Friday, April 1, 2011

William Seaver's Murder in 1821 - the 1866 Confession: Part 2

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. 

William Seaver's Murder in 1821 - the 1866 Confession, posted on 30 March, provided the first part of the 1866 Confession of John Trust from the Alexandria Gazette newspaper.  We got up to the point where John Trust confessed to the murder and was describing his seeming escape to a friend's home about 20 miles away, seeing the news that the murdered man was named "Seaver" and not "Wroe," and ending with a call to go to Alexandria for bad news.  What was the bad news?  John thought the authorities wanted him for the murder.  Did they? 

We finish the story about the murder with these excerpts from Chapter 10, the last chapter, of "A Wonderful Narrative of Old Alexandria, or the Confession of John Trust," published on 2 August 1866 in the Alexandria Gazette newspaper (found online on GenealogyBank -

"I soon learned that my sister had died a short time after I left her, and that the letter, and exclamation of Mrs. H., had referred to the news of her death, and not to my guilt.

"But my great stay was Lorentz [apparently a family servant].  Never once did I miss him from the side of my couch when I needed his services, and under his untiring care I rapidly improved.  I regained my health so far as to resume my apparel.  The first time I dressed I remembered the locket..."

"My knees trembled, and without waiting to finish my toilette, I searched my pockets.  It was gone!  While I was searching, Lorentz came to assist me.  At a glance he knew I missed something.

"'Oh,' said he, 'the locket fell from your clothes as we were disrobing you, and I put it in your dressing case' and then, continuing, for I was too embarrassed to answer, 'I did not know you had that locket; it is an old acquaintance of mine, I assure you.'

"'My poor brother painted it as a birthday present for your father.  They were the only miniatures he ever made, and he painted them especially to suit this old locket, that one of the schoolboys found and gave to your father.'

"The time occupied in this statement gave me a chance to collect my thoughts.  I intended to allow his mistake to pass by, and change the subject, but he was too full of it, and continued to talk, until I told him he was mistaken. 'Oh no,' he answered, taking up the locket, 'Look here;' he pressed it as though trying to touch a hidden spring -- 'It must have rusted, but it is here,' continued he, as I took up the ornament which he laid upon the table, in order to open his pocket knife.  'What is there,' said I, doubly interested.  'Your dear mother's miniature too: the thing has two faces, one of which opens by a spring that has been clogged up.  It is strange you did not know it.' 

"'No one ever told me before,' said I, most truly.  The knife did the work in the twinkling of an eye, and another lid sprung open.  I looked with eager interest, and saw, if ever portrait was true, Blanche Fordenhame [his sister].  The other picture, too, seemed to me more like Wroe than ever.  I was disappointed.  Lorentz must have been mistaken.  This was certainly Wroe and his wife; the similarity of the case had doubtless led the old man into the belief that the faces were identical.  These conclusions made themselves mentally whilst I gazed at the picture.  I thought it prudent, however, to dissemble my knowledge, and let the intelligence just given explain my emotion, which I was sensible the old man plainly perceived.  So I pressed my lips to the locket and returned it to the case.

"But a new surprise awaited me.  A few messages had been left for me during my illness, mostly notes of courtesy or business; when I entered my cabinet, they were for the first time put in my hands.  One of them at once riveted my attention; the handwriting was as familiar as my own - it was Wroe's:  I eagerly broke the seal.  It was dated the day after the murder, and read thus:


"'This note will be the punishment of your crime, for it will tell you that you have lost the chance of winning, with your brother, the proudest triumphs man has ever achieved.  When I toss away crowns as baubles, you may sorrow to feel that in despairing of a success you did not earn, you sought to steal from me, by murder, a glorious future; which I valued most, because I could share it with you.  In my despairing travels, after my wife's death, I met, in England, people, and learned circumstances, which showed that you were my long lost brother.But for my unstrung nerves and wandering faculties, at our first meeting, beside the grave, I would have made myself known.  Deterred, then till a calmer time, I thought that I would postpone the revelation until, our art perfected, we should achieve our triumph, and then clasp you to my heart as my brother.  You know, with what unwearied zeal, I sought to guard you from everything which might interfere with our high pursuit.  You were unworthy, you were morose, suspicious: at last, jealous of my success, you laid in ambush to murder me.  My father watched over me, and his image, by dropping from my breast, and causing me to go back in a fruitless search, saved one son from becoming the assassin of another.

"'I saw the pedlar fall, and watched you hide your dreadful burden, but wretch as you are, I cannot consign to the gallows, my brother.

"'Go! ingrate wretch! Cain! The world is wide enough for us both, but remember when triumphs cluster around me that they would have been won for you -- MURDERER.'"

"Used as I had grown to startling and unlooked for events, the recitals of the page before me, were strange beyond all the marvels I had seen worked in my apprenticeship to that fatal art.  As I recalled under the impetus of the strange intelligence, all Wroe had told me of his early life, it seemed strange that a suspicion of the truth had not crossed my mind.  That the kind seaman and his wife, of whom he had spoken to me so often, were the same persons to whom my poor mother had intrusted her two eldest children on my father's death, was now beyond doubt.

"I could well understand, too, that he had dropped the locket on the road, that 'Seaver' coming along behind, had picked it up, and passing Wrote, as the latter turned back, held the locket in his hand when he was shot.  My first impulse was to seek my new found brother, confess my guilt, implore his pardon, and begin again at his side the pursuit which had proved my undoing.  But stronger than the fear of his hatred, which I even now I believe I could have overcome, my promise to my dead sister interposed, and I dashed the thought aside as a temptation from the evil one, and then my thoughts turned again upon the locket.  I opened it once more.

"Lorentz was then right -- that was my father, and I bedewed his picture with reverential tears; and this - my poor mother; again the striking resemblance to Blanche pressed itself upon me with a deadening conviction that no one but my mother's daughter could be so like her, and that she too was my sister."

It continues from there - John Trust goes to Baltimore with his servant, Lorentz, and the embark for the West Indies, then to Mexico where he found religion, wrote the letter and sent it via a Spanish envoy to Washington, and perhaps lived out his life as a hermit near Alexandria and dying in 1857.  Was John Trust his real name?  Was Wroe the real name of his intended victim? There is no telling.

There is so much detail in his description of the murder and his actions following, and the explanation of how he came to obtain the locket seems to hang together.  As mentioned before, the murder happened in 1821 and it is not known when the manuscript was written by John Trust, and it was published 45 years later. 

These historical newspaper article archives are wonderful, aren't they?  GenealogyBank has done an excellent job of continually imaging and digitizing over 5,000 titles; however, not every title has the full run of the specific newspaper.  The indexing done by optical character recognition seems better on GenealogyBank than most other commercial historical newspaper providers.  The indexes permit genealogists and historians to uncover articles like these that may shed significant light on the lives of our ancestors.  We could not do this work well without the images and indexes!  We all need to remember that not every historical newspaper ever published has not been imaged yet - far from it!

If you had been a reader in 1866 of the Alexandria Gazette newspaper, would this set of ten chapters have intrigued you?  Whoever wrote it was a gifted writer of the times.  Reading it aloud really helps a person understand the vocabulary and speech traits of the time, doesn't it?  I was mesmerized by the whole ten chapters.  I can see news-hungry readers in 1866 waiting impatiently for the next installment of the saga.  It is a story about more than the murder of William Seaver, although I've tried to focus on that in my excerpts from the lengthy chapters. 

What of poor William Seaver, perhaps mistakenly murdered by John Trust?  Where did he come from?  Who were his family? What happened to them?  Are there any descendants? 

Or were the last three posts in this series just an April Fool's Day prank on my part?  Did anyone really go to GenealogyBank and check out these articles?

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