In which the editor examines and interprets the evidence in Sawbridgeworth in Old England, in Hartford, and in Norwalk; respecting the origin of Richard Seymour, the colonist; all showing how conclusive circumstantial evidence may be.
The late Mr. J. Gardner Bartlett, an expert genealogist who specialized in the English field, while conducting searches in Hertfordshire in connection with another family, found by accident the clue which led to the discovery of the origin of the American Seymours. After the data he discovered had been offered to other members of the Seymour family, the information was purchased by the author, who contributed it in 1917 to the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, in which it was published (vol. 71, pp. 105-115). For full details of the English connections, the reader is referred to that publication
Some twenty-five miles north-east of London, in the contiguous counties of Essex and Hertfordshire, traces are found in the sixteenth century of a family which spelled its name variously Seymer, Seymor, Seamer and Semer. The orthography employed at that period by country vicars means very little, but it is worthy of note that the spelling earliest used and most frequently used was Seymer. This was the form of the surname preferred by the Seymers of Dorsetshire,1) a gentry family which displayed the arms (with differences) of the Seymours of Devonshire, later the ducal house.
The members of the family in Hertfordshire were, at this period, largely of the small yeoman and tradesman class. The social status of any family at a given period of time is no indication of the ancestry of that family. The Tudor period in England was one of rapid change and mobility. The older Plantagenet aristocracy had suffered severe losses during the Wars of the Roses; many of its members had fallen in battles, and many more had lost their estates by attainder or, as we should say, by confiscation. Many new families had risen to power and position, trailing the Tudor fortunes. Some of these, sneered at as “Tudor upstarts,” were of extremely humble origin, and this was so notorious that Elizabethan heralds found it a profitable business to invent pedigrees for “gentlemen” who lacked any real claim to “gentle blood.”
There are records of retired pirates who bought manors with the proceeds of their villainy and founded families of distinction. On the other side of the picture, the owners of manors - the “minor gentry” - often apprenticed younger sons to learn trades. Younger sons of younger sons of the older aristocracy not uncommonly descended to the ranks of the unlanded laborers. When, at a little later period, the last Duke of Northumberland of the male-line Percy family died, the claimant to one of the proudest titles in England was a humble trunk-maker of Dublin.
With these reflections in mind., we turn to the records of Sawbridgeworth (a name locally pronounced “Sapsearth”), a rural parish in co. Herts, which extends to the eastern boundary line of this county and borders on co. Essex. Here in 1605 “John Seymer ye elder was burred ye xxiijth day of October.” A man of sufficient substance to make a will, John Seymer had married, for his second wife, 9 May 1562, Dyzory Porter. His eldest son, Robert Seymer, was baptized at Sawbridgeworth 30 Nov. 1573, married there 14 Nov. 1603, Elizabeth Waller, baptized there 12 Dec. 1578, daughter of John and Elizabeth (Bayford) Waller, and was buried there 23 Aug. 1637.
In 1604 “Richard Seamer ye sonne of Robert Seymer was baptised ye xxvijth day of January,” the year being 1604/5, or 1605 when reckoned by our modern calendar. “Richard Seamer and Mercy Ruscoe ware maried the 18 Aprill” 1631. Three children of this marriage were recorded at Sawbridgeworth:
Thomas, bapt. 15 July 1632
Mary, bapt. 9 Jan. 1634/5; bur. 3 Apr. 1635
Mercy, bapt. 8 July 1636
Although the Sawbridgeworth registers were searched to 1650, the family of Richard Seamer or Seymer drops out with the last entry in 1636.
Now what are the reasons for accepting this Richard Seymer of Sawbridgeworth as identical with Richard the Colonist? Admittedly, we lack direct record evidence. This is not the same as to say that legal proof is lacking. Many things can be proved in a court of law by cumulative circumstantial evidence. Historians too look with favor on this type of evidence when its weight is sufficient. A single piece of direct evidence may be a lie; an entry in a Bible, as we have seen, may have been forged by a fraudulent dealer for the sake of profit. But when we review all the known facts, and each circumstance harmonizes with all the other circumstances, and every bit of evidence fits neatly into the picture as if by magic, - then we feel entitled to claim that theory has given way to proof.
First of all, there is the negative evidence of excluding other possibilities. A tremendous amount of research was done by various English professional genealogists for the Hon. Henry W. Seymour, and afterwards by Miss Talcott in person, and about a score of Richard Seymours were found at the proper period, no one of whom it was possible to identify with the Colonist.
The locale is correct. A large number of the Hartford settlers were from Essex or near its borders, and Sawbridgeworth lies just over the boundary line. The age of this Richard is right. The Colonist was a very active man up to the time of his death, which apparently was sudden, and there is no reason to suppose that he had passed the prime of life. The baptism at Sawbridgeworth makes him fifty years of age. The wife of the Colonist was named Mercy. This was a Puritan name, and not particularly common in England.. Richard the Colonist and his wife Mercy brought with them a son Thomas who, since he married in 1653/4, must have been born in England. Richard and Mercy of Sawbridgeworth had a son Thomas baptized there in 1632, who was in his twenty-second year at the date of the marriage of Thomas in Norwalk, Conn.
It is a most unlikely coincidence that two Seymour families in England would have a son Richard; that each Richard would marry a girl named Mercy; and that each couple would have an eldest son named Thomas – all of proper age for identification with the family of the Colonist. For collateral evidence, consider the name Zechariah which the Colonist bestowed on one of his sons. At Ware, co. Herts, only six miles from Sawbridgeworth, a Zechariah Seamer was married in 1637. He may well have been a younger brother of Richard, and was almost certainly a relative.
Many identifications of colonists have been made and widely accepted where the evidence was trifling in comparison with this remarkable correspondence of names and dates. Add to this the facts that the last child of Richard recorded at Sawbridgeworth was born in 1636 and that his father died there in 1637, after which his family disappears from the local records, just in time to reappear in Hartford, Conn., and the circumstantial case is almost perfect. The father's death, with the likelihood of a small inheritance from that source, we1l may have been the deciding factor in fixing the time of emigration.
But we have left to the 1ast the strongest, or at least the most convincing, link in our chain of evidence. Mercy Ruscoe, daughter of Roger and Sarah Ruscoe of Sawbridgeworth, was named in 1618 in her father's will. The surname is extremely rare in England, and the family was probably Flemish in origin. John Rouscoue, alien, was taxed at Great Dunmow, co. Essex, in 1545. Outside of Essex and Hertfordshire, the surname has not been found in England.
Rev. Thomas Hooker, ministerial leader of the founders of Hartford, preached for ten years at Chelmsford, co. Essex, less than fifteen miles from Sawbridgeworth. He came to New England in 1633 with some of his followers, and others followed shortly after. In 1635 came William Ruscoe, with a certificate from the minister of Billericay, co. Essex, and sat down with Hooker in Cambridge, Mass., following him in 1636 to Hartford, Conn. Richard Seymour and his wife, born Mercy Ruscoe, arrived in Hartford by 1639. This William Ruscoe – his age is stated as 41 in the shipping list of 1635 – was roughly twenty-five years older than Mercy, hence in age was suitable to be her uncle. This is theory: what are the facts?
In Feb. 1639/40 William Ruscoe granted land in Hartford to Richard Seymour, and on 14 Dec. 1650 Richard Seymour conveyed land to William Ruscoe. In 1651 Richard Seymour, with Nathaniel and John Ruscoe, sons of William, were among the fourteen original proprietors of Norwalk, Conn., and John Ruscoe removed from Hartford to Norwalk with Richard Seymour. When Richard Seymour made his will in 1655, John Ruscoe was one of the witnesses.
This intimacy with the Ruscoe family should have suggested a connection to the genealogical mind, even before the discovery of the Seymer records in Sawbridgeworth. Combining the evidence from the English records with the evidence from the Connecticut records, our case is complete, and, we dare assert, impregnable. It was the Ruscoe connection which appealed to the trained genealogical mind of Miss Talcott and played no small part in convincing her of the authenticity of the English discovery and of the identity of Richard Seymour the Colonist with the Sawbridgeworth yeoman.
Over twenty years have passed since publication in the Register of Mr. Bartlett's momentous discovery. The facts there presented very largely speak for themselves, and gradually they have prevailed over errors of opinion. The author is content to sum up here the evidence, believing it will prove convincing to all who are willing to be convinced; others are free to pursue their own notions and to defend them as best they can. In the words of Coventry Patmore:
For want of me the world's course will not fail:
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;
The truth is great, and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.
Editor's Note: For additional information about Richard Seymour's English origin, see Robert Seymour's will.