Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Miss Flora Seaman, 19th Century Telegraph Operator at the Pelhamville Depot

The first telegraph in the Town of Pelham was installed in early 1878 in the home of millionaire banker, broker, and financier, William Belden, located at Belden's Point on City Island.  See Mon., Mar. 02, 2015:  The Telegraph in Pelham:  Pre-Telephone Communications with the Outside World.

During the late 19th century, a telegrapher was stationed in the old Pelhamville Depot to send and receive, via Morse code, messages.  Despite the deployment of a limited number of telephones in Pelhamville by that time, telegrams remained an important way to communicate.  Indeed, use of the telegraph was so prevalent that Pelham businessmen of those days would send a telegram back to the Pelhamville Depot to be delivered to their families when they were delayed at work in New York City and needed to let the family know they would be late.  

The position of "telegraphist" was a coveted technology job of the late 19th century.  According to one source:

"Telegraphist was one of the very first 'high-technology' professions of the modern era. Many young men and young women left their farms and fishing communities in the late 19th century to take high-paying jobs as professional telegraph operators. In those early days telegraphers were in such demand that operators could move from place to place and job to job to achieve ever-higher salaries, thereby freeing them from subsistence lives on family farms."

Source:  "Telegraphist" in Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia (visited Sep. 9, 2017).  

Pelhamville's telegraphist during the early 1890s was a young unmarried woman named Flora Seaman.  Despite extensive research efforts, little can be found regarding Flora Seaman.  Today's Historic Pelham article will document what is known in the hope that more can be found.

During at least the early months of 1893, Flora Seaman served as the telegraph operator in the Pelhamville Depot, the old train station that once stood where today's Pelham National Bank Building stands at One Wolfs Lane.  At the time, she was employed, and paid, by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company station agent at the Pelhamville Depot.  His name reportedly was Charles H. Seaman (see below).  

Flora Seaman is referred to as "Miss Flora Seaman" in at least one reference at the time, suggesting that she was unmarried.  Thus, it would seem likely that she was related to Charles H. Seaman, the station agent who paid her.  No records yet have been located, however, reflecting either a Flora Seaman or a Charles H. Seaman residing in Pelham or the surrounding region.  (There is evidence in a number of sources of a man named "Charles T. Seaman" living in Mount Vernon at the time.  This may be the station agent with a mistaken "H" for a middle initial or, of course, an entirely different person.)

Flora was paid by the station agent as follows.  She received a base salary of $35 a month.  In addition she received one half of the receipts for the telegrams she transmitted, received, and delivered.

In early 1893 (or late 1892) a dispute erupted between Flora Seaman and Charles Seaman over what she was owed as her pay.  Flora Seaman brought a lawsuit against Charles Seaman in the Westchester County Court and Court of Sessions.  A jury trial was held in the case on Monday, February 6, 1893 before the Hon. Isaac N. Mills.

According to a rather error-ridden account of the trial, attorney David Swits represented plaintiff Flora Seaman.  He provided evidence that she was employed by the station agent for "a salary of $35 per month and one half of the receipts for telegraph messages."  He also introduced evidence that she had not been paid the amount due her and that the balance due her was $52.00 (about $1,772 in today's dollars).  

The attorney for station agent "Charles H. Seaman" was Henry Ernst.  He offered a general denial of the plaintiff's allegations and pursued a counterclaim against her on behalf of the station agent.  According to Ernst, the station agent agreed to pay Flora Seaman only $30 a month and, thus, had overpaid the telegraphist by $35.  Thus, the counterclaim sought return of the alleged over-payment.  Additionally, Ernst asserted that the station agent also had "allowed [Flora Seaman] for carriage hire" (whatever that meant).  

At the close of evidence, the jury returned a verdict for telegraphist Flora Seaman in the amount of $53.04.  Only a few days later, a local newspaper reported that "Miss Flora Seaman, formerly telegraph operator at this station, will leave for Chicago about March 1st, where she will reside."

Flora's time as a telegraphist at the Pelhamville Depot apparently ended with the advent of her successful lawsuit.  No more yet has been found regarding her.  

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The county court and court of sessions convened on Monday, Judge Isaac N. Mills on the bench. . . .

The following cases were tried: . . . 

Flora Seaman vs. Charles H. Seaman.  -- The plaintiff and defendant reside at Pelhamville in this county and this action was brought to recover $52, for the balance claimed to be due for his [sic] salary as telegraph operator at Pelhamville depot.  The defendant is the station agent for the New York, New Haven & Hartford R. R. Co.  The evidence upon the part of the plaintiff was that he [sic] was employed by the defendant as telegraph operator as a salary of $35 per month and one half of the receipts for telegraph messages, and that balance due her was fifty-two dollars.  The defendant put in a general denial and a counter claim.  The evidence upon the part of the defendant was that the plaintiff was to receive $30 per month and that he [sic] was over paid $35, and that he allowed him [sic] for carriage hire.  The jury found a verdict for the plaintiff $53.04.  David Swits for plaintiff, Henry Ernst for defendant."

Source:  COURT PROCEEDINGS . . . Flora Seaman vs. Charles H. SeamanThe Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], Feb. 11, 1893, Vol. XLVIII, No. 46, p. 2, col. 3.  


Judge Karbach and Michael Donlon are about to open a real estate office in The Pelham [sic].  A good combination.

Miss Flora Seaman, formerly telegraph operator at this station, will leave for Chicago about March 1st, where she will reside.

William Donlon, of Pelham Manor, is reported to be seriously ill."

Source:  PelhamvilleThe Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Feb. 21, 1893, Vol. I, No. 275, p. 1, col. 5.

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