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Biography of Seth Bemis


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From History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts
Anonymous author, J.W. Lewis & Co., Philadelphia, 1890

Page 3-428

Seth Bemis, who was born the 23d January, 1775, was the youngest son of David and Mary Bemis, the latter the daughter of Nathaniel and Ann (Bowman) Bright. He was a lineal descendant in the fourth generation of Joseph and Sarah Bemis, who were in Watertown as early as 1640, and were supposed to have come from London, England, in the "Sarah and John." His ancestors had been substantial citizens and landowners in Watertown, their names appearing on the early town records among those of selectment. His father owned the water-power where now the Aetna Mills are established, carrying on a grist-mill and paper-mill, and at his death, in 1790, the mill property came to his sons Luke and Seth. The subject of this sketch fitted at New Ipswich Academy for Harvard College, where he graduated in 1795, taking good rank as a scholar. After graduation he spent about a year in the law-office of Franklin Dexter. At this time the attention of fore-seeing and progressive New England men was turned to the establishment in this country of manufacturing industries, and Seth Bemis was among the earliest to join the movement, buying out his brothers' interest in 1796, devoting much time to experiments with machinery, for the different branches of spinning and weaving yarns and cloth, both of cotton and wool. About 1809, at the suggestion of Winslow Lewis, a large Boston ship-owner, he began to experiment with the manufacture of heavy cotton goods suitable for sail-cloth, and the War of 1812 found him extensively engaged in the manufacture of cotton duck, a large part of which was marketed in Baltimore and the South. After the close of the war he took up other branches of manufactures, and was associated in his enterprises with some of the well known Boston merchants of the day, among them John Bellows, Thomas Cardis and William H. Boardman. At a late period, in partnership with his son, Seth Bemis, Jr., he carried on a large business in the grinding of logwood, and the preparation of dye-stuffs. Besides his industrial enterprises, he was much interested in agriculture, and believing that merino sheep could be profitably raised in this country, he became largely engaged at one time in breeding them on a farm owned by him in Maine, for this purpose importing some of the finest blooded stock.

He was always an active member of the Unitarian parish, taking great interest in its work. He represented his town in the Legislature, and, although averse to holding office, he was an earnest advocate of public improvements. He died on the 4th April, 1851, in the seventy-sixth year of his age.

He married, on the 24th April, 1808, Sarah Wheeler, of Concord, Massachusetts, who belonged to a family, descended from the earliest settlers of that town. His wife died on the 22d of June, 1849.

They had four children, who all survived them: --
Jonathan Wheeler Bemis, born Sept. 17, 1810, who graduated from Harvard in 1830, and from the Harvard Medical School in 1834. He settled in Charlestown, where he followed his profession over thirty-five years. IN November, 1859, he married Lucy Wyeth, of Cambridge, and has four children. In 1871 he retired from practice and moved to Cambridge, where he now lives.

Sarah Wheeler Bemis, born 25th of July, 1812, who now lives in Newton, just across the Charles River from the old homestead.

Seth Bemis, Jr., born 18th of September, 1814, who fitted for Harvard College at Exeter Academy, but went into business. He was a well-known manufacturer, and was associated with his father for many years, the success of their dye-stuff business being due, to a large extent, to his energy and capacity. After retiring from active business, about 1860, he moved across the river to Newton, where his sister now lives. Up to the time of his death he continued to hold several positions in manufacturing and other companies. He died 21st of October, 1887, in the seventy-fourth year of his age.

George Bemis born 13th October, 1816, who graduated from Harvard College with high rank in 1835 and from Harvard Law School in 1839. He became a noted lawyer of Boston, where he practiced many years. During the War of the Rebellion he was greatly interested in the success of the National Government, and rendered valuable assistance in the conduct of its diplomatic correspondence both during the war and in the years immediately following its close. His patriotic interest in international law led him to make a study of this subject, in which he became deeply interested, and by his will he left a legacy founding a Professorship of International Law in the Harvard Law School. During the latter years of his life he lived much in Europe, where he died the 6th of January, 1878, at Nice, France, in the sixty-second year of his age.

From History of Newton, Massachusetts
by Samuel Francis Smith, American Logotype Co., Boston, 1880

Page 769

GEORGE BEMIS was a native of Watertown, and died at Nice, France. His father was a man of great energy of character, being proprietor of the Bemis factory, North Village, one of the oldest establishments of the kind in Newton. As a lawyer Mr. Bemis attained considerable distinction, and was at one time Solicitor of the Boston and Worcester Railroad. Connected with Attorney-General Clifford in the trial of Webster for the murder of Dr. Parkman, by his untiring industry he brought together a vast array of evidence, greatly contributing to present a convincing case to the jury. He afterwards published a report of the trial in book form, making one of the most remarkable cases of American jurisprudence. As a writer on International law, in connection with our differences with Great Britain, he displayed a thorough knowledge of the subject, and in this affair had very intimate relations with the late Senator Sumner. He was not a politician, and studiously avoided all public position. He was a pupil, in early years, of Mr. Seth Davis, and on the occasion of the ninetieth birthday anniversary of his old Master, sent him a letter of congratulation. Mr. Bemis was about sixty years of age, and was unmarried.

His will contained many public bequests. Among them was a bequest to his sister, Sarah Wheeler Bemis, for her life use, $50,000; also, his pictures and other objects of art; to the President and Fellows of Harvard College the sum of money set apart for the life use of his sister, to be held for the establishment and maintenance of a professorship of international law in the Dane Law School of said University; $5,000 to pay for the compilation and publication of his articles on Public Law and the Alabama claims; to the Department of State of the United States his annotated volumes of American and British Diplomatic Correspondence, including the published documents connected with the Geneva award; to his executors, the sum of $5,000 to be applied toward the completion of hte subscription to the Story statue of President Quincy, ordered on behalf of the Alumni of Harvard College; to the Massachusetts Historical Society, all the MSS. and printed material for the preparation of the Webster Trial Reports; to the Boston Athenaeum, $20,000 for the purchase of books for the reading room. The will is dated October 23, 1872.

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