Amos Peck Seaman, the “Grindstone King”

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SEAMAN, AMOS PECK, INDUSTRIALIST, MERCHANT, AND AGRICULTURALIST; BORN 14 JAN. 1788 in Sackville, N.B., the son of Nathan Seaman and Zena (Zeniah) Thomas; Married on 12 May 1814 to Jane Metcalf, and they had seven sons and four daughters; Died 14 Sept. 1864 at his home in Minudie, N.S.

Amos Peck Seaman, the son of pre-loyalist settlers, came to Minudie in Cumberland County in 1796. Seaman was described as a barefooted runaway boy who came to Minudie in an old birch bark canoe with a hole in the bow. His mother had given him the rudiments of an education in their poor but loving home in the parish of Sackville. He did not further his education until he was a man, and was able to attend night school.

Little is known about Seaman’s early life. He began trading with Boston merchants, with his brother, Job, as a business partner. He was soon carrying goods between Nova Scotia, New England, and the West Indies in vessels built in his own small shipyards.

In 1823, Amos Seaman became a tenant on the Minudie estate which had been granted to Joseph Frederic Wallet DesBarres in 1765. Acting as agent for the DesBarres family, Seaman collected rents for the lands during 1825 and 1826. On the property, in addition to rich, fertile marshlands called the Elysian Fields were excellent sandstone deposits for the production of grindstones. Between 1826 and 1834, Seaman and his partner, William Fowler, leased all the quarries on the estate. However, the squatters, tenants, and trespassers on this land were used to the old, erratic ways of the absentee proprietor DesBarres. In 1834, Seaman purchased the 7,000 acre estate. He was involved in legal and extra-legal problems for many years. Seaman laid claim to the grindstone deposits on Ragged Reef below the high water mark. He appealed his case to the highest authorities and in 1838, his claim was confirmed.

Every year thousands of high-priced stones were shipped to American markets by Seaman’s Atlantic Grindstone Company, and by other producers who leased quarry lots from him. By 1843, more than 100 men were employed in his quarries and stone factory alone, in addition to those in his ships and mills. In 1843, he built at Minudie the first steam-powered grist mill in Nova Scotia. Early in the 1840s, coal mining also began on the Seaman estate. In 1847, Seaman boasted in his remarkable diary that he also had a “steam saw mill in full operation cutting 150 logs a day.” Through the purchase of more land, as well as the reclamation of some 1,500 acres from the sea with dykes, he amassed what may have been the largest estate in the province.

From his mansion, Seaman watched over the largely Acadian community with the eye of a semi-feudal lord, winning for himself the title of “King” of Minudie. He held numerous posts in local government, constructed a schoolhouse and donated land and money to help build two churches, one Protestant, one Catholic, for the Minudie people. He also helped establish the first Freemasons’ lodge in Cumberland County. In 1850, reporting to a commission of inquiry into the state of the Bay of Fundy fisheries, he called for the early completion of a railroad to the Canadas to make accessible the market “now shut to us by circuitous navigation.”

It seems only a little arrogant for Seaman to have dropped his middle name, Peck, as being too small a measure for his capacities. Increased wealth and leisure made it possible for him to travel in Great Britain and the United States. His children, after home tutoring, were sent to King’s College in Windsor or to English schools. Three of Seaman’s children – one a lawyer and secretary to Charles Tupper – predeceased him. Saddened by their loss, and by the apparent greed of other members of his family, Seaman complained in 1864:

I am Striving hard to Save the Ship. abandoned by more than half my Crew. . . . the Stores I leave to others may do them harm for as the[y] fall out by the way what the End may be its hard to Say.

Within a few months the old “King” was dead. He left behind him a fiendishly complicated will. Designed to assure a fair and equitable division of his property, it caused a long succession of lawsuits which contributed to the decline of his business empire and of the Minudie community.  

 

A. A. MACKENZIE

In re Seaman estate (n.p., 1866) (copy in N.S. Legislative Library, Halifax). M. H. Perley, Report upon the fisheries of the Bay of Fundy (Fredericton, 1851). G. N. D. Evans, Uncommon obdurate: the several public careers of J. F. W. DesBarres (Salem, Mass., and Toronto, 1969). C. B. Fergusson, “The old king is back”: Amos “King” Seaman and his diary (PANS Bull., 23, Halifax, 1972). “The grindstone king,” Amherst Daily News(Amherst, N.S.), 1 May 1963. “Smokestack on Ragged Reef,” Family Herald and Weekly Star (Montreal), 23 March 1961.

General Bibliography © 1976–2018 University of Toronto/Université Laval

 

 

1800’s & 1810’s

1806 – Amos and older brother, Job, founded “A. Seaman & Co.”, shipping hay and vegetables from Minudie to New England and the Caribbean
1810 – started an agency in Boston
1813 – applied for land grant in Minudie and attended night classes
1814 – married Jane Metcalf from Maccan (parents from Yorkshire)
1816 – built a store near Minudie wharf, stocked with cargoes from his ships, such as , silk, cotton, and jewelry.
1818 – bought his first 1/2 acre of land and built a house in Minudie

 

1820’s

1823 – dissolved partnership with Job, built the first bridge in Maccan and one across the River Hebert River, and became a tenant of DesBarres
1825 – formed Harmony Masonic Lodge in Cumberland County
1826 – acted as an agent for Augustus DesBarres collecting rents from the grindstone quarries
1826 – obtained all quarry leases

 

1830’s

1834 – bought Minudie estate from DesBarres family at a cost of 8,592 pounds (quarries, shad fishing and 3,000 acres of marshland known as “Elysian Fields”)
1837 – built the “Homestead” also known as “Grindstone Castle”. Sir Charles Tupper and Joseph Howe were among the many guests who stayed there.
1838 – Executive Council of Nova Scotia orders a “Grant of Confirmation” in regard to land disputes

 

1840’s

1842 – petitioned Lieutenant of Nova Scotia to grant a lease of coal seams on his land in River Hebert – worked River Hebert and Joggins Mines
1843 – built first grist steam mill in province, cost was 1500 pounds and was cutting 150 logs a day by 1847
1846 – traveled to England & Scotland, was present at court and visited the House of Commons
1848 – donated four acres of land, some lumber and paid a quarter of the cost for the construction of the new Catholic Church St. Denis.

 

1850’s

Early 1850’s the school house in Minudie was built.

 

1860’s

1863 – Universalist Church was completed
1864 – Amos died in September after a short illness; Jane died a year and a half later; both rest in the Lake Cemetery.