Breaking Away—and a Death on the Road…
In addition to the many documents saved in the Seger family which suggest a variety of commercial and business transactions by Heman Seger in the 1830s and 1840s, his eldest son Erastus went into business for himself as a peddler at age 22.
In the early 1830s most commerce was by road. Canals and navigable rivers were the only other means of bulk transportation, and the nearest canal connections were in Hartford and Kingston, NY, on the Hudson River. Railroads were only in their infancy.
Sonny Jennings, Frank Bloss Seger’s grandson, told me that Ira Seger bought the property that became the home farm on Seger Mountain. Seems he had no heart for further adventures. He lived the rest of his life in Kent; in the late 1850s he served as a town Selectman, and in 1879 was a representative from Kent to the Connecticut General Assembly.
The image at right is the start of Erastus’s record book. The right-hand side reads:
The Parents and Siblings of Erastus Seger
The following genealogical information gleaned from the research of Francelia C. Johnson of the Kent Historical Society, who references a Seger family Bible as well as cemetery records, and the research of Ellen Ravens-Seger, great-great-great-great granddaughter of Ira Seger.
Heman Seger, son of Joseph Seger (the fifth) (13 October 1757–10 Jun 1845) and Olive Calendar; b. Kent, CT, 2 December 1782, d. 10 June 1864
Married 10 January 1803 Lovisa (Lovicy) Root (27 Dec 1784–6 February 1864), daughter of Daniel Root and Lucy Hall.
Both buried in St. Andrew’s Cemetery, Kent, CT
- Abby, b. 20 March 1803, Kent. m. 12 May 1828 Samuel Gregory; lived in Pike, PA in 1833; d. 8 September 1844
- Caroline, b. 26 Feb 1807; m. 1837 Frederick Blakeslee of Granby, Ct; moved to Littleton, WI in 1857.
- Erastus, b. 10 Feb 1809; d. Palmira, PA, 10 February 1833. Memorial marker in Good Hill Cemetery
- Ira, b. 7 Aug 1810; m. Jnet Root of Kent, who was born in 1813 and died 27 March 1887; d. 6 February 1898; both buried in St. Andrew’s Cemetery.
- Maria, b. 23 January 1813; m. Nelson Morehouse of S. Kent, who died 13 June 1883; d. March 11, 1877
- George, b. 18 January 1815 d. 10 December 1886 m. August 1854 Ann Eliza Partridge in Port Huron, MI
- Hiram, b. 1 May 1817; d. June 28, 1871, never married, buried in St. Andrew’s Cemetery
- Harriet b. 16 December 1819; m. Kent 25 February 1845 Sherman Shove, who died 31 July 1885; d. 15 February 1865, buried in Kent Hollow Cemetery.
- Chloe, b. 16 February 1821; m. Kent, 4 Nov 1839 John Piercy; lived in New York City
- John, b. 23 April 1823; d. 12 August 1891, never married; lived in Kent, buried in St. Andrew’s Cemetery
- Lucy, b. 25 October 1825; m. 25 October 1844 John N. Squires, who was born 10 November 1823 and died 12 June 1897; d. December 4, 1892
At right is a page from the record book Erastus Seger started in the fall of 1830. It appears to be a list of styles of glassware. Uncertain of the decimals. The first itemized Hinman lot totals to $5.74 with the half-cents dropped. I have made a guess at the handwriting of the place name. Pottsville, Pennyslvania is about 200 miles from Kent, Connecticut; this entry is dated six weeks after he made the first note.
|Bristol 22 Sept. 1830
Rec’d of Mitchell Hinman &co
|No. 1||9 Glasses||2.37½|
|" 16||2 "||1.75|
|" 3||17 "||1.37½|
|Oct 20th 1830 Rec’d of Roberts|
|No. 1||9 Glass||2.62½|
|" 2||9 " Scroll||2.00|
|" 2||4 " plain||1.75|
|Pottsville [?] Nov. 6th Rec’d of H. Hall|
|No. 1||4 Glasse||2.37½|
|" 2||4 "||1.75|
|" 2||17 " scrolls||2.00|
Entries near the back of the book include:
According to Alan Eliasen’s historical currency converter, $170 would have a value of $4,260 in 2014 dollars. MeasuringWorth.com offers an equivalency of $4,370 in purchasing power. If this deposit represents his profit after paying off his suppliers, it was a substantial one.
Perhaps because he was away and had occasion to correspond by letter, perhaps because of his early death, letters from and to Erastus were preserved through the generations. From the punctuation in all these letters one would think there was a surcharge for periods and commas. There was perhaps a need to put as much on a sheet of paper as one could, which would explain the lack of paragraph breaks.
For ease of comprehension we have broken some of the text into paragraphs.
Kent 1st of August 1831
Mr. D. B. Hinman
Yours of the 29th is recd it appears that you feel disposed to imploy some hands in the trading bisness and as I have no other object in [view] I shall endeavour to call on you with my brother and Mr. Smith the 10 or 12th of this [?] I should be very happy to see your at home
Respectfully yours Erastus Seger
You’ll never believe what happened to me…
(Click on the letter for a larger version.)
March 19th 1831
If I should attempt to tell you all my experience in trade it would take more time and paper than I at [length?] can afford But as I was travelling along feeling a little above the common level I came across a girl whom I carelessly laid my sleeve around. The old woman being a good natured creature as ever broke bread had not the least objection my hugging her a little and the Daughter being a modest harmless little thing, she consented without Judge as Jury This not hardly satisfied my appetite so I must ask her for her company like a dam fool. [Howsoever?] I treated the subject with [senilicy] and got off as well as I could. My success in trade has been [poor?]. Mr. Sherman [?] informed me about your sickness and that you and Mr. Halls calculations were to be in Harrisburg at the first of April Should I not meet you here leave a line what time you will be in the City and I will endeavour to be there.
Yours so long [Holly? Kelly?]
What an odd letter. Distasteful, to my modern sensibilities, and a little seedy. Wonder whether he wrote it shortly after his encounter when puffed up with his little conquest, or later, to hint to Erastus about the pleasures available on the road.
His own wagon, 1832
In 1832 Erastus bought a peddler’s wagon from the Merritt Clark Company in Northfield (New Milford), Connecticut. The following letter from Mr. Clark survived. On the address side are some pencilled notes that are legible in the enlargement.
Oct 4th 1832
Mr. Seger Sir
I last week Saturday was called to attend the funeral of a Brother in Milford
I went down Saturday intending to return Monday but on account of its being very stormy I did not till Tuesday consequently your waggon cant well be finished till Monday next, you may have it Tuesday
We were in a fair way to finish it by the time named, & I regretted much the interruption, but the Death alluded to was very sudden and left his family under circumstances which rendered it important. Hope it will not much disappoint you
Your Obt Servt
Dear Father & Mother
I take this opportunity of writing a few lines to you which I trust will meet with welcome reception I received Iras letter at Wilkes-Barre the first of this month I was very glad to hear that you have arrived in Kent it appears that you was not as well the last of your journey as when I left you my health has been very good since I left home and I am enjoying perfect health at present I left Pike [Erastus’ sister Abby Gregory lives in Pike, PA] two weeks this [way?] they were all well when I left I saw Mr & Mrs Miller they was well pleased[?] with the country at first but was some sick of it before I left I am more on my way to Philadelphia I shall not be there before the twentieth of Dec dont fail to write there as soon as you receive this Remember my love to all the children and to all enquiring friends
Tell Ira I think he would enjoy himself much better hear with me than he can carting coal [In 1831 this would be charcoal produced to fuel the iron furnaces in the area rather than mined coal] if he is a mind to try peddling I will furnish him with goods at $15 per month I wish him to write me respecting it he can begin the first of March and peddle 5 months before my time will be out if he feels disposed I have nothing more to write at present don’t fail to write
Yours E Seger
Easton, PA, is 55 miles to the north of Philadelphia and about 70 miles to the west of New York City. Another letter survives from Erastus from the summer of 1832. The back of the letter to his parents is a separate message to his younger brother Ira. I have altered the punctuation for the sake of legibility.
June 19th 1832
The agreeable news of your good healths and welfare brought me the other day by Mr. S gives me great pleasure yet I am concernd that my long silence has given you much uneasiness and negligence is the only excuse I have to make for not writing oftener
Ira wrote me that Mother was doing her work I hope her health will permit her to work but I would much rather hear that her girls was doing the work instead of her self
I shall not be home as soon as I expected when I left if come it is uncertain about my coming this fall. I wish you to write me directly to phila I shall be there about the first of august
I shall expect a line from some of you without fail. I have no longer time to write
You must give my love to all the children too
[On the reverse:]
It appears from your last letter that you have made up your mind to try the pedling business which I think you will find more pleasant than the coal bush or oar bed [this refers to the iron ore beds that were active in Kent at this time and the charcoal industry that supplied fuel for the furnaces]
I think Mr. Smith will be able to give you a little information respecting the times in pensylvania
I want you should write me what time you should like to commence and if I should not come home I will write you what time I will meet you in the city
Don’t fail to write me respecting this
Bad news travels slowly…
Abby was the oldest of Heman and Lovisa’s eleven children. At the time she wrote to her parents about the death of her brother in Pennsylvania she was a few days shy of her 30th birthday and had been married for four years.
March 17th 1833
I once more attempt writing you a few lines to let you know that our lives and healths are [spaird?] us — I hope these few lines may find you all well — we have anxiously ben waiting a visit from Erastus and Ira thinking then we should write a good long letter — but instead of seeing them we received a letter from Ira that asurd us that Erastus was dead and gone — is it possible that we can’t never see him again
Ira says he was Crazy for to days before he died
I think if that was the case he could not have ben sensible of his death poor Child if he could only bn at home or with me how glad I should have ben — but what a Comfort it is to think Ira was there with him
I think I think we have no reason to think he sufferd for the want of care — what a Dreadful trial it must have ben for Ira to follow his Dear Brother to the grave not one friend to Comfort or advise him. I don’t no how he lived through the scene — he said he was going home as soon possible — I hope if he lives to get there he will stay then or some where near so that if he should be sick he might have some one to take Care of him
I have nothing to write that will Comfort you in your affliction. I think if I Could see some or all of you but for one hour it would be the greatest comefort to me in the world but I am so far from you all I think some times I never shall see any of you [a]gain
I suppose I must give up seeing Ira at preasant — but I hope if you are all well you will some of you come and see me next fall if I live till then — I have nothing more to write we had a visit from [Moslely?] this winter he said you was all well when he left home he said he woulld go and see you and tell you more than we could write
our friends are all well in Pike
please to give my love to all of the children
I must bid you good by this from you daughter Abbey Gregory
I want Ira should not fail to write
Her sentiments regarding death — her brother’s, her own or those of other loved ones — seem appropriate in that era when life was more fragile. Ironically, most of the family at this time lived well into their 60s and 70s. Even her mother Lovisa, who survived the perils of childbirth nearly every two years for two decades, lived to be 80.