R. Livingston Beeckman by George Grantham Bain.

My great-grandmother’s maiden name was Beeckman – not the more fashionable Beekman,[1] as in Beekman Place – a name which enjoyed something of a vogue around the turn of the last century, in the person of my great-great-uncle Robert Livingston Beeckman (1866–1935). Uncle Livy had couple of claims to fame in his lifetime – he was a nationally-ranked tennis player during the 1880s, and he served as Governor of Rhode Island (with some touting him for the presidency in 1920) – but for me the more intriguing connection comes later: his first wife was Eleanor Thomas, whose brother married the future Mrs. Cole Porter.

I recently bought a copy of the 1886 Harper’s Weekly with a full-page spread on the top lawn tennis players in America, among them Richard Dudley Sears (1861–1943) and R. Livingston Beeckman. The year 1886 represents the apogee of young Beeckman’s tennis career, as Sears beat him in the final round of the U.S. National Tennis Championship in Newport to retain the singles title. Playing in the doubles championship with Henry Warner Slocum (1862–1949), Uncle Livy lost in the semi-finals to the team of Howard Augustus Taylor (1865–1920) and Godfrey Malbone Brinley (1864–1939). This was heady company, as Sears was the undefeated singles champion 1881–87 and Slocum followed Sears 1888–89.[2] Taylor and Sears appear in the Harper’s Weekly spread along with Beeckman and Dr. James Dwight (1852–1917), known as “The Founding Father of American Tennis” for his role in the first tennis tournament played in the United States.[3]

All of this sporting prominence was avocational, as Uncle Livy’s career (from the age of 16) was focused on Wall Street. It is also likely that young Beeckman’s success in a society sport helped him in business: unlike his sisters, who married well (in one case, very well), the sole Beeckman male in his generation had to make his own fortune.

In time, he, too, married well: his first wife was Eleanor Nancy Thomas (1878–1920), the daughter of General Samuel Thomas[4] and sister of Edward Russell Thomas (1876–1925). It was Edward who married lovely Linda Lee of Louisville, Kentucky. After their divorce, Linda married Cole Porter – not yet the famous composer he would become – in 1919. I find it remarkable that my grandfather never mentioned this family connection, or that, when Uncle Livy remarried in 1923, my grandfather was one of the ushers.[5]

Edwin Burke and R. Livingston Beeckman.

It was via this second marriage that Uncle Livy became a parent at the age of 57. His stepson Edwin Marston Burke (1917–2007) would later marry Virginia Smith Hutton, a great-granddaughter of the woman suffrage leader Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont (1853–1933), whose biography I worked on in the 1990s – a very small world!


[1] Through the Livingston family, my great-grandmother was also a Beekman.

[2] Slocum was also national doubles champion with Howard Taylor in 1889.

[3] In Nahant, Massachusetts, in 1876; among the players was Frederick Richard Sears Jr., cousin of Richard and father of Eleo Sears.

[4] My great-aunt Margaret Steward (1888–1975) was a bridesmaid at the Beeckman–Thomas wedding in 1902; the bride’s sister-in-law Linda Lee Thomas was matron of honor. The New York Times, 23 September 1902, p. 7.

[5] He married Mrs. Edna Marston Burke. The New York Times, 2 September 1923, p. 22.

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

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