Monday, June 16, 2014

The 1858 Murder Trial of Mortimer Seaver - Post 5: Testimony of the Victim's Wife

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 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 23 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 2, columns 3-4, 23 January 1858, Wolverine Citizen [Flint, Mich.] newspaper]

Thursday, January 21st 

Witness resides in Grand Blanc; is fifty-seven years old.  Aaron Seaver was witness' husband.  Mortimer Seaver, the prisoner at the bar, is her son; he was nineteen years old last June.  Witness was at home the day her husband died; Mary Munger was at her house that day.  Mortimer went to the state of New York about the middle of last August; he was gone two weeks; he went to the town of Avon in Livingston County.

His parents had not been notified before he went; he went off suddenly and unexpectedly.  Witness did not know till after his return, the cause for his going; he told her after his return;  he told her that Mr. Nelson Maine had said in the presence of several of his acquaintances that he [Mortimer] was married; he said it made him mad to hear Maine talk so, and he would go away for a little while; he thought if he would be absent a short time and visit his sister, that the talk would be over by that time, and he would hear no more of it.  Deceased went after Mortimer to the town of Avon -- started the next day; he said before he started, he thought he should find Mortimer at their daughter's.  Mortimer and his father met at the Railroad Depot, at West Avon.  Mr. Seaver arrived there first.  When they met, Mortimer told his father he had some money and wished him to take it.  Mr. Seaver took the money, and handed a portion back to Mortimer.  This money belonged to his father; witness does not know the amount.  

The person Mortimer was reported to be married to was Kate Steele; she lived at Nelson Maine's; witness has seen her; never saw her in company with Mortimer.  The amount of money taken by Mortimer was not far from sixty dollars.  Witness does not know of her husband having ever expressed any objection to his son's marriage, or keeping company with Kate Steele.  Never heard Mortimer express any hard feelings against his father.  Has heard him scold, not very hard, once in a while.  Recollects the evening before her husband was shot -- it was Thursday.  Mortimer went away after dinner; he took a gun with him; he came back to the house when the sun was nearly half an hour high; he came in, hung up his gun, and took the pail to go and milk.

When he got upon a chair to hang up the gun, witness told him he ought to clean out the gun before hanging it up, as Luther was very particular about his gun; he said it was

[page 2, column 4]

loaded then, and he couldn't; the gun was a rifle.  He hung up the gun over the door of the kitchen, which leads to the new part of the building.  The old part of the house stands east and west, fronting on the east and west road; there is no door in the old part, on the side next the road; there is a south door to the old part -- that is the only outside door - it opens from the old kitchen.

The old part contains, on the ground floor, the kitchen and a small room, and stairway, with a recess; the kitchen extends from the north to the south side of the house; the kitchen is at the east end; a door on the south part of the old, leads into the new building; the new is united on the south side.  The new kitchen is one room, extending from east to west; there are three outside doors to it - one to the east and two to the west.  Next south is the wood-room; it is enclosed on the outside of the building all round; there is a door-way leading from the kitchen into the wood room, and an outer door on the east; beyond the wood-house, adjoining south, is the shop.  Witness' husband   was a joiner by trade, but did not work much at it since his marriage.  The shop spoken of was for keeping his tools, &c.  The shop was not partitioned from the wood-house - only studs set in.

The body of Mr. Seaver was laid in the west room of the old part.  Sometime in the course of the afternoon, Luther stepped out into the wood-house and took up a gun; he turned round and acted as though he would lay it down; then, turning to Mortimer, he said "Here, Mortimer, take this gun and put it out of the way - it's loaded, isn't it?"  "Yes," said Mortimer, "it has been loaded several days."  Mortimer took the gun and hung it up in the place that was designed for it; he hung it over head in the old kitchen.  That was Mortimer's gun.  Witness did not see him bring in any other gun; did not see any of the rest of the family bring in any gun.

Cross-examined -- Witness lived fourteen years in Grand Blanc; has five children living; two of them live at home - her oldest and youngest sons, Luther and Mortimer; neither of them are married; the homestead is eight acres; her husband owed also a quarter section in Tuscola County, which he got in 1853 or 1854; he got it on Bounty Land, for his own services, and entered it himself; does not know what value he placed on it; heard him say he would not take $500 for that quarter section; he had no personal property except what was on the homestead.

Mortimer had always access to the money of his father, to take what he pleased.  so long as the children lived at home, they all had free access to the money.  Mortimer was always a very puny child till he come to be 8 or 9 years old.  He was more indulged than any of the children.  There was an uncommon attachment between him and his father.  Never knew of any difficulty between him and his father.  When they met at Avon, Mortimer voluntarily handed his father the money, without being asked for it.  Mortimer is peculiarly sensitive about being joked on love matters.  Witness told him he did very wrong in going away in the manner he did.  Have heard his father say the same.  Also that he did not have to go after him for the sake of the money.  Have heard his father say he meant to deed him the homestead.

The afternoon before the death of Mr. Seaver, witness and her husband knew that Mortimer was going to Grand Blanc for ammunition.  He took Luther's gun.  There were two rifles, two shot guns, and a pistol about the house.  Mortimer got back from Grand Blanc when sun was about a half an hour high.  He hung up the rifle when he came in, and said it was loaded.  Mortimer's gun stood at this time in the wood-house; it was afterwards hung up beside Luther's.  Witness heard a number of shots in the forenoon of Tuesday, in the direction where her husband was at work.  Noticed one much louder than the rest, and remarked to Mary, "Wasn't that a very heavy gun?"  While making that remark, my eyes rested on Luther's gun which hung in its place over the door, and I remarked also that none of our guns would make such a noise as that.  Mortimer came up in about two minutes after that; he walked at his usual pace, and came into the kitchen.  I said to him, "Mortimer, you ain't come after your dinner at this hour?"  He said, No, he came for a drink, and to get a nail for his scythe.  He took a drink in the kitchen, and went to the shop to get a nail; he then returned and went and drew a pail of water at the well, and drank again; he remarked when when taking the first drink, that he was very thirsty.  Her husband had said in the morning that he would like to have a dish she was preparing for dinner, to eat while it was hot; she therefore told Mortimer she wished him to go and tell his father to come up early for dinner.  They were in the habit of taking out with them to work, a jug of water, and bringing it home at noon.  Mortimer came back to the house in about 15 to 20 minutes.  Witness first heard a noise that sounded like the crying of a person in distress; she put her head out the window and saw Mortimer coming up - he was on the run.  When he reached house he cried "Mother, father is dead! father is dead!"  I asked him what happened to him; he said he did not know, unless he was shot.  The little girl said it must be that he was shot, as they heard so many guns that morning.

Witness and Mortimer went down to where the body was.  Found it lying on the back, with the head a little east of south.  Mortimer was crying and seemed to feel very bad.  Her husband's scythe lay on his left side, on the ground; witness took it up and hung it on the fence.  At this time Mortimer stood leaning against the fence, crying; her son, Charles, came very soon after -- thinks he came alone; he knelt down beside the body and asked was he dead.  Mr. Phillips and young Mr. Porter came soon after.  Mortimer had no gun with him when he came to the house crying; witness thinks Luther's gun hung in its place at that time.  The next time Luther's gun was taken down, was by Charles on Saturday morning; it was taken down to kill a sheep; it was then understood to be loaded.  Mortimer's gun stood at this time in the wood-house; witness had frequent occasion to go out there on the morning of Mr. Seaver's death; went out that forenoon before Mortimer came up; observed his gun there then; that was the same gun taken by Mortimer and hung up in the old kitchen.   Heard several shots fired near the house; heard two guns a little east of south, in quick succession, an hour before hearing the very loud report; the loud report appeared to come from a little further west than the others.  The shot guns belonging to the house were kept in the recess.  When they brought up the body, Mr. Slack was the wagon, and Mr. Phillips held the reins.


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

After testimony from the witnesses who dealt with the body and served on the coroner's inquest jury, we hear the testimony of the widow, Sarah Seaver.  It seems very factual and unemotional - I'm sure she replayed that tragic day over and over in her mind.  We also learned more about the rooms in the house, and the number of guns and when they were kept.  She described Mortimer's trip to New York, and the reason for it, and Aaron Seaver going immediately to return him to the family.  

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!!  There is more to Sarah Seaver's testimony.  And then testimony of other witnesses, and some witnesses are recalled.

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Copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver

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