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Appendix IV: Richard Seymer of the Popham Colony

APPENDIX IV
RICHARD SEYMER OF THE POPHAM COLONY
THE FIRST ENGLISH PREACHER IN NEW ENGLAND

This paper, in slightly different form, was published in The New England Quarterly, June 1938, vol 11, pp. 367-372.

On 10 April 1606, King James I granted a charter for the continent of North America, which provided for a home Council of Virginia, with two companies, one of North, the other of South, Virginia, Sir John Popham, Chief Justice of England under Queen Elizabeth, became the patron of the company; his son, Sir Francis Popham, was appointed one of the Council of Virginia, and his brother, George Popham, became commander of the expedition which sailed from Plymouth, 31 May 1607, to colonize the northern part of Virginia, later known as New England.

William Strachey was the historian of this expedition. His “History of Travaile into Virginia Britannia” was written about 1618, and was published in 1852 in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (4th Series, vol. 1, pp. 240 et seq.). His account in brief was as follows:

The two ships, Gift of God and Mary and John, bearing 120 persons, came to anchor under an island on the coast of Maine, 31 July, exactly two months after leaving the home port. After exploring the coast and islands, the expedition landed on an island, which they called St. George, 9 August 1607, where they heard a sermon, delivered unto them by their preacher, and so returned aboard again. Shortly. after, they anchored in the Sagadahoc (Kennebec) River, and on 18 August they all went ashore and chose a place for their plantation. The next day, they assembled at the selected site, where they had a sermon delivered unto them by their preacher, and after the sermon, the President's commission was read, with the patent, and the laws to be observed and kept.

These laws were the constituent code set forth in the seventh section of the charter of 10 April 1606, of which the first two articles read as follows:

1. Each colony may elect associates, and annually elect a President for one year; and assistants or councillors for the same time.

2. The Christian religion shall be preached and observed as established in the realm of England.

In accordance with the first article, according to Strachey's account, “George Popham, gent., was nominated President. Captain Raleigh Gilbert, James Davies, Richard Seymer, Preacher, Captain Richard Davies, Captain Harlowe, were all sworn assistants; and so they returned back again.”

In view of the second article of the constituent code, and the social status of the colonists, it cannot be doubted that the religious services conducted by Richard Seymer were in accord with the ritual of the Church of England. This was of course the ritual used at Jamestown in the present Virginia from the first settlement in 1607. It is less generally known that in New England, the old North Virginia, Episcopalian services were conducted also in 1607, thirteen years before the Separatist Mayflower passengers landed on Plymouth Rock. Strachey's reference to “publike prayers” would seem to prove that the revised Prayer Book of the reign of James I was used.

It has been generally assumed that Richard Seymer (or Seymour, as most printed authorities spell his name) was an ordained clergyman of the Church of England. In 1862 the Popham Celebration was held, to commemorate the planting of a colony on the west side of the Kennebec River (to use the modern name) in Maine. A paper prepared at that time by Rev. William Stevens Perry of Portland, Maine, argues strongly in favor of the assumption that “Richard Seymour was a Presbyter of the English Church.” The Right Rev. Bishop Burgess, in an address delivered on the same occasion, although he thought it likely that Seymour was “a young clergyman just from the university,” was less positive in his assertions, and concluded on the note that “Seymour was the first preacher of the Gospel in the English tongue, within the borders of New England.” Most of his address was devoted to an exposition of his theory that the preacher was a scion of the British“ ducal house, the Seymours of Devonshire.

By an odd coincidence, the later Hartford colonist, founder of the historic American house, was also named Richard Seymour. The exhaustive research conducted over a period of years by several searchers to locate the origin of the Hartford colonist has revealed the existence in England of some twenty contemporary Richard Seymours. Hence the argument of Bishop Burgess, in favor of identifying the Popham preacher with the great-grandson of the Lord Protector, on the ground that “there is no other person of the name known in genealogical history,” no longer has weight. Nor can his other arguments, although plausible, be sustained in the face of present knowledge.

Whether Richard Seymer was an ordained clergyman or not, it is very probable, as Bishop Burgess thought, that he was a young university man. Certainly no untutored person would have been chosen even as lay reader by the socially prominent leaders of the Popham Colony, and it must not be forgotten that Seymer was also chosen as one of the five governing Assistants of President Popham, which is indicative of his social status.

It is a fact that no ordained clergyman of the name has been found among all the Richard Seymours of that period. Only one university man of the right age has been found. He was Richard Seymer of Dorset, gent.; Brasenose College, Oxford, matriculated 22 June 1599, aged 15; student of Middle Temple, 1602, when he was described as third son of John Seymer of Handford, Dorset, gent. His eldest brother, Sir Robert, was also an Oxford man, where he matriculated in 1589. [Joseph Foster's “Alumni Oxoniensis,” vol. 4, p. 1336.]

Here then was a young college graduate, only twenty-three years of age at the time of the Popham expedition, not yet settled in his career; just the type of man to whom such an adventure would appeal. The younger son of a family of gentle-folk of but moderate affluence, he may well have felt that close association with the brother of the wealthy Chief Justice Popham would mean much to his future career. A devout young man of his background and education would doubtless have been entirely acceptable to Popham and his associates as lay reader during the experimental stage of their colonization project.

It will be noted that Strachey always refers to Seymer as a preacher, never as a minister or clergyman. It was not usual for an ordained clergyman to hold civil office, as Seymer did. For these reasons, and because no Presbyter of the name has been found at that date, it is believed that the Popham chaplain was, strictly speaking, a lay reader.

The Dorsetshire family, following the pronunciation, spelled the name Seymer, but their arms indicate that they were a branch of the same family from which the ducal house descended. They are described technically as: Quarterly - 1st and 4th Or two wings conjoined in lure Gules on a chief azure three martlets argent. Seymer.

The “Berrry Pomeroy” coat, used by the Dukes of Somerset; 2nd and 3rd Gules two wings conjoined in lure Or. Seymour.

The arrangement is different, and the colors reversed, but both families used the ancient wings of the St. Maurs of Penhow. It was quite common for branches of the same family to differentiate the arms in details while retaining the same basic concepts.

In connection with the arms, it is of interest to observe that Thomas Seymour, eldest son of Richard the Connecticut Colonist, and himself of English birth, sealed his will in 1712 with the Seymour wings. The impression indicates that it was made from an old, worn seal-ring. Since the Seymours or Seymers of Hertfordshire, where the Connecticut family originated, are believed to be more closely affiliated with the Seymers of Dorsetshire than with the Seymours of Devonshire (the ducal house), and since both families employed the wings, it is not, we trust, pushing conjecture too far to suggest that Richard the Colonist, ancestor of the American Seymours, may have been a distant cousin of Richard Seymer, the Popham “preacher.” In England, as already noted in Appendix III, the spelling Seymer prevailed in the Colonist's family, and in the first two American generations, the name was usually spelled Seymer, Seamer, or Semer.

It is worthy of note that William Strachey spelled the preacher's name Seymer. Strachey was an educated gentleman, hence the spelling employed carries more weight than would the phonetic vagaries of half-literate scribes. Furthermore, he wrote of the Popham expedition with such minute detail that, not being himself a member of the colony, he must surely have had before him a contemporary written account or diary. Strachey's spelling of the name is therefore an additional piece of evidence for identifying Richard Seymer of Maine with Richard Seymer of Handford, Dorset, the Oxford graduate.

The entire subsequent career of Richard Seymer shows that through influential connections he obtained secretarial posts with the great or the near-great, serving in such capacities Sir Henry Wotton and the Earl of Northampton. We may hazard the guess, therefore, that he came with the Popham expedition as secretary to its leader, George Popham, which explains not only his services as preacher, but also his elevation to the Council of President Popham. In that capacity, he may have taken notes of the Council meetings and orders as colonial secretary, and it may indeed have been Seymer's own notes which Strachey had before him when he wrote his account.

We append what little is known of Seymer's career. He was born about 1584, but we lack a record of his baptism because the Handford registers do not begin until 1669. He was third son of John Seymer (will proved 1611) by his wife, Agnes Rawles (will proved 1623), and was one of a family of four sons and nine daughters. His eldest brother, Sir Robert Seymer of Hanford, Knight, matriculated at Oxford in 1589, became one of the Tellers of the Exchequer, and died in 1624. Richard matriculated at Oxford in 1599, at the age of fifteen; was a student of Middle Temple, 1602; and, if we mistake not, joined the Popham expedition of 1607.

After the death of George Popham, most of the members of his Colony returned to England. The next we hear of Richard Seymer was 1617-1619, when he was Secretary to Sir Henry Wotton, Ambassador to Venice, famed in his day as a poet, wit and diplomat. He is chiefly remembered as a wit by his punning remark that an ambassador is one sent to lie abroad for the good of his country; and as a poet by his immortal lines To the Queen of Bohemia. During this period, Seymer wrote letters to his brother, Sir Robert Seymer, and eight of his letters are preserved at the British Museum.

From the fact that Seymer's only child was still a minor when he made his will in 1641, it is inferred that he did not marry until he was over thirty-five, and possibly not until he was over forty. After his return from the Continent, he secured a post, probably as Secretary, with the Earl of Northampton, and lived in London. His wife was a member of the Washington family.

His will, made 13 April 1641, proved 31 May 1641, calls him Richard Seymor of St. Mary's Savoy alias Strand, Co. Middlesex, gentleman, and mentions his wife Mrs. Jane Seymor, “Mrs. Margaret Washington my wife's mother,” and nephew Lawrence Sweetman, gent. The chief legatee was his son Spencer Seymor; Mr. Lawrence Sweetman “my nephew” to be guardian to “my son” during his minority. As supervisors he appointed “the Earl of Northampton my Noble Lord and Master,” and “my brother in law Arthur Squibb Esquire one of the four tellers of the Exchequer.”

Since a Visitation pedigree of the Dorsetshire Seymers shows that one of the sisters of Richard Seymer married Arthur Squibb and that another of them married Lawrence “Swetenham” (of which “Sweetman” is apparently a corruption), the identity of Richard Seymor of the London will of 1641 is positively established.

Thus ended the career of Richard Seymer who, if our conjecture is correct, while a pious but adventurous young university graduate, embarked on the memorable voyage with George Popham which made him the pioneer preacher of New England, and gave priority here to the Episcopalian over the Non-conformist way of worshiping God.

D.L.J.


NOTE A: LETTERS OF RICHARD SEYMER

Photostatic copies were obtained through the courtesy of the British Museum, of eight letters of Richard Seymer, seven of which were written to his brother, Sir Robert Seymer, between 24 Aug. 1613 and 21 Mar. 1614/15; the eighth was written to an unknown correspondent, 16 Apr. 1619. No direct or implied references were found to his American adventure, but the letters give us a picture of a sober- minded young man, interested in current events, and attending seriously to his affairs. His taste in clothes was conservative, for in the first letter he wishes the color of the broadcloth his brother sent him had been sadder. The eighth letter is the most revealing. His correspondent had asked him to inquire about an Englishman sojourning in Italy, and he made a disapproving report of Sir William's amours, yet wished to have the information considered confidential, “for I haue binn curiouse euer that my pen should doe noe ill offices.”

Although inconclusive as evidence, the letters picture Richard Seymer the careerist, as a serious youth and a devout Protestant, not at all out of harmony with the belief that he had served the Popham Colony as “preacher.” A brief description of each letter is appended.

I. Paris, 24 Nov. (stilo novo) 1613. To brother. Received letter and broadcloth. Would have preferred the color “sadder.” Wishes to leave Paris and winter at Bourges. “Since your last tre [letter] I haue noe desyre to sequester my self (as I determined before) so farr out of the waye onely nowe I haue a desyre to winter at Bourges where I can liue for six crownes a moneth.” [Apparently he was in France, on the bounty of his brother, Sir Robert Seymer, to learn the language; he obtained the post with his “Lordship” largely through his brother's influence.] “I haue not had my health…. so parfaitly as I was wont.” Mentions “my brother Squibbes at westminster.” He had sent gloves to his sister [his brother's wife]. My duty to my mother, and best love to yourself and my sister.

II. The Haghe, 21 Mar. 1614. To brother, mostly about “my Lordship.” Seymer had asked for secretaryship, and had been answered graciously by his Lordship. He has received letter from brother, also one from Mr. Walgraue. Duty to mother, etc.

III. The Haghe, 17 Aug. 1614. To brother. Pleasant passage by sea to “Rhotrodam.” “My Lordship” mentioned,-we are likely to spend the winter here at his expense. Peace or war uncertain. A long letter, concerned largely with politics. Closes like the first letter.

IV. The Haghe, last of Aug. 1614. To brother. All politics. He has enclosed a tre [letter] to “my mother in my brother Squibbes tre” [letter].

V. The Haghe, 8 Sept. 1614. To brother. A long letter, all politics: “best loue to your self and my syster your wife.”

VI. Zanten, 12 Oct. 1614. To brother. All politics. Duty to mother, “love to your self and my syster your wife.”

VII. Zanten, 4 Nov. 1614. To brother. Mentions my tre [letter] of 29 Oct. [not in the collection]. Short letter, about politics, concluded in haste.

VIII. Venice, 16 Apr. 1619.. To whom written, does not appear; the letter begins “Sir,” and is signed “Youre poore freinde and servant.” Arrived in Venice 8 Apr. (English style). He made inquiry, at correspondent's request, about Sir William Pope. Pope and his brother were at Sienna, and going to Rome, “so add a payre of Popes more to that Babilon.” They would not return while their father lived. “Sr William much discontented at his match, and careless in all his discourses of his Ladie …. he is noe niggard of his flesh in thoase partes, neither curiouse in choosinge, but contentes his appetite with fayre, and fowle, of all ages, and complections, and hath lett himself loose without distinction.” He cautions his correspondent to keep his report private, “for I haue binn curiouse euer that my pen should doe noe ill offices.”


NOTE B: WOTTON'S FAMOUS LYRIC

ON HIS MISTRESS, THE QUEEN OF BOHEMIA

You meaner Beauties of the Night,
That poorly satisfie our Eyes
More by your number, than your light,
You Common people of the Skies;
What are you when the Sun shall rise?

You curious Chanters of the Wood,
That warble forth Dame Natures layes,
Thinking your Voices understood
By your weak accents; what's your praise
When Philomel her voice shall raise?

You Violets, that first appear
By your pure purple mantles known,
Like the proud Virgins of the year,
As if the Spring were all your own;
What are you when the Rose is blown?

So, when my Mistress shall be seen
In Form and Beauty of her mind,
By Vertue first, then Choice a Queen,
Tell me, if she were not design'd
Th' Eclipse and Glory of her kind?

-Sir Henry Wotton
Reliquiae Wottonianae, 1651.


NOTE C: THE BERKELEY COLLEGE FLAGON

A BELATED MEMORIAL TO RICHARD THE CHAPLAIN

October 6, 1937

The President and Fellows of Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut

Gentlemen:

I have the honor to present to Berkeley College in Yale University a hand-wrought silver flagon, to be known as the “Berkeley College Flagon,” copied from an English piece of 1725 presented by Bishop Berkeley, before his return to England in 1731, to his friend, the Hon. Daniel Updike, of Newport. The original flagon has been held as a precious heirloom in the Updike family until recently, when it passed into the possession of Trinity Church, Newport, with which both Bishop Berkeley and Mr. Updike were affiliated. The copy has been made by two expert craftsmen under the direction of Mr. Arthur J. Stone, dean of American silversmiths. The inscription was designed with careful attention to early eighteenth-century engraving by Secretary Lohmann and Professor Phillips, curator of silver in the Yale School of the Fine Arts. The engraving has been executed by Ensco of New York. The inscription is as follows:

The Berkeley College Flagon

The original made 1725 given by George Berkeley, Dean of Derry, afterwards Bishop of Cloyne, to the Hon. Daniel Updike, of Newport. This enlarged copy given 1937, to Berkeley College, by George Dudley Seymour, M.A., Associate Fellow, in memory of Richard Seymer, Chaplain of Fort Popham [Maine], 1607.

Richard Seymer, the Chaplain, referred to in the inscription, is an interesting figure to all American churchmen in particular because he was using the ritual of the Church of England in New England some thirteen years before the arrival of the Mayflower. President Seymour's classmate, Mr. Donald Lines Jacobus, has prepared an account of Richard the Q1aplain for filing in the archives of Berkeley College.

I need hardly apologize for going into these many particulars over a relatively unimportant gift, for such small details are “meat” for the antiquarian brotherhood.

I am, with great respect, Gentlemen,

Faithfully yours,

(Signed) GEO. DUDLEY SEYMOUR.


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