SEELY, ALEXANDER MCLEOD, businessman and office-holder; b. 10 Feb. 1812 in Saint John, N.B., the son of Seth Seely Jr; m. first 29 June 1834 Sarah Morrell (d. 1848) of Saint John, and they had four children; m. secondly 10 Oct. 1850 Lillian Ann Hammond of Charlestown (now part of Boston), Mass., and they had four children; d. 10 July 1882 at Saint John.
Alexander McLeod Seely’s grandfather, a loyalist from Stamford, Conn., was granted land in Saint John in 1783, but decided instead to farm up-river on Long Reach. Seely’s father became a seaman and later a captain on many ships, including the privateer Nancy in 1812, the year Alexander was born. Educated in the public schools of Saint John, Alexander became a lumber surveyor and in 1834 entered the employ of Thomas McMackin of Indiantown (now part of Saint John) as a clerk. By 1838 Seely had established himself as an independent timber merchant in the Saint John suburb of Portland. There he acquired a sawmill and expanded his interests to include the transport and export of lumber. In the 1840s he had two or more ships built for him on the west bank of the Saint John River and joined the Portland and Lancaster Steam Ferry Company, which provided ferry service across the as yet unbridged mouth of the river. In 1849 he became president of the ferry company and in 1850 its sole owner.
Seely, who since 1838 had been a freeman of Saint John, had decided by 1850 to move into the city, and thus simultaneously embarked on his second marriage and an expanded business career. With extensive contacts in the lumber business, including after 1851 the acquisition of the South Bay Boom Company, Seely became involved in shipbuilding in the early 1850s, having Alexander Sime construct a number of ships with which to tap a profitable British market. The 1,345-ton Bride of the Sea, for example, was launched in December 1853 and sold to Millers and Thompson of Liverpool. Seely also retained ownership of some cargo vessels, such as the Sarah M. Success in these enterprises led to his appointment about 1855 as a director of the Commercial Bank of New Brunswick, of which he became president in 1866. He had also been president of the Saint John Fire Insurance Company since 1856 and had acquired land in Maine which he sold in 1866 for $6,000. He bought shares in a variety of companies such as the Peoples Street Railway Company of Saint John in 1868, the western extension of the European and North American Railway in 1870 and 1872, the Spring Hill and Parrsborough Coal and Railway Company in 1872, and the New Brunswick Paper Company in 1876. His total wealth cannot be determined exactly, though it was significant; about 1870 his valuable investments and property holdings were augmented by $48,771 which was owed to him personally.
Of central importance to Seely’s life was his affiliation with the Baptist Church. As early as the 1830s he was secretary of the church-supported Portland Abstinence Society and he was for many years a trustee and treasurer of the Leinster Street Baptist Church in Saint John. His work on various missionary boards and the New Brunswick Baptist Education Society led to his becoming president of the New Brunswick Baptist Home Missionary Board, and in 1867 vice-president of the Maritime Baptist Convention. He had served in 1864 as president of the Saint John Religious Tract Society and was selected as the Baptist representative on the senate of the University of New Brunswick. Like that of the Reverend Charles Tupper, Seely’s involvement in the church reflected the Baptist preoccupation in mid century with missionary work and education.
In recognition of his prominence in business and in the Baptist Church, Seely was appointed to the New Brunswick Legislative Council early in 1854. He did not distinguish himself as a speaker nor did he appear to have much political influence, a point emphasized by his not being appointed to the Canadian Senate in 1867 when about half of his colleagues were so honoured. By the mid 1870s he had become a senior member of the council and had earned a reputation as a meticulous legislator with expertise in parliamentary procedure and practice. In 1879 he was chosen president of the Legislative Council.
After 1880 Seely’s health began to deteriorate and a decided feebleness preceded his death on 10 July 1882. In an obituary the Saint John Daily Evening News commented that a “courteous manner, obliging disposition and gentlemanly bearing, coupled with a high sense of honor,” had marked his career.
N.B. Museum, Alexander McLeod Seely papers. PANB, “N.B. political biog.” (J. C. and H. B. Graves). Daily Sun (Saint John, N.B.), 11 July 1882. Daily Telegraph (Saint John), 12 July 1882. Morning News (Saint John), 11 July 1882. New Brunswick Courier (Saint John), 15 April 1837. Canadian biog. dict., II. CPC, 1880. Dominion annual register, 1882. New-Brunswick almanac, 1851; 1856; 1864; 1866; 1867. Esther Clark Wright, Saint John ships and their builders (Wolfville, N.S., ). C. M. Robinson, “The pioneers of King Street,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll. (Saint John), no. 14 (1955): 29–45.