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 Four - Saturday, July 25, 1953

The Seaman Story - No. 4

Many Are the Tales of How the First Seaman Came to Drummond

Drummond Settlement - On Drummond Island today one hears various version of how this island's first Seaman - Daniel Murray Seaman - made his exit from the trouble ridden domain of the Beaver Island's notorious "King" Strang. But none of them has been definitely authenticated.

One story has it that Seaman was lashed to the mast of a small boat, and set adrift. This version is said to have been told to the late George Warren Bailey by none other than "Uncle Sam'l" Seaman, D.M.'s son, who came here with his father. Proponents of this yarn say Seaman's family was hidden away on the boat, and once safely offshore, young Sam'l, then about 12, emerged from hiding and cut his father's lashings.

The story's weakness lies in the fact Seaman's family - even then - was quite sizable, including, beside his wife, Betsy, and his son Samuel, five other children - Naida, 15, Edwin, eight, Lovina, seven, Eliza, two, and the infant, Don Carlos. Seaman's seventh and eldest child, Celia, 16, who had married Ludlow P. Hill in the islands, apparently remained for a time in the Beavers.

Strang Frowned

Another story has it that Seaman's failure to see eye-to-eye with the ruthless, iron-fisted Mormon king - particularly on the red-hot question of polygamy - had aroused Strang's ire, as a result of which Seaman and his entire family were banished. But this overlooks the well-supported evidence that Strang frowned upon any Mormon leaving the islands - often sending his muscle-men after them, dragging them back, administering public whippings, or taking other equally cruel punitive measures.

Still another version is that the Seamans, sickened and disillusioned by conditions in the Mormon kingdom, stole away in the dead of night, "borrowed" a boat and headed for safety while most of St. James Harbor slept. This seems to be the most logical story of all.

Daniel Murray Seaman, a Canadian, had embraced Mormonism while in his early twenties - but apparently never believed in polygamy. He had married twice, having five children (three surviving) by his first wife, and at the time of his departure from the Beavers, six children (four surviving) by his second wife.

Seaman's first wife, Lovina Smith Seaman, accompanied him to Nauvoo, Ill., where he was made an elder in the Mormon church. She died in 1840, and a year later Seaman married Elizabeth (Betsy) Grandy, who was to give him 11 more children, and who, in time, was to become "Grandma" Seaman, a matriarch of Drummond Island.

It was Betsy Seaman who journeyed with D.M. to Big Beaver Island - going via sail boat from New York State, and taking six of their children with them. The seventh child, Don Carlos, was born in the Beavers.

To Manitoulin

It is well established too, that when the Seamans left the Beavers they went to Manitoulin Island, and resided there for a short time before moving on to Drummond.

Virtually nothing is known of the Manitoulin Island phase of their lives, although even on this wild, sparsely settled, and extremely lonely spot - largest freshwater island in the world - the inherent kindness of Daniel Murray and Betsy Seaman won them friends.

D.M. Seaman's chief interest was the Indians. He wanted to befriend them, to improve their lot, and, since he never had lost his urge to spread the word of God, to preach to them, and bring them into the fold. Betsy, on the other hand, left the missionary work to her husband. She "preached" Christianity by being kind, by extending a helping hand whenever and wherever needed, by taking people (Indian as well as white) into their home, feeding them, and looking after them when they were sick.

Miss Nona Butterfield, of Chicago, a granddaughter of D.M. and Betsy Seaman (her mother was Lovina Elizabeth Seaman; her father, Sam Butterfield) tells of a lengthy poem written by an English surveyor on Manitoulin Island which extols the great kindness of the Seamans. They apparently had befriended him during their stay on those lonely shores.

Nor is it clear why they failed to remain on Great Manitoulin, or why they selected Drummond as their next - and final - port of call. Did American citizenship motivate the change? Did Drummond Island offer more opportunity to spread religion among the Indians? Or was it simply a case of economics - Drummond offering a better chance for a man to earn his keep?

You may answer that puzzler any way you want. It would seem, though that economics had the most to do with it - although Drummond Island, one hundred years ago, was far from a going concern.

Closer to Ship Lanes

Drummond was almost as lonely and almost as inhospitable as Manitoulin - even if it was closer to the ship lanes - and its rugged beauty was scant counter balance for the huge rocks which were everywhere about, and the stone-filled topsoil which would make farming extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The huge island had been evacuated by his Majesty's men just a quarter century before, and the few log buildings, each with its stone chimney, which had been old Fort Drummond, were no more than mute and lonely reminders of a misguided Britisher's folly. Even the name, Drummond, was not too old. There was a definite newness - and strangeness - about it. Indians once had called the island Pontanagipy, and many of them still did!

But the big island had location. Its western end along which the British had built their fort, bordered the great waterway leading to Lake Superior. And even now (early in 1853) folks at the Sault and elsewhere were buzzing about the canal which was to be built there to speed up boat traffic into and out of the head of the Lakes.

Right of Way

Even the handful of white people enveloped in the remoteness of Great Manitoulin could have heard that the American Congress actually had granted the State of Michigan a right-of-way through the military reservation, and had appropriated 750,000 acres of government-owned land to be sold to finance the undertaking. It was too early in the year, however, for anyone to know that before the year 1853 expired, 2,000 men, recruited by young Charly Harvey, would be making the first lock a reality!

There is, however, not one shred of evidence that D.M. Seaman came here because he was motivated by thought of the then-imminent Soo Lock. And just what his primary motive was may never be known.

But came he did - 100 years ago, in the spring of the year - and brought his family with him. They came by sail boat, skirting the island's south shore, and turning shoreward at old Fort Bay when dusk and heavy snowstorm overtook them. They secured their boat in the calm waters off old Fort Drummond - waters still partially laden with the stubborn ice of spring - and walked ashore.

From a cow tethered in his sail boat, an animal he'd had on Manitoulin, Seaman produced milk for the young children, and brought it ashore. In the deepening darkness they found shelter, perhaps in one of His Majesty's buildings - if any was usable - built a fire, and otherwise prepared to spend the night.

The following morning, the snowstorm over, and a clear, blue sky permitting sun rays to warm the chill spring air they again boarded the boat. Headed out into Lake Huron, they rounded the point into DeTour Passage, and so into Potagannissing Bay, and on to the present site of Drummond Settlement.

The first Seaman had arrived on Drummond Island!

John T. Nevill
Drummond Settlement
The Evening News
July 25, 1953