(The following letters are transcribed from photocopies of typed carbon copies written to Walter Millard Palmer (1861-1937) in response to a request to family members for information on "the early history of the Seymour family". Apparently this request was prompted by a "contract" into which Mr. Palmer had entered with a Mr. Garfield. I have no idea whatever became of Mr. Palmer’s written family history. I wish I knew!)
These letters tell of Hon. Henry Seymour (1821-1877) and his wife Hannah Jeannette Hinsdill (1824-1905, known as Jeannette). They relate memories of their childhood growing up in Grand Rapids and Paris Township in the mid- to late-1800s.
Walter Millard Palmer (1861-1937, known as Millard) was husband of Jeannette Hinsdill Seymour (1863-1930), Henry and Hannah’s eighth child and youngest daughter. He served as Grand Rapids mayor from 1902-03 and was Grand Rapids Postmaster from 1912-1914.
The letters written to Mr. Palmer are as follows:
1) Undated letter (probably around June, 1930) from Charles Kendall Seymour (1858-?). Charles K. was Henry and Hannah’s sixth child and Mr. Palmer’s brother-in-law.
2) Letter dated June 12, 1930 from John Addison Seymour (1866-?). John A. was the youngest of Henry and Hannah Jeannette Seymour’s nine children, and Mr. Palmer’s brother-in-law.
3) Undated recollection by Jeannette Hinsdill Seymour Palmer (1863-1930), Mr. Palmer’s wife, and Henry and Hannah’s eighth child and youngest daughter.
I have tried to retain all of the original letters’ spelling and grammar, and the footnotes are mine.
Submitted March 11, 2002 by: Margot Mueller Else
Letter to Walter Millard Palmer (1861-1937) from Charles K. Seymour (1858-?)
Los Angeles, California
My dear Millard:
As I wrote you the other day, I will do what I can to help you out in the contract handed to you by Mr. Garfield, as I realize that without some help from the members of the family, you would be at a loss to say much, except what you have observed since becoming a member of the family. I realize my own inability to do it justice as the family had been carrying on for a good many years before I appeared on the scene.
The story of the Seymour home and family would naturally begin with the birth of the founders of the family, so will say that father was born in Camillus, Onondaga County, New York, December 16, 1822 and came to Grand Rapids in 1842. Mother was born in Bennington, Vermont, January 24, 1824 and came to Grand Rapids in 1837, with her father Stephen Hinsdill (1787-1848) and family. They were married October 14, 1844.
Father was a public spirited man, and always worked for the best interests of the community. In 1842 he opened a select school in which all of the english branches were taught, together with the rudiments of Greek and Latin. He continued at the head of this school and conducted it successfully until May 1843, when he became principal of the Grand Rapids Academy. We was treasurer of the village in 1846 and in later life served a term each as representative and senator in the State Legislature.
The family was well known and was one of the prominent families of its time, distinguished in one respect, at least, by its size, having nine children, six boys and three girls, which I think was much more than the average, even in those days. Mother, I think could well qualify as the lady in the old story about a woman who boarded a train with several small children; when the conductor came through collecting tickets, he said, "Madam, are these children all yours, or is it a picnic?" She replied, "They are all mine, and it’s no picnic." Father was a religious man, and we always had family prayers, immediately after breakfast, consisting of a chapter from the Bible, usually from the New Testament, a hymn and a prayer, and he always asked a blessing before every meal. On Sunday mornings, the hymn was always the one beginning "Safely thru another week, God has brought us on our way". Then the team was hitched up to the buggy, and as many of us as could get in, would go to town for Church and Sunday School at the First Congregational Church; then home and again to Sunday School at four o’clock at the Seymour School House, which was organized and conducted by father for many many years.
The home was hospitable, the latch string was always out, and visits from
friends in the city and country were frequent and always welcome. We had a
display of fireworks the evenings of the 4th of July, which neighbors
were invited to enjoy with us. The family were quite musically inclined, so we
had a good deal of music, piano, violin, guitar and vocal, and whenever any
entertainment was to be given at the school house, the rehearsals were usually
held in our back parlor; you know we had front and back parlors in those days.
Christmas was always observed, either with a Christmas tree, with father dressed
as Santa Claus, with a long white beard, which frightened us younger children
nearly to death, until we were told by mother that it was father with a false
face; or else there are a row of chairs, where each of the children hung up
their stockings in the "hope that Santa Claus soon would be there",
and we were never disappointed, for he was always generous and brought us all
"just what we wanted". And you can imagine that it took some managing
to fill all those stockings. Well, of course, father and mother had to be on the
job all the time, early and late, and to illustrate; one morning in calling the
hired girl (we call them maids now-a-days) she replied, "It is not time to
get up yet, for I have not heard your mother grind the coffee". She not
only had to grind the coffee, but also had to roast it in those days. Now it
comes all roasted and ground and packed in nice little red cans. I don’t see
how they ever brought up such a large family, keeping the clothed and fed, but
they did, and did it well, and gratefulness is ever uppermost in the minds of us
who are left.
Letter to Walter Millard Palmer (1861-1937) from John Addison Seymour (1866-?)
Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 12, 1930
Your letter requesting a little help from me in preparing your paper on the early history of the Seymour family comes at a rather inopportune time as I have not been quite at my best mentally or physically the few days previous to and since June 10th when Dr. Corbus tapped me and relieved me of an overweight of about twenty-five pounds in about as many minutes. I am gaining my equilibrium gradually however, and am sure will soon be back to normal or as food as I can hope to ever be.
I have, since my return home been living mostly in the past, giving me great pleasure and helping me pass happily what otherwise would be many a long tedious night and dreary day.
The data I have prepared is in rather humbled form or only fragments, as fond memory serves me at the moment. Some of it would to me seem to personal or intimate to be given out to others than our own family and closest friends, but use your own well known good judgement and if you find you can use any of it I will be happy in the thought that I have done my part.
You must remember all of this history is of the late seventies when I had not yet reached the ‘teens, but Nettie, Kit and Charlie will possibly be able to supply you the many missing links.
Quoting from a recent birthday letter received from Kit – "Father and Mother were always lovers and we that were born of them and reared in the atmosphere of their home were most fortunate". Within the walls of the house and outside in the well-kept grounds, garden and orchard the best things in life were to be found. Good cheer, good music and good books. Best of all good eats – dealt out without stint to all who abided or entered there. We of them are proud of the fact that they were so religious, cultured and refined – the good old-fashioned type not often equalled today.
Father was a capable business man – a prominent and popular one in public life and represented the district several years at Lansing in the Legislature; first in the House and later in the Senate. He was very literary in his tastes and frequently his articles on public questions of the day appeared in the newspapers under the non-de-plume "Veritas" (truth). During the late years of his life he represented in Grand Rapids a Boston wool firm and it is related that one of the shipments made from here was claimed never received there and he was accordingly threatened with a law suit but the firm was not able to find an attorney willing to handle the case on account of Father’s high moral standing and popularity so it was dropped. This is the only time his word was ever questioned.
Mother ever gracious and lovable to all throughout her long life, brought up her flock with a firm hand and we were all made to understand that when she said "Johnny, you climb", or Father tapped his foot on the floor about three times, Johnny climbed into his high chair. A favorite punishment of hers when we got too obstreperous was to banish the offender to the lower step of the cellar stairs – there to contemplate while operating up and down for hours the dash of the old churn. Another popular punishment some of us still remember feelingly was the manipulation of an old worn out hair brush, although used effectively by applying the wooden side, after which treatment meals were eaten off the mantel, preferably while standing.
Mother was famous as a most careful and capable cook and her specialties tatted "just a little bit different" never to be forgotten. Here are listed just a few of her specialties:
Potato Ball Bread – White
Steamed Graham Bread
Doughnuts and Gingerbread
Pumpkin, Squash Custard
Currant and pie, plant pies
Custard with floating islands
Strawberry short cake
Big round beef steaks broiled over coals, swimming in natural gravy – plenty of melted butter (good gravy, what?)
Leg of lamb – broiled and served cold
Pork and Beans
Souse or pigs feet
Chopped broiled beef liver on steamed bread
Home made Pork Sausage
Oyster soup served in old-fashioned square (?)
Corned beef and cabbage – Monday, Washday
String bean pickles
Water Melon pickles
Corn meal mush and milk with wild blackberries
The Seymour home was the center of all the social activities of the district and there often informal musicales were given, the numbers being rendered by different members of the family and neighbors and guests from the city. Here the Paris Amateur Social and Dramatic Club was organized and rehearsals held. A number of entertainments were given at the Seymour School House, with Glenn Seymour as Stage Manager.
PROGRAM (only partial)
Will Harris – Tenor
Kittie Seymour – Suprano
Mary Cox – Alto
Frank Seymour – Bass
"Come Where the Cowslip Bloweth"
"The Morning Sun"
"Far Away the Camp Fires Burn"
Song and Dance Team
Frank Carpenter and Chas. Seymour
Songs – "The Murphy Twins" and "Just Over"
Song – "Murtgage The Farm" – Frank Seymour (dressed as old man with bent shoulders and carrying a can)
Barbara Fritchie – Nettie Seymour
"Bolts and Bars" – Henry Seymour (playing the lead)
Spanish Fandango – Chas. Seymour
by different members of Quartette
Magic lantern pictures usually closed program
Admission fee of 10 cents charged and "standing room only" sign was always displayed
At the entertainments given by the Club, Will Harris’ pure scotch tenor voice was discovered. He later became a member of a famous quartette which toured the country and his voice was acclaimed everywhere "one of the sweetest". He settled in Grand Rapids and conducted successfully for years a studio for voice culture.
Here is listed some of the old fashioned songs heard in our home:
"The Owl" – bass solo sung by Gaylord Holt
"The Old Sexton" - bass solo sung by Gaylord Holt
"The Moon Shines on Her Pathway" - bass solo sung by Gaylord Holt
"Leaf by Leaf the Roses Fall" – duet sung by Joe Herkner, tenor, and Mary Calkins
"Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming"
"I’ll Take You to Your Home Kathleen"
"Go Not Happy Day"
"I Cannot Sing the Old Songs"
One of the most enjoyable hours of the week was spent at family prayers after Sunday morning breakfast when all members of the family and guests present joined in the chorus led by Mother’s sweet suprano voice in singing:
"Safely Through Another Week"
"My Faith Looks Up To Thee"
"Work For the Night Is Coming"
Of the near neighbors and families living within a radius of about two or three miles of our corner there were:
The Garfields: Charles W. and Mary
The Van Horsens: Grace and Ed
The Simonds: Oscar and Julia
The Winchells: Aunt Lucy and Jeff (where lived Fred and Addie Knettle)
The Deacon Hoyts: Judge Birney Hoyt’s father
Col. H.E. Thompson and Wife, Elizabeth Ballard, and children Buy and Bessie
Mrs. Geo. Chesebro: Crombie, Grant and Jennie
The Cox’s: Mary, Anna, Ed, Will and Henry
The McCrath’s: (L.T. and Chas) Minnie, Fannie and Aurie
The Sopers: Fred and Jessie
The Brown’s: Tom, Alfred J., Kate and Jessie
The Martins: Tessie, Ed and Lizzie (Glenn’s Wife)
The Powers: Will, John, Susie, Eben and Emily
The Heth’s: Alvin, Ransom, Bert, Charles
The Jennings: Fred and Delia
The Yales: Charles, Fred and Sarah
The Rounds: Charles
The Chadwicks: Charles, Orra and Mae
The Rathburns: Charles, Frankie and Anna
The Glovers: Henry and Carrie
The Walkers: Clarence and John
The younger members of these families were pupils at the Seymour School at this period and members of the Club – many active in making it a success.
The proverbial "old Swimmin’ Hole" was located in Plaster Creek just below the ram pump which provided the Simonds family with pure spring water.
Miss Solomon, Miss Jennie Chesebro, Miss Steele (Mrs. Alfred Hanna) were our teachers at school and Prof. Seaman conducted the music class at this time.
(Signed) J. A. S.
Personal Recollection by Jeannette Hinsdill Seymour (1863-1930)
"How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood". Mine are rather indistinct – like a fog horn at Nantucket. I wish I might see it more clearly, but I guess it is just as well; better so I think.
It seems as if everything in that home was accomplished without rush or confusion, but perhaps Mother and Father were impatient and tired at times, just as we are.
The impression that has stayed with me through the years is one of love and tenderness. Sunday stands out clearly. I know we were never asked, "Do you want to go to church?" We went.
I can remember riding into the city sitting on my Father’s lap, helping him drive. I expect Mother was holding one of the other little Seymours. Then trailing down the long aisle at Park Congregational Church. After church the ride back home, then dinner, and such a dinner! This meal seemed to appear like magic. After wards we all went across the street to the little White School House. It seemed so big then. I can see Father standing before us leading the singing and opening exercises. Then we little children would go with Mother into the little north room where she would listen to us repeat our Golden Texts and she would tell us some interesting Bible Story.
After this, for home and our lunch of bread and milk; then family prayers, all kneeling around the fireplace. We always sang "Safely through another week". I can shut my eyes and see it all and hear my Mother’s sweet voice.
That little room in the old School House has many sacred memories. I think the first remembrance of Julia Simonds was in that room. She was one of the big girls and would come in to help the teacher. She is still helping me with that sweet something that you can’t put your finger on or describe. I can see Addie Kinkettle – Bell Parsons – Anne Cox – Jessie Brown – Mary Garfield (I will never forget Mary’s beautiful hair) – Casey Harvey – the Heth boys – Grant Chesebro. Charlie Garfield used to come to see my sister Mary and I envied her and wished when I grew up I would have a beau just like him!
It is all a delightful memory. I feel so sorry for those that are not eligible to membership in the Seymour School Society. I know you are having a happy time today and hope there are many, many more in store for us all. I am with you in sprit.
(Signed) Jeannette Seymour Palmer
Transcriber: Margot Else
Created: 16 March 2002