Joseph Owen Seely
JOSEPH OWEN SEELY is in the eighth generation of the descendants of Robert Seely, the ancestor of a family now spread through the country. Robert came with the Winthrop colony in 1630, and was a surveyor in the vicinity of Boston for a time, but afterward became one of the founders of the New Haven Colony. In the War of the Revolution, Gideon Seely, the great-grandfather of the subject of this sketch, was Captain, and, being in Westchester, N. Y., served along the lines between the contending armies.
Gideon Seely, Jr., then a mere lad, was a member of Col. Jameson’s regiment and was on picket duty at the time Maj. Andre was brought into camp, who was afterward convicted and executed as a British spy. He used to tell how he was dressed and how he looked when brought out to be shot, and often described Gen. Washington, as he once saw him on horseback. Some time after the close of the war, the State acquired a portion of the lands belonging to the tribe of Onondaga Indians, and Gideon, Jr., went with the State authorities to assist in the survey. Those newly acquired lands, which at that time were in the far West, offered an attractive home for a courageous pioneer, and this member of the surveying party chose in the dense woods a home that seemed the most attractive of any he had seen. When the duties of the survey were done, he returned to that spot, and after making some preliminary improvements, brought thither his young family.
The location of the land was then ten miles from what is now the city of Syracuse, N. Y., and the region of the family residence was long known as Seely’s Flats. The youngest son in the household was Joseph Owen who was given a liberal education, and was a man of most excellent principles, widely known as such. His wife Susan was of a stalwart family named Stearns, of Bennington, Vt. They reared a family of eight children on the paternal farm, all of whom attended district school and one after another became pupils in the academy in the town and thence went to higher institutions.
Joseph Owen Seely, Jr., their eldest son, was born May 7, 1823. He taught school in his native State and in Mississippi for a time. October 18, 1849, he was married to Miss Harriet A. Johnson, and came to Kalamazoo in April, 1854, when he engaged as clerk in a banking house. After two years he established a private bank of his own for eight years. Then for a period he owned and occupied what was known as the Heydenburg place, in the southern part of the then village. Afterward he bought a part of the Axtell place and laid out Seely’s Addition to the village of Kalamazoo. One of his brothers, Prof. Henry M., has for a long time been professor in Middlebury College, Vt., which college has furnished to Kalamazoo among her graduates such men as Rev. Dr. J. A. B. Stone, Rev. Dr. J. A. Ranney, Rev. Milton Bradley, Hon. N. A. Balch, and Judge H. S. Severance.
In politics, Mr. Seely is a Republican. He is a member of the Congregational Church, in which he has been an officer a long series of years. He has long taken an active interest in the Sunday-school work of the county, in the various benevolences of the city, and Bible distribution of the town, having sometimes served as President of the County Bible Society and the County Sunday school Association.
Harriet A. J. Seely, the fifth in a family of seven children, was born May 17, 1825, in Onondaga N. Y. Her parents moved thence when she was quite young, first to East Bloomfield, and subsequently to Canandaigua, N. Y. Her father, Col. Russell Butler Johnson, was a man of considerable note, a farmer, lawyer, and for twenty years Justice of the Peace. Her mother, Betsey (Seely) Johnson, was a woman of more than ordinary capacity and like her husband was born of New England Revolutionary origin. Harriet attended the district school and afterward entered the neighboring academy, finishing her school days at the Cananadaigua Seminary, then and for a long period under the principalship of Miss Hannah Upham. She learned very early in life to place interests which are unseen and eternal above those which pertain to this mortal existence. When fifteen years old, she united with the Congregational Church and esteems the heart qualifications for such membership above every other gift.
After the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Seely, they resided in the house and on the tract of land given him by his grandfather, until they moved to Kalamazoo in 1854. Afterward Mrs. Seely assisted her husband in the banking business for eight years, as before her marriage she had helped her father in a similar business. For a series of years, both Mr. and Mrs. Seely have taken delight in furnishing for publication newspaper and magazine articles, mostly on literary and scientific subjects. January 10, 1857, Mrs. Seely was elected Secretary of the Ladies’ Library Association of Kalamazoo, although acting in that capacity for some time previously, and has been annually elected, and has served continuously ever since.
The Ladies’ Library Association of Kalamazoo is a unique and highly valued organization which was founded by a large-hearted, noble-minded woman in 1852 and claims to be the oldest institution of its kind in the State. It has given individuality to Kalamazoo and has had a marked influence on her people. Its object was to furnish good books for circulation before any public library system in Michigan was inaugurated, also lectures and social pleasures of an elevating nature. Although now the free circulating library is in vogue, it still maintains usefulness in this regard, and has about five thousand volumes, also possessing a nucleus of an art collection, valued at $2,500, and a choice museum, containing valuable specimens of the Indian arts, work of the Aztecs, Pueblos and Northern Indians.
The Association has fine grounds and a building of its own, valued at $20,000. The building was erected in 1879, and besides its library and museum, it has a pleasant, homelike auditorium above, equipped with a stage, grand piano, etc. The most important work now carried on by. the Association is the Ladies’s Library Club, in which some two hundred ladies take active interest. The members pursue studies in the various branches of culture, the leading departments being in charge of committees, directed by competent chairmen, and having their respective days in rotation for the presentation of papers, exercises, etc., pertaining to their several fields. The Club has done a great work in promoting the intelligence and culture of the city. Its example las stimulated other like efforts far and wide, and it is a very popular institution at home.
Page 484 – 485, “Portrait and biographical record of Kalamazoo, Allegan and Van Buren counties, Michigan, containing biographical sketches of … citizens … governors of the state, and … presidents of the United States,” Published Chapman Bros., Chicago, 1892.
[Son of Joseph Owen Seely, SGS# 3100 – Joseph Owen; Joseph Owen (#3100); Gideon; Gideon; John S.; Obadiah; Obadiah; Obadiah]