State of New-York, under Certain Indian Leases [n.p.], 1811; Journal of the Assembly of the State of New-York, at Their Eleventh Session, description begins Journal of the Assembly of the State of New-York, At their Eleventh Session, begun and holden at Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County, the ninth Day of January, 1788. Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 1788. description ends 73–78).

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