John Marion Seago was a constable (sometimes called a "deputy sherriff") in Brunswick County, Virginia, during prohibition, some of the most tumultuous times for law enforcement in United States history. In 1921 Sherriff Seago confronted an angry crowd of 2,000 people who were seeking mob justice for the murder of a Brunswick County store owner and post office clerk. Sherrif Seago tried to prevent what became the last lynching in the state of Virginia. According to newspaper accounts, he not only escaped with his own life but also saved the life of one of the suspects in the murder. A few years later in 1924, however, Sherriff Seago's life was cut short when he was killed in the line of duty during a still raid.
John M. Seago was born on December 19, 1879 in Sylersville, Anson County, North Carolina. He was the fifth of 11 children born to David Richardson Rand Seago (1846-1919) and Hannah Jane Neal (1853-). David and Hannah were married in Anson County on June 22, 1871. David Seago was a descendant of John Seago (1715-1784) and Margaret Birmingham (1719-1784) who were married in Queen Anne County, Maryland, in 1740. The Seagos had settled in Anson County by 1773.
Very little is known about John's service in the military. He is believed to have gone into the military due to the Spanish-American War, but military records indicate he enrolled after August 12, 1898 and did not see action in the Phillipine Insurrection or the Boxer Rebeliion. Military records from October 24, 1901, describe John as being 5 foot, 5 inches tall with light brown hair, blue eyes, and a light complexion.
On November 12, 1905, John married Dalla Sophronia Hartsell (1887-1982) in Stanly County, North Carolina. Dalla came from a family of Baptist preachers, including her father Pearson Gamaliel Hartsell; her brothers Wallace, Paul, and Pruitt; and her uncles Ephraim and James Wesley Hartsell. Dalla was the seventh of eleven children born to Gamaliel and his wife Margaret S. 'Maggie' Howell (1854-1920).
In 1910 John and Dalla were living in Statesville, North Carolina where John was a sewing machine salesman. Dalla was a seamstress. In February, 1914, John bought a small lot and presumably a house in Statesville from L. C. Lawrence and his wife Maggie.
In January, 1921, John and Dalla paid R. J. and Annie B. Gray $3,500 for 52 acres of land known as Sims Mill in the Powelton District, Fitzhugh, Brunswick County, VA. The land included buildings, dams, mill machinery and water rights and was owned by John's father David until he sold it to the Grays for $3,500 in November, 1918. It is not known why David Richardson Rand Seago purchased the land.
In July, 1921, the citizens of Brunswick and Dinwiddie counties were on edge following the brutal murder of Stephen G. White, postmaster and storekeeper in Dinwiddie County near the Brunswick County border. A similar murder occurred on August 2 when Tingley Elmore, postmaster and storekeeper at Tobacco, Virginia, was killed at his store. Several hours later, two men, Lem Johnson and Will Elmore, were captured in McKenney, Virginia, in connection with the murder of Tingley Elmore. Authorities held Johnson and Elmore and kept an angry mob at bay with guns drawn until Sherrif Seago arrived with Lawrenceville town Sargeant Sterling Browder and another assistant.
The three officers were taking the prisoners by car back to Lawrenceville when, according to newspaper accounts, a fleet of more than 100 cars overtook them. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that "Deputy Seago and his two men were helpless and never had a chance to save Johnson, who was seized and quickly swallowed in the crowd. The pleas of the officers that Elmore is innocent were heeded by the men, who seemed intent on getting only Johnson. Deputy Seago managed to get away in safety with Elmore and rushed him to Lawrenceville." [Read the full article here.] The prisoner was taken on to a Richmond jail out of fear for his safety. The Richmond News Leader credited Seago and his men with saving Elmore's life.
Meanwhile, the mob took Lem Johnson back to Tinley Elmore's store. He is said to have confessed to the murder before the mob strung him to a tree and lynched him. Johnson's lynching was the last in the state of Virginia.
Three years later on May 31, 1924, Sherrif Seago found himself in the midst of another harrowing event, but this time he would not fare so well. The Richmond Times-Dispatch recorded the events of that night:
"Three negro men are under arrest and posses are searching for a fourth man in connection with the fatal wounding of J. H. Seago, a constable of Brunswick County, during the raiding of a moonshine plant near Brodnax Saturday night. The men arrested are Sam and Andrew Harris and Odell Moore. John Harris, father of two of the prisoners, who is now being hunted, is believed by the police to have fired the shot which caused the death of the constable. The officers expect to arrest John Harris shortly.
"Constable Seago and Frank Poythress, of Brodnax, with Deputy Sherriff Thomas Crichton, of Lawrenceville, armed with a search warrant, raided the home of John Harris in search of liquor. As the officers approached the house they met a car bearing six negroes and a quantity of whisky. They arrested the men and proceeded to search the house. The negroes offered resistance and opened fire on the officers, Seago falling mortally wounded. Seago’s companions fought off the negroes, Poythress wounding one of the men as he helped the wounded officer into their automobile.
"Seago was rushed to St. Luke's Hospital in Richmond, and was operated on yesterday, but died at 4 o'clock this morning. The dead man was known as a fearless officer and had been a constable for the last eight years. He is survived by his wife and three children."
Sherrif Seago's sister, Bertha Seago Motley, told the Danville Bee that her brother went on the porch of the house when the car drove up. Seago warned them not to interfere. They pretended to heed the warning and then drove around to the back of the house. They doused the lights and ambushed Seago with a volley of shots. Seago said that Harris was the man who shot him. He was taken to a drug store in Broadnax and then on to Richmond. The Bee reported that Harris either expected Sherriff Seago to come to his house or saw him upon approach. Seago "was well known in his section and highly esteemed."
Dalla was left alone on the eve of the Great Depression to support and raise her three daughters, Ruby Ellen, age 15; Dewey Margaret, age 12; and Helen Jane, age 10. By 1930 Dalla had opened the Travelers Inn, a hotel located on New Hicks Street in Lawrenceville, Virginia, and adjacent to a right of way for the Southern Railway and the rail depot. Family members believe this hotel burned down at some point. Dalla established a second hotel, the Blue Goose, which was also in Lawrenceville and catered to railroad workers.
At some unknown point, Dalla established a residence at the southeast corner of Windsor Avenue and High Street in Lawrenceville, not far from where the Blue Goose stood. She used the second floor of the home as a boarding house for young women, a practice which she continued well into the 1970s.
By the time Dalla's great-grandchildren came around, she was known simply as "Seago." Everyone, including neighbors and family members, called her by that name.
Rubye Ellen Seago married Richard Everton Long on July 14, 1943. They lived in Richmond, Virginia and had one son and two grandsons. Dewey Margaret married William White Heilig. They lived in Portsmouth, Virginia and had three children and eight grandchildren. Helen Jane married Edward Lee Fleshood on September 28, 1935. They lived in Lawrenceville and had two sons and four grandchildren.
Seago lived on Windsor Avenue into her nineties. When she was no longer able to live alone, she moved to Portsmouth to be with her daughter Dewey. Seago died on April 19, 1982 at the age of 94. She and John are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Lawrenceville.
In November, 2011, John Marion Seago was recognized by The Officer Down Memorial Page with a dedicated webpage honoring his service in law enforcement and recounting how he died in the line of duty. On May 13, 2012, his name will be inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. in a formal ceremony.
by Eric Seago Fleshood
September 4, 2011
A protrait of John Marion Seago in military dress during his service in the Spanish-American War.
Dalla Sophronia Seago
John Marion Seago (right) with two unidentified men.
Dalla Seago with her daughters. (L to R): Dewey Margaret, Ruby Ellen, and Helen Jane.
Dalla S. Seago playing in her yard on Windsor Avenue in Lawrenceville.
Dalla Seago at home with her grandchildren about 1948.
The Descendants and family of John and Dalla Seago at the home of Dewey Seago Heilig in Portsmouth, Virginia, December, 1993.