Jefferson County, NY Pioneers


This biography was submitted by Helen Zebley.

For the pioneer French family click here.

SETH FRENCH was born 2 May 1824 in Potsdam, N.Y., the son of Ezekiel and Sally (Sarah) Ellis French. He was the tenth of fourteen children born of this union. Father Ezekiel was a farmer. According to U.S. Archives records I acquired, Ezekiel became a Customs House Officer of the U.S. during the War of 1812 while his brother, Dr. Elkanah French, served in the Battle of Sackett's Harbor. More space will be devoted Seth's lineage later in this commentary.

Seth received his early education locally in Potsdam. He then attended St. Lawrence Academy in Potsdam, founded in 1812. During the winters, Seth taught school and worked on his father's farm in the summers. His teaching certificate is dated 1843. When Seth's father died it became necessary for the older children to take care of themselves.

Seth apprenticed as a phyisician with his father's brother, Dr. Elkanah French, at Natural Bridge beginning in 1843. Seth was then accepted at the Castleton, Vermont Medical College where he studied, paying his way by teaching school. According to his college yearbook, he graduated in 1847.

Dr. Seth French then began the practice of medicine with reported great success at Carthage, N.Y. . According to Haddock's History of Jerfferson County, he also served as superintendent of schools at the same time. Late in 1848, accompanied by his future brother-in-law JOSEPH VICTOR GUYOT also of Carthage, he went California and the gold rush, by ship and was 315 days on the journey. They experienced a shipwreck and put back to Rio de Janiero. The first of many family legends comes from this trip. Supposedly someone's dog was on board. The dog gave great comfort and warmth to some of the worried travelers by allowing himself to be held and petted.

Seth remained in California just over a year and was moderately successful. A copy of the gold bullion certificate I obtained from the U.S. Archives #7258 showed one deposit alone of $1,702.45 which he made.

At the end of 1850 he returned to Carthage and resumed his medical practice. Seth married HARRIET GUYOT, daughter of Bazille Guyot and Mariette (Mary) F. LeRoux Guyot on 10 Dec. 1850. Dr. Eli West performed the ceremony. From an imaginary walking tour of Carthage detailed in a souvenir edition of the Carthage Republican, we learned: "Passing down the street, we come to a cottage-built house standing well back from the walk, occupied by Dr. Seth French, one of the early doctors of the village. The doctor stands over six feet in the air, an altitude which he has informed me he gained at the age of 16, and looked very similar to a second-class bean pole. As you see him now, he is a fine specimen of fully-developed manhood, weighing over two hundred pounds." This description is enforced by details on his Civil War pension application: Height 6 ft., fair complexion, dark hair and hazel eyes.

Dr. French practiced medicine at Carthage until 1854 when he moved to Redwood, N.Y. He, wife Harriet and daughter Adele appear on the 1855 census in Alexandria, Jefferson Co.. Seth and Harriet had three children: Adele (later Mrs. Edward T. Lane), Harriet (later Mrs. William Fowler Leavitt) and Alexander Victor, their only son. A deed was recorded 9 Aug. 1859 covering Seth conveyed property in Carthage (value $3,000) to Remsen R. Brown.

According to the Carthage Replublican Centennial Publication 1960, "Listed among the 174 volunteers from the towns of Wilna and Carthage in 1861 were Dr. Seth French and brother-in-law Zelotus Wood (husband of Sophia Guyot). Dr. French became Acting Surgeon of the 35th Regiment and was present at every battle fought." He was 37 years old when he enlisted. Civil War expert Harold Sanderson follows his service in details in his works. Dr. French was promoted to Surgeon and transferred to the 21st Regiment and later mustered out with the 21st Regiment May 18, 1863 at Buffalo, N.Y.

After his military service, Dr. French moved to EauClaire, Wisconsin where he was involved in the pharmaceutical firm Farr, French and Company with his brother, Alexander. Seth's service in the War brought on attacks of rheumatism, and he began to consider a warmer climate. Why he was drawn to Central Florida or how he learned about it is still a mystery. It was truly a frontier.

In 1869 Seth moved to Sanford, Florida and began the cultivation of orange trees. He and Mrs. French returned to Carthage regularly to visit her brothers and sisters and cruise on the Lakes in the summers. He was one of the founders of Blue Springs (now Orange City) Florida, also involved in orange tree cultivation there. French Avenues still exist in Sanford and Orange city, named in his honor. He maintained homes in both locations. Dr. French served one term as Volusia County's state Senator in 1879 before Gov. Drew appointed him as Commissioner of Immigration for the State of Florida. Newspapers including the Jacksonville Breeze commented: "Few men have done more to induce settlers to come to Florida than he has. He is a New Yorker with a Western experience, a man of commanding figure, pleasing address, considerable wealth and one who has been eminently successful in all his private enterprises."

Dr. Seth French died at Sanford, Florida January 26, 1896 after suffering two strokes. He was a "prominent member of the Masonic Order and the G.A.R." and buried Jan. 28, 1896 with the usual ceremonies. Seth's Orange City home still stands. His Sanford home burned down in 1954.

In 1895, John A. Haddock noted in his Growth of a Century as Illustrated in the History of Jefferson County: "The history of Dr. Seth French illustrates in a marked degree what perserverance, energy and integrity will accomplish. He began poor and was not favored by influential friends but he built up a name for integrity and skill as a physician that will endure long after he has passed away. He aimed high and though he probably never achieved what he sometimes hoped to, he has at least achieved enduring remembrance in the hearts of the men with whom he served in the Union Army. Indeed, we know of no life that has been spent in this county which contains more encouragement for a struggling young man than that of Dr. French. We knew him well in the field, for he gave tender care to many of my wounded men, some of whom he stood over in death. He was a courageous man. The shriek of shells never made him nervous. He was the soldier's friend".

Dr. Seth French was my Great-great-Grandfather.

For further information, contact:
Helen Zebley

Return to Jefferson County NYGenWeb page

Return to Town of Wilna

Copyright 2017 Jefferson County NYGenWeb — a member of the NYGenWeb Project

If you have any questions or comments about this page, please contact,
County Co-Coordinator Nancy Dixon or
Co-Coordinator Bruce Coyne.

Return to Jefferson County Genweb Page