The Confederate Memorials

In addition to being a school teacher, I also have a part time job giving tours at Historic Port Tobacco Village in Charles County, Maryland. Port Tobacco is the original county seat of Charles County with a long and multifaceted history. The village also plays into the Lincoln assassination story due to George Atzerodt’s residence there and Thomas Jones being offered $100,000 for Booth’s whereabouts in a Port Tobacco hotel. It’s a nice spot to visit and learn some history.

Today, I was fortunate enough to give a tour to a group of four retirees from Pennsylvania. They were in Maryland to visit some of the Booth escape sites which means we got along swimmingly. I provided them insight into the Confederate leanings of Maryland during the Civil War and how Southern Maryland was a hotbed of Confederate sympathizers which worked in Booth’s favor. As we went on, the group asked me about the recent events in Charlottesville and the ongoing removal over Confederate monuments. This was the first time I had been asked to share my opinion about it in public.

I am not someone who shies away from or avoids the uncomfortable or dark parts of our history. I spend most of my time investigating and researching the individuals who murdered our 16th President. Though I am not a professional historian, I always try to look at things with a historian’s eye and understand the context of an event.

And so, with that historian’s perspective, I told the group my heartfelt opinion. The Confederate memorials in our country’s cities should come down. It is not only the right thing to do morally, but also historically.

I’d like to expand on the statement above by addressing some of the reasons I have come across regarding people’s reasons for wanting the Confederate memorials to remain.


1. “What’s the big deal? It’s just a statue.”

A great many people might have this sort of reaction when discussing the removal of Confederate memorials. It derives from either a lack of knowledge on the subject or from a view of “It doesn’t bother me so it shouldn’t bother you.” The former situation can hopefully be remedied by educating oneself about what the the memorials represent. The latter situation speaks to an individual’s inability to empathize and consider the feelings of others. You may not be personally offended by a statue of Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee, but one would hope it would not be difficult for you to see why others might be offended. As I teach my third graders, it is important that we attempt to put ourselves in the shoes of people different from ourselves and consider their feelings and points of view. When it comes to the Confederate memorials, it is imperative for white Americans who question the need to remove these pieces to see these statues through different eyes. How would you feel about walking by and seeing these statues if your ancestors were brought over to this country on slave ships and forced into generations of servitude? Or, as a person of color in this country who has to deal with both random and institutionalized acts of racism each day, how would you feel seeing these figures, who fought for white supremacy, in prominent positions in front of your local government buildings? One would hope that morality, understanding and compassion alone would make a compelling case for why these memorials deserve to be removed.

2. “You are erasing history”

This is among the most common reaction I have seen from people who are in favor of keeping the Confederate memorials, despite the moral objections to them. This view holds that the monuments are pieces of history and that they should remain since they represent our past. Some proponents of this view are able to admit that these statues represent a shameful part of our past, but that they still deserve to stay. While, on the face of it, this seems like a reasonable enough opinion, the truth of the matter is that these memorials do not represent the history that the proponents of this view think they do.

Perhaps the thing that has bothered me most in the recent days has been seeing those I considered educated historians fall into the trap of believing that these monuments represent benign figures of history. Below is a wonderful graphic put together by the Southern Poverty Law Center regarding when most of our nation’s over 1,500 public statues and memorials to the Confederacy were erected.

Please click to enlarge

According to the SPLC, “The dedication of Confederate monuments and the use of Confederate names and other iconography began shortly after the Civil War ended in 1865. But two distinct periods saw significant spikes. The first began around 1900 as Southern states were enacting Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise African Americans and re-segregate society after several decades of integration which followed Reconstruction. It lasted well into the 1920s, a period that also saw a strong revival of the Ku Klux Klan. The second period began in the mid-1950s and lasted until the late 1960s, the period encompassing the modern civil rights movement.”

The correlation should be evident and speaks to the true purpose of these memorials. The monuments that are coming down were never intended to be benign representations of Civil War history as some would like to think of them.  The erection of these statues were direct responses to the efforts of bringing about racial equality and, when viewed in that proper context, we can see the perception of these memorials as being symbols of white supremacy far more accurate then them being symbols of the past. The only history these memorials represent is one of white supremacy, and sadly their removal will not do anything to erase that part of our history or present.

I think it’s important for us to note that the memorials being removed are not historic markers on Civil War battlefields or educational panels inside of museums. Nor are people calling for the destruction of Confederate graves or headstones. The graphic above does not count the, “approximately 2,570 Civil War battlefields, markers, plaques, cemeteries and similar symbols that, for the most part, merely reflect historical events.” As far as I am aware, there have been no calls to shut down the Gettysburg battlefield, stop teaching about the Civil War in schools, or disinter Confederate dead. The Civil War is not going to be forgotten by the removal of these memorials. If you truly feel that that removing these statues will result in the “erasing of history”, I would like to point out to you that there are millions of articles, pamphlets, books, magazines, journals, dissertations, exhibits, maps, songs, documentaries, websites, etc, written about the Civil War that will teach you far more about history than a Jim Crow era statue to white supremacy ever could.

3. “Robert E. Lee (or any other Confederate name) also did a lot of positive things for the country, too.”

I’ve certainly seen this argument. The idea is that the people on the memorial pedestals may have expressed views contrary to the Confederacy, acted with honor, were well respected, helped to bring the nation back together after the war, or contributed to America in other ways.  This view holds that it is not fair for statues of these figures to be condemned just for “wearing the Gray”. This is an interesting point of view that I’d like to explore.

Using this view, I would like to propose that a new Civil War statue be placed in D.C.. The figure for the statue would be a man who, in the midst of the secession crisis wrote, “I believe in country right or wrong, but gentlemen the whole union is our country and no particular state. We should love the whole union and not only the state in which we were born. We are all one people, and should have but one wish, one object, one heart.” This man, so against secession, was described personally by his peers as, “a manly man; a term not easily defined, for there are those, blessed by nature, who have lacked the qualities of manhood. [He] was not one of these; he was firm as a rock, honest, sincere, and unassuming in his private associations. If he had not a good word, he never used a bad one, to friend or foe; yet he never brooked an insult or pocketed an affront. Young, impetuous, fearless, true, he was also kind, loving, and sympathetic; he could wile away hours playing with children, like a big boy (he often did so with mine) and the next moment, he was a man among men. His word was his bond, and men that knew him never doubted it.” Lastly, my proposed figure, a man who opposed secession and was so admired by his friends, was described as a “genius” by newspapers nationwide. “The hackneyed term, talent, cannot be used in speaking of this young [man] of such wonderful promise. It is genius in the broadest and largest acceptation of the term.” Doesn’t the man described above sound worthy of a possible memorial? Based on the side of these view points, the answer would certainly be, yes. And yet when I tell you that the man I have described is John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Lincoln, does it still seem like a good idea to place a memorial to him? Decency would hopefully compel you to say no, but why is that so? It is very much true that John Wilkes Booth opposed secession originally and found himself in trouble while performing in Montgomery, Alabama due to this pro-union view. Booth was loved and respected by practically every single person he interacted with. He was notably fond and good with children. His genius on the stage made it so that Booth was considered one of the country’s greatest actors. Yet, despite all of John Wilkes Booth’s positive attributes one would never put up a statue of him in a public square because he chose what his legacy would be when he shot Abraham Lincoln.

The same can be said for Lee, Jackson, Davis, and all of the Confederate officials. No matter what they may or may not have personally felt about issues like slavery, when they made their choices to fight against the Union, they surrendered their legacies to that of the Confederacy. While one is free to explore the complex histories of these figures, in the same way that this blog explores the histories of those connected in Lincoln’s death, nothing you can find will ever unravel these figures with the cause they sided with. All of the men featured on the memorials that are coming down chose the legacy of siding with the Confederacy. And, lest we forget, the Confederacy’s reason for existing was the perpetuation of racial based rape, torture, and genocide, otherwise known as slavery. That is the legacy of the Confederacy and those who fought to support it.

4. “Of course slavery was wrong but lots of people owned slaves. Are you going to target George Washington and Thomas Jefferson next because they were slave owners?”

Perhaps the most desperate of all of the reasons to keep the Confederate memorials is the above “slippery slope” analogy. It attempts to equate pre-Civil War slave owners such as Washington and Jefferson with the slave owning Confederates. It usually follows that, if we are to remove these Confederate statues, when will it end? Are we going to tear down Mount Vernon and Monticello since they had slaves? Such a false equivalency would be laughable if not for the large number of people who fall victim to it. One is free to compare historic figures such as George Washington and, say, Jefferson Davis. But to put them on equal footing just because they were both slave owners shows a total disregard for the time periods in which they lived and the causes for which they fought. There is no equivalency in the legacies of the first President of the United States and the only President of the Confederate States. The legacies of Washington and Thomas Jefferson are not spotless, but attempting to equate them with those who fought a war to continue the bondage of millions of people is an insult.

Even worse than attempting to equate Washington and Davis or Jefferson and Lee is attempting to equate a Confederate statue on the grounds of a courthouse with educational institutions like Mount Vernon and Monticello. Museums like Monticello should be commended for their continued efforts to explore their owners’ relationships with slavery even when doing so results in uncomfortable truths, such as Jefferson’s sexual abuse of Sally Hemmings.  It is also important to note that the efforts of these institutions in addressing the truth of our former Presidents and slavery were widely brought about by activists who demanded that the lives of the enslaved peoples on these plantations not be forgotten.

When museums are done right, they explain the events of the past, both good and bad, providing needed context for those in modern times to understand them. Museums are not in the business of justifying events of the past. These Confederate memorials, on the other hand, were erected for the express purpose of providing pro-Confederate propaganda by appealing to notions of honor, sacrifice, and nobility, in order to appease a white population uncomfortable with the thought of racial equality.

5. “I saw a video of people pulling down a statue. This is just the work of criminals who break the law.”

A few days ago a group of protesters wrapped a rope around a Confederate memorial on the courthouse grounds of Durham, North Carolina and pulled down a statue, which was largely crushed under the weight of its marble base as it fell. The police watched the events but did nothing to stop the protesters at the time. Since then several arrests have been made for the destruction of public property using video footage to identify those present. This morning, over 100 people lined up at the Durham County Detention Center to willingly surrender themselves for contributing to the memorials’ destruction. Many of those who surrendered themselves were not present when the memorial was pulled down but were standing in solidarity with those that did.

Did the protesters break the law by taking matters into their own hands and destroying the Confederate memorial? Yes, they did. Do they deserve punishment for the destruction of public  property? I believe that they do. But that instance of vigilantism and the action of of the community today in response to it, speaks to the importance of this issue and that these memorials cannot be ignored. People may not want to see it, but the Confederate memorials are a civil rights issue. The history of their creation and their intended message made it so that they were always were. Unfortunately, it took the murder of Heather Heyer at the hands of overt white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia to make others, including me, aware of the fight that has been occurring for decades.

The protesters in Durham tore down a statue and should be punished accordingly, but that doesn’t make them, or their cause, wrong. When Nazis and KKK members are unabashedly marching in the streets to support a Confederate monument and an innocent protester standing up to their hate is mowed down, there should be no question as to which side is in the right. They may have broken the law and others may very well follow them, but the cause of ridding our cities of these symbols of white supremacy is a just one.

This summer, Kate and I visited the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama. We watched the video and explored the exhibits regarding the stories of some of the men and women who lost their lives in the quest for equal rights for all Americans. It was a deeply moving experience which was concluded with a visit to the Civil Rights Memorial. I was struck with how many average white Americans during the 1950’s and 60’s era saw those engaged in the civil rights marches and events as “criminals” and ” law breakers”. By rebelling against racists practices, these individuals broke the law time and time again. They may have been on the wrong side of the law, but they were on the right side of history.


For those of you who may not have been aware of or were confused about the reasons why Confederate memorials were being removed from government properties, I hope this post has been helpful. When I concluded my tour today, the visitors informed me that, while they already supported the removal of the memorials due to Nazis and the KKK being in favor of keeping them, learning the history behind the creation of these public memorials had given then the insight they needed to strengthened their view.

We are not erasing history. Museums, battlefields, historic markers and our National Parks tell the story of the Civil War. The Confederate memorials in public squares do not tell the story of the Civil War. Many still are under the impression that removing these public statues is the same as destroying Confederate grave stones, but that is not what is happening. The statues are not, nor have they ever been, representations of benign history. These memorials are physical representations to the cause of white supremacy both in substance and intent. What we have seen, and what we will continue to see in the coming weeks, are Americans from all walks of life coming together to finally remove these memorials and define what causes are worthy of commemoration in today’s society. These memorials to white supremacy will be taken down. Confederate schools and streets will be renamed. These actions have no impact on the history of the Civil War, for the past has already been written. We are removing these statues for the sake of the future. When Nazis support the heritage of these white supremacist monuments and spill the blood of those who who fight back against their hate, it is up to all people to defy them. Removing these memorials show that we, as Americans, not only acknowledge the tragedies of our past, but understand that their demons still haunt us today. Removing these memorials will not eliminate the demons, but will prove that we will no longer let those demons represent who we are as a society.

References:
For an excellent view on the way the Confederacy is represented in our public spaces, I highly recommend: Whose Heritage?: Public Symbols of the Confederacy by the Southern Poverty Law Center
I also highly recommend the works of Civil War historian, Kevin Levin. He has an entire website about how the Civil War has been remembered over the years which is extremely insightful.

P.S. I have decided to preemptively disable the comment feature on this particular post. By disabling all comments, I can naively believe that everyone who has read this is on the side of morality and social justice. If you have read this post and still do not see several compelling reasons to remove the Confederate memorials, then nothing I, or anyone else can say, will change your mind. Everyone is free to believe what they will, but I will not allow my comment section to become filled with more false equivalences and hyperbole about how removing white supremacist statues is the same as desecrating Confederate dead. I’ve read the other side. I’ve addressed many of their reasons above.  If those reasons alone are not enough for you, then you and I have nothing to talk about.

Categories: History, News | Tags:

John M. Lloyd²

Sometimes you go into a research rabbit hole, thinking you’ve found something completely new, only to have it turn out to be nothing. That happen to me over the last few days when, while researching my post on Alexius Thomas, I accidentally stumbled across a newspaper advertisement in the Port Tobacco Times that looked promising.

The name at the top of this advertisement for fertilizer should be familiar to those who study the Lincoln assassination. One of the key witnesses against Mary Surratt at the trial of the conspirators was the renter of her tavern, John Minchin Lloyd. At the trial Lloyd stated, on the day of Lincoln’s assassination, Mrs. Surratt came down to her tavern, gave him a wrapped pair of field glasses, and told him to “have the shooting irons ready” and that a party would call for them that night. Mary Surratt was executed largely due to Lloyd’s testimony.

Lloyd is no stranger to this blog. Back in 2015, Kate and I found the homestead Lloyd grew up on in Charles County. John M. Lloyd spent his formative years in the Southern Maryland area and knew the people well. Though he was consistently listed as a brick layer in the census records and city directories of D.C., it seemed perfectly reasonable that he also took up a side job as a fertilizer agent in the post Civil War years. I started the process of tracking his different enterprises, the earliest of which was as a produce agent. Everything seemed to fall into place. Some of the longer advertisements mentioned that Lloyd was a native of Southern Maryland but no longer lived there. He made yearly trips down into Charles and St. Mary’s counties to visit his friends and clients and discusses their fertilizer needs. His advertisements in the Port Tobacco Times ceased in 1890 which seemed to make perfect sense seeing as Lloyd died in 1892 while back at his “day job” as a brick layer and contractor. And finally, one advertisement gave his full name as John Minchin Lloyd, which assuaged my fear that this was a different John M. Lloyd.

I was preparing a whole blog post about John M. Lloyd’s other career in which he was likely Southern Maryland’s leading supplier of guano. For the “John M. Lloyd was guilty and lied about Mary Surratt to save his own hide” crowd, I was ready to cleverly point out that he proved himself to be very good at getting people to “buy his crap”. Everything was ready to go, and then I did one last piece of research in a book that should have been my first source.

The Lloyds of Southern Maryland is a wonderful genealogical record of the Lloyd family. It has about 6 pages in it devoted to John M. Lloyd and was very helpful to me when I was doing research about his early life. When I consulted the book again (fortunately it’s accessible on the Internet Archive for free), I was saddened when I turned to the index to find the right page:

The John M.¹ listed above is “our” John M. Lloyd. The John M.² is his cousin…a successful businessman who specialized in fertilizer (cue sad trombone sound). Yes, it appears that all of the advertisements I had found were for the other John Minchin Lloyd, ten years younger than the drunken tavern keeper who doomed Mrs. Surratt.

Admittedly, I felt silly for not consulting this book first. But confusing the two cousins Lloyd, is an easy enough thing to do since they had the same exact name and grew up in the same area. Even the author of the genealogy book mistakenly associates one of businessman Lloyd’s enterprises to hard-drinking, bricklayer Lloyd.

After the assassination of Lincoln and the trial of the conspirators, John M. Lloyd¹ left the tavern at Surrattsville and returned to Washington. He lived in the District consistently for the rest of his life. While he had been a founding member of the Metropolitan Police Force in the years prior to the Civil War, he did not return to that career. From October of 1865 onward, John M. Lloyd worked as a brick layer and contractor, and that’s it. He was not a produce agent. He didn’t sell fertilizer. He wasn’t the Southern Maryland bat poop king. He was just a brick layer.

That’s not to say that Lloyd was completely off of the radar while living in D.C. with his wife. When John Surratt was brought back to the United States after his escape to Europe, John M. Lloyd testified at his trial as well. After that, Lloyd disappeared for a bit. Then, on one night in 1883, John M. Lloyd discovered that his house was being robbed and he took action:

You’ll notice that the article states that the thief was spattered with blood when he appeared before the judge demonstrating that the ex-cop Lloyd really let him have it. A succeeding article stated that Lloyd’s burglar was sentenced to three years in prison in Concord, New Hampshire, which seems like a pretty severe punishment for the theft of a clock.

John M. Lloyd also popped up again on a slow news day in 1892 when he threw a leap year party for his friends and relatives:

This dance was one of John M. Lloyd’s last, however. Later that year, while working on a construction site, Lloyd suffered a fatal accident. Lloyd, a life long brick layer, found his life ended by a layer of bricks. Years later, his great-niece, Beatrice Petty, recalled her uncle and his unfortunate death.

“I was a small child but remember him quite well. He was a very kindly man, and were were devoted to him; he was a large man and sort of a Santa Claus to all of us. We called him Uncle Lloyd.

He was in the construction business and died of an accident that occurred on one of his building projects. He wasn’t satisfied with some work that had been done and went up on a scaffold to inspect it. Near the other end of the scaffold flooring a load of brick had just been deposited. As he reached the scaffold and stood on it, the boards gave way and he fell to the ground. The bricks tumbling down upon him crushed his head, kidneys, and other parts of his body.”

John M. Lloyd survived a little over a week after his accident but knew his injuries were fatal. He died on December 18, 1892, his 68th birthday. His death certificate lists his cause of death as “cerebro-spinal concussion”.

The Washington papers carried a brief obituary about Lloyd with no mention of his connection the events of 1865.

Papers in other cities, however, spoke of his death only as a means of rehashing his connection to Mrs. Surratt.

After his death, Lloyd was buried in a plot he had owned in Mount Olivet Cemetery since 1865. On his grave was placed a small, marble stone bearing only the words “John M. Lloyd”. Over the years, Lloyd’s grave fell over and was even buried for a time until assassination author Richard Smyth dug it back up one day.

Mount Olivet, a popular cemetery for D.C.’s Catholics, contains the graves of several other people connected to the Lincoln assassination. Thomas Harbin, Detective James McDevitt, Honora Fitzpatrick,and Father Jacob Walter are just a few of the others buried there. The most notable interment in the cemetery, however, is Mary Surratt. She also has a small stone bearing only her name.

I suppose it’s only fitting that John M. Lloyd¹, a man who never sold fertilizer, is now fertilizing the ground about 100 yards away from the woman he helped to condemn.

References:
The Lloyds of Southern Maryland by Daniel B. Lloyd
Newspaper clippings from GenealogyBank.com

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Grave Thursday: Alexius Thomas

On select Thursdays we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.


Alexius Thomas

Burial Location: Unknown

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

In 1865, a man named Alexius Thomas was living on the road between Beantown and Bryantown in Charles County, Maryland. He had been born into slavery in about 1820 and from that time until Maryland’s slavery abolishing Constitution was approved in November of 1864, Thomas had been considered the property of a man named Henry Lowe Mudd. Thomas was likely given his name of Alexius in memory of Henry Mudd’s father who bore that name and died when Henry was less than 2 years old. Even though, by 1865, he was now emancipated, Alexius Thomas still lived on and worked the land owned by his former master. While working on the afternoon of April 15, Thomas happened to see a young, “clean made, neat built man, about 5 ½ feet tall” ride by him on a bright bay horse. The man was headed to Bryantown and did not stop. “In a little while – I don’t think he had time to go to Bryantown, he passed me again, and went on down the road toward Beantown,” Thomas recalled. Later that evening, right around dusk, Thomas observed the same man once more and this time the young man came up to him. “Uncle, where am I at?” the man asked Thomas. “I am entirely lost.” Thomas proceeded to point out the cardinal directions to the stranger to help him get his bearings. The man then asked Thomas if he was near the home of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd. Thomas told him he was not far from Dr. Mudd’s house and that the property he was currently on was actually owned by Henry Lowe Mudd, Doctor Sam’s father.  The young man then asked about the possibility of staying the night at the house and Thomas said he did not know if Mr. Mudd was at home. “I think I won’t bother anyone tonight,” the man replied before asking, “Isn’t there a large swamp near here?” Thomas replied in the affirmative and pointed out the location of the swamp past one of their tobacco houses. When the stranger asked Thomas if he would like to go to Bryantown, Thomas replied that he could not go at all which seemed enough for the stranger. As he was departing, he told Thomas, “Well, I will take the swamp anyhow, I won’t bother anybody tonight.” With that, the stranger departed in the direction of the swamp and Alexius Thomas was pulled into his house by his wife, Mary.

The home of Henry Lowe Mudd. Alexius Thomas lived near this site.

The whole interaction would have been otherwise forgotten except that the man Alexius Thomas found himself observing and then conversing with was none other than David Herold, the accomplice of assassin John Wilkes Booth. When Thomas observed Herold on the afternoon, the fugitive was riding towards Bryantown in hopes of securing a wagon to use as transport for the wounded Booth who was recuperating at Dr. Mudd’s house. Dr. Mudd was accompanying Herold towards Bryantown but Herold rode ahead and split from Mudd at a point where the road forks. This is why Thomas did not see Dr. Mudd ride by that day, as the doctor took the other path. Apparently, as Herold got close to Bryantown, he witnessed the presence of Union soldiers who were on alert due to the assassination of Lincoln. Herold did not travel all the way into Bryantown, as aptly noted by Thomas, and returned to the Mudd farm. In the late afternoon, Herold and Booth departed the Mudd farm, heading toward the swamp. It is assumed that when Herold emerged and spoke with Thomas around dusk, he was doing so because he and Booth had become lost and turned around inside the swamp. Herold was no doubt disheartened to learn that they had covered a very short distance in the past few hours and then made inquiries about staying the night in order to avoid suspicion. This was an unnecessary precaution, however, as Alexius Thomas had not yet heard the news about Lincoln’s death. He would learn of the news, however, and on April 21, Thomas found himself imprisoned inside of the Bryantown Tavern where he gave a formal statement of what had occurred. Dr. Samuel Mudd, who, on April 18th, had first answered questions from detectives about the “strangers” who showed up at his house, was also imprisoned at Bryantown Tavern that day. Mudd and Thomas were both shipped up to Washington for further questioning and investigation. While Dr. Mudd would be found to be a conspirator in Booth’s plans, Thomas was held in the Old Capitol Prison as a witness. He was not called to testify at the trial of the conspirators and was released from custody on May 18.

After his passing interaction with history, Alexius Thomas largely disappears. He is enumerated in the 1870 census as “Alick”, one of many misspellings of his name. Other variations of his name include Alexis, Electus, Eluctus, Elictus, and even the far afield, Elliott. Thomas’ name pops up one final time in the November 1, 1872 edition of the Port Tobacco Times where he is included on a list of registered voters in Charles County’s eighth district. At some point after 1872, it appears that Alexius Thomas passed away. In the 1880 census Mary Thomas is listed as “widowed” and is living with her son, Alexius, Jr, along with her other children.

Alexius Thomas’ final resting place is not known. He is almost assuredly buried somewhere in Charles County, but, like so many black citizens during the Civil War and Reconstruction era, his grave is unmarked and unknown. Like so many others, Alexius Thomas’ legacy is not written in stone but in his descendants. Though Alexius was born a slave and couldn’t read or write, he undoubtedly stressed the importance of education to his children after emancipation came. His sons, Daniel and Alexius, Jr., were unable to write but did learn to read. When they got older, both men served as trustees for their district’s “colored school” which aided in the education of their neighbors and friends.

It is also interesting to note that Alexius’ youngest child, born in the years after his run in with the assassin’s accomplice, was given the name Abraham in memory of the late President. This son was called Abe Thomas and he lived his whole life in Charles County, working as a farm laborer. Though his grave is unmarked, we know that Abe Thomas is buried in Oldfields Episcopal Church Cemetery in Hughesville, Charles County. Abe Thomas, named for the President by his father, Alexius Thomas who unknowingly assisted the assassin and his accomplice with directions, died on May 10, 1938, the 100th anniversary of John Wilkes Booth’s birth.

References:
Statements of Alexius Thomas [1 & 2] in the edited volume The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence by William Edwards and Edward Steers, Jr.
1870 Federal Census record for Alick [sic] Thomas
1880 Federal Census record for Mary Thomas, Loch [Alexius, Jr.], & Abraham Thomas
The Port Tobacco Times and Charles County Advertiser
Burials in Charles County Maryland, Vol II by the Charles County Maryland Genealogical Society

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | 5 Comments

“You know best, Captain” The Executed Conspirators in Lincoln’s Assassination

On June 27, 2017, I was fortunate enough to return to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in order to speak to their volunteers and members of the public. The topic of my talk revolved around the four conspirators who were executed for their involvement in John Wilkes Booth’s plot against Lincoln. The following is a video of that talk that the ALPLM was kind enough to put on YouTube:

In the process of researching and writing this speech I consulted many excellent books. Specifically, I’d like to point out the vital scholarship of Betty Ownsbey in her book on Lewis Powell and the research of Kate Clifford-Larson in her book about Mary Surratt. These texts are a wealth of information and proved invaluable in preparing for this speech. I would also like to thank Betty Ownsbey and Dr. Blaine Houmes for allowing me to use some of their images in this speech.

The day before the speech I gave a radio interview to WTAX, the local Springfield station, about the speech and my interest in the Lincoln assassination. It’s only about 5 minutes long and can be heard here: https://soundcloud.com/news-radio-wtax/6-26-17-dave-taylor-lincoln-assassination-expert-podcast

I’d like to thank the folks at the ALPLM for allowing me to come back and speak to their volunteers. I must admit that I definitely feel a strong sense of pride at being able to tell people that I’ve spoken at the Lincoln library. Kate and I had an amazing time touring the museum and being taken into the vault to see their treasures.

I hope you all enjoy the speech.

Dave

EDIT: For ease of access I’m also going to embed the video of my prior speech for the ALPLM in which I discussed John Wilkes Booth’s history:

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

The Great Boothie Road Trip 2017 ©

Tomorrow, June 21, 2017, Kate and I are taking to the road on what we’re calling the Great Boothie Road Trip 2017 ©. It will be quiet here on the blog for next couple of weeks as we drive out to see family, friends, and of course, Boothie sites from our Lincoln assassination maps! A week from now we’ll be in Springfield, Illinois where I will be presenting at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. As a follow up to my speech on John Wilkes Booth last summer, this year I will be speaking on the four conspirators who were executed for their involvement in Lincoln’s death . For those of you who live in the area and might be interested in attending this speech, the ALPLM has free tickets available to those who register. See this site to reserve your tickets: https://alplmfoundation.tix.com/Event.aspx?EventCode=978923 For those of you not in the area, the speech is scheduled to be recorded and I will let you all know when it is put online.

As excited as I am to be speaking at the Lincoln library once again, that speech will only be a small part of our multi-state road trip with many fascinating detours and stops. While we’re hoping to put up a full post about our adventures when we get back, I encourage you all to follow our exploits as we go via Twitter. You don’t have to be signed up for Twitter to see what Kate and I are tweeting. You can either visit my Twitter page, which is accessible by clicking here, or by watching the Twitter bar on this website. For desktop users, the Twitter bar should be somewhere on the right hand side and for mobile users, it should be near the bottom of the page. For those of you who do have Twitter, we are planning on using the hashtag #BoothieRoadTrip if you want to follow along.

Well, you’ll have to excuse me now because Kate and I have a scheduled departure time of 4:00 am tomorrow. It’s time for us to get some rest. We hope you’ll follow us as we experience the Great Boothie Road Trip 2017 ©!

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In the Words of Asia Booth

Asia Booth Clarke was the chronicler of the Booth family. In a few hours from this posting, Kate will be up at at Tudor Hall to give her first of two talks this year about Asia and her writings. The basis of Kate’s speech is the collection of letters Asia wrote to her life long pen pal Mary Jane “Jean” Anderson.

As Kate put the final flourishes on her speech, I decided to put together this animated .gif showing some of Asia’s words from her letters to Jean. Asia’s original letters to Jean are housed in the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.

If you are not able to make it to Kate’s speech this time around, she will be at Tudor Hall to give it again on October 8, 2017.

Lastly, if you want to learn a little more about Jean Anderson, here is a short and unfortunately shaky video I recorded at her grave in Green Mount Cemetery:

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John Wilkes Booth’s Acting Debut

On August 14, 1855, John Wilkes Booth, the seventeen-year-old son of the late, great Junius Brutus Booth, made his professional debut upon the stage. For one performance only, John Wilkes Booth performed the role of Richmond in the third act of Shakespeare’s Richard III at Baltimore’s Charles Street Theatre.

As shown by the above newspaper advertisements, the performance was part of a benefit for Booth’s friend and fellow actor, John Sleeper Clarke. Clarke had known John Wilkes and Edwin Booth from their shared boyhood in Baltimore. The three boys and a few other friends used to perform together in self produced children’s shows for their neighbors, dubbing themselves The Tripple Alley Players. Using makeshift costumes and borrowed props the boys would stage shows in back rooms, stables, or cellars charging their friends a penny for a ticket. These performances definitely made an impact on the boys as four of The Tripple Alley Players would grow up to become professional actors. Clarke’s real name was John Sleeper and he had been nicknamed “Sleepy” by his peers. Seeing how such a name would make him a subject of ridicule on the stage, he wisely chose the stage name of John Sleeper Clarke for the rest of his life.

John Sleeper Clarke

It is interesting to note that this performance was not only the debut of John Wilkes Booth, but also the first time Clarke performed in the play of Toodles. This comedy would later become a staple for Clarke and the role he was best known for. As a benefit performance, Clarke was entitled to all of the box office returns for that night after expenses, so the young actor was eager to draw in as many patrons as possible. Clarke heavily advertised the debut of John Wilkes, the son of the great tragedian Booth, in order to pull in the largest audience he could. Sadly, there do not seem to be any reviews in the days that followed about John Wilkes’ performance. Booth himself, however, was very happy with his performance. He had not told his family of his intentions to act on the stage for Clarke and so they did not witness his debut. Instead he came riding back to Tudor Hall after the fact to inform them. The story of his return is recounted in Asia Booth’s memoir about her brother and follows below. Please note that the following text demonstrates racial language and views which are not acceptable today but were held by John Wilkes, Asia, and most of the Booth family.

“Wilkes went for a brief visit to Baltimore, and on the day of his return I was under the low trees outside our grounds pulling mandrakes, gathering may-apples and dew-berries. Six little darkies, seven dogs, and a couple of cats who always followed the dogs, were my company. Our baskets were partly filled, and the clatter of hoofs sounding clear, I looked out from the bushes to see Wilkes returning on Cola. He came up rapidly then dismounted, while the dogs yelped and the cats rubbed against his legs, and the piping querulous voices of the darkies called out in the uproar, ‘How do, Mars’ Johnnie.’

He had a greeting for all and threw a packet of candies from his saddle-case far beyond where we stood, saying, ‘After it, Nigs! Don’t let the dogs get it!’ The never-forgotten bag of candies was longingly looked for by the blacks, young and old, whenever ‘Mars’ Johnnie’ came from town or village.

Turning to me, he said, ‘Well, Mother Bunch, guess what I’ve done!’ Then answering my silence, he said, ‘I’ve made my first appearance on any stage, for this night only, and in big capitals.’

He had acted ‘Richmond’ at the St. Charles’ Theatre [sic], Baltimore. His face shone with enthusiasm, and by the exultant tone of his voice it was plain that he had passed the test night. He had made his venture in life and would soon follow on the road he had broken. Mother was not so pleased as we to hear of this adventure; she thought it premature, and that he had been influenced by others who wished to gain notoriety and money by the use of his name.”

Mary Ann Booth was right on the money when she expressed her belief that Wilkes had been used for the sake of his name in his first performance. Clarke asked his friend to perform, literally, for his own benefit. Even from early on, Clarke understood the power in the Booth name and sought to gain from it. Later he would go into business with Edwin Booth and then come into the family by marrying Asia. However, even if Clarke’s inclusion of John Wilkes as an actor stemmed from his own self-interest, he did help foster the young man’s growth. When the next theatrical season began, Clarke got John Wilkes a job as a stock actor in Philadelphia. From here Booth would start down the road of learning his craft. Thus, it is from this minor performance in Baltimore’s Charles Street Theatre, that John Wilkes Booth’s career as an actor began.

References:
John Wilkes Booth Day by Day by Arthur F. Loux
John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir by Asia Booth Clarke edited by Terry Alford
Newspaper extracts from Genealogybank.com

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Grave Thursday: The Montgomery Theatre

Each week we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.


The Montgomery Theatre

Burial Location: 39 S Perry St, Montgomery, Alabama

Connection the the Lincoln Assassination:

For this week’s Grave Thursday we are dealing with the death of a place, rather than a person. The place is the old Montgomery Theatre in Montgomery, Alabama which is currently in the final phases of demolition.

In the fall of 1859, Colonel Charles T. Pollard, president of the Montgomery and West Point Railroad, commissioned the construction of a new theater in Montgomery, Alabama. The brick contractor was B. F. Randolph who used his female slaves as the laborers for the theater’s masonry and plastering. By October of 1860, the large and stately Montgomery Theatre was completed. The first lessee and manager of the theater was Matthew Canning, who opened the theater with his troupe of actors on October 22, 1860.

Matthew W. Canning

22 year-old John Wilkes Booth was part of Matthew Canning’s troupe of actors.  Booth’s tour with Canning was his first as a star performer. Prior to this he had been learning his craft in Philadelphia and Richmond. Attempting to succeed on his own talents rather than his prestigious family name, he had been and was continuing to be billed “J. B. Wilkes” or “John Wilkes”.

When the Canning troupe presented the grand opening performance of the show, School for Scandal, at the Montgomery Theatre, John Wilkes Booth was not present. Ten days earlier, when the troupe had been in Columbus, Georgia, Booth had suffered an accidental gunshot wound to his thigh. Though stories differ, the most reliable account holds that Booth and Canning were attempting to clean a pistol when the weapon accidentally discharged. This gunshot wound ended Booth’s performances in Columbus and caused him to sit out most of his starring performances in Montgomery as well.

John Wilkes Booth finally made his debut at the Montgomery Theatre on Monday, October 29, 1860, when he performed as Pescara in The Apostate. He would perform for the rest of the week before closing his engagement to recuperate further. John Wilkes Booth was resting in Montgomery, Alabama when Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States on November 6, 1860.

On November 16, Booth returned to the stage of the Montgomery Theatre in a benefit performance for his fellow actor, Kate Bateman. Booth played Romeo to Bateman’s Juliet.

The troupe’s final day at the Montgomery Theatre was on December 1, 1860 in a benefit performance for Booth himself. Booth performed in a two act play called Rafaelle, the Reprobate, and then his fellow actor, Maggie Mitchell, performed in Katy O’Sheal. The evening was ended with Booth performing the titular character in the fifth act of Shakespeare’s Richard III. This performance marked the end of Booth’s engagement in Montgomery but it also marked a new beginning for the young actor. It was on the stage at the Montgomery Theatre that John Wilkes Booth reclaimed his true name and was billed as J. Wilkes Booth. From this day onward, the actor would always use his true name.

John Wilkes Booth would never return to Montgomery, but the beautiful theater he helped to christen would continue to operate for many years. Edwin Booth would perform on the same stage in 1876, 1882, and 1888 along with countless other luminaries of the stage.

After 47 years of operation, the Montgomery Theatre was closed on November 13, 1907 when a newer, grander theater was opened in the city. The old theater’s interior was remodeled into a department store but the outside retained its original construction. The Webber department store lasted until the 1990’s when it finally closed. After a few years the building was bought by a foundation which paid almost half a million dollars to replace the roof. In 2010, the foundation sold the building to a developer who planned to restore the structure and create retail and housing space within the interior. Unfortunately while work was being done to restore the building in June of 2014, the structure suffered a partial collapse.

Though the hope was that the restoration would continue, the owner of the building didn’t have the funds to continue after the collapse. The ownership of the building reverted to the city of Montgomery in December of 2014. The city valiantly made efforts to find a buyer willing and financially able to restore the structure, offering to sell structure for $1 to any developers who would restore it. In the end, however, the city could not find a buyer with the means to restore the building. The property was sold off and slated for demolition which began in late 2016. Here is how the building looked on March 30th of this year:

Though the Montgomery Theatre building could not be saved, deconstruction of the building has been slow to allow for the salvage of some of the structure’s cast iron, bricks, and masonry pieces. Some of the windows of the theater are also being saved and will be given to the local historical society.

Despite the loss of the Montgomery Theatre building, the history of the site will not be lost. There is a historic marker that will be returned once construction on the site is completed. In addition, the company that is redeveloping the property has vowed to, “include a plaza and information to recognize the building’s history.”

I want to close this post with the words of an old time Montgomery resident by the name of Frank P. O’Brien. O’Brien was present the night the Montgomery Theatre opened in 1860. When the theatre closed in 1907 he gave his reminiscences of the many plays and actors that had graced its stage. At the end of the article, O’Brien stated the following words, which are very fitting today:

“Wednesday night, November thirteenth, the curtain was ‘rung down’ in the old play-house to give way to one of more modern construction. The soft glow of unforgotten scenes alone is left to me, and many whose hearts have throbbed with hope for future years, as nightly we ascended the broad stairs from the street to listen to and witness scenes of comedy, music, and tragedy. Thus is marked the passing of the glory of the old Montgomery theatre…There is not one of us who has not gone up the wide stairs loving, and come down them loving the more. There is not one of us who has not left some weight of the soul there and never returned to claim it.

Vale! old house, the ghostly shadows of scenes long to be remembered will continue to hover within thy hallowed walls ’till the inevitable march of progress hastens thy destruction.”

GPS coordinates for the former site of Montgomery Theatre: 32.378385, -86.307671

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