15 December 1794
Benjamin Seymour,1 Boston, to Mary Hays, [2 Paragon Place, Surrey Road], 15 December 1794.2
Boston 15th Decemr 1794
The last time I had the pleasure of your conversation I recollect your expressing a desire of corresponding with me, wherever my sportive destiny might lead me; and I also remember a promise I made of giving every information and description of the country I should happen to reside in whenever my residence in any place should be long enough to enable me to write anything worthy your perusal. [F]inding my credulity in relying on great mens promises, have operated like a sentence of exile, or banishment I have long accustomed myself to think I am at home, on any part of the globe; and if I still hold a place in your esteem, you will probably receive some satisfaction in learning from my own pen, that I am as happy and as healthy as I wish to be. I am engaged in a larger iron works and participate of the profits, and am ambitious of introducing a manufacture wholly new in this country, in which I have already made some important progress, and if I succeed, the importation of the article will wholly cease, the annual amount of which is very considerable and very advantageous to G. Britain, it is my intention to send over a small quantity of the manufacture to Sir James Sanderson,3 and at the same time to request he will receive a large quantity on commission for sale; only that I may gratify my resentment for his contemptible conduct in keeping my model from me – in all probability I shall spend the residue of my life in this country, as I find a great deal of undisguised hospitality and simplicity of manners among the people, and like Adam though driven from paradise, can content myself in the garden of Eden: and while ambitious Despots and their Satellites are drenching the European world in blood, I alternately enjoy the sweets of retirement and society; and if my pleasures have an alloy, it is only from a reflection that others have suffered by my own imprudence, at the same time it inspires me with animation as well as ambition to make them ample amends by my present, and future industry and exertions. [T]his Western world abounds with the necessaries of life, which are to be had, at least 50 pCent less than in London. [T]he face of the country affords abundant amusement and speculation, for the mind of the philosopher and naturalist, and the climate is agreeable and salutary to health. I have frequently as I sat at breakfast at the window adjoining the garden, been much amused in observing the humming bird breakfasting on the flowers of a beautiful balsam, less beautiful than himself, but have been struck with wonder on walking for two miles together through a sort of harvest of vegetable tallow, it grows on a shrub about the height of our gooseberry bush, and produces a berry of the sort of the elderberry, which in the Autumn is covered with a whitish substance which taken of[f] by boiling is coloured green by the juices of the plant contained internally in the berry, one bushel produces four pounds when boiled. [A]nother natural curiosity is the stone called the pudding stone, which name has been given on account of the mixture of various substances of which it consists, jumbled together in a very singular manner, pebbles retaining their pristine forms, gravel, common earth, pieces of rock, slate &c &c forming together vast rocks, which being blown to pieces by gunpowder, exhibit the assemblage of the substances described. [T]hese immense rocks I have seen on the tops of hills, and it evidently appears that these have once been in a liquid; or mudlike state; indeed I am now perfectly of Mr Walkers opinion, that the deluge must have been the work of a comet. [B]y the side of rivers I have seen immense rocks of many tons weight, which having been broken from their bed; or strata, are piled in a detached state one up on another, and strike the mind of the beholder with a degree of awful grandeur, which the works of art are by no means able to produce. I shall now claim your promise which I hope you will perform, (corresponding with me) that I may learn from you the situation of my relations and friends, believe me if my wishes prayers; or actions, could contribute by any means to their happiness I should be incessantly employed for their advantage. [I]t will give a sincere pleasure to hear of the health and happiness of Mrs Hays, and your sisters and their connections, pray let me know if my dear Mrs Allen is happy; her generous and affectionate sensibility on my first interview with her on my return from Russia, has made an impression on my mind, never to be effaced by time; or absence. I believe I dont know (out of the family) that any of my friends reside in England. I shall send over an American Metaphysical publication for your amusement; if I am favoured with your answer
I am sincerely,
Your affectionate cousin
PS let me know how Mr Searl4 goes on
have sent the inclosed as a sample of the berries, from which, are annually made large quantities of candles –
Address: To | Eusebia Addrest [per] the Ship Galen | from Boston
1 Benjamin Seymour (c. 1775-1817) was Mary Hays's cousin. For a complete biographical summary, see his entry in Biographical Index.
2 Misc. Ms. 2211, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 478-79.
3 Sir James Sanderson (1741-98) was a prominent London political figure in London in the 1780s and '90s, serving as Alderman (1783), Sheriff (1785-86), and Lord Mayor (1792-93). He lived at the time of the above letter at East Hill, near Wandsworth, Surrey. He was a hop merchant and by 1790 the head of the firm Sanderson, Roxby, & Co. at 3 London Bridge. He was also a partner in a Southwark banking firm which had financial difficulties in March 1793, during his time as Mayor (this may be the source of the disagreement between Seymour and Sanderson). He then joined another banking firm, Stacey, Parker and Newman, at 1 Mansion House Street. In the 1790s Sanderson served as MP for Malmesbury and Hastings. His politics were generally on the loyalist-ministerial side after 1792, and was never a favorite of the Whigs, which would have been the side Seymour most likely took at that time.
4 Michael Searles (1751-1813) was the son of Michael Searles, Sr. (c. 1720-1799), who had business connections in Southwark and Greenwich. Both father and son served as surveyor for Morden College, Greenwich and Blackheath. Searles Sr. was involved in the collection of poor rates for Sourthwark, signing the 1776 book for St. John Parish. His son became one of the earliest examples of a professional architect for houses. He was married in 1771 and fathered some 12 children, of which nine survived into adulthood. His primary activities were in surveying, land measurement, and architectural design. In the 1780s, Searles lived along the Old Kent Road, Southwark, not far from where he would build his first Paragon and Paragon Place, in which one unit would be inhabited by the family of John Dunkin and Mary Hays for a time in the mid-1790s. In the late 1780s he began work on the Paragon, located along what is now called New Kent Road. Twelve three-story homes linked with porches and Doric columns made of Coade Stone (an invention of the Southwark stonemason and Baptist woman, Elinor Coade) were built, with Searles occupying No. 2 for a time, the same unit the Dunkins later inhabited. This impressive terrace of homes was destroyed in 1898 to make way for a school. Searles also built the Circus in Greenwich, Surrey Square in Southwark (1792), and the Paragon and South Row, Blackheath (1794-1806), his most impressive terrace (also embellished with Coade Stone) which still remains to this day. It was at No. 6 Paragon that John Hays would live from 1812 to 1819. Searles died in an accident with his chaise in 1813. He may have had some Dissenting connections given the reference to him in Seymour's letter above, and the fact that the Dunkins and Hayses lived in both of his most impressive developments, with other connected families, the Palmers and the Gileses, living at Surrey Square for several years. For more on Searles, see Neil Rhind, The Paragon and South Row, Blackheath: A Triumph in late 18th Century Unintentional Town Planning (Blackheath: Bookshop on the Heath, Blackheath Society, 2012), 15-20.