The Seamans of Drummond Island

Drummond Island was seeded with Seamans by a grandson of Caleb Seaman in 1853. This island, located at the juncture of three of the Great Lakes, became home for a long line of descendants of Daniel Murray Seaman, an early adherent to the Mormon religion.

A hundred years later, John T. Nevill wrote a series of articles about the Seaman family of Drummond Island and these were published in a local newspaper, The Evening News. An index to the entire series of 17 articles from 1953 is here.

Installment Three - Friday, July 24, 1953

The Seaman Story - No. 3

Believe No Seaman Living Today Is a Follower of Mormon Faith

Drummond Settlement - The 100 years which have passed in slow procession since that days in 1853 when Daniel Murray Seaman first came to these shores have failed to erase the notion, held by many outsiders, that the Seamans, of Drummond Island, are Mormons.

The fact is that none of the Seamans, insofar as is known, is a member of the Mormon faith. True enough, D.M. Seaman himself - forefather of all the island's Seamans - was a Mormon. but he adopted Mormonism more than 120 years ago, and he practiced it very much as do the Mormons of today. No one- not even dreaded "King" Strang - could make Daniel Murray Seaman believe in the propriety of polygamy.

It would appear, therefore, that when Mormonism divided itself into at least two major factions, Seaman made the mistake of selecting the wrong faction. He took his wife and children to Big Beaver Island, that "kingdom in Lake Michigan", which was ruled over so despotically by "King" James Strang.

Failed to Knuckle Down

Once there, like many other "subjects" of the Mormon king, he failed to knuckle down to Strang on the question of polygamy. The chances are, moreover, he also frowned upon many another practice he and his wife, Betsy, found so commonplace under the ruthlessly cruel rule of the "king". Why else, we may ask, would he flee the Beavers to find a temporary haven on Manitoulin Island, from whence he came to Drummond 100 years ago.

Born in Canada in 1811, a grandson of one of George the Third's red-coated cavalrymen, Daniel Murray Seaman was 39 when he and Betsy and their six children arrived in the Beavers from Stockholm, NY.

Betsy, nee Elizabeth Grandy, was D.M.'s second wife, his first having died in 1840. The three eldest of the children - Celia, 14, Naida, 13, and Samuel, 11 - were by Seaman's first wife. The younger three - Edwin Augustus, six, Lovina Elizabeth, five, and Eliza Melissa, under six months - were by Betsy Seaman.

Just as two of his children by his ill-starred first wife had died in infancy, so did two of his children by his second wife. The couple's first-born, William James, and their fourth-born, Olive Roseltha, both died in 1849 during a smallpox plague.

By 1850, however, before D.M. and Betsy left New York State for the Beavers, their union had been blessed by a total of five children. So three of them remained. Therefore, as they boarded the vessel bound for new adventures in religion on a far-away island at the head of mighty Lake Michigan, the Seaman family totaled eight - including, of course, the three older children.

A shipboard voyage over the capricious and relatively uncharted waters of the Great Lakes in 1850, was a major undertaking - and a dangerous one under the best of circumstances. and, of course, the presence of six children represented additional care and responsibility.

Celia, Naida, and Sam were large enough to help their step-mother with the younger brood, and no doubt they did their best. But the long voyage, nevertheless, was not without incident. In later years, when prompted to do so, "Grandma" Seaman often mentioned it.

As "grandma" Seaman's story has it, she was below decks in the sailing vessel washing out baby things. She heard a splash outside the open window of the boat, and looked out to see a sailor struggling in the water. Without giving any thought to her own safety, she reached out the window until she could grab the struggling sailorman, after which she pulled him to and up through the window.

That oldtime sailorman, whoever he was, couldn't have been saved from drowning by a more gallant lady.

A full dozen years before Seaman and his wife arrived to join the Strang colony on Big Beaver, Daniel Murray had been ordained in the Mormon church - and by Joseph Smith himself at Nauvoo. And, until the day he set foot in the Beavers, his faith in the prophet, Mormon, and in the Book of Mormon, as preached by Joseph Smith - and as a supplement to the Christian Bible - remained firm and unshaken.

Serious Doubts

Strang, unprepossessing of appearance, but exceedingly eloquent of tongue, had moved his followers to Voree, Wis., and from there - when Gentile opposition became too warm - to his "kingdom in Lake Michigan, Big Beaver Island". The Seamans came along toward the end of 1850 (the infant, Eliza, wasn't born until July 5 of that year) and they couldn't have been there long before serious doubts must have entered their minds.

About one year elapsed since James Jesse Strang had moved his colony into the island wilderness - and the Seamans found bewilderment, disappointment, los of faith, shock, and downright hatred everywhere among the "faithful".

The previous winder had been exceptionally harsh, and Strang had left his followers poorly prepared to cope with the long, cold months. Were it not for the helping hand of a handful of hated Gentiles scattered sparsely about the island, many of the Mormons would have starved to death. Even so, some of them did!

"King" Strang himself (he had caused himself to be crowned King shortly before the Seaman's arrival) never remained on the island in winter. He usually left on the last boat of the season, and spent the winter in relative comfort, rounding up more converts to his strange creed.

In her book, "A Child of the Sea, and Life Among the Mormons", Elizabeth Whitney Williams, a Gentile resident of Beaver touched upon that point in this way, and we quote:

Want and Suffering

"Mama soon came home, telling of the want and suffering among the people. the King had gone from the Island on the last boat, leaving them to fare as best they could. They had come to the island too late to plant anything that season, and none of them knew how to fish or help themselves. They suffered cold, hunger, and death that winter without complaint of their King. Their whole cry was, "Oh, if our King were only here."

"There was someone everyday to our house, and to Aunt Loaney's. The Mormons were in a starving condition. Father gave to them until he feared we should be left with nothing. Grandpa was afraid we children would be left hungry, so he buried many things for us. Mother and Aunty were always busy cooking and carrying food to the sick and dying. Mrs. McKinley was just as busy at the Point, helping the suffering all she could. There were several deaths in the winter and spring.

But, as Mrs. Williams goes on to say, "King" Strang took all this in his stride. When he returned to the island the following spring and was advised about the terrible suffering, sickness, and death, he merely laughed, and shrugged it off with: "Oh, they'll have to get used to that!"

Small wonder, then that Daniel Murray and Betsy Seaman found bewilderment and disillusionment, and hatred among Strang's people. Small wonder that they began almost immediately to entertain serious doubts about the leadership on Big Beaver.

Just how long the Seamans remained in the Beavers is not clear in the records. In any event, it was long enough for another son, Don Carlos, to be born to them - and long enough for Seaman's daughter by his first wife, Celia, to meet and marry Ludlow P. Hill.

Nor is anything known, for sure, about their manner of leaving the Beavers. About the only thing that is certain is that when they left, they left thoroughly disgusted and thoroughly sickened by what they had found in the islands.


John T. Nevill
Drummond Settlement
The Evening News
July 24, 1953