Jesse Kelsey, Jr.
The Jesse Kelsey, Jr. Murder
By Pat Aldrich, Curator
The Curator, March 2004
The Society’s Collection has a wonderful piece of Washington Township history. It is a copy of the court testimonies taken from 27 witnesses after the murder of Jesse Kelsey, Jr. on September 7, 1862. The twelve page document is hand written on both sides of 8” x 12” paper.
Jesse Kelsey, Jr., born on April 29, 1829, was the son of Jesse Kelsey, Sr., one of the area’s most prosperous farmers. Jesse and his wife, Unity, were expecting their first child. Their farm was located about a mile and a half south of Centerville on the southwest corner of what is now the intersection of Dayton-Lebanon Pike and Spring Valley Road. Their home sat near the present Kroger Store.
At midnight, Unity awoke and saw a man standing over them in their downstairs bedroom. She woke up her husband, who spoke to the intruder. The intruder fired his pistol at him. As Jesse pushed Unity out of the room, the intruder fired again. Jesse pushed Unity out of the house, told her to save herself, and then fell. Unity screamed and rushed to awaken their house girl, Serelda Montgomery. Together they ran across the orchard to John Allen’s farm north of Spring Valley Road. John, along with, Aaron Robbins and Perry Reeder went to Kelsey’s farm. When the men found Jesse dead, they went for the coroner in Dayton.
Samuel Robbins went with them. He and his brother, Aaron, and their parents, Samuel and Mary Ann, were living with John Allen. Samuel, the father, was a blacksmith, had been the first mayor of Centerville in 1830, and was the son of Centerville founder Benjamin Robbins. Samuel, the son, had just returned from the Civil War, probably AWOL. That night after the murder, his behavior was “agitated and confused” and he could “scarcely talk.” When pressed he claimed that he saw a man riding very fast out of Kelsey’s gate. He said he tried to catch him but could not because the leather strap to his stirrup broke. Samuel was dressed in a light linen coat, black pants, and straw hat with broad black band, which matched Unity’s description of what the intruder was wearing. Also, several witnesses saw Samuel with a pistol the day before.
Samuel Robbins was arrested for the murder of Jesse Kelsey, Jr. He was tried, found guilty of first-degree murder, and hanged for his crime. In 1980, the statements were discovered by descendants of the Kelsey family in an old antique roll-top desk and were donated to the Historical Society. In Howard R. Houser’s book “Pieces of the Past” he uses the testimonies to tell the story, entitling it “An Indian Summer’s Madness.”