Friday, March 18, 2011

William Seaver's Murder in 1821 - A Jailhouse Confession

On Tuesday, 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 Thursday, I wrote William Seaver's Murder in 1821 - a Reward Offered - by the President of the United States, and three mayors.

Was anyone ever arrested?  Was the reward given?

An article in the Boston Semi-Weekly Advertiser newspaper dated 4 May 1822 (found on, reprinting an article from the Washington Gazette newspaper (which I cannot find on GenealogyBank) sheds some light on the issue:

This article says:

"Murder of Wm. Seaver. -- A man named Van Orden, whilst under confinement in the Baltimore penitentiary, it is reported, confessed to a fellow prisoner that he was the murderer of the late William Seaver.  Orden, who, we understand, has, in consequence, been removed to the Alexandria jail for trial, was shortly after the perpetration of the horrid deed, apprehended on suspicion, examined in this city and discharged, for want of sufficient evidence.  An intelligent friend, tells us Orden at that time, gave very contradictory statements, when closely questioned on the subject, seemingly incompatible with innocence; but still there was not sufficient testimony against him then to justify detention. -- Wash. Gaz."

This article also appeared in the Baltimore (MD) Patriot newspaper dated 30 April 1822 (but it was incomplete in GenealogyBank), the Providence (RI) Patriot newspaper of 11 May 1822, and the Saratoga (NY) Sentinel dated 15 May 1822.

You would think that there would be news of a confession, or of a trial, perhaps the conviction and even the execution of the murderer, and the giving of the reward.  What happened to Van Orden, and wa?  s that his real name.  Alas, I haven't been able to find any more evidence of these potential events.  Why not?  Probably because of my search tactics, or, more likely, because of the fragmentary nature of online newspapers and their indexes. 

I've looked for this incident in GenealogyBank (, the newspaper collections (mainly NewspaperARCHIVE), the Chronicling America collection at the Library of Congress, and the Early American Newspapers, Series I 1690-1876 (from Readex and Newsbank) and the 19th Century U.S. Newspapers (from the Gale Group) collections on the site. 

As you can see on the District of Columbia page on Miriam Midkiff's Online Historical Newspapers website, the coverage of online newspapers for Washington D.C. is really pretty limited at this time.  That pages shows the Washington Gazette is available for 1817 to 1821, which is why I couldn't find it online.

It is likely that there were additional articles about this incident, but they are not (yet!) available online with a useful index.  One lesson in  this series is that not every issue of every newspaper is online yet.  These historical newspapers are probably available in local or state archives, but are usually not indexed, which makes perusing them very difficult.

This is not the end of the William Seaver murder story, however.  There is more to come!  Plus the efforts to identify William Seaver and his family members.

1 comment:

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I'm not surprised that you didn't find more on the trial. Even way back when sensationalism sold papers and if the confession or trial weren't then they didn't make good copy to get picked up by distant papers.

I found the first two articles at Fulton History, one in a Palmyra paper and the other in a NYC paper but I didn't find the article about Van Orden. I got bogged down with hits for the Wm Seaver of Batavia, you may have better luck.