Tuesday, January 15, 2013

From Berry Pomeroy Castle to Pompey, New York: The Incredible Historic Connection of the Pomeroy and Seymour Families.

by Kate Corbett Pollack

Berry Pomeroy castle is situated in Devon, England, and was the Baronial home of the Pomeroy family, which came to England during the Norman conquest of 1066. Ralf de Pomeroy assisted William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings and as a result was awarded land in Devon, where this branch of the family would move and settle, coming from La Pommeraie in Bayeux, Normandy. There they continued the genealogical line for the next five hundred years. Berry Pomeroy castle was constructed to provide security and comfort for the family, and its defensive style was a display of status. The Viking raids of 800-900 had caused European populations to remove themselves from settlements on the river systems and to move further inland, which led also to the development of a fortress style of architecture, originally called a Motte and Bailey. In the event of a Viking raid, inhabitants of a town would remove to the interior of the walled Motte and Bailey, which was complete with a moat and a defensive tower. The wealthiest person in the area, the feudal Lord, constructed the fortress and lived within its walls. He would provide protection in exchange for labor and goods, which came to be known as the feudal system. This style developed into the more elaborate and ornate walled castles complete with moats, gates and towers, that are today so synonymous with the Middle Ages. Berry Pomeroy Castle, for example, has Saint Margaret’s Tower, which was not only pretty, but could be used for defensive tactics. Devon was subject to Viking raids, and experienced them in about 900 AD. While the Pomeroy family may not have been in too much fear of invading hordes by the time of the castle’s construction in the late 1400s, being able to build a walled fortress was a show of their power and wealth. The ample grounds were abundant with deer, and having a personal deer park was also a luxury reserved for the upper classes in the Middle Ages. A stone wall was constructed on the property to contain the deer, and is still in existence. The deer park dates from the 13th century. The castle was also equipped with its own chapel, and faded images of painted religious scenes are still visible on its walls. Today, Berry Pomeroy is known as ‘the most haunted castle in England’.

The Pomeroy family lived in this area from the time of the Norman Conquest, but did not build Berry Pomeroy right away. They maintained several residences on the massive and extensive property awarded to Ralf de Pomeroy by William the Conqueror in exchange for his participation in the siege of Exeter and the battle of Hastings. William gave him 57 manors, which in this era refers to property and aristocratic title over it, including to the tenants. This tradition of granting land gained in battle or war by military leaders to their top ranking men was one also kept by General George Washington, who awarded landholdings to General Baron Von Steuben, among others. The medieval aristocratic tradition of holding large swaths of land occurred in the United States into the 1900s among settled European aristocracy or “new money” entrepreneurs like Ledyard Lincklaen and Jonathan Denise Ledyard, both of whom were a part of continuing the manor tradition in upstate New York during the 19th century. Small stone palaces were built by the Ledyard and Lincklaen families around Cazenovia, and the rent was collected from anyone who lived on the land.

The land at Berry Pomeroy was held by the Pomeroy family from the 11th century to 1547, when Thomas Pomeroy, due to financial problems, had to sell the manor to Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and brother to Jane Seymour, third wife of King Henry VIII. Their father, Edward Seymour (senior), was one of the most powerful men in England next to the King. Edward Seymour was Uncle and appointed guardian to the future King Edward VI, who became King in 1547, the year his father, King Henry VIII, died. Edward VI was only a child when Henry VIII died, and Edward Seymour, his guardian, gained political influence as a result, as the boy could not yet make decisions. Edward Seymour held many important titles and offices including Protector of the Realm, and was known for his military prowess and success in battle. Like the Pomeroys, the Seymour family had come to the area as a result of the Norman Conquest, and their early ancestors fought in the battle of Hastings just as Ralf de Pomeroy had. Edward acquired immense wealth and property, and is also remembered for his influence over architectural styles that became popular in England at this time. Because of his great power, he had political enemies, and they were able to successfully overthrow and behead him by 1552.

Thomas Pomeroy was profligate with the family’s money and as a result had gone into debt and had mortgaged the castle. Lord Edward Seymour (Junior) and his brother John, in the years around the purchase of Berry Pomeroy, were imprisoned with their father, Edward, former Protector of the Realm, in the Tower of London, where John Seymour met his demise after a long illness. Knowing he was going to die, John petitioned from the tower for ancestral land around Berry Pomeroy known as Maiden Bradley, which had belonged to his mother, to be awarded to his younger brother Edward. Edward acquired more land and Berry Pomeroy castle in his purchase from Thomas Pomeroy once he was released from the Tower of London. Sadly, he lost his father and brother at the same time.

Thomas Pomeroy used the money he earned from the sale of the castle to purchase other land. During this time, tensions between Protestants and Catholics in England were highly charged, and Devon had seen some violent fights and destruction of Catholic Churches in the area. Thomas Pomeroy was a Catholic, and Edward Seymour was a Protestant. Two years after Edward purchased Berry Pomeroy castle and made it the seat of the Seymour family, Thomas participated in a battle between Catholic and Protestant forces known as the Prayerbook Rebellion, which would bring him into contact with the Seymours yet again. Lord Edward sent troops to fight the Catholic forces, which were made up of soldiers and ordinary men alike. Thomas Pomeroy was a drummer and trumpeter for the Catholics and sounded the alarm when the Protestant soldiers were approaching. Edward’s forces were momentarily startled and initially drew a retreat, only to strongly return, crushing the opponent. Many of the Catholics were drawn and quartered, but Thomas Pomeroy was able to escape this fate, likely due to his aristocratic family connections to the head of the Catholic army, who had been appointed by Edward. Thomas was, however, put into prison for a few years. After his release, he returned home and continued to be flagrantly wasteful with his family’s money, including his wife’s. It is because of this unfortunate relative that the Pomeroy family’s control over Devon for 600 years crumbled. They moved to another part of England.

Sir Edward Seymour’s son and namesake took over Berry Pomeroy castle in 1593, and was awarded title of Baronet by King James I. This Edward Seymour inherited vast land holdings from his father, and had already become Sherriff of Devon in 1583. He also served as a Member of Parliament for Devon under Elizabeth I. He was builder and architectural innovator of the Seymour House, which was an addition to Berry Pomeroy Castle. Like his grandfather, Edward the Protector, Edward was interested in architectural design, and the Seymour House influenced the building style in England for years to come. Edward started construction and expansion of the property in about 1600. He tore down some of the old 15th century Pomeroy Castle and built his new residence in the Elizabethan style. It may be referred to as the Seymour House, but in actuality, most would consider it a small palace. Edward added every fashionable status symbol that a palace of this era could have. Instead of using stone, as the Pomeroys did for the castle, Edward used wood and plaster to build his rooms and staircases, using a stone foundation in the walls, but covering it. When the Pomeroys built Berry Pomeroy Castle, as we have seen, it was built in the medieval stone fortress style, which in those days was the ultimate symbol of class and wealth. By Edward’s day, this was no longer the case. Edward also used elements of Classical design common in Italy and France, and in this way was innovative in bringing the style to England. He incorporated a Loggia into the design of the palace, which is an outdoor Classical walkway. Also built into the Seymour House was a new great hall which was very spacious and had one wall almost entirely made up of windows, rising two stories, which was very new and modern at the time. It overlooked the beautiful and picturesque Gatcombe Valley. In the Middle Ages, buildings were heavy and dark. By the 1600s, there was more focus in Europe on using glass and bringing light into structures.

The descendants of Edward Seymour, Protector of the Realm and guardian to King James I, continued to be successful and wealthy in much the same tradition as their relatives. Edward Seymour (who built the Seymour House) and his wife Elizabeth Champernoun of Dartington, had five sons. One of them, Richard, the youngest son, born 1595-6,left England and went to America. As the youngest son, he would not likely inherit very much, if any, of the family’s wealth. By this time in Europe, primogeniture, the tradition of giving all of the family’s land and money to the oldest son, rather than dividing it among heirs, was common. It is possible that this was a motivating factor in Richard’s leaving Berry Pomeroy for foreign shores. Once in America, Richard could establish himself separate from his family and obtain more land and property, even though it rightfully belonged to Native peoples who were already there, and there was difficulty and bloody battles that occurred as a result. Richard settled in Hartford, Connecticut in 1639, where he was allotted public land by the English settlers who had gotten there before him. Richard, in the tradition of the Seymours of Berry Pomeroy, took public office and was active in politics, associating with the highest ranking men in the area. He was not without money, coming from the wealthy background that he did, and being from a family like the Seymours led to him to be granted considerable amounts of land which would later become Norwalk, Connecticut. He possessed the bravery, financial means and skill to manage a landholding like that, which, as we have seen, he was commandeering already from Native peoples who were not happy about it. War between settlers and Indians would occur on and off until the mid- 18th century. Richard was in his forties by the time he settled in the New World, and had been married back in England to a woman named Mercy, where their first son was born. He continued the respectable tradition of the Seymours, holding office and being involved in public affairs up to his death in 1655. Mercy and Richard’s son John was born in Hartford, and in 1667 married Mary Watson of Norwalk. Their son, also named John, born 1666, married Elizabeth Webster in 1693. Their son Moses was born in 1711, marrying Rachael Goodman. Their son Moses Jr., born 1742, married Sally Marsh in Hartford in 1771. He became a Major and fought in the Revolutionary War. Major Moses Seymour and Sally Marsh were the parents of Honorable Henry Seymour, born 1780, who brings the story full circle to Pompey, New York, in 1810.

It is here that the Seymour family branched from their Connecticut roots after the Revolutionary War and headed to upstate New York where land, always the lure, had been made available now that it was no longer under British control. Henry Seymour and his wife Mary Ledyard Foreman traveled to Pompey as part of the Connecticut migration. During this era, many people left New England for New York to take advantage of the new land availability and followed the same trail, using covered wagons to haul their belongings. Henry and Mary would find themselves neighbors to Spencer Pomeroy and his wife, Mary Ann Coe. Once again, the Pomeroys and the Seymours, in the New World, were living side by side. Henry Seymour no doubt was very aware of his prestigious lineage, and one can only imagine if he ever mentioned Berry Pomeroy to Spencer or Mary Ann, who also might have known of the connection. Just as war had brought both the Pomeroy and Seymour families to Devon to settle, war had again opened up property and opportunity for the two families to establish themselves on land in upstate New York. Spencer Pomeroy had also come from a long line of prestigious and accomplished people, with forebears who had fought in the American Revolution and were founders and first settlers of Massachusetts, just as Richard de Seymour was in Connecticut. In their own way, both families made an indelible mark on British and American history for over 800 years. Readers may also recognize Henry Seymour because he was the father of Honorable Horatio Seymour, born Pompey 1810. In 1811, the family moved to Utica, settling on Whitesboro Street, where they lived in an American Federal style mansion that was, ironically, similar in style to the Seymour House of Berry Pomeroy. Horatio became governor of New York in 1852. He was an Abolitionist, Labor Activist and in 1868 was nominated for president by the Democratic Party, but was defeated by General Grant.

Mary Ann Coe Pomeroy, wife of Spencer and neighbor to Henry Seymour in Pompey, is the subject of much research by the APHGA, as readers may know. The fascinating stories of these subjects, the Pomeroys and the Seymours, so inextricably linked in history, continue to be revealed through research.

"Berry Pomeroy and Sir Thomas 1547- - Pomeroy Twig." Berry Pomeroy and Sir Thomas 1547- - Pomeroy Twig. Google.com, n.d. Web. 21 Dec. 2012.

Brown, Stewart. Berry Pomeroy Castle. London: English Heritage, 1997. Print.

Felch, William Farrand. The Connecticut Magazine.Vol. 10. Hartford and New Haven: Connecticut Magazine, 1906. Print.156-9.

Locke, A. Audrey. The Seymour Family. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914. Print.193-8.

Morris, Tyler Seymour. The Seymour Family. Chicago: [s.n.], 1900. Print. 180-1.

Links to images of Berry Pomeroy and the Serymour House:

This is a reconstruction drawing of the Seymour House, now in ruins, as it would have looked when it was first built:

Image of Berry Pomeroy Castle with part of the Seymour House in the background:

View of part of the ruins of the Seymour House as it looks today:

Engraving showing the grounds and valley around Berry Pomeroy: