Historical Marker #801 in Smithland commemorates the namesake of Livingston County, Robert R. Livingston.
Robert Livingston was born in New York City in 1746. He was educated at King's College and studied law soon thereafter. Livingston was elected to the New York provisional congress, and, as a member of that body, was selected to serve in the Continental Congress. He was selected to the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, but returned to New York before signing the document.
Livingston's political stature was enhanced when he was selected as the Secretary of Foreign affairs (Secretary of State) while the United States was governed under the Articles of Confederation. As a member of New York's legislative body, Livingston pushed for the ratification of the Constitution. In fact, it was he who administered the oath of office to President Washington in 1789. In 1801, President Jefferson named Livingston as the U.S. minister to France. While in that role, Livingston helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.
Kentucky became the fifteenth state in 1792. Six years later, Livingston County became the twenty-sixth county of the state. Livingston County was created from part of Christian County. The county's unique geographical position, bordered by the Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers, ensured that it would have many future connections to the steamboat world.
It was after Robert Livingston had been honored by Kentucky that he met steamboat innovator Robert Fulton. Livingston quickly became intrigued with the potential of steam-powered water travel. However, it was Fulton and Livingston's steamboat, the "New Orleans," that made the inaugural trip from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1811. That voyage forever changed the way people and products were transported. Unfortunately, Robert Livingston died less than two years after this trailblazing voyage.
Livingston County steamboat ports, including the county seat, Smithland, located at the confluence of the Cumberland and Ohio Rivers, served as exchange centers where raw materials like iron and quarried limestone went off to distant markets. Crops and finished industrial goods from upriver at Nashville, Tennessee, went to places like Louisville, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. Others went to Memphis, Natchez, and New Orleans.
In the time since the steamboat the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers have been dammed by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Today, these waterways still serve as vital commercial links and as recreational outlets.