Benjamin Seymour

Benjamin Seymour (b. c. 1775 – 15 March 1817, at Plymouth, Mass.) was the son of Benjamin Seymour (b. c. 1725) and Joanna Judge (sister of Elizabeth Judge Hays, Mary Hays’s mother), who were married on 13 March 1754, in Southwark.  Benjamin was Mary Hays’s first cousin. He married Naomi Seely (b. c. 1777) in 1793 in England. She joined him in America in 1795. They had 12 children, all eventually living in Plymouth, MA: Frances S. Seymour (b. 1794 in England), Benjamin Seymour (b. 1797, Plymouth), Henry Seymour (b. 1798), Joseph Seymour, Edward D. Seymour (b. 1806), Naomi Seymour (b. 1808), Sally Seymour (b. 1810), Webster Seymour (b. 1812), Mary Seymour (b. c. 1813), Portia Seymour (b. c. 1814), William Seymour (b. c. 1816), and Joanna Seymour. He was a pioneer in the history of large rope-making and iron works and castings, working on contracts in England and Russia (December 1787 to October 1790, near St. Petersburg and Colpini) and a time in Denmark (November and part of December 1790) before returning home to England and then emigrating to America. He kept a journal for much of that time,  which is now available in Benjamin Seymour in Russia, England, & America 1787-1817 (Plymouth, MA: The Rogers Print, 1940), edited by his descendant, Fannie E. Seymour.   During his time in England, his journal records a number of references to members of the Hays family and other relations.  On 31 December he dines with James Watt, the inventor. On 1 January 1791, he writes in his diary that he went to see “Mr. Dunkins Steam Engine” (31), but whether the son or the father is not clear. On 16 January he goes to see the Steam Engine again. He is drawing steam engines and working on a model of a screw lathe for a “rope engine,” promising on 5 February to have the model taken to “Mr. Hayes” for the purpose of showing “the efficiency of the Rope Engine” (32). On Friday, 8 April, he goes to “Pancreas Lane, to show Mr. D. the model. The workman (Jameson) carried it there, and brought it back again” (34). The next day, he promises to send the model to “Mr. Hayes, on Monday” (34). This is John Hays, Mary’s brother. On Monday, he takes it to Hays, with Jameson, and “exhibited imperfectly the properties of the Rope Engine, by the model” (34).  On Thursday, 14 April, he takes his model to the office of John Julius Angerstein (1735-1823) at Lloyds Coffee House and demonstrates his rope maker; afterwards does the same for Watt at Bucklersbury and then to “Mr. Hills in the Minories,” where he makes another piece of rope (35). [This is Thomas Hills, husband to Sarah Hays Hills, Mary’s sister, who dies in 1803.]  He sees Watt again on 4 May. Seymour is seeking a contract with the Navy Office to make rope for ships. On 11 May he goes to see Mr. Dunkin’s steam engine again (36). On Wednesday, 18 May, he goes with Thomas Hills to the Navy Office, but because Hills was a lodger, not a head of household at his residence in the Minories, he could not serve as bondsman for the Navy contract (37) (He had it signed the next day by a Mr. Wright).

    On Thursday, 1 September 1791, he walks with John Hays to see some horses. The next Tuesday he sets out for Portsmouth where he worked for the Navy on his rope and cable-making. In October he is working at Deptford. The next May he returns to Portsmouth, still working with the Navy as a rope-maker. On Tuesday, 24 July 1792, he has breakfast with Thomas Hills, and later that day demonstrates his rope-maker at the Admiralty before the Earl of Chatham (William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister), Lord Hood, Sir Hyde Parker, several captains in the navy, and others (48). He spends the evening at the Hills in the Minories (49). He sailed for America in March 1793, visiting Charleston, South Carolina, and working his way up the coast to Boston, meeting with Robert Morris in Philadelphia about iron works and tin plates. On 18 January he makes an interesting note in his diary: “Made some preparations for beginning a Model for a Rope Engine, in lieu of that which Senior James Sanderson detained at the Mansion House in London” (56). He arrived in New York on 8 April 1794 and was in Boston by the end of the month. On 28 May he dines with Josiah Quincy (they remained friends for many years) and some others (61). On Wednesday, 8 June, he sends a packet by way of Capt. Scott of the Minerva, and also sends a copy of the American Constitution to Thomas Hills (62).  Capt. Scott returns from England on 26 May 1795, but no letter from Mrs. Seymour. He fears the worse, but on 29 May learns that she has arrived safely on another ship and he sees her that evening (she left her oldest child, Fanny, in London with her aunt Tatham; Fanny later married Thomas Hadaway and came to America in 1833 and lived in her father’s home in Plymouth). He writes, “My heart seemed to leap from its seat to welcome her, and I found the blood circulate with an increased rapidity” (72). He soon settled at Plymouth. In 1797 he became an American citizen. He obtained several patents and perfected the making of cannon balls from chilled iron (79). In 1810 he built a large house on Summer Street in Plymouth. On 17 March 1817 he received a letter announcing that he had been appointed Superintendent of the Navy Yard at Washington, DC. He wrote his letter of acceptance and took it to the stagecoach in town and upon handing the letter to the driver, he collapsed and died from a heart attack (136). His descendants continued to invent things in the fields of rivet machinery, shoe machinery, and electricity.

The Seymour family historian, Fannie E. Hadaway Seymour (1868-1956), lived all her life in Plymouth, MA, and was the great-granddaughter of Benjamin Seymour. Her grandfather was Henry Seymour (b. 1798), and his son, Henry I. Seymour (1842-1925), was her father; her mother was Sarah Seymour Hadaway). She writes about her ancestor in the Introduction to Benjamin Seymour in Russia ... (pp. 3-5):

It is a privilege and possibly more or less of a duty on my part, to acquaint the general public with the extensive knowledge that Fate has placed in my possession of the early history of rope-making; also to trace the primitive beginnings of iron inventions and industries before modern machinery and devices had developed present production. My great grandfather, Benjamin Seymour's genius played an important part in this great work.

A recent copy of the Scientific American tells us that the Chinese have made no advancement during the last two centuries in the art of rope-making. Hundreds of carts bring in kaoling stalks and willow branches from the country side, and the material yards grow to great proportions. Hemp comes in on wheelbarrows from other farming districts, just as it is taken from the stalks by the farmers, and dried. A large yard is fenced off for the rope makers, and here the hemp is made by hand labor into two inch rope, for use in binding together the kaoling stalks for the care of the dikes in the closure sections, land that corresponds to the flood districts of the United States.

In the same yard, galvanized iron wire from America is twisted into light cables by hand, by these same simple twisting devices, that the Chinese have used for centuries in making rope. In contrast to this account of this primitive industry in far away China, is the latest statement of one of our big cordage companies in Massachusetts, that shows how extensive progress, time, modern methods, and inventions have cooperated in now making Rope-Making a great financial industry in our Country, and also in Canada.

My great grandfather, Benjamin Seymour, born in England, was one of the first men to ever twist rope by machinery, that was operated by men and horses, before water power was used and steam engines invented.

His daily journals and letters have been passed down to me by relatives, written in Russia from 1787 to 1790; in Denmark [p. 4] and England, from 1790 to 1793, and in America, from 1793 to 1802, the latter partly written in Plymouth, Massachusetts. They first tell a continued story of his sojourn in Colpini, Cronstadt, and St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was hired by the Russian Government to try to twist cable by rope machines turned by horses. His final success under great difficulties, and exhibitions of his work before notables, were rewarded by that government after three years of labor.

He next spent three years in England, in charge of this work, at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, where followed more exhibitions of rope twisting before sea captains and titled people of his native land. We learn of his voyage to America where he first visited rope yards, in several States, before coming to Massachusetts; and of his continuing this work in Boston. In 1793, he experimented in introducing into this country his method of making tin plate, at the Delaware Works in New York, or New Jersey. In 1796, he had charge of Iron Works in Plymouth. In 1797, a patent was obtained for an improved method of casting Iron Rolls for slitting and rolling mills, and an additional patent was later perfected.

He introduced into this country the method of making shot and cannon balls from chilled iron, and from 1798 to 1813, sold the United States Government two hundred tons of ammunition. Newport harbor was surveyed, and sounded by him, and he laid out a Naval Station there. The Frigate built at Salem was equipped with shot and cannon balls by him, as well as the Congress Frigate, Herald, Essex, and other war vessels. Among his inventions was a patent for making iron sheaves or “shives,” used in fishing vessels, and he equipped many vessels in this country. Having been highly educated scientifically for those early times, and having had years of travel, it all helped form a background for his achievements and activities in the years that followed, and makes the story of his life form a very interesting study. Possessed of a very buoyant disposition, that was a great asset to him in all vicissitudes of life, and through the many struggles he sometimes encountered, the story of his varied experiences can best be understood, by chiefly quoting [p. 5] from his daily journals, written in a wonderfully clear handwriting, on manuscripts, probably made and bound by himself, as he later on referred to doing this work.

His earliest record, I possess, is an account of his ocean voyage on his way from England to Colpini, Russia, in 1787. We later read of his arrival, and of his taking a house to dwell in while experimenting; also of his hiring a housekeeper named “Alonna” to get his meals. He had to gather his wood, iron, and other materials to work with, while building his rope machines with few tools, under great difficulties. We will hear of his exhibitions of rope twisting by machinery performed by the help of men and horses, in the foreign shipyards surrounded by high government officials and sea captains, several from America. Before leaving Russia, after his apparent great success, we learn of his instructing men how to carry on this work after he was to take his departure to a new field of labor. Interwoven with these experiments in rope making, are often inserted a few facts and events of past history, to try to make the reading of this document more interesting and educational.

Although the late Benjamin Seymour had no title, being the youngest son, yet he was of the noted Seymour family of Berry Pomeroy, Devonshire, England. He received a thousand pounds and his education for his portion of the estate, and travelled extensively in foreign countries. The old ruins of the Seymour Castle are still in possession of a branch of the family, and are said to be covered with ivy. When my great grandfather came to America, it was at the time of War with France, so his wife did not come over until the next year to join him in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Letters published at the end of this book, may be of interest to help contrast the early difficulties of industry with the great achievements of today.

She adds some more on Benjamin Seymour at the end of her volume (pp. 135-36):

Trying so hard to support his big family, by iron industries, rope interests, and renting several houses on Spring Lane, Benjamin Seymour's life was very busy and varied. In 1810, he built the house on Summer Street, for his own occupancy, that is now owned by Miss Jackson. The large fireplace in the basement, and oven were very complete for those days. There was also an oven on the next floor. He continued his various activities and adversities, until March, 1817. He then received a letter from the Government, informing him that he had been chosen Superintendent of the Navy Yard at Washington. It seemed as if his great wish for recognition was about to be realized. He wrote his letter of acceptance, and rushed down the street in his excitement to the Inn, on Leyden Street. The stage started daily from this point, carrying the mail to Boston. He lifted his hand, with the letter enclosed, to the driver, and dropped back dead. Thus ended the life of an unusual man, who had been greatly endowed with mentality, mechanical ingenuity and varied successes and failures. Some of his grand children, and great grand children, also had great mechanical genius, and have excelled in inventions in rivet machinery, shoe machinery, and electricity. While there may often be a sameness of material in what has been here recorded, yet it may interest some men and possibly some women, to read what great patience and persistence were necessary to help bring about our present great progressive age of industry.