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Southerland Moore Seely


Gender: Male

Date of Birth: August 15, 1826

Birth Place: Middleton, Orange County, NY

General Business Man and Capitalist, was born, August 15, 1826, near Middletown, Orange County, New York. He is the ninth of a family of ten children, who became widely separated, and of whom there are now probably but three living,–one brother residing at Ypsilanti, Michigan, and another in Nebraska. The paternal grand-parents of this family were of Scotch-English descent, but natives of New England, whence they removed to Orange County, New York. There were originally in this country three brothers by the name of Seely, who came from Wales about two and a half centuries ago; and from whom, it is thought, have descended nearly all of that name now in America. The father of the subject of this sketch, Mr. Holly Seely, was born, August 7, 1787, at Goshen. Orange County, New York; and was, in 1826, engaged in the tannery and leather business, near Middletown, in the same county. His mother, Elizabeth Moore, was of Quaker parentage, born September 16, 1790, at Cornwall, Orange County, New York, and was reared in the strict discipline of that sect. In 1829 his father, having lost heavily by fire, removed with his family to Newburg, New York, where he conducted a hotel for about one year, and then returned to Mount Hope, in Orange County, where he remained two years. In 1832 he went with his family to Sussex County, New Jersey, where he carried on the tanning business for three years. At this place, when but nine years of age, Mr. Seely had the misfortune to lose his mother, who died October 6, 1835. His father married again, soon after, and removed to Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, where he was engaged, for three years or more, in a tannery, and upon a farm, clearing up woodland, etc. In this work he was assisted by the lad, Southerland Moore Seely, to the extent of his ability. When this son was nearly thirteen, the family removed to Michigan and settled near Ypsilanti.

Previous to his mother’s death, Mr. Seely had attended the common school for three years,–from the age of five to eight; but he was deprived of further advantages in this direction; and, though he now possesses a good English education, it has been acquired by personal effort, contact with the world, observation, and association with cultivated people. After accompanying his father to Michigan, he became convinced that a longer stay at home could not be attended with any benefit to himself; and determined, as soon as he should be able, to endeavor to make his own way in the world. By working in the harvest field, he managed to get together four dollars and eighteen cents. With this capital, poorly clothed, and with only a small bundle in a handkerchief, he left home, when about thirteen years of age, and never returned. Going first by rail to Detroit, and then by steamer to Erie, Pennsylvania, he stopped there to seek employment, having but eighteen cents of his money left; and even this was reduced before he found any thing to do; but he was not then, and has never since been, without a cent in his pocket. He obtained a position as errand boy and general help in the American Hotel, where he remained three or four months, going from there to Georgetown, Pennsylvania, where he again engaged in a hotel for a short time. He then went to Meadville, Pennsylvania, and worked in a tannery, for Torbett & McFadden, during the winter, for his living expenses. In the spring he went to Mogadore, Ohio, and was again employed in a tannery, by A. V. Jewett; after being with him two years, he had so well learned the business that he was made foreman, and remained until the fall of 1844. After paying a short visit to a brother, he went to Newark, New Jersey, where he stayed till spring, and then went to Mendham, in Morris County, of that State.

Here he engaged in a tannery, and finally in a boot and shoe establishment, in connection with, among other partners, Mr. Lewis A. Thompson, who was subsequently his father-in-law. He continued in this business until the fall of 1852; when, feeling the effects of overwork, he was advised by his physicians to abandon that occupation in order to fully recover his health. He now conceived the idea of purchasing horses in the Western market and shipping them East for sale; and, with that intention, went to Goshen, Indiana, where he had a brother residing. He took with him what capital he had accumulated, and invested it in a number of horses. But just then learning of a stage route for sale, between Coldwater and Marshall, Michigan, he soon purchased it, transferred his horses to Coldwater, and commenced running a daily stage between the two places. After continuing this a short time, he planned the establishment of a mail route between Marshall and Fort Wayne, Indiana, and thus extended the stage line from twenty-five to one hundred miles. He, accordingly, went to Washington to secure the mail contract; and, unknown as he was, secured his object. He immediately went on to Concord, New Hampshire, to obtain the needed coaches, etc; and, becoming involved beyond his means, found it necessary to admit one or two partners in the venture. In order to reduce competition, he was also obliged to buy out three livery stables, which he carried on, in connection with the stage line, until 1859. Mr. Seely had already foreseen the advisability of disposing of this business, as the mail route must soon be given up on account of the cross railroads being built; he therefore commenced, in 1858, to dispose of his numerous horses and other stock to the best advantage. This led him to make other purchases, and, finally, to deal extensively in horses; taking droves to Chicago, St. Louis; Louisville, Kentucky; Memphis, Tennessee; and even to New Orleans, which business he continued until 1861 or 1862.

He then engaged once more in tanning, and the boot, shoe, and leather trade, in Coldwater; but gave it his personal supervision for only a few months, though it was continued for several years. At the outbreak of the war, Mr. Seely received a letter from Governor Blair, requesting him, in connection with Mr. Clark, to purchase horses sufficient to equip the “Coldwater Light Artillery,” which afterwards became the famous “Loomis Battery.” He did this without further commission. This circumstance, together with his knowledge of horses and experience in purchasing, assisted him to secure the Government contract to furnish cavalry and artillery horses for the service, from the State of Michigan, which engaged his attention until the fall of 1863. Although now possessed of sufficient means to render himself and family comfortable, he found inactivity distasteful. Realizing the opportunity there would be for speculation during the unsettled times immediately following the war, he determined to avail himself of it; and, for that purpose, changed his residence to New York City, in the winter of 1863 and 1864, taking the bulk of his means, which were nearly all available, with him. He dealt quite extensively in real estate, purchased some valuable property on Fifth Avenue, and in other parts of the city, and gradually engaged in speculating in bonds and mortgages, railroad, steamship, oil, and telegraph stocks, etc. In this, he has continued, more or less, up to the present time; and, by careful management, constant attention, and keen foresight, has amassed a very handsome fortune. In the main, he has been successful in his operations, though at times meeting with such reverses as all extensive operators must expect. He has, however, always been prudent and cautious, though at times obliged to be very bold, never venturing beyond what he could control. He had large transactions with the firms of Lockwood & Co; Jay Cooke & Co; Duncan, Sherman & Co., and others, which have failed so disastrously, but has always been so fortunate as to escape without serious loss.

His operations are, of late, much more limited than formerly, as he has resolved to assume but limited risks. Mr. Seely seems to be especially adapted to this kind of business, having been a natural trader from his youth. Beginning with his jackknife as his only article of barter, he in time became owner of a watch; then of a horse, harness, and buggy; and, finally, of a house and lot, notes, and mortgages, before he was yet a man. This faculty has grown as he has advanced in years, until it has been brought into full action in his various operations, on ‘change, and elsewhere. With other gentlemen in New York, he has been largely interested in building and completing various railroads and other enterprises, since he first made that city his residence. He has also owned, for many years, an extensive farm, which forms a suburb of Coldwater. Being fond of farming, he has expended a large amount of money in the improvement of this property, and has given it much personal attention. In 1871, his health having again failed, from too constant application to business, he returned to Coldwater, and purchased and fitted up a residence; since then, he has divided his time between that place and New York, as business required. Mr. Seely has been generous during his prosperity, yet so quietly that few suspect the full extent of his liberality. An inspection of his “donation account,” in a private memorandum-book, however, shows him to have used, in this manner, since 1860, upwards of a quarter of a million of dollars. This large sum has gone to immediate relatives and friends, corporations and public institutions, wherever he deemed it would be most worthily bestowed. He has also done much for the Western city in which he has made his home, in the way of reclaiming waste land by filling, setting out shade trees, etc., and tastefully fitting up a public park in the outskirts of the city, furnishing employment to a great number of men. He has traveled extensively in the United States, east of the Mississippi River, generally on business; and, in February, 1870, started on a tour through Europe, in company with General C. B. Fisk, of New York. They spent about five months traveling in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy, and Switzerland, and more or less in other countries. Mr. Seely is not connected by membership with any church, but reverently recognizes the great and good influence of religion upon society, and gives liberally to its support. He attends divine worship, with his family, at the Presbyterian Church, of which his wife is a member. In politics, he has no particular preference, but has usually acted with the Democratic party.

He married, April 7, 1853, Miss Sarah J. Thompson, daughter of Lewis A. Thompson, of Mendham, New Jersey. They have two daughters. In person, Mr. Seely is tall and rather spare, from continued ill health, though formerly very robust. He is a gentleman of exemplary habits, having never been in the least intoxicated, though for two short periods in his early life he had to deal out liquor at the hotels, where he was employed. In business transactions, he has the reputation of having always been fair and straightforward, his word being as good as his bond. His chief characteristics are energy, caution, system, and reticence; he never confides the details of his business to any one, and never loses track of them himself. He never allows himself to be asked twice for payment, and seldom once; meets all accounts promptly, and is a rigid collector,–particularly in cases which are at all doubtful. In New York, he has been in partnership with a number of gentlemen; and no greater compliment can be paid to his business ability and integrity, than the fact that he has almost invariably so gained their confidence in a short time as to be made the custodian of their interests and securities. Mr. Seely’s friends have frequently and earnestly solicited him to engage in political life, considering him to be pre-eminently a representative man of the West; and those with whom he has been associated, in railroad and other corporations, have desired to place him in offices of honor and special prominence. His nature and temperament being particularly averse to publicity, having no ambition or aspirations in this direction, and being confined with his many business cares, and fettered, more or less, with poor health, he has resisted all overtures to promote him to office. He prefers to remain simply a director in his different business enterprises; and, in public recognition, a prominent representative of the self-made men of his State.

American Biographical History of Eminent and Self-Made Men, Michigan, Volumes I-II. n.p.: Western Biographical Publishing Company, 1878.

[Southerland Moore is SGS # 3781 – Southerland Moore; Holly, James, Nathaniel, Ebenezer, Jonas, Obadiah]

* this is another biography from a different source

Southerland Moore Seely, now deceased, was born August 15, 1826, near Middletown, Orange county, New York. He was the ninth in a family of ten children born unto Holly and Elizabeth (Moore) Seely. The father was a native of Goshen, Orange county, New York, born August 7, 1787, and was of English and Scotch lineage, although the family was established in New England during an early period in the colonization of this county. The mother of our subject was of Quaker parentage and was born at Cornwall, New York, September 16, 1790. In the year 1829 Holly Seely, having sustained heavy losses through fire, removed his family to Newburg, New York, and afterward to Sussex county, New Jersey, and there conducted a tannery. It was during their residence in Sussex county that the wife and mother died in 1835. After her death Mr. Seely never attended school, and all his schooling came between his fifth and eighth year. The father afterward married again and later removed to Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, where he also conducted a tannery. About 1832 the family came to Michigan, settling near Ypsilanti, and not more than a year later Southerland M. Seely started out in life for himself.

He left a home where he had no advantages or hope for an education and when thirteen years of age began the battle of life for himself as a poor boy. The facts of his career disclose wonderful success as he steadily made his way upward undeterred by obstacles and difficulties in his path. He became both wealthy and well informed. Going to Erie, Pennsylvania, he accepted a position as errand boy and general helper in a hotel and after three or four months he went to Georgetown, Pennsylvania, where he remained for a short period and was again employed in a hotel. At Morgadore, Ohio, he was employed for two years in a tannery, after which he was foreman there, remaining until 1844. In the following year he went to Mendham, New Jersey, where for a short period he worked in a tannery and afterward he was engaged in the boot and shoe business with Lewis A. Thompson, who subsequently became his father-in-law. This business relation was maintained until 1852, when on account of ill health he withdrew and turned his attention to the business of purchasing western horses and shipping them to the eastern market. Soon afterward, however, he purchased a stage line running from Coldwater to Marshall, Michigan and used his horses on that line. He then planned a mail route from Marshall to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and in this manner extended the stage route, devoting his energies to the business until 1859, when he sold out and engaged in purchasing and selling horses again. To this he gave his time until after the outbreak of the Civil war. His next enterprise was a tannery at Coldwater, and in the winter of 1863-4 he removed to New York City, where he engaged in dealing in bonds, stocks and mortgages. That business claimed his energies for several years and he was so successful that he amassed a large sum of money. He was perhaps the most noted capitalist that has lived in Branch county. In 1871 he returned to Coldwater on account of declining health and continued his residence here until his death, October 16, 1899.

Mr. Seely traveled extensively both in America and abroad and gained that culture, knowledge and experience which only travel can bring. His conversation was enriched with man interesting reminiscences and anecdotes of his journeys, and he was a most congenial companion. Though he was never a church member he attended the services of the Presbyterian church and was a very charitable man, giving freely of his means to those who needed assistance and to worthy benevolent objects.

It was on the 7th of April 1853, that Mr. Seely was united in marriage to Miss Sarah J. Thompson, a daughter of Lewis A. Thompson of Mendham, New Jersey, who was born there in 1833 and now resides in Detroit. She is a member of the Presbyterian church. Mr. and Mrs. Seely have two daughters: Annie, who is living in Coldwater; and Mrs. W.N. Worcester, of Detroit.

The life history of Mr. Seely is notable in the fact that he rose from a very humble financial position to one of affluence. His business discernment and judgment were rarely at fault. He seemed to understand intricate business problems almost at a glance and he knew how best to utilize his opportunities so as to produce the greatest results. Nor was his path strewn with the wreck of other men’s fortunes. He was just and upright in all his dealings and the secret of his prosperity lay in his close application, his indefatigable energy and his keen sagacity. In his life he displayed the sterling traits of character of friend, father and husband, being always loyal to those with whom he enjoyed social relations, while to his family he was most devoted.

Pages 405-406, “A Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record of Branch County, Michigan” By Rev. Henry P. Collin, M.A., author and Editor, The Lewis Publishing Company, New York, Chicago, 1906.

[Southerland Moore is SGS # 3781 – Southerland Moore; Holly, James, Nathaniel, Ebenezer, Jonas, Obadiah]

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