Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Monday, March 09, 2009

SEABORN DELK - A Shooting Star Extinquished

His life was all too short. Seaborn Delk was going to be a successful lawyer, but death struck him in his late twenties. Here is the story of a young man whose meteoric, but tumultuous, career ended without warning and left his friends and family grieving for a man whose future may have led him to serve among the highest offices in the state.

Seaborn was born about the year 1807, probably in Wilkinson County, where his father, David Delk, served as the county’s first clerk of the Superior Court. His schooling was meager, but through his father’s tutelage, Seaborn became proficient in helping his father keep records. It was said that his penmanship was neat, even to the point of being elegant.

We first find Seaborn in the law office of Lott Warren in Marion, Georgia, the county seat of Twiggs County. As more and more lawyers like Warren, a native of Laurens County, removed to Marion, which at the time was the legal center of Middle Georgia, before Macon rose to that honor. Both men were young. They shared a strong desire to serve their country. Seaborn was a Colonel in command of a Wilkinson County regiment. Warren served on the staff of Col. Wimberly. Though both men dedicated their lives to protecting their homeland, conflicts with the Creek Indians had fallen in a lull after the battles in 1818 and before Indians troubles arose again in the mid 1830s.

Seaborn Delk was admitted to the bar at the 1828 October term of the Superior
Court. After satisfying the legal requirements, Delk took the oath of office from presiding judge O.H. Keenan. Seaborn walked across the street and immediately opened his law office. Delk counted among his colleagues Robert Hatcher, James P.H. Campbell and John S. Barry. Barry, a former Wilkinson County school teacher, left Irwinton and moved to Michigan, where he became 4th and 8th governor of that state.

In 1831, Seaborn Delk took the hand of Miss Theresa Coates, a daughter of Robert Coates, who lived in the northwestern part of Laurens County on what is now called the Old Macon Road and was one of the county’s most wealthy and influential citizens.

Delk moved his office back to Marion in 1832, where he concentrated on practicing law “without being annoyed by loungers and idle persons, who gave him no time for study or labor in his native village,” according to his biographer and fellow attorney, Stephen Mitchell, in his landmark work, “The Bench and Bar of Georgia.” Delk was known as an expert in pleading and conveyancing, and possessed much legal information, fluency of speech, and a great knowledge of human nature.

Mitchell described his friend as “one who aimed to please all who might possibly be useful to him, by adapting himself to their tastes.” “He told stories in a natural way, both in feeling and in language, and he always had a stock on which to draw, to suit the company, or any particular individual whose favor he desired,” Mitchell added.

There was a time when a man killed another by a blow to the head. The attacker fled into hiding. When the Governor offered a reward for the accused murder, Delk suggested to the father of the fugitive that he turn his son over to the authorities in the presence of a friend and agree with the friend that the reward be paid to Delk to defend the accused in his trial. The deed was done and Delk took the fee and kept it. Somehow, the case was never tried. And, on his Delk’s dying day, the man was still free on bail.

Seaborn Delk soon became a star in the Southern Judicial Circuit. Delk was known as a dexterous debater, whose eager mannerisms impressed all spectators. His talents brought higher and higher fees. Delk diligently pursued patronage from businessmen. Although he was regarded as a skilled lawyer, some of his peers grew weary of his actions.

Col. Delk allied himself with Governor Troup of Laurens County. He was an outward and visible supporter of the State Right’s Association of Twiggs County, serving as its secretary.

The two old friends, Delk and Mitchell, found themselves in a fight involving William H. Young, a former resident of Marion and a founder of the cotton mill business in Columbus. The enmity began on July 23, 1833. Delk sent a brief note questioning Mitchell’s comments on a fee he charged in the case of Taylor vs. Sheffield in Early County. Mitchell countered with an elegant and lengthy letter outlining his view of the matter. A month later, Mitchell received a letter from his friend John H. Howard, who implored Mitchell to apologize and peacefully resolve the matter between the two former friends.

Howard’s plea fell on deaf ears and the antagonism between Delk and Mitchell
escalated. On the 7th day of December, 1833, just after the session of the Superior Court had ended in Bainbridge, Col. Delk made a secret assault on Mitchell with a deadly weapon. He was immediately arrested and indicted by the grand jury. Owing to his position as an officer of the court, the presiding judge placed the defendant under a bond to appear in court to answer the charges of assault of intent to murder. Soon after the incident, the two friends reconciled. An amicable settlement agreement was entered into and presented in open court in Berrien County, the following March.

Some speculate that Delk had judicial ambitions. Their suspicions were partially confirmed when Delk ended his alliance with the State Right’s party and voted instead for candidates of the Union Party, who appeared to be headed for victory in the fall elections.

On the 13th day of October, following an illness of a couple of days, Seaborn Delk died. He was only twenty eight years old. Delk had just completed an attendance in the Superior Court of Laurens County. He met with his old friend Mitchell and asked him to handle his matters before the court since he had a conflict with a concurrent session of court in Irwinton. Delk attended court as he always did. He soon fell into illness and made it back to his home just moments before his death.

When Stephen Mitchell began writing his all encompassing biographical volume on the outstanding lawyers of his day, he considered that if he omitted his friend Seaborn, many might have said the exception was due to their deep, though short, animosity. In taking the blame for causing the hostilities, Stephen Mitchell, once and for all time, extinguished the malice by admitting that when he has the privilege of standing before the grave of Delk, that he would cry.

Following his death, his widow married Dr. James Moore, son of Dr. Thomas Moore of Laurens County. Warren Delk, the couple’s only child and who was named for Delk’s first law partner, Lott Warren, died at a very young age before his father.

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