The Missing Seaton - William Winston Seaton's Lineage

 Author Edward Seaton of America


(Author's Note: That the Parbroath references originally noted below were incorrect, and where in fact the line of Henry Seaton who settled in Virginia in 1690 was of the family of the Seton's of Barnes.  'Henry Seaton' was actually the third son of Sir John Seton 4th of Barnes, and his only son from Sir John's second marriage to Lady Margaret Hay. He was mistakenly referred to as a son of Seton of Garleton, and which of course was incorrect. Like all of the Seton's, Henry was staunchly loyal to the Stuart Monarch's and was opposed to Prince William of Orange and made himself peculiarly obnoxious to the government by complicity in the Jacobite schemes for his overthrow. After engaging in the failed Jacobite Resistance, he sought refuge and settled in the colony of Virginia in the America's in 1690, with a number of other Scots loyalists. Records regarding his mother's pursuing Henry's half-brother George Seton of Barnes as heir of Sir John Seton's Estate, are noted in:



 By Scotland. Court of Session, Lord Alexander Fraser Tytler of Woodhouselee, William Maxwell Morison, Esq. Vol. IV.


Reserved Faculties whether reducible upon Death bed.

1662 June 28 Dame Margaret Hay against George Seaton of Barnes (Sect 9, Entry No 61)

A man disponed his estate to his heir with a reserved faculty to burden it with a certain sum. The burden was sustained against the heir, though the faculty was exercised upon deathbed.

Umquhile Sir John Seaton of Barnes having provided George Seaton his son by his contract of marriage to his lands of Barnes some differences rose amongst them upon fulfilling of some conditions in the contract. For settling thereof there was a minute extended by a decreet of the Judges in anno 1658 by which the said Dame Margaret Hay second wife to the said Sir John was provided to L. 900 Sterling in liferent and it was provided that Sir John might burden the estate with 10,000 merks to any person he pleased to which George his son did consent and obliged himself to be a principal disponer.

Sir John assigned that clause and destinated that provision for Henry Seaton his son in fee and for the said Dame Margaret Hay in liferent whereupon she obtained decreet before the Lords the last session. George suspends the decreet and raises reduction on this reason that the foresaid clause gave only power to Sir John to burden the estate with 10,000 merks in which case George was to consent and dispone which can only be understood of a valid legal and effectual burden thereof but this assignation is no such burden because it is done in lecto cegritudinis and so cannot prejudge George who is heir at least apparent heir to his father. The charger answered, "That the reason was no way relevant 1st because this provision was in favours of the defunct's wife and children and so is not a voluntary deed but an implement of the natural obligation of providing these idly.

This provision as to the substance of it is made in the minute and extended contract in the father's health and there is nothing done on death-bed but the designation of the person which is nothing else than if a parent should in his lifetime give out sums payable to his bairns leaving their names blank and should on death-bed fill up their names". The suspender answered, "That he opponed the clause not bearing de presenti a burden of the land but a power to his father to burden neither having ing any mention of death-bed or in articulo mortis or at any time during his life and though the deed on death-bed be in favours of wife and children it hath never been sustained by the Lords in no time though some have thought it the most favourable case." The Lords sustained the provision and repelled the reason of reduction assoilzied therefrom and found the letters orderly proceeded.


With the remains of his inheritance, Henry settled first in Gloucester County, on the Pyanketank in Virginia, during which period he married Elizabeth Todd, the daughter of a gentleman of standing in the same county. He was noted in the papers of Mr. George Fitzhugh, of Rappahannock in papers on the " Valleys of Virginia," who quoted Bishop Meade's list of the early justices and vestrymen, at that time offices of mark and among whom in Petworth parish is named 'Henry Seaton' and says: " None but men of substance and consideration were made vestrymen...". He subsequently moved to an estate on the Mattapony, County of King William in Virginia, which for several generations continued to be the home of his descendants.  He died leaving an only child, his son and heir, George Seaton, the American-born ancestor of William Winston Seaton.)


The Honorable William Winston Seaton (January 11, 1785 – June 16, 1866) was an American journalist and Politician, born in King William County, Va.
Born at Chelsea and educated at Richmond under the tutelage of young Rev. James Ogilvy, the later Earl of Findlater, he was noted as possessing sound judgment and, "an uncommon charm of manner and person", for which he had already been noted in Richmond, especially among the gentler peoples, by whom he was pronounced 'the most elegant young man in Virginia'. 


He served in the War of 1812-1814, officially attaining the rank of Captain and unofficially to Colonel.  His profession that pursued was political journalism and first became Assistant Editor of a Richmond journal, before moving to assume Editorship of that in Petersburg under Colonel Yancey.  Following that tenure, he assumed the proprietary editorship of the "North Carolina Journal," in the old capitol town of Halifax, and gained a brilliant reputation.  After some years there and in Raleigh, he moved with his brother-in-law to Washington, and assumed editorship of the  'The National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser', on 31st of October, 1800.


From 1812 until 1860 he was, with his brother-in-law Joseph Gales, proprietor of the National Intelligencer at Washington, D.C. From 1812 until 1820 the two were the only reporters of congressional proceedings. Their Annals of Congress, Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States from 3 March 1798, till 27 May 1824 (42 volumes, 1834–1856), and their Register of Debates in Congress from 1824 till 1837 (29 volumes, 1827–37) are sources of the utmost importance on the history of the times.


He served on the Washington Board of Alderman from 1819 to 1831, and was elected Mayor of Washington in 1840. However, Seaton was a Whig, the political party formed in opposition to the policies of the Democrats who then controlled both the Congress and the presidency. Federal officials were so distraught at Seaton's election that the Senate introduced legislation that would abolish the city's charter; however, thanks to petitions from the District citizens and other sympathetic Senators, the bill was tabled after three readings.

He was a strong supporter of the administration of Thomas Jefferson of the United States, and was noted as being very familiar with the President and well-established in the society in Washington and held great influence in Congress. Throughout much of his life he maintained an interest and constant co-operation in the Colonization Society, becoming Vice-President there, and was an executive member of the American Colonization Society.  He entered into politics, and became Mayor of the City of Washington D.C. (1840-1850), and it was during his mayoralty that the corner-stone of the Washington Monument was laid, with elaborate ceremonies and much enthusiasm.  In his later years, he devoted himself to the funding of the creation of the Smithsonian Institution, and became it's  Treasurer and subsequently one of the building committee members, which latter he held until his death.  He was also one of the founders of the Unitarian Church in Washington, and entertained the French General LaFayette there, along with other functions as well.  During his 10 years as mayor, was instrumental in the development of the city's public education system and in numerous civic improvements, including telegraph and gas lines as well as the construction of the first waterworks.

As reports came to America of the growing famine in Ireland in 1846, he began the first movement for famine-relief, to which he labored continually, and which culminated in the provisions ship, 'General Harrison' being commissioned and dispatched, laden with $10,000 worth of provisions sent to Cork and Galway, and the Frigate Macedonian, and was the very first to start this movement in the United States.  In 1850, he retired from the mayoralty after an unexampled length of service and peremptorily declining with advancing age, he retired from publishing and editorship and undertook travels in Europe, and later of complications of skin cancer in Washington. D.C. on the 10th of June, 1866.


During his 10 years as mayor, Seaton was instrumental in the development of the city's public education system and in numerous civic improvements, including telegraph and gas lines as well as the construction of the first waterworks. During the 1820s, Seaton was a member of the prestigious society, Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, who counted among their members former presidents Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams and many prominent men of the day, including well-known representatives of the military, government service, medical and other professions. William Seaton died in 1866 of skin cancer and was interred in an unmarked grave at Congressional Cemetery in Washington.





Original Unedited Communications with Edward Seton:

My research into the “missing link” connecting our family to the Setons of Scotland has led me to conclude that, as my great-grandfather Oren A. Seaton speculated in his family history, we are descended from John Seton, who came to Virginia in 1635 and was the first Seton (variously spelled “Seaton, etc.”) in America. As recorded in the Public Record Office, London (E157/20), he sailed from that city August 7, 1635 on the ship “Globe.” He was the sixth son of Sir David Seton, 7th Baron of Parbroath, Fife, Scotland.


With the exception of John Seton in 1635, no other Seton (or Seaton) came to North America from Scotland in the 17th Century, according to the extensive listings from ship manifests in David Dobson’s two books, The Original Scots Colonists of Early America 1612-1783 and Scots on the Chesapeake 1607-1830.


The lineage chart accompanying this report is based on this conclusion. It shows our line of descent from a Norman refugee who went to Scotland at the time of William the Conqueror, Saher de Seton, to the current living generations. While my other evidence for our “missing link” is in large measure the disproving other suggested possibilities, it also points to the conclusion I have reached.


I received invaluable help in my research from Diane Baptie, a professional researcher and author in Edinburgh who specializes in the early period in question. Mrs. Baptie not only knows where to find the records, she is able to decipher both the handwriting and use of language in those arcane 17th Century documents. She also efficiently followed up leads Karen and I ran across during our recent visit to Edinburgh.


The mystery about our link to the Scots stems primarily from an 1871 biographical sketch written by his daughter of our relative William Winston Seaton, the famous 19th century editor of the first and long-influential Washington D.C. newspaper, National Intelligencer. She makes the unqualified statement that our line descended from Sir John Seton, 1st Bart of Garlton. She cites no authority, but says his son Henry “sought refuge” in Virginia from Scotland in 1690.


At issue is the parentage of our direct-line ancestor, Henry Seaton, who was known to be in Gloucester County, Virginia, on the Piankatank River in 1690. We have a precise record of his descendents, but who was his father? While other family genealogists, including Oren A. Seaton and Monsignor Robert Seton in their respective books on the family, believed we are descendants of another line stemming from Sir David Seton of Parbroath, W.W. Seaton’s daughter can’t be dismissed lightly because her father was just three generations removed from Henry Seton, his great-grandfather.


Additional confusion stems from a lineage chart for the Parbroath Setons now on the World Wide Web, under supervision of Canadian genealogist Kenneth R. Seton, at While it agrees with the two authors of books on the family that Henry was the great-grandson of Sir David of Parbroath, it says he emigrated to Virginia from Scotland in 1690 and was the son of a John Seton and grandson of Captain David Seton. Captain David Seton was the fifth son of Sir David Seton of Parbroath. The two family book authors hold that Henry was rather the grandson of the John Seton who came to America in 1635 and was Sir David’s sixth son. This view maintains Henry was the son of George Seaton, the latter John’s son who played a somewhat prominent role in 17th Century Virginia history.


The confusion and mystery would be easily resolved if good birth and death records were available for that period of Virginia history. Unfortunately, that archive was destroyed by fire in the American Civil War. As a result, I turned to Mrs. Baptie to research records in Scotland. With only a half hour of work, she proved the assertion of W.W. Seaton’s biographer wrong. Sir John Seton of Garleton had 10 children – none named Henry. A copy of her report with his children’s names and citations is attached.


Addressing the theory reported on Kenneth Seton’s website proved more time-consuming, but after researching various records, including financial transactions, of  Captain David Seton, Mrs. Baptie learned he had only one son, David. For a while we theorized perhaps Kenneth Seton’s Parbroath descent listing had simply missed a generation and that this son was the father of John Seton, in turn the father of Henry. But through extensive research she could find no record of the son, David, or any offspring beyond 1662. She found no evidence that he married or had children. In addition, she examined a little-known two-volume history, The House of Seton, published by Sir Bruce Gordon Seton in Edinburgh in 1941. It lists the son of Captain David Seton as “died without issue.” Mrs. Baptie’s reports with citations are attached.


The “missing link” therefore comes back to the Seton who came to America in 1635, John, the son of Sir David Seton of Parbroath. Little is known of his life in America except that he settled in Gloucester County, Virginia. His departure for America likely was related to the fact that by 1633 his oldest brother, George Seton, the 8th and Last Baron of Parbroath, had fallen from high estate and was forced to sell the vast Barony of Parbroath.


There are references in Virginia records that survive mentioning George Seaton, presumably John’s son and Henry’s father.   From Oren A. Seaton’s book and from investigations Karen and I made at the Gloucester Library in Gloucester, Virginia, we know that he amassed considerable property from operating a ferry on the Piankatank River, which continued to be operated by the Seaton family well into the 18th Century. In Virginia Colonial Records 1600-1700, Cavaliers and Pioneers, there are numerous land grants to him for the transport of people. In 1662 he obtained a patent for 6,000 acres on the Potomac in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He later served as a Justice of the Peace of Gloucester County and took part with the insurgents in Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. In a will dated 1682, he is listed as dead.