52 Ancestors: Dr. Ora Philander Seward #13

This week’s prompt is “The Old Homestead.”

My youngest Aunt found this photo in her collection last year and my Uncle scanned it for me:

Old house and barn with windmill in the snow
The Seward house and farm in Mattawan, MI

Ora Philander Seward was born 1860 in New Hackensack in Dutchess County, NY to Ogden Tallmadge Seward and Ada Barnum Douglass. They only lived in New Hackensack a short while before joining Ada’s family in Elgin, Illinois. Ogden died in 1862 of tuberculosis and Ada died of same in 1873. Ada’s parents, sister Mary, and brother Elon all helped raise young Ora.

According to his son, my grandfather Donald, Ora P. graduated from the Elgin Academy at age 16 and then attended the University of Chicago to study “Natural Philosophy,” or what we would now call General Science. He graduated in 1880, studied and practiced law for a few years, attended medical school for a year, traveled and studied in Europe a while and helped run the family farm in Elgin. About 1897, he went back to the University of Chicago to complete a Ph.D and finished in 1899. The title of his dissertation was The use of the umlaut in Middle High German and it is available on Google Books.

While studying at U. of Chicago, Ora P. met a young lady named Mary Ellis Pray from Bath, Maine, who would eventually become his wife. They married August of 1899 and soon moved to Salt Lake City, Utah where Ora. P. took a position as professor of foreign languages at the University of Utah and their eldest son Robert was born. According to him, the appointment did not last long, due to giving a trustee’s daughter a failing grade. Next appointment was in Chicago and son Ralph was born. Eventually, he was told by his doctor that he should spend more time in the open air because of tuberculosis in the family, so the family moved to a grape farm in Mattawan, Michigan. The exact quote from my grandfather was: “Not a very good farm; 70 acres of sand, with only 7 acres of grapes.”

As the label on the photo says, this was where Donald M. Seward, my maternal grandfather, was born. Besides the grapes and one cow, there were gardens, fruit trees, and chickens. Donald said:

Our most frequent Sunday dinner was chicken; most often stewed because we didn’t kill a hen until it became too old to lay. Saturday night supper most always baked beans and brown bread, a New England custom. The beans, white navy beans, had to be soaked all night Friday and baked all day Saturday with salt pork, onions, molasses and mustard. If any were left, we had bean soup on Monday.

Staples such as salt pork were ordered from Sears Robuck in Chicago, usually in the fall after the grape harvest. They arrived in one or more fairly large crates filled with crackers, cookies, cheese, salt cod, chocolate, spices and other staples – “almost like Christmas.”

Ora P. Seward in uniform for Randolph Macon Academy
Ora P. Seward in uniform for Randolph Macon Academy

The grape farm wasn’t very productive, so Ora P. took a job as a rural mail carrier. Wife Mary started teaching again in the local high school in 1910 and was eventually promoted to principal. She died of pneumonia in 1913, leaving three young sons for Ora P. to raise. He accepted a job teaching at Randolph-Macon Academy from 1918-19 and moved the family to Liberty, VA.

After spending a year as a farmer in Virginia, he then went back to teaching at Stetson University in Deland, Florida. He stayed there until retirement in 1935. About 1941, when his health started to fail, Ora P. moved up to Lewiston, Maine to be near one of his sons and died there in 1942. I have not located if or where he was buried, though his obituary said he was cremated in Massachusetts.



Dr. O. P. Seward Obituary, The Bath Independent, Bath, Maine, 9 July 1942.

Dr. Donald M. Seward, Family History 1860 (unpublished).

During the summer of his 90th year, the last year of his life, my grandfather Donald sat down and wrote as much of his and my grandmother’s family histories as he could remember. He also wrote down memories of his childhood and young adult days which has been invaluable to me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close