Amos Seaman (1788-1864)
The “King” of Minudie
Minudie is a fairly isolated area of Nova Scotia between the mouth of River Hebert and the Cumberland Basin. Originally occupied by the Mi’kmaq and later farmed by Acadians before the Deportation, the area became part of a grant made to Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres in 1764. DesBarres was essentially an absentee landlord, and, having established ten Acadian families who had returned from exile as tenants on his land, he departed to pursue other interests, leaving his mistress, Mary Cannon, to administer the estate.
DesBarres’s tenants paid rent in kind from the crops grown on the reclaimed marshland known as the Elysian Fields. Mary Cannon spent much of her time at Castle Frederick, near Windsor, and for a time, Amos Peck Seaman acted as her agent, collecting rent and managing the estate’s day-to-day business.
Seaman was already familiar with Minudie when he became a tenant of the DesBarres estate in 1823. He had first set foot there in 1796 at the age of eight, after running away from his home in Sackville, New Brunswick, and paddling a leaky canoe across the Cumberland Basin. He was taken in by an Acadian family, but soon returned home and became a partner with his brother in a shipbuilding and trading business.
When Seaman returned to Minudie, his duties took him all over the area, and he became aware of the deposits of sandstone found on the higher ground south of the marshes and extending into the sea. The Acadians used this stone to sharpen their implements, and Seaman saw its potential for the manufacture of grindstones. He dissolved the partnership with his brother, leased land for quarries on the DesBarres estate, and went into business with a man named William Fowler.
Together, Seaman and Fowler built a factory and wharf, obtaining stone from the reefs along the shore at Lower Cove that were exposed at low tide, and from quarries on the upland. In 1831, Seaman established the Atlantic Grindstone Company, employing many of the local Acadians in quarries and in the factory. Fowler dropped out of the picture as Minudie became a busy commercial and industrial centre and a company town, with a row of workmen’s houses and a schoolhouse. Seaman opened a shipyard in which he had trading vessels built to export the finished grindstones to the United States, West Indies, as well as to other parts of Nova Scotia. On their return, Seaman’s ships brought in goods for sale in his company store. He soon controlled the entire community where he became known as “King” Seaman. He built himself a magnificent house known as Grindstone Castle, where he and his wife, Jane, entertained visiting dignitaries.
In 1834, Seaman was able to buy the estate from the DesBarres family and continued to develop the area. He encouraged agriculture in the Elysian Fields, where productive farms operated, and increased his empire by purchasing and reclaiming more land. In 1843, he opened the first steam-powered gristmill in Nova Scotia. It burned down three years later, after which he built a steam-powered sawmill.
In 1848, Seaman built a Catholic church for his Acadian tenants on one side of the schoolhouse, and many years afterwards in 1863, added a Universalist church on the other side. These three buildings are still standing. Seaman’s eldest son, Amos Thomas Seaman, was taken into his father’s business. He built a fine Georgian-style house overlooking the marsh. It was expected that he would carry on the business after his father but, in fact, predeceased him, as did two of his siblings. “King” Seaman carried on the business until his death in 1864. Disputes arose among his remaining descendants, and by the end of the century the Seaman business empire had collapsed, and the grindstone factory closed.
Grindstone Castle fell into disrepair after Seamans’s death and was eventually taken down. Without the Seaman enterprises, there was little work in the area and people moved away. Amos Thomas Seaman’s house is still standing, one of the few remaining buildings in this dwindling community of a few scattered farmhouses. “King” Seaman and members of his family are buried in the Lake Cemetery which he established.