Thursday, March 31, 2011

William Seaver's Murder in 1821 - the 1866 Confession - Post 1

On 15 March, I posted "A Horrid Murder" in Alexandria.  The newspaper article about his murder on 6 July 1821 was lurid, but what happened after that?  On 17 March, I wrote William Seaver's Murder in 1821 - a Reward Offered - by the President of the United States, and three mayors.  The William Seaver's Murder in 1821 - A Jailhouse Confession post on 18 March seemed to solve the case.  William Seaver's Murder in 1821 - Was it Ever Solved? posted on 21 March was an article from 1874 claiming that the murder was a "cold case," but mentioned a confession to a murder printed in the Alexandria Gazette newspaper in 1866.  The phrase used was:

"A romantic account of the murder and its reasons was published in the Alexandria Gazette in 1866, derived, it was said, from a confession made in Central America and sent to a member of the Spanish American Legation at Washington -- The murdered man was there stated to be an old man, who, just before the late war, made his home in a cave near Four Mile Run."

What about this "romantic account?"  Ten lengthy installments, titled "A Wonderful Narrative of Old Alexandria, or the Confession of John Trust," were published between 12 July and 2 August 1866 in the Alexandria Gazette newspaper (all found online on GenealogyBank -

The story is fairly convoluted, but interesting!  This John Trust was born in England, comes to America to make his fortune, has a problem with a suitor, named Wroe, of his ill sister in Alexandria, Virginia, and lies in wait near the Potomac River determined to kill Wroe.  Here is the description of the murder event:

From the 28 July 1866 issue (excerpted from Chapter 8):

"...I saw Wroe walking on at his usually rapid pace.  The sun fell behind the trees and he disappeared in the valley of the roadway almost at the same moment.

"I cam a short distance down the declivity, and laying myself, at full length, behind a belt of shrubbery, rested my gun upon the roots, so as to be invisible, and at the same time to command any object on the road for several hundred feet.  Ere long I saw the man cross a rivulet  which ran at the bottom of the valley.  I could not discern either his countenance or his clothing in the gathering shadows, but I knew his gait.  He fell before the hill opposite echoed the shot.

"I dashed forward, and as I lifted the still warm body, a golden locket dropped to the ground.  I grasped it as it reached the earth and placed it in my pocket;  hurried on to a culvert near by, and then hid my horrid burden.  I had not dared to look upon its features."

Then the start of Chapter 9, published on 31 July 1866 in the Alexandria Gazette newspaper:

"The body out of sight, my chief care was to gain my boat unperceived.  I hastened into cover of the underbrush, just in time; for I heard the feet of horses approaching, and skulked from the deed of blood.  Still the blood was on me; my hands encardined, stained everything I caught hold of; the body had gushed blood at the murderer's touch, whilst I carried it to its hiding place, and the gore had, in several places, soaked through my clothing, until I felt its clammy touch, like the cold damp hand of the dead upon my skin.  As I fled I knew that every motion marked me yet more deeply, and I feared as I crept through the brushwood lest some of it might rub off upon the leaves, to tell the world which way the murderer had gone.  My gun was bloody; my hair was bloody; my face dabbled in blood; my whole body and soul already before heaven and earth  reeking in blood that called to Heaven for Vengeance; -- each drop armed with worse than serpent's sting, seemed piercing my brain, until, when I reached the river, I ran in, pulling the boat after me, and then swam out into the broad current, pushing the skiff ahead.  The water washed away some of the filthy witnesses of the deed, and cooled the fever which burned upon my brow; so I climbed into the skiff, and still keeping midway of the stream, paddled down the river; meanwhile changing my clothing for the suit I had brought for the purpose, still keeping the locket., and sinking all else in the channel of the stream.  It had originally been my intention to have returned home after the deed was done, and gone about my affairs as usual; but the terror which was now upon my heart warned me that it would be impossible to do so, without subjecting myself to almost certain discovery.  Not that I feared the consequences.  I know that but for the thought of my dear sister, I should have surrendered myself to the authorities, confessed my crime, and offered my life in expiation; but for her to know it! Even the hell then burning in my heart was heaven to that!  So I determined to land in Alexandria, get some further necessaries, and then leave behind me all that could call up the memory of my deed; seek an asylum in South America, and then send for my sister."

After stopping in Alexandria to see his ill but sleeping sister, he traveled about twenty miles to Dr. H's home in Virginia, and took refuge there.  Several days later:

"...I feigned disposition and kept to my chamber as much as possible.  I had, perhaps, from some vague fear , deferred, from day to day, to open the locket I picked up beside Wroe.  But the first day in doors compelled me to do something to keep from going mad, and, with less horror than I expected, I undid its clasp.  It was of fine gold, set with a few precious stones and carved of the fashion of a century gone by, and contained a miniature of Wroe.  How gladly, now would I have laid down my life to have restored breath to him.  I put the gem in my pocket, for a rap was made on my door, and the servant brought Alexandria and Washington papers.  The murder was out, and there was published a proclamation of the President, exciting hue and cry -- terrible thought! -- against me.  Strangely enough the proclamation called the murdered man 'Seaver,' and described him as a citizen of Washington!

"No time was left me for surmises, for almost instantly Dr. H. came to my room, bringing a letter from a friend in Washington, detailing the circumstances attending the discovery of the body.  He read it to me: the body was described as being found precisely where I had thrown it, but there too, the murdered man was called 'Seaver,' with the additional circumstance that he was a pedlar, and had probably been robbed of a large amount of money.  I kept calm enough during the reading, though my heart seemed on fire, and I was able, as he left the room, to thank him for his courtesy in giving me the news.  When the door closed, my brain reeled -- 'Could I have been mistaken? What if I killed some poor man, who never thought harm, and left Wroe alive and my sister at his mercy?'  While in this anguish of perplexity, a servant said that Mrs. H. desired to see me.  I went at once to the sitting room, barely able, with all my strength, to conceal my agitation.  She rose, weeping, as I entered, and handed an open letter to me, saying, 'You must go back to Alexandria -- it is so bad that I cannot have the heart to tell you.'"

"I saw, in my imagination, the officers of the law, and fell senseless."

We'll look at how this turns out in the next post in this series.  There are several mysteries here, aren't there?  He apparently killed the wrong man, but he had a gold locket in his possession with a miniature of Mr. Wroe (remember, this is in 1821 before photographs, so the miniature was hand painted).  I've omitted all of the details of the events before the murder, but suffice it to say that he thought that Mr. Wroe had designs on his sister and was taking advantage of her.  John Trust was apparently a hunter familiar with the rivers and woods of the Alexandria area.

Each chapter in this series takes up about two columns of agate type on one page of the newspaper.  I transcribed about half of Chapter 9 above.  If you want the read all of the chapters, go to GenealogyBank ( and search for the keywords [alexandria confession trust] and limit your search to [July 1866] and you'll find them.  Don't put names in the search field.

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