October 21st, 2015:

SEAGO FAMILY HISTORY–A SHOOTOUT

The Motley family, circa 1910

The Motley family, circa 1910

History has always intrigued me, and when it relates to family, it’s even more interesting. Henry Louis Gates has hosted PBS shows regarding our genealogy or “roots,” and the show is back again in January. “Who Do You Think You Are” is also a recent series. Some years ago my cousin Nancy sent me a list of my maternal grandmother, Bertha Jake Seago Motley’s family and the reasons for their demise for a few of them. Her sister Mary, for instance, had cancer of the heart (which I’ve never heard of). 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.

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) 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! Mama Jake had a brother who was a Deputy Sheriff who was killed in a shootout, for instance!

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,” from 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. When I watched the recent PBS series on Prohibition, I had no idea my Great Uncle worked for law enforcement during that violent era.

John Marion Seago, soldier in the Spanish-American War. Courtesy David L. Fleshood.

John Marion Seago, soldier in the Spanish-American War. Courtesy David L. Fleshood.

Sheriff John Seago was a brave officer of the law in Brunswick County, Virginia, who had 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 the tiny town of 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 John Seago was hit in the stomach. When a local drug store could do nothing for the serious wound, the officers drove the 78 miles to a hospital in Richmond. 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, 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.

 

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