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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

"My Dear Gitty,": What Margaret Lewis Livingston's Letters to her Daughter Reveal about the Mother of 12

Could letters serve as a gateway to the mind?  To a person's innermost thoughts and feelings?  Is it possible to peer into the psyche of a person by reading their letters?  Maybe, maybe not.  In retrospect, we cannot know how much a person pours of themselves into their correspondence.  Are they truthful or reserved?  Do they have an agenda? Did the writer consider their legacy when composing letters that would potentially shape the way they are remembered?  All of these questions come into play when historians explore primary sources such as correspondence.  

At Staatsburgh, we often lament the lack of letters and personal papers left behind by the Mills family.  While the family donated estate lands, outbuildings, the mansion and its furnishings to New York State, any personal papers were removed by the family.  Letters from Ruth and Ogden Mills do exist in the archival collections of the recipients and there is always more to find.  Even though correspondence to or from Ruth and Ogden Mills is thin, a treasure trove of letters from Ruth's grandmother, Margaret Lewis Livingston (1780-1860) exists and were recently annotated and published by Mary Mistler.  This essay will share some of the insights about Margaret's life that can be gleaned from reading through all of these letters.

The annotated book of letters from Mary Mistler and Staatsburgh's typewritten transcripts of the letters.  Mistler's book is currently available for purchase in Staatsburgh's gift shop!