Major Henry Livingston, Jr.
Born in Poughkeepsie, Major Henry Livingston Jr. was a member of a leading colonial New York family. Livingston worked as a farmer, surveyor, and a Justice of the Peace. In 1775, he enlisted in the Revolutionary Army, joining an expedition to invade Canada just a week after the birth of his first daughter, Catherine. She was the subject of his first known poem, and many other poems followed after the death of his wife, Sarah Welles, in 1783. From 1787 onward, Livingston published mainly occasional and light verse in regional journals. His poems were often published anonymously or under the pseudonym R.
Livingston’s long poem in anapestic meter, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” is commonly known by its first line, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” This poem played a significant role in establishing a common set of beliefs about Santa Claus, by providing a physical description of the jolly man with the white beard, and by setting the number and names of the reindeer.
Until recently, the poem was attributed to poet Clement Clark Moore (1779-1863), who included it in his collected poems in 1844. In Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous (2000), scholar Don Foster, a Vassar College professor, gathered evidence to support Livingston as the author of the well-known poem.
Livingston resided in Poughkeepsie until his death in 1828.