The Seelye Family

The Family history started with Robert Seelye who sailed from the Isle of Wight, England in 1630 as Captain of one of the eleven vessels of John Winthrop’s fleet. He landed with his wife, his servant, and two sons and made his home in Watertown, Massachusetts.

His descendents brought up large families of children, some of whom settled in New Haven, Fairfield and Danbury.

The seventh generation concerns the family of Laurenus Clark Seelye. The third son, Nathan Seelye was born in 1766 in Stratford and married Hannah Hawley in 1790. The third of eight sons, Seth was born in 1795, and was the father of Laurenus C. Seelye.

Seth’s wife, Abigail Taylor, had a background of the same type as his own, reaching back through seven generations of Connecticut Puritans to John Taylor who, with his wife, Rhoda came from England in 1639 and settled in Windsor. Abigail had a sister who married the scholar and philosopher Laurens I. Hickok.

The children of Seth and Abigail numbered ten as recorded in the family Bible:

Thomas Taylor born Aug. 23, 1818 died Feb. 6, 1890.
Thomas Benedict born Aug. 18, 1820 died June 16, 1823.
Samuel Taylor born Oct. 24, 1822 died Feb. 24, 1902.
Julius Hawley born Sept. 14, 1824 died May 12, 1895.
Henry Eckford born June 20, 1827 died Aug. 17, 1913.
Elizabeth Benedict born Aug. 27, 1829 died Feb 22, 1880.
Abigail Clark born Aug. 27, 1831 died Sept. 1833.
Hannah Hawley born Dec. 20, 1833 died June 9, 1912.
Laurenus Clark born Sept. 20, 1837 died Oct. 12, 1924.
A daughter born May 1839.

The little house in which Seth and Abigail first took up housekeeping was on the site of the present homestead, surrounded by wide acres of wild land, field and pasture. Some of the acres were Abigail’s inheritance from her father and the rest was acquired by Seth, who had a keen eye for business along with his silent Puritan austerity. Moreover Seth owned a general store opposite the home, which was no doubt a profitable source of income. When Clark was five years old, both business and farm had so prospered that Deacon Seth tore down the old house and in 1842 built the present one, where Clark grew up. It was said at the time to be the finest house in Bethel.

The center of interest for the family, as for the village was the Congregational Church. Seth saw that each one of his children became a member in good standing as early in life as possible.

Thomas, the eldest son, had his early schooling in Bethel. He went to study in the medical department of Yale College, then to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, from which he graduated about 1840. He settled eventually in Cleveland, Ohio, where in 1848 he built the Cleveland Sanitarium, one of the earliest institutions of the kind in the country.

The next son, Samuel went to Western Reserve College then Hudson, Ohio. After studying theology in Auburn Seminary, he was pastor successively in Wolcottville (now Torrington), Connecticut and in Albany, New York. Later he was pastor of the Congregational Church in Easthampton, Mass.

Julius entered Amherst in 1849. After graduation from there, he went to Auburn Theological Seminary and studied for a year in the University of Halle, Germany. He was pastor of the Dutch Reform Church in Schnectady, New York. There he was called to the chair of Mental and Moral Philosophy in Amherst College in 1856. He later became President of Amherst.

Henry worked on the farm until he was twenty one, when he went to live with his brother Thomas. He became interested in law, and was soon taken into the law firm of Goodrich, Grant and Goodrich, where he continued in active law practice more than fifty years.

Two sisters, Lizzie and Hannah were the mainstay of the home. Like the brothers, they frequently broke away from Bethel, arranging their lives so that there was one sister at home. Each spent winters with the brothers in Albany, Amherst or Cleveland.

Laurenus Clark Seelye attended Union College, Andover Theological Seminary, the Universities of Berlin, Heidelberg and Amherst. He was ordained to the Congregational ministry in 1863, and was pastor for a time of the North Church, Springfield, Mass. Prior to his assuming the presidency of Smith College, he held for eight years the professorship of rhetoric and English literature at Amherst. Dr. Seelye was president of Smith College for thirty-seven years, from the date of it founding in 1873 until 1910. In the course of his term of office, Dr. Seelye saw Smith develop from an institution with fourteen students and four faculty members in addition to himself to a college with an enrollment of 1635 students and a faculty of 105 in 1910.

As the president of a women’s college, Dr. Seelye said that it should be a college that should give as liberal an education of as high a grade for women as if furnished by the colleges for men without any sacrifice of womanly character, and at the same time to perfect them in the capacity which has ever been the joy and charm of true womanhood.

From notes by Mrs. LaValla