During the holidays, I tend to reminisce about my extended family, especially on my mother’s side. She came from a large family of primarily sisters, and I was blessed that I was born soon enough to have known all of them fairly well. The siblings are all gone now as well as an older cousin.
My grandmother, whom we called Mama Jake, was born in Anson County, North Carolina, as Bertha Jackson Seago in 1882. She came from a family of 7 girls and 4 boys, and after she married my grandfather, Edwin P. Motley (in typical Southern fashion, we called him Daddy Ed), also from Anson County, in 1903, she gave birth to 8 children, most of them born in Danville, Virginia (my hometown as well). There are still a lot of cousins around, and I recently discovered, thanks to my blog, there were cousins on the Seago side of the family I had never heard of!
History has always intrigued me, and when it relates to family, it’s even more interesting. Some years ago my cousin Nancy sent me a list of Mama Jake’s family and the reasons for death for a few of them. For instance, sister Mary had cancer of the heart (very rare–the heart develops tumors!), brother Henry died from poisoned liquor, brother Albert had an accidental fall, and brother John died from being shot. John’s death is quite a story and it appeared in the Danville, Virginia newspaper.
Eric Seago Flashood, a cousin, sent me a link to an ancestor site that told the story of the shooting of Deputy Sheriff John Seago, my grandmother’s brother and Eric’s great-grandfather. There are plenty of sayings about alcohol: “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker” in a poem by Ogden Nash is my favorite. It’s been called Demon Rum and to the point: “Liquor kills.” Alcohol was responsible for the death of two of the Seagos, probably both as a result of Prohibition. I had no idea my Great Uncle had worked for law enforcement during that violent era.
Sheriff John Seago was a brave officer of the law in Brunswick County, Virginia, who had already saved a man from a lynching in 1921. In June, 1924, he and two other officers raided a moonshine operation located at a private home near Brodnax, Virginia. As the police officers went into the home to arrest the bootlegger, they heard a car drive up. Sheriff Seago went out on the porch to warn the men in the car not to interfere, but they ignored the warning, drove around to the back of the house and came in the back door. The lights were doused and gunfire erupted in a shootout. My Great Uncle Seago was hit in the stomach. When a local drug store could do nothing for the serious wound, the officers drove all the way to a hospital in Richmond (probably a couple of hours away on rough roads). Despite an operation, Sheriff Seago had lost too much blood and died shortly after, leaving behind a wife and three children.
My grandmother went to her brother’s funeral in Lawrenceville, which is a little east of Danville. When she returned, the local paper, The Danville Bee, which still publishes, interviewed her for a story on her brother’s death. In the story, as was protocol in those days, women were called by their married name, so she was referred to as Mrs. E.P. Motley. According to the article, the men in the car, who had taken part in the shootout, were arrested, but the bootlegger was still at large.
I wish I had been more inquisitive when I was younger and my grandmother was still alive. It’s ironic that so many of us think of the questions we want to ask after our relatives have passed away. I’m sure there are several of my relatives that didn’t even know Mama Jake came from such a large family! Thanks to the Internet, we can fill in some of the blanks.