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William Winston Seaton, Grand Master, 1822-24

Brother Seaton was born January 11, 1785, at Chelsea, Virginia, and was a lineal descendant through his father of one of the oldest and most historic families of Scotland, and through his mother of an equally illustrious English family, that of Winston, both of which settled in Virginia in the latter part of the seventeenth century, and were prominently identified with the early history of the Colonies.

His youth was passed at the ancestral home where a domestic tutor directed his education until he reached in Richmond what was then the culminating academic polishing of "Ogilvie, the Scotchman," a pedagogue of great reputation at that period. The great Patrick Henry was a near relative and frequent guest at the Virginia home, and very fond of young Seaton, directing his early sports and giving him the rich benefit of his companionship.

At the age of eighteen Brother Seaton's mind was matured, his ambition aroused, his vocation decided, and he passed into the arena of public life, entering with manly earnestness upon the career of political journalism, of which he was one of the country's pioneers. His first essay in the field of politics was as assistant editor of the Richmond Journal. This was followed in the next few years by editorial work in Petersburg, Virginia, Raleigh, N. C, and Halifax, N. C At Raleigh, to which place he returned after a short absence, he became associated with Mr. Joseph Gales in the publication of the Register, and in 1809 became united in marriage with Miss Sarah Gales, sister of the above named. In 1812 the firm of Gales & Seaton acquired The National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser, which had lately been founded, and Brother Seaton entered upon what proved to be his life work, his journal proving at once a financial success and for many years a powerful factor in the national political world.

During the War of 1812 Brother Seaton and his partner were both enrolled in the military service and were stationed for some time at Fort Warburton, the present site of Fort Washington, and was with his command when it met the British at Bladensburg, August 24, 1814, and took a conspicuous part in the sharp engagement that ensued. In Admiral Cockburn's passage through the city he caused the Intelligencer office to be sacked and all the property, books, and papers to be burned.

An intimate of Jefferson, Marshall, Aaron Burr, Patrick Henry, La Fayette, Daniel Webster, and practically all the prominent men of the country during his adult life, his prolonged career was interwoven with the social and political annals of Washington.

While his great intellect was directed toward the shaping of the national policies of his day he was yet an active and valued citizen of his adopted city, and served as Mayor from 1840 to 1850, having previously twice declined the honor.

He was an ardent worker in the cause of education and was untiring in his efforts to improve local school conditions.

In religion he was Unitarian and was one of the founders of that church in Washington. He was also one of the founders of the Washington Monument Association and its first vice-president.

While the great novelist, Charles Dickens, was in this country he was entertained by Brother Seaton, and in the raciness and charm of manner, in the genial goodness stamped on every lineament of his countenance this keen reader must have seen the lovable man, and the immortal Cherryble Brothers might seem to have been inspired by the subject of this sketch and his partner, so nearly akin in every gentle characteristic. His genial cordiality, his captivating courtesy, his large hospitality and readiness of beneficence had few equals, and won the individual affection of all with whom he came in contact These qualities, united with his great personal charm, his full intelligence and the seal of distinction with which nature had stamped him, marked him out from his fellow-men, and it was but natural that on all civic public occasions, whether it was an address of welcome to an incoming President or to speed a parting one, to inaugurate benevolent institutions or to assume the more delicate and gracious task of presiding at social festivals, that he should be called upon, and thus upon the occasion of the sojourn of LaFayette to this country, the special charge of the nation's guest seemed by tacit consent to devolve upon Brother Seaton, and how well he discharged this duty is testified by the life-long friendship then formed with our distinguished French ally.

Through an unfortunate combination of circumstances growing out of the war, the Intelligencer lost ground, and on December 31, 1864, Brother Seaton retired from active connection therewith, after an unprecedented term of service of fifty-two years. His great generosity, however, had interfered with his accumulating a competence in that time, and in his own words he retired "with nothing."

For twenty years Brother Seaton gave unsparingly of his time and talents for the upbuilding of symbolic Masonry in this jurisdiction, and, falling, as this activity did, within the most trying period in the history of the Fraternity, the value of his services' cannot be too highly rated. While his original lodge is not a matter of available record his connection with the local Craft began with his affiliation with Lebanon Lodge, No. 7, January 20, 1815. He was elected Senior Warden the following year, and served as Master, 1818 to 1821, and again from 1825 to 1827. During the interim between these terms he served as Grand Master for 1822, 1823, and 1824. He withdrew from active participation in Masonic affairs in 1836.

It is worthy of note that his son, Malcolm Seaton, also served as Grand Master of this jurisdiction in 1902.

At the patriarchal age of 81, after several years of severe suffering, which he bore with patience and fortitude, he passed away June 16, 1866. "And thus," in the language of one of his biographers, " undimmed by a single unworthy act, in every word and thought of his spotless life a true gentleman, duty his watchword, exalted honor his instinct, Christianity his guide, William Winston Seaton bore his historic name untarnished to the grave; nobly illustrating the legend of his family arms: In via virtuti via nulla."

AHGP District of Columbia

Source: History of the Grand Lodge and Freemasonry in the District of Columbia, compiled by W. Brother Kenton N. Harper, 1911.

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