The Hanging in the Barn
Captain Nathan Seeley (1890)
Welcome back, Monroe history lovers. This week’s historic spotlight is on Captain Nathan Seeley of Stepney - more specifically on the details behind his mysterious death. This post was requested by one of our readers who thought this history would be perfect for Halloween. While that may be true to some extent, there’s a greater story here I hope to convey; a story that proves once again that our past is always present. So, let’s get into it then.
On the morning of Sunday, October 26, 1890, Captain Nathan W. Seeley, a widower, 83 years in age, was found strangled to death on the floor of a barn behind his home at 231 Pepper Street, a rope noose surrounding his neck. Was it suicide or murder? The farmhouse--near the intersection where a T is formed by Cutlers Farm Road--stands today as a nine-room, 2,064-square-foot private residence.
When the captain’s daughter, Mary, discovered her father’s lifeless body, there was an apparent cut below his left eye, consistent with a fall—as if perhaps the rope came loose from the beam above where it had been tied. Seeley, whose wife Julia had passed four years earlier, was conspicuously despondent of late, according to a neighbor who knew him well. But any assumption that Seeley had taken his own life was immediately dispelled by his daughter and an investigator from Bridgeport identified as Detective Cronin.
At the time of his death, Captain Seeley was broadly considered to be one of the wealthiest men in Stepney. Surely, his death was at the hands of another who was intent on stealing his riches. Suspicion immediately fell on an immigrant laborer from Germany, George Halm, a farmhand hired and housed by Seeley’s neighbor to the north, Walter Beardsley. A rope wrapped around a trunk in Halm’s room was observed to be missing. It was of the same type of four-strand braided rope as the length found wrapped around Seeley’s windpipe. Halm had been seen with a looped rope of similar description, breaking in two colts he intended to buy from another neighbor, Burr Hawley.
In the course of his investigation, Detective Cronin learned Hawley was asking $250 for the pair of colts. Halm didn’t have the money and Beardsley declined to give Halm an advance on his salary. Mr. Beardsley told the detective he loaned $1 to Halm, and it was later established that Halm “spent part of it in a saloon on Long Hill” the day before Seeley perished. The daughter, Mary, meanwhile recounted that she heard “angry voices” coming from the barn before she found her father’s body. One of them sounded like it was Halm’s. Another witness recalled seeing a man of Halm’s description—six feet tall and 200 pounds—not far from the barn, “coming from the woods and walking hurriedly.”
A posse was immediately formed to search the area, but George Halm was never apprehended or seen again. Was he running from his crime, or instead from the very real fear that the residents and authorities were intent on pinning the captain’s murder on him? As you will see from the attached newspaper article, Coroner Dotes in Bridgeport ultimately concluded that Captain Seeley had indeed committed suicide and his recent behavior was described as if he was insane. Although proven false, the lore of Captain Seeley being murdered by vagrant foreign tramps is still told today, how they hopped off the train at Pepper Crossing, murdered and robbed the captain and hurriedly took the train out of town.
While aspects of this history are somewhat spooky, and the scene is set very near to Halloween, there’s a larger consideration here beyond its coincidence to the holiday. It’s a story of pride, shame, and denial, that a highly respected man who had amassed such wealth in his prime could have possibly been depressed or otherwise mentally compromised enough to take his own life. It’s also a story of xenophobia, fear, and intolerance towards immigrants. Many of these attitudes from the past are still very much present today. There’s a great deal to consider in this history and even more to learn from it. That lesson aside, we can surely agree that it was a sad final chapter for Captain Nathan Seeley.
I hope you appreciated this week’s historic spotlight on Captain Nathan Seeley and his unfortunate demise. The poor man was clearly in a desperate state. Please share this thought-provoking Monroe history with your family and friends and thank you all for your continued interest and support. Until next week, Happy Halloween everyone.
Historian, Monroe Historical Society
Our Past is Always Present