William Henry Seward, the Secretary of State during Abraham Lincoln’s administration, the man who purchased Alaska for the U.S., and long a resident of Auburn, N.Y., is widely quoted as saying that nearby Skaneateles Lake is “the most beautiful body of water in the world.”
Actually, he probably never said that. The quote is most likely a paraphrase of the opening lines of a speech he made on May 6, 1870. Soon after returning from an around-the-world tour, he received a formal delegation of visitors from Skaneateles in his Auburn home. His full remarks were reported in the New York Times the following day, headlined, “Mr. Seward on Lakes: Influence of Lakes on Loyalty, Patriotism, Philanthropy and Religion — Speech of the Statesman to a Visiting Committee.” It began:
“Gentlemen; Your own Skaneateles was the first lake I ever saw. I have since seen many others in North America, and some elsewhere. Nevertheless, I still think your little lake, with the smiling village of Skaneateles reflected in its blue waters, is about the finest one I ever saw.”
His written copy of this speech is archived at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Library, and differs only slightly from the version the Times reported:
“Gentlemen; Your own Skaneateles was the first lake I ever saw. I have since seen many in North America, and indeed not a few elsewhere. Nevertheless, I still think that your little lake, with the smiling village of Scaneateles reflected in its blue waters is about the finest one I know.”
The sentiment is the same, but it is useful to see it in context, and exactly as Seward intended to say it.
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My thanks to the Skaneateles Historical Society and the University of Rochester Library.