INQUEST CONCERNING GEORGE STELLY WHO WAS FOUND HANGING FROM A TREE*
*This document written in French, was obtained from the Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans.
Submitted by Mrs. Roy H. Harper of Slidell, La. Translated by Michael J. Foret
At Opelousas, the twenty-fourth day of August of the year seventeen hundred ninety seven, we Don Martin Duralde, Captain of the militia and civil and military commandant of this post, on the verbal statement of Sieur Stelly and the written deposition of Sieur Robert Burleigh, syndic, that the above named George Stelly was found hanging from a tree and interred without the required preliminary inspection by the officers of justice, we went to Grand Coteau, where the incident took place. In our presence and that of the witnesses, Sieur Charles Smith and Andre Meche, and after taking solemn oath before God, our lord, to tell the truth, and the Sign of the Cross we interrogated as follows:
First witness, Sieur Jacob Miller.
Question: Are you the grandfather of George Stelly?
Sieur Miller: I am.
Question: Did your grandson live at your house?
Sieur Miller: Yes, he lived with me for the past three months.
Question: Is it true that he was found hanged?
Sieur Miller: Yes, he was found hanging from a small tree.
Question. Did he have parents?
Sieur Miller: His father is dead, but his mother, still living, has remarried Sieur Joseph Frozard.
Question: Why did your grandson live with you and not with his parents?
Sieur Miller: He lived with me because he could not get along with his stepfather.
Question: Do you know the subject of their discord?
Sieur Miller: Someone told me that the discord came about because the boy wasn't dutiful, but, as for me, I have never found the child so; on the contrary, I found him submissive and respectful at all times.
Question: Do you know how this accident could have come about?
Sieur Miller: I do not know what reason could be behind this unfortunate occurrence.
Question: Did the boy have any enemy, secret or public?
Sieur Miller: I know of no such enemy.
Question: Did he have any differences with anybody prior to his death.
Sieur Miller: I am ignorant of any such differences.
Question: '"Who found the boy hanging?
Sieur Miller: The first to find the boy in this state was Jean Tyson.
Question: Why did no one call the authorities. Did not anyone know that in such cases one should not inter before this formality?
Sieur Miller: I do not know of any formalities involved in such cases. If I have committed any error, it was not because of any intent of mine or of anyone else's. I cried and cried as if I were the boy's father. Since be had been missing since the night before, and his body was already stiff, everyone agreed the best thing to do was to bury him but not before the body was viewed by the syndic of the neighborhood, Sieur Burleigh, and several other.
Question: Did you notice any contusions or marks of struggle?
Sieur Miller: I did not inspect the body because I was too overtaken by sorrow. I heard other who had inspected the body, but no one said he saw any bruise or sign to induce such suspicion.
Question: Did you suspect that anyone else hanged the boy?
Sieur Miller: I accuse nobody.
Question: How is it possible that a boy of his age could have hanged himself?
Sieur Miller: I know nothing except that the boy was found hanging from a small tree with his shirt tied by its tails around his neck.
Question: How is it possible that he had no contusions when a rumor has it that there was one at his waist and another on his eye?
Sieur Miller: I have not heard of there being anything else. All I know is that the boy was hanging by a small rope, his feet touching the ground, his knife near him.
Question: How old was George Stelly?
Sieur Miller: He was fifteen years old.
Question: Is it true that relatives of the young man had family meeting to discuss what could happen to him and for what reason?
Sieur Miller: As a matter of fact, relatives had met to determine to whose home he should go since Sieur Frozard had said he would not serve as the boy's guardian. He had alleged that, far from being helpful, the boy mistreated and spoiled his brothers. After that, the boy expressed a desire to come to live with me. I swear by the oath I have taken that everything I have said is the pure truth. I am about fifty-nine years old, roman Catholic and Apostolic, and native of Germany. I have read my foregoing statement, and I declare that I have nothing to add or to withdraw from them.
[Signed] Jacob Miller
Witnesses: Charles Smith, Andre Meche, Martin Duralde, Commandant
The same day, month, and year as the above and before us, commandant and witnesses, appeared Sr. Jean Tyson, who, after the solemn oath he took by the Sign of the Cross and God our Lord, to tell the truth, was questioned as follows:
Question: Is it true that you found young George Stelly hanging from a tree?
Sieur Tyson: It is true.
Question: How did this come about?
Sieur Tyson: The boy had disappeared since the night before. His grandfather, Jacob Miller, sent his son to ask me to join in the search for the boy. I found him hanging from the main branch of the tree, his feet touching the ground, his knees bent, his shirt off and tied around his neck by its tails and caught between his chest and the rope which served to strangle him.
Question: What did you do after finding the boy?
Sieur Tyson: I did not touch him but immediately called those searching with me.
Question: Why didn't you go to the authorities or advise notifying the authorities to inspect the body?
Sieur Tyson: None of us had ever been placed in such a position before. We had no knowledge of the obligation to notify the authorities, but we did call in all other neighbors and Sieur Robert Burleigh, the neighborhood syndic. As for the boy, we buried him at the place he was found.
Question: did you or any others present notice any contusions on the body?
Sieur Tyson: The only sign I observed was a red eye. Also, it looked as if the blood had been cut off from his feet or legs and from his hands and his arms.
Question: Do you think the boy hanged himself?
Sieur Tyson: I think the boy hanged himself.
Question: Do you know of any enemy the boy had or of any difficulty he had with anyone?
Sieur Tyson: I do not know of any enemy the boy had nor of any difficulty other than that he could not get along with his stepfather, Joseph Frozard. Because of the difficulty the boy had lived with his grandfather, Jacob Miller, for the past three months.
Question: Why could the boy not get along with his stepfather?
Sieur Tyson: The boy could not get along with his stepfather because he had a difficult character, given over sometime to fits. He mistreated his brothers and sometimes wrongly advised them to contradict his stepfather.
Question: Is it true that there had been a family meeting to discuss this discord and to decide on the boy's destination?
Sieur Tyson: Yes. The relatives, who were numerous, met at the request of Sieur Frozard to discuss the subject of his malcontent, of which he [the boy] had contributed his part. If the relatives found it acceptable, the boy would go to stay with his grandfather.
Question: Do you know if the boy's stepfather or anyone else had threatened him?
Sieur Tyson: I do not know whether the boy had been threatened by his stepfather or by anyone else.
Question: How old was George Stelly?
Sieur Tyson: He was about fifteen years old.
Question: How do you think it possible a boy of this age could be driven to such an extremity?
Sieur Tyson: I find it surprising myself, but I know nothing more that could be of any help.
Question: How can you say that you did not know of any obligation to notify authorities when, in truth, you had been warned of such obligation.
Sieur Tyson: It is true that Sieur Andre Meche warned that before touching the corpse authorities should be notified, but other persons said otherwise, since many years before an accident of another nature had taken place and no inquest had been made. Furthermore, the body had begun to smell bad. We thought the best thing to do was to bury him without any formality.
Question: Can you say that the body did not bear any bruises when rumors say that there was one around the waist.
Sieur Tyson: I know absolutely nothing about any marks other than those of which I have spoken.
Question: Who were the other witnesses to this affair?
Sieur Tyson: Others present that I remember were Andre Meche, Jean Savoie, Robert Burleigh, Periche Richard, Jean Tailor (Taylor), and Paul Boutin, fils. I am about forty-five years old, Roman Catholic and Apostolic, and a native of Germany. Everything I have said is the pure truth, according to the solemn oath I have spoken, and I have nothing to add or withdrawn from my statements.
(Signed) John Tyson
Witnesses: Charles Smith, Andre Meche, Martin Duralde, Commandant
At Opelousas, the twenty-fourth day of October of the same year and for the same reasons as stated above appeared before us, the commandant and witnesses Sieur Jean Gradenigo and Sieur Augustin Grandenigo, Sr. - Sieur Jean Savoie, who after the solemn oath he took in the form required and conforming to the law to tell the truth to the question put forth to him, responded as follows:
Question: Did you see the body of the deceased George Stelly?
Sieur Savoie: Yes, I saw the body hanging from the branch of a small tree. His shirt was removed from his body and tied around his neck by its tails, the sleeves hanging, the body, and the shirt hanging from the tree by a cord in such a way that one end was tied to the branch by a simple knot, the other end tied in such a way that his head and neck carried all the weight of the body where the shirt was tied around the neck. His feet were touching the ground, his hips and knees were a little askew, his arms were hanging, and a large, open couteau anglais was on the ground at his side.
Question: Do you know why or for what reason this affair came about?
Sieur Savoie: I do not know why this affair came about. I do not know of any quarrel, fight, or any other matter which could have brought about this unhappiness.
Question: What kind of character did the young man have?
Sieur Savoie: I did not know of anything particularly, but I heard there had been a quarrel or something. I do not know of any enemy this boy had in the entire world.
Question: Did you see any evidence of blows having been struck?
Sieur Savoie: I could not distinguish any mark or blow that brought any attention to itself.
Question: Do you know of any enemies the boy may have had - either secret or public, among his relatives or among strangers.
Sieur Savoie: I do not know any enemy this boy had in the entire world.
Question: Did you see the interrment?
Sieur Savoie: I was present when the body was cut down and interred.
Question: Did you not know that in these cases one should not touch the body without first calling the authorities?
Sieur Savoie: Some gave the opinion that the body should not be touched before notifying the authorities. Others stated that the body would spoil before the authorities could be alerted. No agreement was reached, but the other's opinion prevailed, with no intent to contravene the law which exists in regard to such cases.
Question: How do you think it possible that a young man of this age could be driven to this point of killing himself?
Sieur Savoie: It is unheard of that a child of this age should kill himself, but he was found hanging.
Question: Can you say there was no sign of a blow when several people had observed a red eye and a bruise on his waist?
Sieur Savoie: I do not know anyone who saw the body better than I did; yet, I did not see any mark which would induce suspicion that he was killed by anyone but himself. It is true that there was some blood in his eye and left ear, but I believed that to be the result of the hanging that strangled him. Everything I have said is the pure truth, attested and affirmed by the solemn oath. I have nothing to add or retract. I am about fifty years old, Roman Catholic and Apostolic, and a native of Acadia.
(Signed) Mark of Sieur Jean Savoie
Witnesses: Jean Gradenigo, Augustin Gradenigo, Martin Duralde, Commandant
Sent to Monsieur Don Manuel Gayoso y de Lemos, governor-general of the province by copies conforming to the original document deposited with the clerk of the commandant at Opelousas the eighteenth of October, seventeen ninety-seven.
(Signed) Martin Duralde
THE FAMILY OF GEORGE STEELY
George Stelly, the pathetic youth whose violent death, whether by his own hands or by the hands of another, was the son of Jean George Stelly and Marie Barbara Miller. (1) George's father, the son of Jean George Stelly (Echetaire, Eschstelly, originally Steiger) and Christine Edelmeyer, (2) was born and reared in St. John the Baptist Parish. The elder Stelly sold his farm in St. John on Dec. 12, 1772, and moved with his younger children to Prairie Grand Coteau in the Opelousas area sometime later. (3) Here his son, Jean George, met and married Marie Barbara Miller. (4) She was the daughter of Jacob Miller and Marie Ann Tegen (Theison, Thequint, Theiper, Degin), natives of Germany. (5) Besides George, their oldest child, Jean George and Marie Barbara had six children, the youngest only an infant when her father died July 23, 1794. (6) A little more than a year later, Marie Barbara Married Joseph Frozard of Reine, France. (7) Their first child, Jean Baptist, was born in September 1796. George Stelly, the subject of this inquiry, then, had four brothers, two sisters, and one half brother (8) when he apparently disagreed with his step-father and decided to live with his grandfather.
In the years that followed, the Stelly family in the Opelousas area grew and branched out in all directions while the Frozard name seems to have all but died out. (9)
1. Records of the Opelousas church (Vol. I. P. 40) indicate that George Stelly was baptised Aug. 15, 1782, at the age of three weeks.
2. Jean George Eschstelly and Christine Edelmeyer were married July 9, 1743. He was the son of Jean Echstelly of Holbershausen, Germany and Marguerite Grainerin. Glenn R. Conrad, Saint-Jean-Baptiste des Allemands (Lafayette, La. 1972), p. 312.
An entry in the Opelousas church records shows a George Stelly died in 1792. Since another entry shows another George Stelly, the son of Jean-George and Christine, dying in 1794, the first could have been the father. Donald J. Hebert, Southwest Louisiana Records (Privately printed, 1976), Vol. I.
3. Conrad, Saint-Jean-Baptiste, p. 21.
He received a land grant along Bayou Borbeux, October 7, 1774. Francois Stelly, Jean-George's oldest son, sold his property on the Mississippi River, August 18, 1777. Since this is his last entry in the St. John records, he probably joined his father, receiving a land grant on Bayou Borbeux a year later. A sister, Catherine, married Michael Cormier, an Acadian who received a land grant in the same area in 1771. For location of the Stelly and Cormier grants, see Gertrude C. Taylor, Land Grants Along the Teche, Part I (Lafayette, La., 1980).
4. Jean George Stelly married Marie Barbara Miller, October 2, 1781. She was born in Frederick County, Maryland. Hebert, Southwest Louisiana Records, Vol. I. Her family could have been one of the group of German families who came to Louisiana from Maryland in 1774.
5. Jacob Miller was the son of Nicholas and Rosalie Miller of Germany. He settled on the Prairie des Femmes, in the area where Bayou Borbeux joins Bayou Fusilier. Miller died December 20, 1807, at the age of seventy. Ibid.
[Murphy Miller comment. Nicholas and Rosalie are the parents of Joseph Frozard not of Jacob. This footnote was translated incorrectly from the original French documnet version to the English version]
6. The children born after George were Jean Michel, 1774; Jean Pierre, 1785; Jean Jacques; Marie Louise, 1789; Alexis, 1793; and Marie Anne, 1794. Ibid.
7. Joseph Frozard and Marie Barbara Stelly married October 6, 1795. Ibid. His property was located south of the land grant to Michael Cormier.
8. Hebert's Southwest Louisiana Records lists four children born to Joseph Frozard and his wife: Jean Baptiste, 1796; Virgil, 1798; Marie Barbe, 1800; and Marie Rose, 1803. There is no entry for Frozard's death. His wife died in 1824 at the age of 64. Ibid.
9. This conclusion is drawn from investigation into Southwest Louisiana Records, from telephone directories, and from inquiries to persons living in the area.