Friday, July 5, 2013


After you pass through the impressive front gates of Rosehill Cemetery, if you continue on bearing a soft left between Sections C and H, look to your right about half way through Section H along the roadside and you will see an interesting monument:

Just who was Seth Catlin, and why did the Chicago Board of Trade erect a monument in his honor?  I figured there would be an interesting story under this stone, and I was right.

Seth Catlin was born September 14, 1812 in Deerfield, Massachusetts to Richard Catlin (1773-1852) and Charlotte, nee Stebbins (1780-1855).   He was actually the second Seth Catlin born to Richard and Charlotte - the first was born in 1800 and died in 1803.  Using the same name more than once in a generation is guaranteed to drive genealogists slowly mad...

Our Seth Catlin - 2nd, was one of eight children born to Richard and Charlotte.  As mentioned, there was the first Seth Catlin (1800-1803), then Richard (1802-1803), Charlotte (1803-1859), Maria (1805-1807), another Maria, 2nd (1808-1809), Catherine (1810-????), Abigail (1815-1856), and Jane (1819-1842).  Richard Catlin was a farmer, as had been his ancestors.  Members of the Catlin and Stebbins families had been here since before the Revolutionary War.  Interestingly, the Catlin ancestors were Tories, but the Stebbins family fought for independence.

Seth moved to Chicago in 1835.  

Seth Catlin married Helen Griswold in Chicago on September 5, 1838. Seth and Helen were blessed with seven children:  Richard (1840-1878), George (1843-1910), Charles (1844-1913), Jane (1848-1930), Catherine (1850-1940), Helen (1853-????) and Seth (1856-1923).

History does not record just exactly when Seth Catlin joined the Chicago Board of Trade, but we do know that in April of 1858 he was appointed Superintendent of the Board of Trade, and in 1860 he was appointed to be the Secretary, a position he held until his death.

These were exciting days to be a part of the CBOT.  There was an economic boom as the country prepared for war, and everything went through Chicago.  In the 1850s the CBOT had first started trading "Forward" contracts, and the Board of Trade was officially chartered by the State of Illinois in 1859.  By 1860, Chicago had developed into a national center for commerce, serving as the westward bound transportation hub for both railroads and ships.

As the war began in 1861, CBOT adopted the gold coin as its standard of value.  In addition, CBOT financed the formation of three regiments and an artillery battery for the Union Army.  The pace at the CBOT was non-stop as commodities were gathered up for the insatiable appetite of the war machine.
Seth Catlin had been the statistician of the Board of Trade from the institution of its system of publishing annual statistical reports up to the time of his death and had won high rank in his profession by the faithfulness and accuracy of his work.   He inaugurated the popular system of keeping the books of the Board and the publishing of its review - an annual report of the "Trade and Commerce" of Chicago, and specifically how the CBOT was affected by this trade and commerce. He ended the 1861 report, published January 1, 1862, with these comments: 

"At no time since its inauguration has the Board been in so flourishing a condition as at present.  Since our last report, forty feet have been added to the building, on the east, making the rooms now occupied by the Board for Secretary's office, Grain Inspector's office, Reading Room, Sales Room, &c., one hundred and sixty feet long, by about fifty feet wide.  Its members number over 800.  Quite a number of firms from Cincinnati, St. Louis, and other points, have come to Chicago, transferring most of their business to this place.
SETH CATLIN, Secretary" 

When Seth Catlin presented this report to the Board, he did not know it was to be his last.

Unfortunately Seth Catlin became ill during the fall of 1862.  Readers of the Chicago Daily Tribune of  Tuesday, January 20, 1863 saw the following notice:

Here, from later that same day, are the resolutions the CBOT passed about the death of Seth Catlin:

The Board of Trade, at their regular session passed the following resolution of respect in memory of the late Secretary of the Board, Seth Catlin, Esq.

WHEREAS, in the wise dispensation of Providence, Seth Catlin, the Secretary of this Board, has been removed to another world, and

WHEREAS, It becomes us, in view of his departure, to take heed of the solemn admonition thus forcibly presented to us; therefore

RESOLVED, That in the death of our Secretary we are deprived of an able, diligent, and invaluable officer, one whose records in the office of this Board will ever remain to the members as cherished mementoes of his commercial worth and knowledge, 

RESOLVED, That in our late Secretary, this Board recognize a man possessed of inflexible will, the purity of purpose, and the unbending integrity of character so essential to true manhood.  His errors, if any, were truly of the head and not the heart.

RESOLVED, That the above Preamble and Resolutions be spread upon the records of this Board, And with unfeigned sorrow we tender the family of the deceased our warmest sympathy and condolence.

RESOLVED, That this Board now adjourn.

We don't know what the disease was that killed Seth Catlin, other than that he had been sick for four months.  Having died in 1863, his death certificate was lost in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

There was a curious notice in the Chicago Daily Tribune on January 21, 1863 about the final resting place of Seth Catlin:

It is interesting that Rosehill donated the burial plot for Seth Catlin.  I imagine they did this for the favorable publicity it would bring to the cemetery.  Rosehill knew that a lot of rich and powerful people would be attending Catlin's funeral, and they probably thought this was a good way to reach out to potential customers.  When Seth Catlin died in 1863, Rosehill had not even been open for four years.  Donating a grave for a powerful and influential Chicagoan was a brillliant stroke of marketing genius.  

The second stroke of marketing genius concerned Seth Catlin's monument.  $1,000.00 had been collected by the members of the CBOT for Catlin's monument.  The Board decided, after consultation with the cemetery, that Catlin's monument should be done by Leonard Volk.  Fans of Volk have seen his own monument at Rosehill:


A good writeup on the life and works of Leonard Volk can be found here:

Always out for favorable publicity, here are excerpts from an article from the Chicago Daily Tribune of June 30, 1863:

Volk, the sculptor, has at present his hands full of commissions.  (He) is now at work upon (a) monument for the late Seth Catlin, ordered by the Board of Trade.  (It) will represent a writing desk, with closed book, and pen thrown down, resting upon an elaborate pedestal.  Upon the front of the desk is a wreath of oak, encircling the name.  A sheaf of wheat, exquisitely carved, reclines against the desk.

And so, here it is:

The Sheaf of Wheat

Comments made about a colleague after his untimely death tend to be rather "flowery" but I believe his colleagues really meant it when they said about Seth Catlin:

"That in the death of our Secretary we are deprived of an able, diligent, and invaluable officer, one whose records in the office of this Board will ever remain to the members as cherished mementoes of his commercial worth and knowledge..."

Little did they know that many of Seth Catlin's careful records would burn up in the Great Chicago Fire less than ten years hence.  

Seth Catlin:  Able, Diligent and Invaluable - May he rest in peace.


  1. Love the monument of Leonard Volk, who sure looks weary...
    The desk is rather grand too.....

  2. Just came across this blog on Seth Catlin. I am a great-great-grandson of Seth and Helen Catlin. To add to sone of your facts both of his parent's ancestors date back to the founding of Deerfield, MA in 1671, when it was still Native American land. At least seven of his lineal ancestors were killed in the Deerfield Massacre in 1704 by the French and Indians.