Anya Seton and Greenwich History
Anyone who has lived in Greenwich for a time is probably familiar with the name Anya Seton. She wrote the well-known historical fiction book – “The Winthrop Woman” – about Greenwich co-founder Elizabeth Feakes. In 1640, Elizabeth joined 2 others (Robert Feakes and Captain Daniel Patrick) in buying land from the Native Americans in Old Greenwich. She was the owner of Elizabeth’s Neck, which became Tod’s Point and today Greenwich Point. Ms. Seton wrote about this woman, who was an important figure in Greenwich history, as well as an early role model for women’s equality.
Anya Seton – Beginnings
Originally named Ann, she was born in Manhattan on January 23, 1904, to Ernest Thompson Seton and Grace Gallatin Seton Thompson. Ernest Thompson was a naturalist, author and illustrator. He co-founded the Boy Scouts. Grace was an author of travel books. Ann grew up in Cos Cob. She was christened “Ann”, but was given the name “Anutika” by a Sioux Chief, which was adapted to “Anya”. (PHOTO: Anya Seton with Greenwich Library Director Nolan Lushington.)
Anya was a bit of a traveller, and by the time she was thirteen, had crossed the Atlantic eight times. She had private tutors and graduated from the Spence School. She was married twice, the first time at age 19 to a Rhodes Scholar – Hamilton Cottier. They had two children – Pamela and Seth. This marriage ended in divorce . Her second marriage was to investment counselor Hamilton (Chan) in 1930. They had one daughter, which they named Clemency. This marriage also ended in divorce in 1968.
Anya didn’t write her first book until she was 37-years-old. She raised her children before starting her writing career, thus becoming a “late bloomer”. Her first foray involved selling short stories to newspapers. In the 1930s, she became fascinated with Aaron Burr’s daughter, Theodosia. Theodosia had died mysteriously, and Anya decided to write an historical novel on the girl. It was titled “Theodosia”, and was released in 1941. Critics and readers commended Anya on how well it was researched. They felt it was very accurate.
Seton’s next book was “Dragonwyck”, published in 1944. It’s the story of a feudal lord in the 1840s, who lives in the Hudson Valley. He’s a tyrant to his tenant farmers, kills his wife, and marries a distant cousin. Inspired by visits to her father’s ranch in New Mexico, she wrote “The Turqoise”, a novel descibing the American southwest in the 1890s. “The Hearth and the Edge”, published in, describes life in Marblehead MA. Her book “Katherine” (1954) concerns a direct descendant of the Tudors. Her other works include “Devil Water” (1962), “Avalon” (1965), and “Green Darkness” (1973).
Anya wrote from the 1940s until the early 1970s. She died on November 8, 1990 in Old Greenwich, and was buried in Putnam cemetery. Her books provide a unique glimpse into the history of early American towns and people. She had the ability to capture the essence of the time. This was no doubt due to her dedication to research. Her books are the next best thing to being alive during those times. They provide an entertaining look at history.
Thank you Anya for the treasures you have left us.
Fowler, G.: “Anya Seton, Author Of “Firefox” And Other Novels, Is Dead at 86″, New York Times, November 10, 1990. Accessed on February 23, 2018 at: