History of Liberty Hall

Revolution & Romance 1772-1798

Liberty Hall was built in 1772 for William Livingston, a lawyer and member of the prominent Livingston family of New York. Livingston moved his family from New York City to his new country estate and farm as debate raged over English policy towards the Colonies. In 1774 Livingston’s daughter Sarah married John Jay, later Chief Justice of the United States, in the Great Hall.

Livingston’s quiet country life was soon interrupted by the Revolution. He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1774, 1775, and 1776. In 1776 he was elected the first Governor of the State of New Jersey, a post he held until his death in 1790.

The Matriarch 1811-1833

In 1811, the estate was purchased by Peter Kean, in trust for his mother Susan Livingston Kean Niemcewicz (Governor Livingston’s niece). They were the first members of the Kean family to live at Liberty Hall.

Susan’s first husband was John Kean, a prominent merchant from Charleston, South Carolina. Kean served as a member of the Second Continental Congress and after the War, President Washington made him the first Cashier of the Bank of the United States. John Kean died in 1795.

In 1800 Susan married Count Julian Ursin Niemcewicz, a Polish nobleman living in exile in the United States. Niemcewicz returned to Europe in 1809, when Napoleon invaded Poland. They wrote regularly and warmly, but Niemcewicz never returned to the United States. Susan renamed the estate Ursino in honor of her husband. After her son Peter’s death in 1828, Susan became head of household, remaining there with Peter’s widow and her three grandchildren.

Enterprise & Expansion 1833-1895

In 1833, the estate was inherited by Susan’s grandson, John Kean. John graduated from Princeton in 1834. While on the staff of New Jersey’s Governor Pennington he acquired the rank of Colonel, a title he used the rest of his life.

Over the next sixty years, Colonel Kean transformed Ursino from a 14-room country house to the 50-room mansion that stands today. A man of vision, he invested in banks, railroads, and public utilities including the Elizabethtown Gas Light Company and the Elizabethtown Water Company (both still in existence).

The Colonel and his wife, Lucinetta Halsted had eleven children; nine survived to adulthood. Two sons entered national politics; John served in the House of Representatives and both he and his brother Hamilton served in the Senate. After the Colonel’s death the house passed to Senator John. He never married, so upon his death the house passed to Hamilton’s son, Captain John Kean.

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