Biography of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton:

Social Prominence

William Magee Seton, a descendant of the Setons of Parbroath, was the oldest of thirteen children of his father’s two marriages. The elder Seton married (1767) Rebecca Curson (c.1746-1775). A year following her death, he married (1776) his sister-in-law, Anna Maria Curson (d.1792). Educated in England, William joined his father and his brother, James, as founding partners in the import-export mercantile firm the William Seton Company, which later became Seton, Maitland and Company in 1793. He had visited important counting houses in Europe in 1788 and thus eventually became a friend of Filippo Filicchi (1763-1816), a renowned merchant of Livorno, Italy.

Socially prominent in New York, the Setons belonged to the fashionable Trinity Episcopal Church. Elizabeth was a devout communicant there under the influence of Rev. John Henry Hobart (1775-1830, later bishop), who was her spiritual director. Elizabeth, along with her sister-in-law Rebecca Mary Seton (1780-1804), her soul-friend and dearest confidant, nursed the sick and dying among family, friends and needy neighbors. Elizabeth was among the founders and charter members of The Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children (1797), and she also served as treasurer for the organization.

Elizabeth and William Magee Seton were blessed with five children: Anna Maria (1795-1812), William (1796-1868), Richard Bayley (1798-1823), Catherine Charlton (1800-1891) and Rebecca Mary (1802-1816).

Anna Maria, who had accompanied her parents to Italy in 1803, became afflicted with tuberculosis as an adolescent and made her vows as a Sister of Charity on her deathbed. Rebecca fell on ice sometime before 1812, causing a hip injury which resulted in lameness and experienced an early death from tuberculosis. Both Anna Maria and Rebecca are buried in the original cemetery of the Sisters of Charity on the grounds of the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland. When sailing with the United States Navy as a civil servant, Richard died at age 25 off the coast of Liberia onboard the ship Oswego.

Catherine Charlton (also called Josephine) was beautiful and witty. She distinguished herself by her linguistic and musical talents, developed at St. Joseph’s Academy, Emmitsburg. She was the only Seton present at her mother’s death. Catherine later lived with her brother William and his family and traveled to Europe with them several times before entering the Sisters of Mercy in New York City (1846). As Mother Mary Catherine, she devoted herself for more than forty years to prison outreach in New York.

William received a commission as lieutenant in the United States Navy in February 1826 and married (1832) Emily Prime (1804-1854). Seven of their nine children lived to adulthood, including Archbishop Robert Seton (1839-1927) and Helen (1844-1906), another New York Sister of Mercy (Sister Mary Catherine, 1879-1906).

We offer additional resources to learn more about St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in the Seton Heritage Shop, such as the exclusive book Elizabeth Bayley Seton 1774-1821 by Annabelle M. Melville.