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 Five - Monday, July 27, 1953

The Seaman Story - No. 5

Grandma Betsy Seaman Guided Destiny of Family in Early Years

Drummond Settlement - The Seaman family of Drummond Island, now far-flung, but still the Number One family of this 133 square mile island, can point to no more monumental character than she who guided the family's destiny during the early years - "Grandma" Betsy Seaman.

Daniel Murray Seaman, founder of the Drummond Island family, died in November, 1863 - slightly more than 10 years after he and Betsy and their brood of young ones arrived on this island from the Mormon-dominated Beavers. After D.M.'s death, it was up to Betsy. It was she who had to hold the family together; to educate the children; to be their spiritual adviser; to perform backbreaking tasks during the brief summer months, and face the long, severe winters unflinchingly; to make friends and maintain friendships among the family's pitifully few neighbors - most of whom were Indians; and to perform many other tasks necessary to survive in a harsh island wilderness.

Only a dozen years prior to the time she and D.M. fled the Beavers and found a dubious haven on Drummond, Betsy Seaman had been Miss Elizabeth Grandy, a school teacher, in the small, but relatively crowded town of Stockholm, NY.

In 1841 she had married Seaman, a widower with 3 surviving children by his first wife. She had journeyed to the Mormon island kingdom with him and, like him, had revolted at conditions they found there.

A slim, rather frail, medium-sized woman, she had clear, blue eyes - almost the color of the bay's water in its deepest portions - a firm chin, nicely chiseled features - and courage to spare. Having been a teacher, she was well educated, as measured by standards of that day, and she succeeded in passing that education on to her children, with all the discipline, and tact, and skill of the professional.

Resourceful Woman

She was resourceful, too - she knew well how to knit, and mend, and back, and tend gardens (both vegetable and flower), and how to produce all sorts of useful things from the soil, the trees, the shrubs, and the waters surrounding her. Moreover, she always seemed to have the will and the energy to tackle such chores - and to finish them almost before anyone else knew what she was doing. She was in short, a fitting wife and mother for a family which had selected a rugged wilderness in which to live.

Betsy Seaman liked to "fiddle in a garden", as she would put it - particularly flower gardens - and she spent many hours at it. Although she preferred working among her flowers, she was compelled to devote most of her gardening time to more essential products - such as potatoes, especially in the early years. In later years, after her hair had turned white, and "spectacles" were required to aid her once-keen blue eyes, she told her children of the time she had planted "seed potatoes", only to have to dig them up to eat, when company came unexpectedly.

"Company", in those days, always came unexpectedly; there was little or no way to notify a body in advance. But neighbors were not too plentiful, and it always was pleasant to have someone drop in for a short visit.

It was characteristic of Betsy Seaman never to begrudge anything shared with a friend or neighbor - even when there was little enough food in the house for her own family. Many of the callers were Indians, some of them lived in their lodges deep in the dark woods, often miles from the Settlements. And of course, the Indians came in great numbers every New Year's Day for he gifts they knew their white friend would have for them.

Being a devout follower of the Gospels, D.M. loved to share what he had with others, and Betsy never seemed to become irked at him as a result of his displays of generosity - unless it was the time, at a Christmas Tree party on the island, when he handed over her favorite "fascinator". Grandma Seaman may have forgiven D.M. for it, but she never quite forgot it. To this very day, the Seaman family children, wherever they may be, are told the story of "Grandma's fascinator". A Note from your webmaster: I had to look this one up so I thought I would share. A fascinator was a scarf of crochet work, lace, or the like, narrowing toward the ends, worn as a head covering by women.

No Polygamy for Her

Although Betsy Seaman married a Mormon, it is not likely she ever became one herself. Like her husband, she never could be made to believe in polygamy. She believed in adhering to God's Commandments, but otherwise she was pretty much of an independent thinker on religious matters. It must have been a source of much concern, therefore, when the Pierces and the Doty's came to settle on Drummond Island.

The Pierces and the Dotys were Mormon families who apparently had been driven from the Beaver Islands following the murder of "King" James Strang. They built a huge two story log house down near the beach, little more than a stone's throw from the Seaman home. both families lived together in the barn-like structure, which long since has disappeared from the Drummond Settlement scene, but which still is referred to as "the old Pierce house".

In her book, "A child of the Sea", Mrs. Elizabeth Williams gave prominent mention of a Mormon named Pierce, who was one of the "muscle-men" King Strang sent after those among his followers who attempted to break away from the islands. Whether Pierce, the Mormon of Drummond Island, and Pierce, the King Strang muscleman, were one and the same man is not known to anyone living on the island today. But all agree they easily could have been.

The Pierces of Drummond came to the island at about the time Gentiles were driving Mormons headlong from the Beavers. They couldn't have stuck around too long, however, for many older members of the Seaman family - persons living today - remember the "old Pierce house" as a ghostly, abandoned hulk, long empty, and quite desolate. It stood there, empty and lonesome, for many years - until one of the Seamans tore it down and made railway ties out of its sturdy cedar beams.

Too Much Work

But D.M. and Betsy Seaman always seemed to have to much work to do to worry much about the Pierces and Dotys. D.M. fished some, and hayed some, but he spent most of his time cutting hardwood fuel for the steamboats and steam tug trade on the St. Mary's. Some of his fish were sold to Canadian markets in Bruce Mines and Thessalon, a score or more miles distant, but much of what he netted was taken across DeTour Passage and delivered to Tom Sims on the DeTour mainland or transported to Mackinac Island when prices justified that.

In the early 'sixties the late J. Wells Church, then a very young man, built a fuelling dock on the DeTour side of the Passage, and the daily records which he always kept is filled with notations reading "Seaman here with load of wood". Cap. Church, whose diary was not always as tactful as it might have been, thought "Seaman's family very stiff" in those early days. But in later years, during the 'seventies, 'eighties, and 'nineties, he became very neighborly with D.M.'s family.

Betsy and the older children - Naida, Sam, and Ed - helped D.M. all they could. Celia had remained with her husband in the Beavers. But Betsy frequently had to take time out to bear more children. Celia, Naida, and Sam were by Seaman's fist wife. Prior to coming to Drummond, however, Betsy had presented Seaman with Edwin, Lovina, Eliza and Don Carlos, not to mention two other children who died.

On a murky day in March of 1854, Alice Faziza was born - the first Seaman born on Drummond Island. Phoebe Estella came along in July, 1856, just a few weeks after D.M.'s one time associate in Mormonism, King Strang, had been shot and mortally wounded in the Beavers. After Stella, in December, 1857, came Ludlow Adelbert, and Ludlow was followed, in 1860 by Lillie Rosina. In 1862 about a year before D.M. Seaman's death his last-born child was born. He was Daniel Murray Seaman, Jr., who even today - long after his own death - frequently is confused with the first Daniel Murray Seaman.

16 Children

So by the time he died, on November 8, 1863, D.M. Seaman had fathered a total of 16 children, most of whom survived him. He was only fifty-two years old.

Far to the south of lonely Drummond, the American Civil War was raging. The boom of the cannon, the crack of its rifles, the chatter of its horsemen, and the spectacle of its dead could only be imagined by those on the island. But its economic effects were felt everywhere. Times were hard.

Fred Sheridan

It was during this ghastly period in American history that lonely and remote Drummond Island played host to a distinguished visitor. the North's great General Sheridan and some of his men called at the island and spent some time here. Betsy Seaman was called upon to feed the great soldier, his staff, and his men.

Wholly unused to and unfamiliar with military ways, Betsy could never be made to understand why she had to set up two widely separated tables - one for the officers and another for the men. It was characteristic of Betsy Seaman that she was outspoken enough to call this practice a lot of nonsense.

Gen. Sheridan and his men remained only a few days, then left the island to be seen no more. But the Civil War's toll of scarcity and hunger remained with the islanders.

Betsy Seaman, left alone with a brood of young ones on this isolated, heavily-wooded island, must have thought about that a lot as she watched her husband being lowered into the cold, snow-laden sod.

John T. Nevill
Drummond Settlement
The Evening News
July 27, 1953