The Confessions of John Trust
The Confession of John Trust
The Confession of John Trust was a narrative published in the Alexandria Gazette from July 12th to August 2nd, 1866. William F. Carne, famous Alexandria journalist and historian, claimed that he translated the story from Spanish after it was given to him in 1859 by a someone from the Spanish Legation, which was a diplomatic office similar to an embassy. The epic story has it all: adventure, romance, a long-lost twin, hypnotism, and murder. It combines the Tale of the Female Stranger, the real-life murder of William Seaver, and features actual Alexandria locations like the City Hotel (now Gadsby’s Tavern Museum), the Indian Queen Tavern (located at the corner of King and St. Asaph), Carlyle House, and the old City Hall Museum.
The narrative is in the form of the life story and confession of a man named John Trust, born as an orphan in England and adopted by a French philosopher/scientist who took him to Alexandria and around the world. At one of the stops of his Grand Tour, which was when young wealthy European men educated themselves through travel, Trust meets a Dr. John Wroe, an acclaimed mesmerist or hypnotist. Their paths would meet again on the island of Martinique, where they would both compete over the hand of a young woman named Blanche. His story says that she would end up becoming the Female Stranger of Alexandria after being hypnotized to elope with the doctor before dying in the City Hotel. John later returns to Alexandria after finding his long-lost twin sister and starts training in the “magnetic art” with Dr. Wroe in the City Hall Museum. But soon he begins to fear the danger of this power and ends up killing the doctor to protect himself and his sister. But in a shocking twist, not only did John mistakenly kill a merchant named William Seaver, but Dr. Wroe and his late wife Blanche were both John’s elder siblings whom he had never met! John escapes without ever being a suspect and later writes this confession from a monastery in Honduras.
The Story of the Female Stranger who died in the City Hotel on October 14th, 1816 is well known within the Alexandria but what about the unsolved murder of William Seaver? On July 9th, 1821, Seaver’s body was found in the bushes on the side of the road leading from Potomac Bridge to Alexandria. He had been shot in the head and his throat cut. To find the murderer, then President James Monroe and the mayors of Alexandria, Washington D.C. and Georgetown offered a combined reward of almost $700 (almost $20,000 today) for any information about the murder. News articles in the next coming years mention a man named Van Orden confessing to the murder from a penitentiary in Baltimore, but no charges were brought, and no trial was ever conducted in response. The author of the narrative was obviously very knowledgeable about Alexandria as the details in the story match up with the real-life murder.
The early part of the 19th century was quite a new age for the sciences, but ideas about the supernatural, occult, and/or religion would often be included in these discussions. People who were studying these sciences at that time were often called Philosophers. The downfall of the fictional John Trust was the art of animal magnetism, otherwise known as Mesmerism. Essentially this is early hypnotism. It started with Austrian physician Franz Mesmer, who claimed that he could cure illness by controlling a magnetic fluid that was inside every being. The idea was brought to America by Charles Poyen in 1836, where he would tour different cities with his act. Though there were skeptics, many people believed this as science and the public’s curiosity with the occult and the supernatural fed this practice. Many other doctors followed claiming that they could mesmerize humans and animals to do anything they wanted. They could entrance people, control minds, and gift their subjects clairvoyant powers. Mesmerism was mentioned frequently in literature at the time, including Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” As science continued to evolve, mesmerism was left behind except for some alternative practices today.
With this context, dig into each chapter of The Confession of John Trust.