I have long been aware of a town called Seaford in the American state of Delaware but have only just discovered there’s another Seaford “over there”.
It’s on Long Island to the east of New York City.
We don’t know how Delaware’s Seaford got the name but it is in the state’s Sussex County and there is a Lewes nearby so there’s an obvious English connection. How and why Long Island’s Seaford came into being is much clearer.
Early in the 17th Century the Puritan population of England had a widening rift with the Church of England, whose rituals they considered as little more than superstitions. King James I sought to suppress the Puritans but eventually the latter gained a majority in Parliament. James’ son Charles also perceived the Puritans as a threat to his authority and eventually took the drastic measure of permanently dissolving Parliament in March 1629.
The country was slowly edging towards civil war but in these early days of direct Royal rule, many Puritans felt increasingly uncomfortable in their own land. The result was the “Great Migration”, a movement that saw thousands of families cross the Atlantic to seek a new life in North America. John Seaman was one such migrant.
Born in Seaford, East Sussex, on 8th March 1611, Seaman was a non-conformist who embraced the idea of finding religious liberty in the colonies. He is listed as a passenger on one of 11 ships that made up the “Winthrop Fleet” that left England in 1630 carrying around 700 settlers bound for New England. John Winthrop commanded the expedition that crossed the Atlantic without mishap.
John Seaman first went to Connecticut where he rose to some prominence. In 1636 he was given the captaincy of a militia force that fought in the Pequot War. The conflict was marked by exceptional cruelty on the part of many English settlers and their Indian allies and resulted in the annihilation of the Pequot tribe. Celebrating their victory, one pious colonist crowed: “Let the whole Earth be filled with his glory! Thus the lord was pleased to smite our Enemies in the hinder Parts and to give us their Land for an Inheritance.”
In 1643 Seaman purchased land from the Messapequa tribe to establish a settlement on what would become known as Long Island. He called his creation Jerusalem South but it was also known as “Seaman’s Neck”. In 1644 he married Elizabeth Strickland and the couple had four sons and a daughter before his wife’s death in 1654. A year later Martha Moore became his second wife and she went on to bear no less than four more sons and seven daughters!
Seaman became a pacifist Quaker in later life. He died in 1694 and in 1868 Jerusalem South was renamed “Seaford”, to honor his English hometown. The last of his American descendants died relatively recently. Family he left back in England saw the Seaman name change over time to become variously Simons, Symmonds and finally Simmons.
In 1858 one Mr. Henry Simmons, Bailiff of Seaford and a staunch supporter of the local church, went with other local dignitaries to St James’s Palace, to present a loyal address on the betrothal of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter.
Long Island’s Seaford today has a population of some 15,000 and a thriving marina called Treasure Island. The role of our county’s people in America’s early history is touched upon in a special film presentation - “A Story of Sussex” – that is showing at All Saints Centre, Friar’s Walk, Lewes, on Sunday 28th May.
The production originated as a son et lumiere that was projected onto the façade of Danny House, a splendid Elizabethan manor house near Hurstpierpoint, last September as part of the 21st birthday celebrations for the Friends of Sussex Hospices charity. Unfortunately the night we chose for the show turned out to be the wettest and wildest of the whole summer. But those that braved the elements all enjoyed a brilliant spectacle – and I’m not just saying that because I wrote the script!
Anyway the event’s director, Bob Mayston, and myself have adapted the sound and light show into a 75 minute film format that will be screened at 4pm and again at 6.30pm on Sunday week. What can you expect to see and hear? In summary, a series of evocative vignettes that weave the story of Sussex from ancient times to modern days. Watch out for Roman Legionnaires, rampaging Saxons, Norman conquerors, the Battle of Lewes, ships of the Spanish Armada, Cavaliers and Roundheads, poignant images of the Great War and airmen in their Spitfires during the Battle of Britain. You’ll also meet some famous Sussex characters such as Gideon Mantell of dinosaur fame and Rudyard Kipling’s sinister smugglers.
The narrator is the accomplished actor Michael Jayston, himself a Sussex resident. His words are accompanied by a stirring musical soundtrack.
The whole show is a real tour de force and will entertain folk of all ages. Admission is just £7 for adults in advance and £4 for children under 14. Tickets are available in advance from Lewes Tourism Information Centre. You can also buy online via the website: www.crown.events Should any seats be available on the day admission will be £9 and £4 respectively. A licensed bar will open both before and after performances. I hope to see you there.