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SEELY (Seeley, Seelye), CALEB, sea captain, privateer, shipowner, and merchant; b. 31 Aug. 1787 at Saint John, N.B., son of Ebenezer and Hipzabeth Seely; d. 14 Feb. 1869 in Liverpool, N.S.

Caleb Seely’s father, and probably his mother, arrived in Saint John from Connecticut as loyalists in 1783. Caleb was one of at least four children. In 1813, during the war with the United States, he became commander of the privateering schooner Star of Saint John, and by late summer had sent two sloops and a pinky to the prize courts.

With his earnings from the Star Seely joined Enos Collins* and Joseph Allison, Halifax businessmen, and Joseph Freeman, of Liverpool, N.S., as shareholder of the famous 67-ton, five-gun privateer, Liverpool Packet. A fast boat, originally designed and used as a tender to an African slaver, it had already gained a formidable privateering reputation under its former commander, Joseph Barss* of Liverpool. Seely was named the new commander and his letter of marque was issued on 19 Nov. 1813.

By Christmas 1813, when Seely returned from his first cruise on the New England coast, he had sent three sloops to the prize courts. Between January and October 1814 he made frequent return forays. American newspapers spoke highly of his treatment of the ships he boarded, and those he found not worth his trouble were released intact. Probably several of his prizes never reached the courts, having been blown ashore in storms or recaptured. By October, 14 more of his prizes had been lawfully condemned by the Court of Vice-Admiralty, and the shareholders of the Liverpool Packet had amassed considerable capital. Seely then handed over the command of the privateer to Lewis Knaut.

On 21 Jan. 1815 Seely married Phoebe Collins, sister of his business partner and daughter of a wealthy Liverpool shipowner and merchant, Hallet Collins. Seely settled in Liverpool and engaged in exporting timber, fish, and seal skins to Newfoundland, New England, and Great Britain, and importing manufactured goods and food. The trade was carried on in vessels owned by Seely and his partners, and they frequently travelled with the goods to transact business. At first Seely may have continued his partnership with Enos Collins. By 1827 and until 1833 he was in partnership with Patrick Gough. Afterwards he conducted business independently.

Seely’s life in the post-war years followed a quiet course. He was an active layman in the Church of England, and in 1822 bought Simeon Perkins*’ former house. From 1838 until his death he was a judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas. In the 1830 assembly elections he opposed James Ratchford DeWolf for Queens County, probably because DeWolf had insulted his business partner, Patrick Gough, during the 1829 debates over mha John Alexander Barry*’s defiance of the assembly. Seely was roundly defeated.

Toward the end of his life Seely became embroiled in two controversies which shed some light on his personality. An 1857 letter to the Liverpool Transcript over irregularities in county financial matters reveals his strong sense of right and lack of fear in naming names to correct the situation. Later the same year, in a virulent public correspondence with a debtor whom he had had imprisoned for attacking him, he defended himself fiercely and somewhat intemperately.

Phoebe Seely died on 3 June 1847, having borne three sons and two daughters. Six months later Seely married Desire Grieve, née Parker, widow of a local doctor. After her death in 1855 he soon married Jane Sancton, who died in 1865.

Catherine Pross

PANS, Mfm. coll., Places, Liverpool, Business records, letterbook of the firm of Seely and Gough, 182733; MG 1, 818, 825, 854; Vertical mss file, Privateering, Liverpool, J. E. Mullins, “Liverpool privateering notes” (181225), pp.22–34. C. H. J. Snider, Under the red jack; privateers of the Maritime provinces of Canada in the War of 1812 (London, 1928), 48–52, 240.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Catherine Pross, “SEELY, CALEB,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 9, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/seely_caleb_9E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/seely_caleb_9E.html
Author of Article:   Catherine Pross
Title of Article:   SEELY, CALEB
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   December 9, 2023