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Memoir of Bishop Seabury

By William Jones Seabury, D.D.

New York: Edwin S. Gorham, 1908.
London: Rivingtons, 1908.

Chapter III. Transition Period. 1756-7.

THE cure at New Brunswick beginning in 1754, was succeeded by the cure at Jamaica beginning in 1757: but the Missionary would appear to have taken up his residence in the neighborhood of Jamaica, before entirely giving up the care of New Brunswick. The parson of those days was wont to supplement the scanty stipends arising from his proper vocation with what he could gather from other occupations; and so was sometimes doctor, and schoolmaster, and farmer also, as well as parson: and the missionary appears to have made provision for his support by the purchase of a small farm at Jamaica in 1757. There is some reason to suppose that he had previously made a similar purchase in Newtown, a village not far from Jamaica, which perhaps he may have exchanged, or otherwise parted from, in acquiring the farm at the latter place. At all events, his affairs seem to have required about this period of 1756-7, frequent journeys from New Brunswick to Long Island, or Nassau Island as it was then named, and also to New York; and these journeys, belonging to what may be called the transition period between the settlements in New Brunswick and Jamaica, were not without important influences upon his life.

It may be difficult for those who associate the idea of the journey from New Brunswick to New York, with that of an hour's ride in an express train, to realize what was involved in that journey at the time of which we are speaking. As nearly as I can make out the process, it was by a ferry down the Raritan and across to Staten Island; and by ferry from Staten Island to New York; and then if the journey were to be continued to Nassau Island there was another ferry trip from the Battery to Brooklyn, succeeded by the drive from Brooklyn to Newtown or Jamaica, or other place on the Island as the case might be. The ferry boat from Staten Island to New York was a small sloop operated by a man with a couple of boys as helpers; and one day our young Missionary using this mode of transportation found himself in a position involving serious risk to the vessel and to those on board. The Skipper proved to be sufficiently intoxicated to be very reckless in the management of his boat; and after expostulating with him in vain on the danger of his course, the passenger pushed him away from his place and took the helm himself; and finding him still fractious and troublesome he laid him down in the boat, and with the help of the boys tied him with ropes, so that he could no longer interfere, and then brought the boat safely to the landing. A number of people who had gathered on the Battery, watching the proceedings from a distance, and anticipating some serious result of the difficulty, gladly welcomed him on his arrival, and took pleasure in escorting the Skipper to the nearest pump, where by cooling streams he was duly sobered, if not refreshed.

At a later period of the Bishop's life, while he resided in New York during the Revolutionary War he served as the Society's Missionary at Staten Island, but his personal associations date back to the times which we are now considering, while he was in the habit of passing through that region, sometimes no doubt tarrying there long enough to become acquainted with resident families. [Bishop Perry; History Episcopal Church, II, 50.] Among these was the Hicks family a branch of that which gave name to a division of the Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers. [Bishop Perry notes the death of Mary (Hicks) Seabury, which is not mentioned in Bishop Seabury's record in his family Bible, as of October 12, 1780--the 24th anniversary of her wedding. History Episcopal Church, II, 446.] One of this family, Mr. Edward Hicks, had been a merchant in Philadelphia, and some time previous to the period under consideration, had retired from business and settled on Staten Island. This gentleman married Violetta Ricketts, a daughter of William Ricketts, and Mary Walton, his wife. The name of Ricketts appears in the Colony of New York as that of a family of good social standing, and is an instance of one of those changes in form which one sometimes observes to have taken place in course of time rather disadvantageously, having been originally Ricard. At the time we speak of Edward Hicks seems to have been a widower, and to have had his residence on Staten Island with his daughter Alary Hicks, and his son William. Another son of Edward and Violetta Hicks was Edward, a Colonel in the British Army, and there seem also to have been three other children of this marriage whose names I do not know. It is easy to imagine that acquaintance with this family might have come to the Missionary of New Brunswick through representatives of the same family on Long Island, where so large a part of his life had been spent. But, in whatever way, the acquaintance was in fact established; and the result was the growth of an attachment between him and Mary, the daughter of Edward Hicks, which led to their marriage on the 12th day of October, 1756.

To this marriage Mr. Hicks was opposed--so far opposed at least as apparently to refuse to sanction it; and this led to its being performed not on Staten Island where Mr. Hicks resided, but in New York, and probably at the house of Col. William Ricketts, the maternal uncle of the bride. The marriage was solemnized by the groom's father, the Rector of St. George's, Hempstead.

With regard to her who thus bravely cast in her lot with the subject of this Memoir, the tradition which my father told me he had derived from her children in their maturity was, that she was "a lady of good sense, of cultivated taste, and of refined and generous feelings; and that both as a wife and mother she was all that husband or children could desire." I feel the more bound to perpetuate this tradition, as there is little else now known of her to whom it relates, and also as remembering how little there is of conspicuous action in the life of many a woman whose unseen influence nevertheless is the potent source of the strong and good living for which her husband has become known; and whose unselfish devotion, hardly noticed perhaps in life, is all the more deeply realized when it has passed away beyond recall.

With regard to the ground of the opposition of Mr. Hicks to the marriage of his daughter there is, so far as I am aware, no direct evidence to be adduced. It may have been based

(1) upon some personal feeling against the young man, or

(2) upon the belief that the connection was imprudent, or

(3) upon the conviction that he himself would thereby be involved in complications which it would be inconvenient to meet and impossible to avoid, or (4) upon mere caprice. To the young people it probably seemed that the objection was based upon the fourth of these supposed grounds. From the history of the subsequent relations of Mr. Hicks with his son-in-law, I am inclined to infer that the real solution of the problem is furnished by the third supposition. There are two facts, of which the young people at the time of their marriage appear not to have been aware, which lead me to this inference: one of which is that Mr. Hicks was under certain pecuniary obligations to his daughter; the other being that his affairs were in such condition as to make it inconvenient for him to discharge these obligations.

The subsequent claim for the settlement of these obligations, and the discussion of issues raised by the failure of Mr. Hicks to meet certain other obligations into which he had entered after the marriage; with the alleged reasons for not fulfilling any of these obligations, and the answers to those reasons, appear to have furnished materials for a protracted controversy which dragged on for several years, and would seem to have been either litigated, or submitted to arbitration, probably the latter. The series of papers, more or less formal in character, which has come down to me is not sufficiently complete to enable me to state the final result of the controversy. My father's impression in regard to the Arbitration was that Mr. Seabury obtained the award, and the lawyers obtained the property: but my father was not a lawyer. Without giving positive information as to the result, however, the papers very fully and clearly show the position taken by each of the disputants; and their manner of presenting their respective claims throws much light on their several characters.

It does not seem worth while to go into a full account of this controversy. The main facts, stated by Mr. Seabury and admitted by Mr. Hicks, were that two legacies from their grandfather and grandmother Ricketts to the children of Mr. and Mrs. Hicks, amounting together to some £1700--had been received by Mr. Hicks, and that the one-sixth share of this, belonging to Mary, wife of Samuel Seabury had not been paid over to her; that Mr. Hicks had promised to Mr. Seabury, at the time he was about to purchase his farm, the sum of £400,--and that instead of fulfilling that promise he had agreed to go on a bond for that amount if borrowed, and to Pay the interest thereon; and that although Mr. Hicks had in fact executed such bond to Mr. Nathaniel Marston who had loaned the money, yet that after the lapse of three years, no interest having been paid thereon Mr. Seabury had to pay it himself; that Mr. Hicks had empowered Mr. Seabury to recover for him certain monies in the hands of his son William Hicks; and, while directing the public sale of his own personal property, Mr. Hicks had reserved from it certain plate, furniture and servants, which he duly transferred to Mr. Seabury.

With regard to this transfer, Mr. Seabury claimed that it had been made to him as security for amounts to be paid to him; which view of the case Mr. Hicks repudiated, as he did also the transfer. Nothing was collected by Mr. Seabury from William Hicks; and Mr. Edward Hicks, having become reconciled to his son William, took occasion to deliver to him part of the property which he had previously transferred to Mr. Seabury, and then demanded the remainder from Mr. Seabury as having been long injuriously detained from him.

With regard to the £400, while denying that he had intended it as a gift to his son-in-law, Mr. Hicks admitted that he had designed to pay the interest on it without carrying it to Mr. Seabury's account; and claimed that he had told his son William to pay the first year's interest, and that William had once called on Mr. Marston for the purpose, but had not found him at home--which he seems to have considered quite as much effort as the case required.

With regard to the claim for the one-sixth share of the legacies, amounting to some two hundred and eighty odd pounds, Mr. Hicks frankly admits the legality of the demand; but, having several charges to offer in reduction, he says, "I would have the balance to be settled by a jury or an impartial arbitration, and not by a man so intent upon promoting his own private interest as Mr. Seabury is."

The formal statement of these several charges Mr. Hicks appears to have made, though it is not among the papers which have come to me. The nature of some of those charges,

and the grounds upon which Mr. Seabury objected to them were set forth in a paper, a fragment of which has been preserved among his papers, and which affords information in regard to various details of the controversy, viewed, it need hardly be said, from a different standpoint from that of Mr. Hicks. It would be tedious to go particularly into these details, and could serve no good purpose. But it has seemed proper to give some account of the controversy, as one of the experiences of the life which we are following, and to put on record the statement that the extant papers appear fully to justify the position which Mr. Seabury held in it. In closing this chapter, however, and taking leave of the subject, I am disposed to think it well to give a brief extract from Mr. Seabury's statement, as showing the manner in which he conducted his side of the controversy; and as illustrating not only the calm and temperate way in which he handled it, but also his characteristic habit of falling back upon sound general principles as affording the best guide for action in practical affairs. The extract is as follows:

"Mr. Hicks has charged me £250 for my wife's board and clothing from her Mother's death 'till her marriage, and in justification of this charge, says it is supported by the laws of his country. The laws of his country I know oblige him and every man to maintain and support his own children. It can therefore be only in some particular cases, that the laws will permit a man to charge his children for board and clothing, viz.: when the man is unable to provide it for them, and they have ability to provide it for themselves. But Mr. Hicks cannot say this was his case. During the whole period for which this charge is made (which Mr. Hicks has overrated by 14 months), he supported the character of an opulent merchant, and lived in a fashionable and genteel manner. Those laws of his country therefore which oblige him to take care of his children and maintain them ought here to take place. To these laws of his country may be added the law of Nature, which is prior to all laws of civil Society; and binds all parents by the stronger ties of reason and instinct, to provide for the support of their offspring. The laws also of justice and humanity require that we should support those to whom we have given being. The laws of the Christian Religion lay men under the same obligations; one of its greatest Preachers having declared that parents ought to provide for their children and not children for their parents. Besides--

The duty, obedience, submission, and service of a child are due to its parent only on account of the maintenance, protection and education it receives; for no one that considers the matter will suppose that a child is under any obligations to a father for its being, when perhaps the being of the child was never once thought of. It is therefore for its well being that the child is under any obligations; and the father that provides best for his children, lays them under the strongest obligations of obedience, service and gratitude. The child therefore that is obliged to pay for its maintenance is under no greater obligations to its parents, than to strangers; for strangers would have taken care of it and maintained it upon the same terms. The principles therefore upon which Mr. Hicks proceeds, will cancel all obligations of children to their parents, and ought not to be admitted."

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