Henry T. Seymour
Copyright * All rights reserved
J.C. (Jim) Tumblin, OD, DOS
3604 Kesterwood Drive, East
Knoxville, Tennessee 37918-2557
Squire Henry T. Seymour
Just how much good can one person accomplish in a lifetime?
For instance, how about someone who serves his community as an active churchman (including 31 years teaching a men’s Bible class and many years as a deacon), 32 years as a grammar school teacher, principal and high school teacher and two six-year terms as a public official on County Court?
Those who knew Henry T. Seymour and his many contributions will recognize him as a person present day Fountain Citians could well emulate.
The Seymour family has a proud military tradition beginning with Larkin Semour (Seymour) (c1768-c1860) who fought under General George Washington in the American Revolution. Larkin enlisted on August 1, 1781 and participated in the battles of Guilford Courthouse and Yorktown.
Larkin’s son, George Barton Seymour Sr. (1809-1884), was in the Grainger County Home Guard (CSA) early in the Civil War but, when Gen. James Longstreet withdrew from Knoxville after the Battle of Fort Sanders in 1863, he was attached to Co. G. of the 12th Cavalry Battalion.
Corp. George Barton Seymour Jr. (1838-1910) was a member of one of the hardest fighting units in the Confederate Army, Co. B of Ashby’s 2nd Tennessee Cavalry. He was captured in July 1863 at Winchester, Ky. while his unit was on a cavalry raid to procure horses and cattle for the Army and to act as decoys to draw the Union troops away from Gen. John Hunt Morgan.
Corp. Seymour spent the rest of the war in prison camps, first at Louisville, Ky., then at Camp Chase, Ohio and finally at infamous Fort Delaware on an island in the Delaware River, the most dreaded of all Union prisons. He was paroled and released in February 1865, just before Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
Corp. Seymour had two brothers, James L. Seymour and Alfred Seymour, and a half-brother, Prior L. Brock, who were also members of Company B, Ashby’s 2nd Tennessee Cavalry. James was captured at Wilson’s Gap but returned to Grainger County at war’s end. Alfred did not survive the war, but that is an interesting story for another time.
After the war, George B. Seymour Jr. farmed and ran a small store near Washburn in Grainger County. At the time of the 1880 Census, he and his wife, the former Louisa Taylor, domiciled nine children. Our subject, Henry Tilden Seymour, born on January 10, 1877, was child number seven.* Possibly Henry's older siblings were partially responsible for his early aptitude for school, particularly for mathematics.
Henry chose a career in education and taught for ten years in Grainger County. In 1915 he moved to Knox County, where he taught at Gibbs and later at Halls and, for a time, ran a small general store. He then became principal of Smithwood Grammar School for ten years, then joined the Central High School faculty as freshman algebra teacher in 1934.
Many Central High graduates, this writer included, regard his math class as the key to their success in and continuing interest in the subject through high school and college. His ability to stand at 90 degrees to the chalkboard and nonchalantly in one quick sweep of his arm to draw a perfect circle some three feet in diameter early in the first hours of one’s freshman year instantly captured attention and the learning process went on from there.
Another Grainger County native, Louvenia Kitts (1878-1954), became Henry Seymour’s bride. They were the parents of two daughters, Mrs. Faye Smith and Mrs. Lucille Sherard. Both daughters made their parents proud by becoming teachers, Mrs. Smith in Knox County and Mrs. Sherard in Decatur, Ala.
After teaching at Central for 13 years, Mr. Seymour reached the compulsory retirement age of 70 in 1947, but was still looking for new challenges. Although he had spent a year in Asheville, N.C. early in life for a lung condition, he was unusually healthy thereafter. His active lifestyle even included his large Victory Garden and he served at the polls at each election.
He also mentored and encouraged his two grandsons. They had moved from Union County to live with the Seymours in their Adair Gardens home. The teen-agers pursued high school academics and sports—Everett M. Smith Jr., better known as "Jew" in basketball and Edwin W. Smith, better known as "Judge" in football.
But that wasn’t enough. Lifelong Democrat that he was, Henry T. Seymour saw a window of opportunity in the 1948 Knox County elections with the resurgence of his party under the leadership of the candidate for County Court Judge, C. Howard Bozeman. The 30-year old Bozeman, who was both an attorney and one-time adjunct professor of accounting at U.T., shocked the incumbent Republican Judge Joe C. Strong when he won by 347 votes.
It had been many years since the usually strong Republican Party had lost major offices and seats on County Court. Bozeman had campaigned on a platform calling for better fiscal policies, elimination of long-time high-interest bearing bonds, co-operation with the city government so as to eliminate overlapping of services, and an adequate road building and repair program.
As Fountain City author Lowell Giffen observed in his book A Citizen’s View of Knoxville (1984), "Until 1937 the County Court held the legislative power in the county and supervised the work of the commissioners of Welfare, Highways and Finance. The Court appointed these commissioners. In 1937 Knox County entered through a private Tennessee act a 43-year era of conflict and confusion within county government by establishing an elected three-member administrative County Commission." For a time the Court numbered an unwieldy 38 members but the number had been reduced to 19 and fiscal accountability now rested with the full Court. Another major reorganization would occur in 1980.
As a candidate for one of the two seats in the Seventh District (they were formally "Justices of the Peace" and were called "Squires" at that time), Seymour and Republican R. Cliff White ran well ahead of the other two candidates. He was appointed on several committees but chiefly on Finance, Welfare and the Beer Committee.
Squire Seymour questioned many appropriations, not because he was against their purpose, but because he "did not know where the money’s coming from." Sometimes fellow members of the Court teased him, "Henry, are you sure that middle initial in your name, the T, doesn’t stand for ‘Tightfist’ instead of Tilden?" Such comments didn’t phase him. He remained fiscally conservative.
When R. Cliff White sought and won the office of Register of Deeds six years later in 1954, Seymour and U.S. "Bill" Spangler were elected to the Court’s Seventh District seats.
During his twelve years on the Court, Seymour was always punctual for meetings and would sometimes leave if other members did not show up on time. And, more than once, he walked out on beer board meetings when he felt the law was not being followed in handling applications for license.
In 1950, again standing on principle, he resigned from the Court’s Finance Committee when the Court overrode the committee on an appropriation that the committee believed was illegal. He said the court didn’t need a finance committee if it wouldn’t "track the law." Seymour retired from County Court in 1960, having served honorably and well for 12 years.
At the age of 91, Squire Henry Tilden Seymour passed away on August 23, 1968. Only two years earlier Smithwood Baptist Church had held a "tribute" dinner for the active churchman and deacon who had taught the men’s Bible class for 31 years. He was survived by his two daughters; a sister, Mrs. Nora B. Atkins, and four grandsons—Hoyt Sherard Jr. of Huntsville, Ala.; Henry Sherard of Marietta, Ga.; Everett M. Smith Jr., certified public accountant in Knoxville; and Dr. Edwin W. Smith, an oral and maxillo-facial surgeon in Kingsport—and by five great-grandchildren.
Henry T. Seymour will be long remembered by the many students he taught, his fellow church members, the numerous members of his Sunday School class and by the citizens of Knox County he served so well.
(Author’s Note: Thanks to Judge C. Howard Bozeman, Lowell Giffen, Doris Martinson, Dr. E.W. Smith and Dr. Doug Smith for their assistance with the information and photographs for this essay. Additional facts and photographs can be found on this website: www.fountaincitytnhistory.info/.)
*Addendum: George Barton Seymour Jr. was first married to Catherine (Katie) Frye. They were parents of eight children. Katie died on May 24, 1874, and George married Louisa Taylor. They were the parents of seven children. Henry T. Seymour was the second born but the first male born to Louisa and George. Louisa died May 15, 1887, and George Jr. married for a third time to Nancy Hopson. They had a daughter and son who both died as infants. Altogether George Barton Seymour Jr. was the father of 15 children.
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