In the early 1860’s the people of Patchogue, like the rest their countrymen, were preoccupied with what EOS called “the terrible war.” Seba Smith was suffering from hearing loss and embarrassment over his condition prevented him from making friends in town. At left is a picture of the location of their home, "The Willows" as it looks today at the front Lake View Cemetery in Patchogue. It is certain that the couple were visited often by their grandchildren, (Sidney and Appleton were both married in the 1850’s.)
“I stood by Colonel Lee, tall, handsome, with a grand look of command and remarked:
EOS considered Robert E. Lee a great man, despite her allegiance to the Northern perspective on the war.
George Ripley visits The Willows
After the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Confederate party’s decision to secede from the Union ultimately led to the beginning of the Civil war: the battle at Fort Sumter, South Carolina in April, 1861. The Smiths were established in Patchogue for a about a year at this point. George Ripley, who had assumed Margaret Fuller’s position at The New York Tribune while Horace Greeley was editor in the 1840’s, was one of the first literary friends to visit them at The Willows. Apparently, he was suffering from depression at that time over the death of his wife. Ripley is best known for editing the New American Cyclopaedia, a book whose publication made him wealthy. Ripley was part of the “Transcendentalists Club" and died while sitting at his desk in 1880. He was a very introspective fellow who is quoted as saying, “There is a similitude of a Trinity shining in the body, soul and spirit.”
In early 1861, EOS wrote that family worries and health problems made it hard for her to concentrate on writing. Her son Appleton was arrested for slave trafficking that year and put in a federal prison. This caused Seba and EOS humiliation, no doubt, as they were against slavery. It is noted in her autobiography that in the 1850’s many of their house guests had anti-slavery views. In addition, EOS had positioned herself firmly among abolitionists in her writings, and reflected on her anti-slavery feelings in her diary while describing her husband’s failed investment in a cotton cleaning machine in the late 1830’s.
War years sad for EOS, personally
In an 1861 diary entry EOS writes, “Reports of every day fill me with alarm for our beloved Union." The Smiths took in boarders to supplement their income at this time. Seba was too sick to work. In 1864 EOS gave lectures on Women’s Rights in New York and Worchester. The Smith’s son Edward served six months in the army. Shortly after the war ended, in the summer of 1865, Edward contracted yellow fever in Cuba and died there. EOS wrote many letters to the Cuban government trying to get her son’s body transported back to the states for burial, but was not successful. Accounts that claim Edward is buried in Lake View Cemetery in Patchogue are incorrect.
EOS wrote two paperback “dime novels” during the Civil War: The Sagamore of Saco and Black Hollow. These were published in the second half of the 1860’s. Financially, it looks like the Smiths were people who took big risks and lost everything, time and again. This is probably the reason why EOS did not bank significant savings from her work as a lecturer. For instance, in the mid-1860's, Appleton owned a Mill adjacent to the Willows known as the Cotton Factory of Granjean and Ketcham. I don’t know if that building later became part of the Lace Mill. A March 3, 1871 Long Islander article states that a fire at the mill caused $25,000 damage and left 300 people out of work. In the late 1860's, the Smith’s son Sidney sold the steam-ram Atlanta to the Haitian government. He accompanied the Atlanta on her journey to Haiti, but the vessel was lost at sea. A December 16, 1870 Brooklyn Eagle article states that EOS attempted to sue the Haitian authorities for $100,000 which would have been the payment amount for the vessel, but she was never compensated. Her son died in the shipwreck.
EOS’s Legacy is skewed
“Her husband’s people were southerners and she was very bitter against the North. She wrote much on the wrongs of the South at the hands of the North. Her writings were used in nearly every southern paper during the war. After the war she lectured in every large city in the United States and amassed a fortune.”