Thursday, June 19, 2014

The 1858 Murder Trial of Mortimer Seaver - Post 8: Prosecution Rests, Defense Starts

I am transcribing a series of newspaper articles concerning the 1858 murder trial of Mortimer Seaver published in the Flint, Michigan Wolverine Citizen newspaper.  The series to date:

*  The 1858 Trial of Mortimer Seaver - Post 1: Benjamin Phillips Testimony (10 June 2014)
*  The 1858 Murder Trial of Mortimer Seaver - Post 2: Jeremiah Slack's Testimony (11 June 2014)
*  The 1858 Murder Trial of Mortimer Seaver - Post 3: Testimony of 4 More Witnesses (12 June 2014)
*  The 1858 Murder Trial of Mortimer Seaver - Post 4: Testimony of 10 More Witnesses (13 June 2014)
*  The 1858 Murder Trial of Mortimer Seaver - Post 5: Testimony of the Victim's Wife (16 June 2014)

*  The 1858 Murder Trial of Mortimer Seaver - Post 6: More Testimony of Sarah Seaver (17 June 2014)
*  The 1858 Murder Trial of Mortimer Seaver - Post 7: Testimony From 11 Witnesses (18 June 2014)

The article starts in the right-hand column of Page 1 above, continues on to most of Page 2, and then finishes in the 30 January 1858 edition of the newspaper on pages 1 and 2.  The first page of the 30 January 1858 issue is at

I am transcribing the articles in a series of blog posts - who knows how long this will take.  I hope my readers enjoy it.  Note that this is a reporter's summary of the trial, not the trial court transcript.


[from page 1, columns 4-5, 30 January 1858, Wolverine Citizen [Flint, Mich.] newspaper]


Prisoner was asked at the inquest, whether he had a gun with him in the field; he said he had not, neither had he seen a gun or handled a gun in any way that day; witness considers prisoner gave his testimony very coolly and calmly; he showed no excitement whatever that witness could discover.  Witness went in company with others to the spot where the body was found; witness stooped down in the position of a man when mowing, while another person went upon the south eminence to see if he could cover him; he said he could not hit witness from there, while witness was stooping.


Witness went the wood side of the fence on the occasion referred to; went south west into the wood, just by the fence west of the cleared field; witness could not see Mr. Smith when he stooped, but saw from the shoulders up when he stood upright. There is a slight descent west from the place where the body was found.  Witness asked prisoner whether he carried a gun to the field; he said , no, he had not handled a gun that day.  Witness did not consider him excited.

Cross-examined -- Witness could see Mr. Smith over three fences, from the place witness stood, at the edge of the woodland.


Resides three fourths of a mile west of Seaver's; was there the day he was killed; saw prisoner have a gun in the afternoon; the corpse was in the bred room at the time witness saw prisoner have the gun.  It was before Judge Smith got there, she saw the gun with prisoner; he went through the new kitchen to the old kitchen, with the gun in his hands.

Cross-examined -- When witness first saw prisoner with the gun, he was at the south door, which leads into the wood-room.


The prisoner was sworn before the coroner about dusk; it was after candle-lighting.


Was present at Mr. Seaver's, and heard some talk about the water in the jug, in which something had been mixed.  The jug was there at the time.  Some person spoke of having the water kept to be analyzed; witness does not know who.  The prisoner said something and took out the jug and emptied it at the west door.


Witness asked prisoner some questions about the death of his father; asked him where he had heard the guns; he pointed to the woods, a little south and nearly west of where his father was found; he said he heard the guns there; said he heard no other guns that day.


Witness could not perceive that prisoner was excited during his examination before the coroner; knew of no questions being put to him to embarrass him.


The evidence for the prosecution here closed.  MR. DAVIS reserving the right to introduce rebutting testimony, when the defence rested.

MR. WISNER, in opening for the prisoner, assumed the death of Mr. Seaver was accidental; that before the bullet entered the body it had struck some hard substance which glanced it from the direct line in which it was fired; that the shot could not have been fired by the prisoner; nor from any of the guns belonging to the family; that when the ball struck Mr. Seaver, he was not in a stooping posture; and so far as motive was concerned, that the prisoner's entire personal interest, of which he was fully aware, lay in his father's life rather than his death at this particular time.  He expected to prove all this, so that the accused should not only be acquitted, but leave the Court, without even the shadow of a suspicion resting upon him.

At the close of Mr. Wisner's address, the further hearing of the case was adjourned till next morning.

Friday, January 22d


[The first part of this witness' testimony was introduced for the purpose of accounting for the words used by the prisoner, while in jail, to Mary Munger, about keeping her head shut.]

Witness recollects hearing Mr. Wisner advise the prisoner not to hold communication with any person.  Witness produces five bullet-moulds, which he received from Mr. Moses Wisner.  Witness got lead and cast some bullets in each of the five moulds; has kept the bullets belonging to each mould separate; they are with the moulds they belong to; the moulds are in the same condition in which witness received them; no person had access to them; they have been in his own possession ever since.


Is brother to prisoner, and son of Aaron Seaver; was at his own house, half am ile distant when his father was killed.  Got there about half an hour after; found his father lying on his back, his head a little south of east, and feet north of west; he lay out straight, with his feet 18 or 20 inches apart; his arms not very close to the body.  Thought he was not moved.  Saw no evidence of struggling.  The back of his father's hat was under his neck, with the front over his eyes; his scythe was lying on the ground near the body; the small end of the snath lay near his knee; the point of the scythe near his body; it lay on the south side of the body; the scythe lay nearly north and south, the snatch east and west.  The whet-stone lay nearly under the lower nib -- upon the left side of the body.  It was a whole stone, about 10 inches long.  Father had the habit of always carrying his whet-stone in his right pantaloons pocket; he usually had his pockets deeper than common; could identify his pants.  Mother and Mortimer were there when witness came; Mortimer was crying pretty bad, he thought.  The body was put in a wagon and taken to the house; it was done by order of Mr. Slack.

Mr. Slack, Rice and Phillips assisted.  Mr. slack rode all the way to the house; witness saw him in the wagon; Mr. Phillips drove the team; Mr. Slack held a hat over father's face; said it was to keep the sun off.  Witness walked up all the way to the house with Mortimer; heard no conversation between Mr. Slack and Mortimer. [Witness identifies the bullet-moulds produced by Mr. Buckingham, and picks out those belonging to the several guns.]  Identifies a pistol produced; it belongs to Gustavus Chappel; it has been about father's house the past season. [Identifies two rifles and two shot guns, brought into Court by Mr. Johnson.]  Luther has had his rifle fourteen years; Mortimer got his rifle four years ago this winter; one of the shot guns has been four or five years in the family; the other is James Rice's, it was borrowed shortly before the death of father.  Witness does not know of any other guns being about the premises.  The ram rods now with the guns are the same that belong to them.  

Thinks the map produced is correct.  The ground off south and east is high; south west it is considerably higher than where the body was found; west it is level to the marsh; there is a ridge to the north of the marsh; there are some trees scattered about the marsh; the brush is cleared out.  Very nearly all the marsh was mowed, except along the creek.  Mortimer does not mow smooth; father did.  Witness could go on the ground and pick out his father's and Mortimer's swaths.  There was not much done on the day of father's death; witness saw his father's and Mortimer's swaths side by side in places;  father was in the habit of selecting out the lodged parts for himself to cut; them owing done by his father that day was where the grass was lodged; where Mortimer mowed, it was standing.  There was a sheep shot on the farm, on Saturday, along after breakfast.  Witness took Luther's gun down to shoot the sheep; the gun was loaded; Mortimer shot the sheep and brought back the gun.  The other rifle hung in its usual place; witness took it down and fired it off, because his mother did not like loaded guns around.  

The farm contains eighty acres, and is worth from $25 to $30 an acre.  Witness never heard of any particular difficulty between his father and Mortimer.  Mortimer was his favorite child.  

While they lived at home all the children had access to father's money when they wanted it.  Their father knew of them getting it whenever they did so.  Mortimer went with witness to Grand Blanc the evening before their father's death -- about sundown.  Mortimer went with him, at witness request; they went with the horses called Mortimer's team.  It was known to his father and all the family as Mortimer's team.  Heard Mr. Slack's testimony about the stump and rifle butt. -- Had not heard of it before, and looked for and found such a stump as the one described by Mr. Slack; discovered a mark which witness thought was a wagon track.  Luther Seaver, Paul Davison, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Wisner were with witness at the time, they traced the wheel tracks several rods; one wheel run exactly over the spot described.  Witness and his brother had drawn hay over that place, a few days before his father's death.

Father's scythe was nearly new; Mortimer's was an old one which had been in use five or six years; they had got the snath over ten years ago, and it was old then.  It would frequently get out of order; there were nails driven in the nibs.  

[Bennager Tupper was here called up, to pick out the gun Mortimer had loaded at his store.  After examining them, Mr. Tupper said he should judge the gun he saw with Mortimer was not there.]


Well - we have a murder (?) of a respected man, Aaron Seaver,  in Grand Blanc, Genesee County, Michigan.

In this excerpt, the prosecution called several more witnesses, and then rested.  The defense attorney made an opening statement, and called two witnesses, including the accused;'s older brother.  We see the first hints that some forensic investigation was done with the bullets and the wagon tracks.  There ism ore to come!

Aaron Seaver (1793-1857) is a second cousin, six times removed to me.  Our common ancestors are my 7th great-grandparents, Joseph Seaver (1672-1754) and Mary Read (1680-????).

Stay tuned!!  The cross-examination of Charles Seaver is next.

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Copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver

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