In 1901, Ernest Thompson Seton, having achieved his goal of gaining widespread fame and growing wealth, turned his attention to researching his ancestry. Monsignor Robert Seton had published An Old Family, Or, The Setons of Scotland and America in 1899. ETS maintained that his father should have claimed the title of “Baron of Seton Winton” (a.k.a. Earl of Winton). See Ernest Thompson Seton, the Life and Legacy of an Artist and Conservationist for a fuller account of this story. Monsignor Seton, however, showed that the title was extinct; my research into the peerage record turned up the same result. ETS and others in the Thompson family thought differently.
Shortly before the death of his father, Joseph Logan Thompson, ETS made one last attempt to get the story. Apparently, they were not on speaking terms so he asked his older brother George Seton (1854-1944) to make an inquiry on his behalf. From the Seton archives at the Academy for the Love of Learning, here is the typescript copy of Joseph’s reply to George (and thus to ETS). I have added punctuation in a few places for clarity.
Joseph Thompson Historic Letter
Toronto, 14th May 1901
My dear Son G.S.
Yours of 10th inst with enclosures from Mr. Seton [ETS] duly reached me and I lose no time in replying there to.
I have answered seriatim every question in the list to the best of my knowledge and belief, I hope the answers will forward the object he has in View, and shall be very glad to know if they prove so.
It is rather curious that my dear father’s family history runs almost parallel to that of my dear mother. My great-grandfather was out in the Jacobite wars, & was defeated, for “the stern arbitrament of the sword” was against his party & being defeated, he, like the rest of his fellow rebels, fled for his life, and found a refuge in So. Shields, my native place, and, of course, changed his name, Cameron to that of Thompson. I am not sure whether his baptismal name was “Alan” or “Evan.” I know that my paternal G-father’s name was “Evan” & likely that was his father’s name also, we have both in our boys’ names. I [word missing] fancy his name was “Alan” but I have no authority for it, but this I do know, that our progenitor who fled from Scotland to So. Shields, whether “Evan” or “Alan” was a man of importance in the Cameron Clan, being a blood relation & a foster-brother of the well known Chief of that ilk, the brave and gallant “Lochiel.”*
My father has frequently told me that he knew well enough that there [were] large estates in the highlands of Scotland that he was undoubtedly heir to, but that when the rebellion was crushed all the estates belonging to the rebels were forfeited, & most of them bestowed among the leading followers of the winning party, so there was very little chance of any portion falling to those who fought for the Stewart-party. Lochiel & perhaps a few others of high rank & great family influence, who eventually submitted, had much of their lands restored to them, but the majority were not so fortunate, and among these was our ancestor, but as to the lands of the officers other than leaders, or those who had not sufficient influence to expect to be successful applicants for forfeited lands, or those who perhaps dared not claim their lost inheritance. Many estates were not sought to be restored, & my g.g.g.-father was one of them, and my father, whether he knew the locality that should have descended to him, or not, he knew right well that the attempt to recover his rightful inheritance would involve expensive and unending lawsuits, and, as a result of actions at law is mostly a question of the longest purse holding the longest out, & he not being speculative besides, declined to waste good money after bad, on the barest chance, gave up the idea of fighting for his own, & moreover, believing with Shakespear [sic] that the best policy was to be “content with the ills he had, and sought not others that he knew not of” he adopted it & I think he did well doing so.
But now my dear Son I will draw this long yarn to a close, & with best love & all good wishes to you & all your dear ones am ever, your affectionate father.
P.S. I return the memdum of questions propounded by Mr. Seton having taken a copy of them.
Answers to questions re Seton claim.
No. 1. I have no legal evidence, at hand, of my descent from Ann Seton, but the Parish Registers of S’Hilda’s Church, So. Shields will prove my birth, also, that of my mother, Mary Ann Thompson nee Logan, was the daughter of Ann Logan nee Seton.
No. 2. I am sure that my Grandmother was the Ann Logan, nee Seton in question.
>No. 3. I have no books, letters, writings, rings, or inscriptions in books bearing on this matter. My family and myself left my native [country] in 1866. My father and my mother were both living at the time. My father died Dec. 27, 1874 and my mother died 5 days afterwards. I never received any rings, or heirlooms being absent in America at the time of their death, and doubtless, those members of our family present at their demise would keep all the trifles that might have belonged to my parents under the impression that they were not worth the sending to America.
>No. 4. I do not think it at all likely that there are any witnesses, now living, that could prove this.
No. 5. I remember George Seton paying a visit to his cousin my dear mother when I was quite a little boy. I do not remember much about him, but I distinctly remember being told of his having proved, by the Scottish judges, to be the lawful heir to the title Baron Seton of Winton, but the Seton estates, having been forfeited, were sold and afterwards I suppose, were resold in lots, as they would probably be, and the Estate broken up.
>No. 6 Geo Seton was my mothers full cousin, as I have heard her often say there can be no question about that.
>No. 7. I must have had some conversation with him, as he spent the greater part of the day in my father’s house.
No. 8. I cannot recall aught of the conversation I am certain to have had with him.
No. 9. I was told by my mother that her cousin, George Seton had died unmarried, and that she was the next heir to the Barony of Seton Winton but that the estate having been lost to the family, the title was not worth the expense of her proving her right to it. Had the estate been restored, I suppose my mother’s claim to it would have been in due form long ago, and my father being in good circumstances, would certainly have proved my mother’s rights, but there being only the bare title he did not think it worth his while to waste money over it.
There must, I think be a mistake about George Seton’s death having occurred in 1853. My impression is that he would not be more than 30 or 35 at most when he died, as when I met him in 1832 about, he was, I believe about 22 or 23 years of age, and as his death took place a very few years after that; he must have died many years prior to 1853!
I have no knowledge whatever of George Walker, neither had my grandmother Ann Logan (nee Seton) for, on the death of her nephew, George Seton, she asserted that I was now, in my mother’s, the heir to the Barony (title Baron of Seton Winton) and on her deathbed, addressing her daughter (my mother), she said “now Mary, mind, Joseph’s the heir,” (that is, myself). These are the last words she uttered.
The foregoing statements are, to the best of my knowledge and belief, correct.
J. L. Thompson>
14 May 1901
*The Cameron’s of Lochiel, Scotland, were chiefs of Clan Cameron for several generations. Joseph was referring to one of them, Donald Cameron.