Friday, June 20, 2014

The 1858 Murder Trial of Mortimer Seaver - Post 9: Defense Testimony About Rifles and Balls

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 Murder 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 1858 Murder Trial of Mortimer Seaver - Post 8: Prosecution Rests, Defense Starts (19 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, column 5, 30 January 1858, Wolverine Citizen [Flint, Mich.] newspaper]


Witness never knew Luther to have any other gun than the one witness pointed out.

Cross-examined -- Thinks his father was mowing to the east; his scythe was on his left side, -- south west of the body; his hand and feet lay on some grass that had been mowed.  Not more than a rod squared remained to be cut; thinks it would have taken him about fifteen minutes to finish it.  Mortimer was mowing 25 or 30 rods off; there was more mowing to be done there than where father was.  Mortimer had mowed but very little; there was some lying in swath.  Witness did not assist in putting the body in the wagon; it was put in by Mr. Slack, Mr. Phillips and Mr. rice.  Mortimer did not touch the body.  Mr. Slack and Mortimer had some conversation; Mr. Slack was making enquiries of Mortimer.  Mr. slack got in the wagon to assist in lifting in the body.  Witness says positively Mr. Slack rode all of the way.  Mr. Rice did not ride; Mr. Phillips did.  Last Monday evening was the time they went to examine the stump.  Mr. Slack was sent for on the morning of his father's death; they were on friendly terms.  Knows Miss Wealthy Waterous; she was at the house when he took down the rifle to shoot the sheep; did not make any remark about finding the gun not loaded, and having to load it to shoot the sheep.  Witness is married, and lived from home two years last October; went in frequently since, to get money from his father's drawer, with or without leave; the family had that privilege; took money more than once when no one was there; always told of it; on one occasion took five dollars.  Witness had heard of love affair spoken of; but heard more of it since he came into Court than he ever did before.  Is seven or eight years older than Mortimer.


Witness lives in this city; has hunted considerable in his life; Witness examined the ball taken from the body; sees the creases or ridges in the ball; from examining it with dividers, has no doubt the ball was fired from a rifle with six cuts in the barrel.

Witness examined the rifles in Court; that ball could not have been shot out of either of them, if he measured the ball correctly, because one rifle has seven creases, the other eight, and ball has only six.  Thinks the bruised end of the ball was put in the gun first, as the mark of the ram-rod is upon the other end.  Never knew a ball to change ends in its course, when shot from a rifle, unless it met with an obstacle in its progress and glanced; thinks this ball struck something to divert its course; thinks it was driven home with a hard or metal ram-rod, as the print of such a rod upon the ball leaves it concave, and a wooden rammer leaves it flat; thinks some of the ram-rods in Court drove down this ball.  Witness should judge that the bullet taken from the body was not cast in any of the molds in Court, but could not speak with certainty because the ball is not perfect.  Thinks it a different shaped balls from what the molds would make.

Cross-examined -- Witness had made rifles -- made three.  The reason the ball keeps the position in which it is shot from a cut rifle is because of the spiral motion given it by the creases in the barrel.  None of the new balls is like the one taken from the body.


Witness has hunted considerable; has examined the ball taken from the body; concludes it came from a rifle with six cuts; it could have received those marks from one gun, and been afterwards fired from another that was larger; none of the ram-rods in Court would make the impression upon this ball;  a metallic rod would make such a mark; witness has got such a rod, made of brass; has examined the new bullets; could not swear positively, but witness' impression is that the ball taken from the body could not have been cast in the same mold as any of the new ones were cast in.

Cross-examined -- Witness knows the process of manufactured guns.  Striking an object obliquely, will cause a ball to glance, and be directed from its course; striking a bone might do so.


Witness had had the ball in his possession since within about a week after the death of Mr. Seaver; got it from Silas D. Halsey; it is apparently in the same condition; witness went to the house of Mr. Seaver to see if the ball suited the guns there; witness has lived 29 years here, and has hunted a good deal since he came in; he went to Seavers' and asked them to exhibit their guns; thinks they exhibited the same guns which are now in Court; found the ends of the ram-rods square, and thought the ball was not driven by any of them; found no reluctance on their part, to show the guns; is of opinion the bruised end of the ball was put downwards in the gun.

Witness acted as Coroner at the inquest; was called to summon a jury at Mr. Seaver's; the jury was summoned in the usual manner.  Mortimer was the first witness examined.

He swore that he and his father were mowing on the marsh -- his father at some distance from him; that he started to come to the house to get a drink of water, and when he got to the bars furthest from the house, he heard a report; that he got the water, and remained ten or fifteen minutes aqt the house; that he then went back to where his father was and found him dead; and returned as quick as he could and told his mother his father was dead; that he and his mother went together to where his father lay dead; that his mother then sent him to Mr. Rice's, to tell him and get him to come over; that he went there, and then to Mr. Slack's for him, and then came back.

The ball had not been extracted from the body when the prisoner gave this testimony; the examination of witnesses and the post mortem investigation were going on at the same time.  After all the witnesses had been examined, there seemed to be an impression that the boy had not given a full and explicit explanation; there seemed a mystery hanging over the transaction, in relation to his going to where his father was, instead of returning to his own part of the work; also in regard to his going for the jug just after being to the house to drink; he was therefore recalled, and questioned on those points.  He said that he went for the jug, to carry it to the part of the field where he was mowing himself.  He was questioned as to how he should know his father was shot, but thought so because of hearing the gun; he claimed that he had not said his father was shot.  Heard the prisoner speak of his father as "dead" previous to the cause of death having been positively ascertained by the post mortem examination; after that, he spoke of him as "shot."  Witness lives about three miles from Seaver's; knows the family about forty years; has been familiarly acquainted with them since they came to Michigan; knew Mortimer to be the favorite child, he was weakly and small of his age for a number of years, and his natural weakness seemed to require more than usual parental care.  

Some time last summer, Mr. Seaver told witness that when he got through his hurry in the fall, he would come up and spend time enough to make a will; he said he intended to leave his farm to Mortimer, as his other children were well provided for, that he had been helping them along, except his daughter, Mrs. Maine, and he intended to give her $100 to make her good with the rest, and then will the farm to Mortimer, reserving the right for himself and wife, to stay while they lived.  Witness thinks the farm last year was worth $35 an acre; does not know whether Mortimer knew of the intention of his father or not.  Mr. Seaver intended that witness should make out the papers. 

Witness has seen a great deal of attachment displayed by Mortimer for his father, knew of no difficulty between them; if such existed, thinks he would be likely to know; witness considered himself Mr. Seaver's confidant.  Thinks the boy, in common with all the family, was very sad on the occasion of his father's death; thinks the questions were put to the prisoner, on the inquest, so as to lead to the idea that he was suspected.  Witness has spoken to prisoner's brothers, prior to his arrest, of the suspicions that existed that he was the person who killed his father.  It was common talk in the town of Grand Blanc and vicinity that he had a hand in the death.  Told Charles Seaver, witness thinks on Monday after the death of his father, that Mortimer was suspected.

Cross-examined -- Witness' wife is cousin to Mrs. Seaver; witness made notes, but did not take down the whole of the testimony at the inquest; a great many questions were asked by jurors, just as they pleased, without witness interference.  There is a cavity in the ball which killed Mr. Seaver, that might operate to turn the ball in its course, so as to throw the heaviest side forward.  Mr. Seaver never made any request that witness should keep secret the intended disposition of his property.  Thinks Mr. Seaver was 65 or 66 years old.


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

The emphasis in this part of the defense testimony is the guns and the ball markings.  Two witnesses said that the ball that killed Aaron Seaver was not fired by the rifles at the Seaver house, and that the ball fired was not made by the molds made after the event.  

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


Michael F Harris said...

Expert witnesses sure have changed over the years.

PalmsRV said...

As a native of Flint, Michigan, I find this case very interesting. Also scanning for familiar names.