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Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: Thieving Seth Wyman, Jr. gets caught and pays a price

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Looking Back

An illustration from 1800 of fashionably dressed young ladies in comfortable summer attire.

BY 1802, the year Seth Wyman, Jr. of Goffstown turned 18, he had become quite popular with the young ladies in his town and beyond. A good-looking fellow with money to spend who enjoyed a good time, he attended parties and fancy balls, and even took dancing lessons. He made a favorable impression in his fashionable clothing, tailored from fine imported cloth.

What no one knew was that Wyman had shoplifted the cloth and that he had stolen much of the money he spent so freely from the shops he frequented. Always in need of more cash, Wyman would steal bushels of grain from his neighbor’s barn at night, which he would sell to a local tavern owner. The man paid Wyman in cash and alcohol, careful never to ask where the grain had come from.

Wyman had been stealing since he was a child, and had always gotten away with it. One day in the spring of 1802, however, his luck ran out. He was seen making a suspicious motion near the counter at Mr. Parker’s store in Piscataquog Village right before a bundle of cloth went missing. The bundle had been placed on the counter for a customer, Mr. Gordon, to pick up. When Gordon learned that Wyman was likely the thief, he immediately went to the Wyman farm and confronted him, threatening to have him arrested. As Wyman noted in his 1843 memoir, “He talked with my parents, telling them that if I had taken the cloth, it would be my wisest course to settle it. … They all entreated me so much, and finding that he had pretty strong proof against me, I concluded to give up the cloth, and pay him four dollars for his trouble.”

Even though he had nerves of steel, Wyman was shaken by these circumstances. He wrote, “This was the first time that anything had been proved against me, and I regarded it as a death-blow to my credit for life.” He particularly regretted that the incident had put a stop to his courtship of Sally Loomis, the daughter of a Boston man who had recently opened a bakery in Goffstown. Wyman wrote that Mr. Loomis “told his friends that his Sally had undone herself by keeping company with a thief.”

Wyman recalled in his book, “I was obliged to go pretty straight for some time after the event just detailed, for I found that the eyes of many who had wondered as to the source of all my clothes and money, were watching me.”

He was persuaded by a friend, Mr. Dow, who worked in Goffstown, to visit with him and his wife at their home in Deering. Dow told Wyman that “there were a great many pretty girls there.” One Saturday the two men walked to Deering, which is 21 miles northwest of Goffstown. Wyman stayed with the Dows for three weeks, during which time he was introduced to several of the town’s young single women. Among these was Lydia White, who was known as the “Belle of Deering” because of her great beauty. Wyman wrote of her, “She was a very handsome girl, the handsomest, I thought, that I had ever seen. This was all that was necessary to make me desperately in love with her.”

White seemed as attracted to Wyman as he was to her. He returned to Goffstown but was soon back in Deering making plans to stay and settle down with White as his wife. He wrote that he “intended to be honorable in my connection to the other sex for once.” Wyman persuaded his father to exchange the land he had acquired in Maine for a 70-acre farm in Deering. Once the transaction was completed, the elder Wyman gave the farm to his son, still willing to act as a supportive father despite the young man’s transgressions.

A few weeks later, when Wyman was in Deering to inspect the farm, he learned that White had been told about his “former tricks,” including his most recent theft at Mr. Parker’s store and the settlement with Mr. Gordon. White told Wyman she would no longer see him. He was wounded, but would soon find other female companionship.

Next week: Seth Wyman, Jr. and Mrs. Chandler — more than an affair to remember.

Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester, contact her at auroreeaton@aol.com or at www.facebook.com/AuroreEatonWriter