Sunday, December 5, 2010


Congressman from the Wiregrass

James Lindsey Seward was born in the infant town of Dublin, Georgia on October 30, 1813. His parents, William and Sarah Roberts Seward, were among the first settlers of the town. Seward's grandfathers, James Seward and Frederick Roberts, fought for independence during the Revolution. The former lost his life in the fight for freedom. The latter died in 1823 and was buried near the Seward home place near the lower end of South Franklin Street. James Lindsey Seward became one of the most influential men in South Georgia in the tumultuous decade of the 1850s. He was a voice for reconciliation in the cataclysmic decade of the 1860s.

William Seward died in 1826. With her father also dead, Sarah Seward gathered her belongings and took James and his younger brother, Hansel Roberts Seward, to another infant town - Thomasville in Thomas County. The family's trek to Thomas County was part of a larger migration of Laurens Countians to the Southwest Georgia community. Mrs. Seward, with the assistance of her sons, opened a boarding house in the newly created town. The Seward House became a place for traveling attorneys, who spent a week in town when court was going on and a few days when they were passing through to other county seats in the circuit. James Seward decided at an early age that he wanted to practice law. James Scarborough invited Seward to come to Hawkinsville to read law in preparation for his admission to the bar, which took place in Hawkinsville in 1836.

Twenty three-year-old Seward's abilities were well known by Thomas Countians, who elected him to represent their county in the Georgia Legislature in the election of 1836. Seward resumed his full time and highly lucrative law practice after serving three one-year terms in the capital in Milledgeville. During this time, Seward met and fell in love with Miss Fannie Tooke of Hawkinsville, whom he married in 1838. The voters of Thomas County returned Seward to the legislature in 1846 and in 1850 for a two-year term.

Seward's successful terms in the legislature led his friends and colleagues to encourage him to seek a higher office. He began his political career on a national level when he was selected to represent the 1st Congressional District of Georgia at the National Democratic Convention of 1852. Later that year, Seward narrowly defeated Francis S. Bartow of Savannah to win a seat in the 33rd Congress. Bartow would become famous for being one of the first Confederate field grade officers to be killed in the Civil War. In the first hours of the first battle at Manassas, Bartow was shot while directing his troops.

James Seward and his next door neighbor, Peter Early Love led similar lives. Love, a son of the first Clerk of Laurens County Superior Court, was trained as a physician, but practiced law as well. In the mid-1840s, Love served as Judge of the Southern Superior Court Circuit, which included his native county of Laurens. Judge Love was a member of the Georgia Congressional delegation, who gave up their seats in Congress when Georgia seceded from the Union in 1861.

James Seward served three terms in the United States Congress when the country was being ripped apart over the issues of state's rights and slavery. Seward, a loyal Democrat, stood in support of slavery, unlike many of his fellow Laurens Countians, who sought cooperation with the northern states on the issue. After declining to return to Congress for a fourth term, Seward accepted the nomination of the Democrats of Thomas County to run for a seat in the Georgia Senate, which he won in the 1859 election.

As the issues of slavery and state's rights came to a climax in 1860, Seward was taking an active role in national politics, serving as one of the Georgia delegates at the Democratic National Conventions in Baltimore and Charleston. By the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, Seward had amassed a fortune estimated at one hundred twenty-five-thousand dollars. Seward donated a large sum of money to outfit and equip the "Thomasville Guards," one of the county's first military companies to begin training for service in the Confederate Army. Seward continued to serve in the Georgia Senate until 1863 in addition to his duties as a trustee of Young's Female College in Thomasville.

The Sewards moved to the outskirts of Thomasville. They established a plantation, which included the present site of Glen Arven Country Club. During the war, Mrs. Seward opened her home to wounded and sick soldiers. The eldest Seward daughter, Martha, or Mattie as she was affectionately known, sewed the battle flag for a local military company known as the "Dixie Boys" or Company A of the 57th Georgia Infantry. The flag became the regimental battle flag and is now in the possession of Lester L. Porter, III, formerly of Dublin. Mrs. Seward and her daughters, Mattie and Fannie, spent many hours preparing clothing and supply packages for the soldiers.

Although Seward was an active proponent of secession, he was just as active as a proponent for reconciliation after the war. He served as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention of 1865, along with many other men like Dr. Nathan Tucker of Laurens County, who had been a Cooperationist before the war. Georgia governor Charles Jenkins appointed Seward to serve on the State Committee for Distribution to the Needy. Seward joined ex war governor Joseph E. Brown in calling for Georgia's ratification of the 13th amendment banning slavery - a choice which was widely denounced by many Georgians. When Georgia's military commander, General Pope, was about to replace Jenkins as governor, he offered the provisional governor's position to Seward, which Seward politely declined. Just a week later, Seward declined another appointment by General Pope as Supervisor of Registration.

In the years following the war, Seward remained active in public service, particularly in the field of education. Seward served a twenty-one-year term as a trustee of the University of Georgia, a twenty-six-year term as trustee of Young's Female College, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Thomas County Board of Education. During the post war years, Seward became less active in political circles. He did serve as a delegate to the State Democratic Convention in 1870 and the Constitutional Convention of 1877. He abandoned his attempt to return to Congress in 1878 when it appeared that a radical would win in a three-way race.

As James Seward approached his 70th birthday, rheumatism struck ailing his body. For four years as a mere shadow of the man he once was, Seward suffered through his invalism. On November 21, 1886, James Seward's life slipped away. He was laid to rest in Laurel Grove Cemetery, where his beloved wife would join him eleven years later.

No comments:

Post a Comment