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Adam Sedgwick Letter

Here is the full text of the oft-quoted letter from Adam Sedgwick describing the deriviation of the name Sedgwick.

Thanks to Steven Ensign Bushnell for providing the transcription. Steve is a descendant of Major General Robert Sedgwick (Robert / William / Samuel / Ebenezer / Mary m. John Ensign Jr / Mary Ensign m. Abraham Bushnell)

Hollister, G. H., 1855, The History of Connecticut from the First Settlement of the Colony to the Adoption of the Present Constitution: Durrie and Peck, New Haven, 2 vols., 1,171 p.

As a footnote on p. 184-186 of vol. 1, there is the following:

[introduction by Hollister and letter from Adam Sedgwick]

The following letter from the renowned geologist, Professor Adam Sedgwick, of Cambridge University, England, addressed to General Charles F. Sedgwick, of Sharon, Connecticut, contains much valuable information relative to the family of Major General Robert Sedgwick, who is the ancestor of all the Sedgwicks in New England. This letter cannot fail to interest the public. It is intrinsically a gem, aside from the great name of its author.


Cambridge, Feb. 26, 1837

Sir;

    After an absence from the University of several months I returned to my chambers yesterday, and found your letter on my study table. I first supposed that it might have been there some time, but on looking at the date, I was greatly surprised that it had reached me in little more than three weeks after it had been committed to the post on the other side of the Atlantic. Of your patriarch, Robert Sedgwick, I have often heard, as the active part he took during the protectorate, made him, in some measure, an historic character; and about the same time there were one or two Puritan divines of considerable note and of the same name; but whether or no they were relations of his, I am not able to inform you. The clan was settled from very early times, among the mountains which form the borders of Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Westmoreland, and I believe every family in this island of the name of Sedgwick can trace its descent from ancestors who were settled among those mountains. The name among the country people in the valleys in the north of England, is pronounced _Sigswick_, and the oldest spelling of it that I can find is _Siggeswick_; at least it is so written in many of our old parish records that go back to the reign of Henry VIII. It is good German, and means the _village of victory_, probably designating some place of successful broil, where our rude Saxon or Danish ancestors first settled in the country and drove the old Celtic tribes out of it, or into the remoter recesses of the Cambrian mountains, where we meet with many Celtic names at this day. But in the valleys where the Sedgwicks are chiefly found, the names are almost exclusively Saxon or Danish. Ours, therefore, in very early days was a true border clan. The name of Sedgwick was, I believe, a corruption given like many others through a wish to explain the meaning of a name (Siggeswick,) the real import of which was quite forgotten. The word _Sedge_ is not known in the northern dialects of our island, and the plant itself does not exist among our valley, but a branch of our clan settled in the low, marshy regions of Lincolnshire, and seems to have first adopted the more modern spelling, and at the same time began to use a bundle of sedge (with the leaves drooping like the ears of a corn sheaf,) as the family crest. This branch was never numerous, and is, I believe, now almost extinct. Indeed the Sedgwicks never seem (at least in England,) to flourish away from their native mountains. If you remove them to the low country, they droop and die away in a few generations. A still older crest, and one which suits the history of the race, is an eagle with spread wings. Within my memory, eagles existed among the higher mountains, visible from my native valley. The arms most commonly borne by the Sedgwicks, are composed of a red Greek cross, with five bells attached to the bars. I am too ignorant of heraldic terms to describe the shield correctly -- I believe, however, that this is the shield of the historic branch, and that there is another shield belonging to the _Siggeswicks_ of the mountains, with a different quartering, but I have it not before me and do not remember it sufficiently well to give any account of it. All the border clans, and ours among the rest, suffered greatly during the wars of York and Lancaster. After the Reformation they seem generally to have leaned to the Puritanical side, and many of them, your ancestor among the rest, served in Cromwell's army. From the Reformation to the latter half of the last century, our border country enjoyed great prosperity. The valleys were subdivided into small properties; each head of a family lived on his own estate, and such a thing as a rented farm hardly existed in the whole country, which was filled with a race of happy, independent yeomanry. This was the exact condition of your clansmen in this part of England. They were kept in a kind of humble affluence, by the manufactory of their wool, which was produced in great abundance by the vast flocks of sheep which were fed on the neighboring mountains. I myself, remember two or three old men of the last century, who in their younger days had been in the yearly habit of riding up to London to negotiate the sale of stockings, knit by the hands of the lasses of our own smiling valleys. The changes of manners, and the progress of machinery, destroyed, root and branch, this source of rural wealth; and a dismal change has now taken place in the social and moral aspect of the land of your fathers. It is now a very poor country, a great portion of the old yeomanry, (provincially called _statesmen_,) has been swept away. Most of the family estates (some of which had descended from father to son for three hundred years,) have been sold to strangers. The evil has, I hope, reached its crisis, and the country may improve, but it seems morally impossible that it should ever again assume the happy Arcadian character which it had before the changes that undermined its whole social system.

    I have now told you all I can compress into one sheet, of the land of your fathers' fathers, of the ancestors of that pilgrim from whom my transatlantic cousins are descended. A few families have survived the shock; mine among the rest. And I have a brother in the valley of Dent, who now enjoys a property which our family has had ever since the Reformation. I fear you will think this information very trifling -- such as it is, it is very much at your service. Believe me, Sir, your very faithful servant,

A. Sedgwick

Sedgwick.org note: I don't care what Hubert decided later; I think Adam was right! -Dennis

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