As 1850 neared, many pioneers were pushing westward. Gold had been discovered in California and the people there were talking about pulling out of the Union unless they could have better travel and communications with the states on the eastern side of the United States.

Kansas City and St. Louis became important transportation centers. The great fur trade became less important because the pioneers were starting to farm the land to a greater degree. Inland towns and villages were being built.

And into this historical drama stepped an adventurous businessman by the name of William Tipton Seely. History has left us only a dimly lit trail on Seely’s life, but a letter from his great niece, Mrs. Marie Lagarde Arabie of Thibedaux, Louisiana, offers us a glimpse into his life.

The family has no pictures of Seely or his store in Tipton, but she writes that all Seelys have definitive characteristics. Medium in height. Slender to the point of thinness. Probably blonde, as they came from the Nottingham section of England.

“All Seelys are very shy,” she writes. “He couldn’t have been a Seely if he hadn’t been generous.”

Time and carelessness have destroyed many of Seely’s valuable papers, but from what is left, this much is known:

William Tipton Seely and John Little Seely, brothers, came from England in about 1793 to Louisiana. Everything seems to indicate that they came from a wealthy and influential family and they could read and write in English and French. For them to be educated in both languages at a time in history when education wasn’t considered important and something only the wealthy could afford speaks for itself.

John Little Seely married a daughter of a wealthy southern plantation owner. For William Tipton Seely, the years between his arrival in Louisiana and the War of 1812 are blank. When the war started, he joined the Virginia Volunteers.

In 1817, Congress passed a Pension Act in which a grant of land would be given to those who served in the army because the country did not have the money to pay them in cash. Among the numerous grants of were three in William Tipton Seely’s name in what is now the city of Tipton. One dated in 1845, signed by Franklin Pierce, and two in 1848, signed by James K. Polk.

What happened in the years between Seely’s discharge from service and when the land grants were issued? What did he do? How and where did he live? The historical record is largely blank.

We know that in some way he became interested in central Missouri. We know that he saw future business possibilities here because he came here to make his home and establish a trading post. He built a general store on the rolling plains about three miles north of the present site of Tipton, Missouri. He named his settlement Round Hill. He probably chose this location because it was an area of good soil and because it was on the stagecoach line between Jefferson City and Topeka.

His general store that was stocked with all kinds of staples, farm equipment, tools, and supplies that were needed by pioneer families. Much of the goods in his store were dispensed with the barter system. Customers would bring in furs, hides, mutton tallow, beeswax or farm produce to trade for supplies from his store.

In addition there was a blacksmith shop and, later, several homes and a schoolhouse were built.

William Tipton Seely was a bachelor and devoted all of his time to business interests. He continued to increase his holdings of land over the years. Some of the grants he purchased he received from soldiers who wished to sell their bonuses. The soldiers who did not wish to settle here would offer their grants for sale, and Mr. Seely was always anxious to buy more land.

Although he was not the official banker, the records show that he loaned money to many people. The old notes show that he loaned money for 8 to 10 percent interest. Since he had no safe place to store his money, it was rumored that he buried his money under rocks for safe keeping.

When Seely learned the railroad was coming through this part of the state, he hoped it would pass near his settlement. From surveyors, he learned this wasn’t the case. However, it woud pass through other land Seely owned.

On Dec. 21, 1857, Seely executed an agreement with the Pacific Railroad to lay out a town. Seely donated the land for the railroad bed. Tipton was born.

The first sale of lots took place on March 1, 1858, although some private sales had been made prior to that date. One of those prior sales included to sale of four lots to Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Williams. The three-story girls seminary built on that lot would become the Maclay Home. 

Seely laid out a city square north of the proposed railroad station and expected it to become the center of the new city. But when the tracks were built, it was actually south of the railroad station.

The first train arrived in Tipton on July 26, 1858. By September, Tipton was the western terminus of the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage to San Francisco. Population quickly grew and Tipton became the site for hotels, livery stables, grocery stores, dry goods stores, a restaurant and saloons.

One thing was absent from Tipton: Wililam Tipton Seely himself. There are no records to indicate Seely ever moved to town.

Seely died in 1863 at approximately 90 years of age. A diary kept by Annie Martin, a student at Rose HIll Seminary and public school teacher in Tipton, indicates that he was buried in the Howard cemetery east of Round Hill.

Want to learn more about the history of Tipton? Head over to the Price James Memorial Library and check out the book “The Illustrated History of Tipton, Missouri.”

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