Virtual Tour :: A Dance to Remember: Emma Hart Seymour, Philip Battell, and the Commencement Ball of 1826

A poignant representation of the life-altering potential of social dance is revealed in a series of events that transpired at the Middlebury College Commencement Ball of 1826.

Emma Hart Seymour
As she danced through the night at the Commencement Ball, sixteen-year-old Emma Hart Seymour anxiously awaited the arrival of Phillip Battell, Class of 1826, with whom she had been conducting a clandestine relationship. Battell appeared only briefly at the event, barely giving his sweetheart a glance, and disappeared for the rest of the evening. Unwisely, her impulsive beau allowed himself to be distracted by some recent alums and then by the allure of a balmy August night by Otter Creek. Early the next morning, he left Middlebury for Litchfield , Connecticut , without offering an explanation. Phillip Battell

Not only did Battell ignore the fact that public balls were among the few opportunities for 19 th century men and women to acknowledge their mutual feelings in public prior to marriage, but that in “standing up” Miss Seymour he had embarrassed his (secret) intended, daughter of Senator Horatio Seymour, one of Middlebury’s most prominent citizens, at the most important community event of the year. The fact that Emma was not only able to forgive Battell for this gross indiscretion, but to remain faithful for ten years before he finally married her, was a profound declaration of her love. Although both promised to put the unhappy memory behind them, mention of this fateful night would appear in letters throughout their long correspondence.

{ read one of Phillip's letters to Emma } { read one of Emma's letters to Phillip }

Phillip and Emma Hart Seymour Battell had two children, Joseph and Emma, before she died at age 33 in 1842. Phillip never remarried. Instead, he devoted himself instead to the Middlebury community until his death in 1897, at age 90. Their legacy to the community lived on in their children. Joseph, who never married, bought the Bread Loaf Inn, and eventually much of the Green Mountains surrounding it. At his death in 1915, Battell left 25,000 acres of his mountain estate including Bread Loaf to Middlebury College.

Emma married John W. Stewart, Class of 1846, later Governor of Vermont and U.S. Senator. Their daughter, Jessica Stewart Swift carried on the family legacy well into the 20 th century. At her death at age 110, Jessica Stewart Swift left the papers and extraordinary memorabilia of this Middlebury Dynasty to the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History. The letters recounting the commencement ball story and Emma Seymour’s ball gown on display here, are on loan from the Stewart-Swift Research Center in the Sheldon Museum.





introduction :: the art of the dance card :: the yearly round of dances :: winter carnival
the turning point: dance in american fiction :: a dance to remember: emma hart seymour and philip battell