“The Murderer: John Wilkes Booth and the Plot Against Lincoln” at the ALPLM

Almost a year ago, I was contacted by representatives from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Though I was right in the middle of setting up my classroom for a new school year (at a brand new school, and grade, actually), I dropped everything to take the call from employees of such an esteemed institution. As part of their volunteer educational programming, the ALPLM asked me if I would be willing to come to Springfield in the upcoming year and give a talk about the assassin of President Lincoln. I suppose it is not difficult to ascertain what my response was. After a few victory laps around my minefield of classroom, I settled in for the long wait until summer.

Dave Taylor at the ALPLM 6-29-2016

Less than a month ago, on June 29, I was humbled to present my speech, “The Murderer: John Wilkes Booth and the Plot Against Lincoln” for the wonderful folks at the ALPLM. The museum was kind enough to record my presentation and put it on YouTube, and so I have embedded the video below. It misses some of the fancy animations I included in my PowerPoint but is of far better quality than I could have ever done. The video below includes the lively question and answer session that followed the speech where we cover several other Lincoln assassination topics beyond John Wilkes Booth.

In addition to the speech, Kate and I spent our time in Springfield visiting the Lincoln sites and viewing several of the ALPLM’s assassination related letters and artifacts. Altogether, the speech and visit to the ALPLM are among the highlights of my “career” as a “historian.” I would like to thank Jeremy Carrell, Barbara McKean, Samuel Wheeler, Dr. James Cornelius, David Grimm, and Chuck Hand for setting everything up and for their hospitality in, and around, the ALPLM.

It was truly an honor to speak at the ALPLM and, if you have the time, I hope you enjoy the speech below.

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Beware the People Whistling

Hello fellow researchers and connoisseurs of all things historical. Kate here, filling in for Dave who is currently online grave hunting.

On June 16th, I gave a first person presentation on Mary Surratt for the Calvert County Historical Society in Prince Frederick, Maryland. Titled Beware the People Whistling, the presentation is a firsthand look at Mary Surratt, the only woman convicted of helping bring about the death of President Abraham Lincoln. As she languishes, locked away in Washington City’s Old Arsenal Penitentiary, contemplating her fate, Mary Surratt recalls memories of her family, the choices she made throughout the bloody American Civil War, and the man who brought her and her fellow prisoners to ruin, John Wilkes Booth.

Beware the People Whistling is a play on the line “beware the people weeping” from Herman Melville’s “The Martyr,” a poem about the murder of President Abraham Lincoln. Throughout the poem, Melville stated that the convicted conspirators were to beware of the Union (the people weeping) since they would decide their fates. As the conspirators were imprisoned in the Old Arsenal Penitentiary, another man imprisoned there, Burton Harrison, recalled regularly hearing a melancholy whistle coming from the cell below his. That cell was occupied by conspirator Samuel Arnold.  The title of this presentation, therefore, turns the poem on its head to imply that the people whistling (the imprisoned conspirators) had power too. In fact, the death of Mary Surratt turned the tables on the Union government, who suddenly found themselves attacked by newfound defenders of her innocence.

Please note that this presentation is a historical fiction portrayal of Mary Surratt, not a completely accurate account of her time in prison. While working on my speech for the 2016 Surratt Conference, I studied Mrs. Surratt, her imprisonment, and eventual execution. That speech was a factual, in-depth analysis of the circumstances surrounding her sentencing. I then used what I learned researching that speech to create the framework for this dramatic portrayal. I condensed the timeline to fit everything I wanted to portray and most of all, I added material about Mary Surratt’s time in prison that may not be supported with facts. In short, I took some creative license in order to portray Mary Surratt the way I wanted to. Some of you may disagree with my sympathetic slant on Mary Surratt, and that is perfectly alright. In the end, this piece is more about trying to convey the thoughts and emotions of Mary Surratt, which we will never truly know. I hope you enjoy it.

All the best in your historic endeavors,

Kate

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A Visit to “The Trap”

On April 24, 1865, John Wilkes Booth, the fugitive assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, was dropped off at the Garrett farm just outside of Port Royal, Virginia. Over the prior ten days, Booth and his accomplice David Herold had successfully eluded the massive manhunt searching for them in Maryland and had made their way into Virginia. By portraying himself as a wounded Confederate soldier named James Boyd, John Wilkes Booth was welcomed in by the Garrett family and given the hospitality of their home and farm. David Herold, on the other hand, decided for the first time to depart from Booth’s company. Whether this was his own choice or whether Booth sent him away on purpose, perhaps to scout the route ahead, is unknown. Regardless, Herold did not stay at the Garrett farm on April 24th and, instead, continued on towards Bowling Green with the three Confederate soldiers that he and Booth had met in Port Conway. When the sun went down on April 24th,  Herold and one of the soldiers, Absalom Bainbridge, would spend the night outside of Bowling Green, Virginia at the home of a Mrs. Virginia Clarke. Before that would occur, however, David Herold and the three Confederate soldiers would all make a pit stop on the road between Port Royal and Bowling Green at a tavern known as “The Trap.”

The Trap was built around 1752 and initially operated as a private home. Its location of being about half way between Port Royal and Bowling Green earned it the nickname of the “Halfway House.” In 1777, a wealthy man by the name of Peyton Stern (whose land holdings in Caroline County at that time stretched over 2,000 acres and included what would become the Garrett family farm) started operating the building as a tavern. In the 1830’s the tavern was acquired by a man named George Washington Carter, whose family owned an adjacent land tract of 452 acres. George Washington Carter died in 1853 leaving his widow, Martha, to care for their large family of children. Similar to the Surratt Tavern in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Mrs. Carter would continue to operate the tavern as a means of income and offer lodging for visitors passing by on the road. The Trap also operated as the local post office in the same way the Surratt Tavern did.

In 1865, Mrs. Carter was running The Trap with the help of her four daughters. The daughters were twins Martha and Mary (27), Sarah (23), and Agnes (20). On April 5, The Trap briefly received a fairly distinguished guest by the name of Thomas Conolly.

Thomas Conolly

Thomas Conolly

Conolly was an Irish member of British parliament who had crossed the Atlantic to visit the Confederacy. He was well connected, wealthy, and was able to meet many of the Confederacy’s elite. Conolly was lavishly wined and dined during his trip, likely in the hopes that impressing him would motivate him to convince his countrymen to support the Confederacy. Conolly had departed Richmond just before the Union troops seized it and was making his way north. He mentions his stop at The Trap in his diary which has been published as An Irishman in Dixie: Thomas Conolly’s Diary of the Fall of the Confederacy.

“Stopped again from the exhausted state of our horse at the Trap 1/2 way to Port Royal where we find Mrs Carter & her 4 pretty daughters. The house was full of Virginia Cavalry going to join their Regts & the girls & mother serving them all round with all they had. Got some dinner bacon & greens & pickled peaches & corn bread & milk. Matty [Martha] & I had a pleasant chat & I gave her the other gold stud wh[ich] pleased her much.”

Conolly’s diary paints The Trap as a bustling and busy tavern with soldiers anxious to get food and drink. It was, therefore, not out of the ordinary when, on April 24th, David Herold, Willie Jett, Mortimer Ruggles and Absalom Bainbridge stopped by The Trap after dropping John Wilkes Booth off at the Garrett farm.

The men all took drinks while at The Trap and apparently discussed, within earshot of Mrs. Carter or her daughters, their plan to split up at Bowling Green and for Herold and Bainbridge to find lodging at Mrs. Clarke’s while Jett and Ruggles stayed at the Star Hotel. After their rest stop at The Trap, the man saddled back up and rode on to Bowling Green.

About 12 hours later, on April 25th, David Herold, Absalom Bainbridge and Mortimer Ruggles returned to The Trap this time headed in the opposite direction. They had followed through on their plan to spend the night in and outside of Bowling Green and now Herold was heading back towards Booth with Ruggles and Bainbridge as his guides. Once again, Herold, Bainbridge and Ruggles took drinks at The Trap. Sadly we do not really know any of the conversation or even the amount of time the men stayed at The Trap before they bade the Carter ladies goodbye.

Herold 1

 

David Herold was dropped off at the Garrett farm on April 25th and rejoined John Wilkes Booth who had been treated with much generosity and kindness by the unsuspecting Garretts. Bainbridge and Ruggles continued on the road until they reached Port Royal and witnessed a detachment of Union troops crossing the Rappahannock river. This was the 16th New York Cavalry and they had finally found John Wilkes Booth trail. The troops had learned from William Rollins in Port Conway that Booth had been seen in the company of Confederate soldiers, one of whom was Willie Jett. Mrs. Rollins knew that Willie Jett was dating a girl in Bowling Green and that they would likely be heading there. Bainbridge and Ruggles turned around and rode back to the Garretts to warn Booth and Herold before heading out of the area themselves.

The 16th NY Cavalry, with William Rollins in tow, successfully crossed the Rappahannock and then began riding down the same road Booth and Herold had been on the day before. They unknowingly passed John Wilkes Booth and David Herold as they rode by the Garrett farm on their way to Bowling Green. By 9:00 pm, the band of soldiers found themselves at that old half way house, The Trap.

When the Union soldiers entered The Trap and began searching the premises, Mrs. Carter and her daughters were understandably excited and distraught at the intrusion by Yankee soldiers. The soldiers found no men in the large, log house as the Carter ladies “raised and kept up such a clamor.” In order to try to get some needed information from the Carters, two of the detectives with the 16th NY, Everton Conger and Luther Baker, told them that they were in pursuit of “a party that had committed an outrage on a girl.”

Everton Conger and Luther Baker

Everton Conger and Luther Baker

This claim softened the Carter ladies’ dispositions and made them inclined to tell the soldiers all they could. They verified that a group of men had stopped by the day before on their way to Bowling Green and that three of them had come back a few hours before the troopers arrival. The Carters also mentioned having overheard the conversation about the men splitting up with some lodging at Mrs. Clarke’s home. The detectives contemplated splitting up the detachment in order to send some men to Mrs. Clarke’s and the rest on to Bowling Green, but decided to move, as a whole group, on to Bowling Green. The 16th NY was at The Trap for about a half hour to forty-five minutes before carrying on.

In Bowling Green, the troopers found Willie Jett asleep in the Star Hotel. He immediately surrendered and informed the men that Booth was at the Garrett farm and that they had unwittingly gone right past him. They placed Jett under arrest and then hightailed it back up the road, passing right by The Trap again without stopping.

The rest, as they say, is history. The 16th NY successfully corner John Wilkes Booth in the Garretts’ tobacco barn, light the barn on fire to smoke him out, and then Sergeant Boston Corbett paralyzes Booth with a gunshot wound to the neck. John Wilkes Booth dies around dawn on April 26, 1865. David Herold, two of the Garrett sons, William Rollins, and Booth’s body are all taken back up to Washington for trial, imprisonment and questioning, and burial, respectively.

Mrs. Carter and her daughters likely heard later that the men the troopers were looking for at their tavern were not wanted for an outrage on a girl but, rather, for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

After the Civil War, Mrs. Carter and her daughters continued to run The Trap as tavern. Out of the four daughters, only Agnes would marry but would be widowed soon after the birth of her own daughter. Unfortunately, times continued to be tough for the Carters and in 1870’s Mrs. Carter had defaulted on her loans. She sold off some of her land to try to stay afloat but in 1888 the land containing the tavern was auctioned off to pay for her debts. The tavern property was purchased by a man named George Lonesome who, in 1913, sold it to man named J. Harvey Whittaker. Sometime between 1900 and 1924, The Trap tavern was demolished. A subsequent owner named J. D. Smithers built and ran a store on the site from 1924 until 1941.

During World War II, the United States government, in need of suitable training and maneuvering ground, seized and purchased over 77,000 acres of Caroline County, Virginia. Residents in the area were given between two weeks and two days to move out of their homes, taking all of their belongings with them, never to return. For many, the land seized by the government had been their homesteads for generations. It was a difficult time for many families in the area who had to leave the farms that had been in their families for years. Yet, the land provided to create the training grounds of Fort A.P. Hill was essential for the war effort. Today, Fort A.P.Hill is split in half by a highway, Route 301. The southern half, which contains the area of The Trap, is the home of various live weapons ranges and is practically always off limits to the public, even to those whose ancestors lived, died, and were buried there.

That being said, today, June 11, 2016, was the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Fort A. P. Hill and as such they had various history exhibits and activities planned for the day that were open to the public. The activities included a one time tour of the Delos area where The Trap was located. What follows are some pictures of The Trap site that David Herold and the members of the 16th New York Cavalry visited.

Trap Tour Map

This map was provided in a booklet tour participants received and shows a modern aerial photo of the sites with former land tracts superimposed over the image. The Trap tavern where Herold et al stopped is actually labelled here as #2 Smithers’ Store, as a man named Smithers ran a store on the former site of The Trap from 1924 – 1941. As stated above, the farm owned by George Washington Carter and inherited by Martha Carter was 452 acres which is why #1 is labeled as the Trap farm but is actually the location of a later home built on the property around the 1890’s.

Trap Ice House 1

Trap Ice House 2

While the main residence that occupied #1 “Trap Farm” was built in the 1890’s, there are some remnants of a much earlier outbuilding in the area that was likely connected to the tavern. These pictures show what is left of an old, sizable ice house. In the days before refrigeration, families would essentially dig a large hole in the ground. The deeper you dig the cooler the earth is and at a certain point it can get close to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. You would place your ice in these deep pits and then cover it  with saw dust or another insulator to slow down melting, allowing you to have ice even in the summer months. The whole thing would then be covered with a primitive roof of some sort. The size and depth of this ice house and its relative proximity to The Trap tavern has led the archaeologists to conclude that this ice house was used by the tavern to provide them with their ice.

 

Trap dirt explanation

This image is a preface for the ones that follow and explains why much of The Trap site and the old road that ran right in front of it look like a construction site today. The entire site around The Trap is covered in this layer of “foreign dirt” that had to be removed before excavations could be done.

Trap Rolling Road

In this image you can see very clearly the traces of the old “Rolling Road” that connected Bowling Green to Port Royal. This image is taken looking southwest in the direction of Bowling Green.

Trap Rolling Road 2

This image shows the remains of the Rolling Road in the opposite direction. You can just make out at the end how the road is beginning to turn towards the left. Following that turn takes you north towards Port Royal. David Herold, Bainbridge, Ruggles, and the 16th New York Cavalry all traveled this road twice on their way to and from Bowling Green.

The Trap Site 6-11-16

The Trap site 2 6-11-16

These pictures show the site of The Trap tavern itself. In the top picture you can see a dark square in the foreground. That is one of the brick piers that the tavern sat on. It was highlighted by spraying it with water to make the color more noticeable. In the bottom image you can no longer see the square as the water has evaporated but it is located between the green bags in the middle. The bottom image is taken from the Rolling Road to give you an idea of how close to the road the tavern stood. It was located on this perfect spot where the road curved north making its own intersection.

Kate in The Trap

Dave in The Trap

These are two images of Kate and me standing “in” The Trap. You can see the Rolling Road behind me.

The tour of The Trap site was a wonderful experience and one that we felt lucky to take part in. The location of The Trap inside the boundaries of the live range area of Fort A. P. Hill insures that it will rarely be open to the public. At the same time, Fort A. P. Hill seem to be the perfect stewards of the site and their archaeology efforts demonstrate their commitment to preserving the cultural heritage of the land they occupy.

In closing, I would be remiss if I did not address the two “elephants in the room” when it comes to The Trap. One issue is the correct spelling of the tavern. I, like many others, have always spelled it as The Trappe. You can find this spelling in other texts and articles about the assassination. According to one of our guides for the day, John Mullins, the site was originally spelled Trap and not Trappe. John says that this spelling did not come about until the 1890’s or so and was likely started after the area became known as Delos. The spelling of The Trap with the extra “pe” was likely people’s inadvertent way of referring to the old name and making it seem ever older by giving it the old English spelling.

The second item that I failed to address was the reputation of The Trap and the Carter ladies. Some texts and authors state that The Trap was a thinly disguised brothel run by Mrs. Carter and her daughters. When I first began researching the Lincoln assassination I heard from several knowledgeable individuals that The Trap had a slightly scandalous reputation. However, in researching the topic I have yet to come across anything that truly supports this idea. The origin of this misconception appears to be an April 27, 1865 statement from Luther Baker. In recounting the hunt for Booth, Baker shares the detachment’s stop at the Trap thusly: “About halfway to Bowling Green, which is 15 miles from the ferry, we stopped at a log house called the halfway house. We found there four or five ladies, who keep a house of entertainment.” Baker then proceeds to recount how no men were found in the house and how the ladies eventually gave them the information they needed. This wording that the Carter ladies kept a “house of entertainment” seems to be the fairly innocuous wellspring from which all unseemly rumors have flowed. However, in its early days, The Trap was a house of entertainment. Horse races and card games took place there. According to one of our guides for the tour, the name of The Trap was an old reference to how the tavern was a money trap for those who went there to play cards. Whether Mrs. Carter and her daughters still allowed card playing when they owned the tavern is unclear, but even if they did, a little card playing doesn’t equate to a house of sin. Unless better evidence can be found to support the idea that they were improper in anyway, I think Mrs. Carter and her daughters deserve to have their reputations vindicated.

References:
Former Community of Delos (The Trap) Tour Itinerary booklet
“The Trappe” by James O. Hall published in the Surratt Courier June 1987
John Mullins, Kerri Holland, Rich Davis – Archaeologists
The Lincoln Assassination – The Reward Files edited by William Edwards
An Irishman in Dixie: Thomas Conolly’s Diary of the Fall of the Confederacy edited by Nelson D. Lankford

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Inside Thomas Jones’ Huckleberry

Thomas Austin Jones has gone down in history for the assistance he gave assassin John Wilkes Booth and his accomplice David Herold. Jones not only cared for the two fugitives as they hid out in a pine thicket in Charles County, but he also transported Booth and Herold from the thicket to the shores of the Potomac from which they got into a boat and attempted to row across to Virginia.

Thomas Jones 1

Thomas Jones, who was born in the Port Tobacco area in 1820, owned two houses in Charles County during the Civil War. It was from his larger home on the Potomac River called Ravenscliff that Jones began his career as a mail agent for the Confederacy, but by 1865, his financial situation and death of his wife had caused him to downsize his estate to the more modest Huckleberry farm. Jones was living at Huckleberry with his nine children when Samuel Cox, Jr. showed up on the morning of April 16th and beckoned Jones to return with him to his father’s farm of Rich Hill. At Rich Hill, Jones would learn about Cox’s nighttime visitors and be given the task of caring for the fugitives while looking for an opportunity to get them across the Potomac.

Huckleberry-Animation

Today, as part of the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage in Charles County, Thomas Jones’ home of Huckleberry was open to the general public for the first time in 56 years when it was featured in the 1960 Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage. The house has been remodeled and updated since Thomas Jones’ days but still maintains much of its same 1865 character.

Huckleberry exterior

Huckleberry door

Huckleberry Parlor

Huckleberry stairs

Huckleberry meeting room

Huckleberry kitchen

Jones Mantle

These images, along with the watchable yet somewhat motion sickness inducing video that follows, were all taken today after the garden tour was completed. About 450 people showed up and toured through Huckleberry while I stood in the room with chairs giving visitors a brief overview of Thomas Jones and his life before, during, and after John Wilkes Booth.

The visitors truly seemed to enjoy learning more about this unique man and his role in the Lincoln assassination story. Probably the most interesting little known fact about Thomas Jones is that, in 1893 when he traveled to the World’s Fair in Chicago in order to try to tell his book about helping Booth, Jones actually borrowed and brought with him two artifacts from Dr. Mudd’s house. The Mudd family allowed Jones to borrow the bed that Booth slept in at the Mudd house along with the parlor sofa on which John Wilkes Booth laid on while Dr. Mudd had inspected his leg. Having these artifacts did not help Jones much, however. His book sold very poorly in the Land of Lincoln and he came back to Charles County with many copies of the book and a great deal of debt from the venture.

Though it is impossible to say the next time that Huckleberry will be open to public tours again, the Loyola on the Potomac Retreat House has done a wonderful job as stewards of the house and property since they acquired it in the 1950’s. So even if Huckleberry waits another 56 years before being on the garden tour again, I think, in the meantime, it will stay in very good hands.

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BoothieBarn Live on NBC 4!

If any of you in the D.C. metropolitan area happened to be watching NBC’s News4 Midday today, you might have seen a familiar face and outfit. I was asked to appear on the live news show along with Melissa Willett of the Charles County Garden Club in order to promote this Saturday’s Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage in Charles County. Every three years the pilgrimage takes place in Charles County and this year it will be featuring two properties connected to the Lincoln assassination story. Participants in the tour will have the opportunity to visit and go inside Thomas Jones’ house of Huckleberry as well as walk the property of the Loyola on the Potomac Catholic Retreat which contains the exact site of where John Wilkes Booth and David Herold got into a boat and tried to cross the Potomac. Melissa and I were interviewed about the event by NBC anchor Barbara Harrison:

UPDATE: NBC 4 has put up a much better version of this interview on their website. Watch it here: http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Historic-Homes-Tour_Washington-DC-380991271.html

As stated in the interview I will be at Huckleberry from 10:00 – 5:00pm on Saturday, showing people the inside of the house and discussing Thomas Jones’ role in assisting John Wilkes Booth. Tickets for the tour, which contains a total of eight homes, are $35 and they can be purchased at any of the sites during the tour on Saturday, May 28, 2016. The proceeds from the event will be benefiting the Maryland Veterans Museum.

I enjoyed the interview with Ms. Harrison and was happy to see that, in the footage that rolled as we spoke, the highway marker for the Garrett site made an appearance. Kate and I wrote the text for that marker and it was on the day that we unveiled it that I made my first live television appearance. I always have fun sharing my interest in the Lincoln assassination story with others, even if it is for a brief time during a busy news show.

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Historic Port Royal in The Community Give

In my last post I announced a then upcoming, now passed, John Wilkes Booth escape route bus tour through Virginia narrated by Michael Kauffman. The tour was this last Saturday and was a great success. We had a packed bus and all the participants learned a lot from the premier expert on the Lincoln assassination.

Photo courtesy of Dennis Tuttle

Dave Taylor, Kate Ramirez and Mike Kauffman in front of the sign for the Port Royal Museum of American History. Photo courtesy of Dennis Tuttle

The entire tour was a fundraiser for Historic Port Royal, the historical society for Port Royal, Virginia. I am a board member for HPR and gave my little pitch about the many wonderful things this historical society provides:

We are a growing historical society and currently operate three different museums: The Port Royal Museum of American History, The Port Royal Museum of Medicine, and the Old Port Royal School. Each year HPR also organizes a free to the public Independence Day celebration. This is in addition to our quarterly newsletter, public events, and speakers throughout the year. If you are not already a member of Historic Port Royal, please join us. We are a 100% volunteer organization and so your small annual dues help us preserve our growing collection of artifacts and keep the lights on at our museums so that more people may come and learn about this historic town.

I cannot over emphasize the uniqueness of the Port Royal Museum of American History. Due to our benefactor, Herb Collins, the museum has the largest collection of White House china outside of the Smithsonian Institution. It also has what is likely the largest collection of American toleware, and a very sizable collection of Native American arrowheads and tools. We also have an exact replica of the desk Thomas Jefferson used to write the Declaration of Independence.

For the Lincoln assassination buff, the Port Royal Museum of American History has a great exhibit of artifacts relating to John Wilkes Booth’s death. We have a hinge from the barn in which Booth was shot, a brick from the Garrett house where Booth died, CDVs of Booth and his acting associates, a claimed (but not verified) self-portrait of John Wilkes Booth, a painting by famed artist Sidney E. King showing the surrounding of the Garrett’s tobacco barn, a map of the Garrett farm, a replica of the highway marker currently at the Garrett farm site so that you can read it with ease instead of attempting to do so as you fly by it on Route 301, and more.

During special exhibits, such as last Saturday’s Booth tour, we also display items loaned to us such a collection of Booth CDVs, a playbill of Edwin Booth’s, and a mount containing images and authentic autographs of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, and Boston Corbett.

The reason I am reminding you all about the wonderful things contained in the Port Royal Museum of American History is because tomorrow, May 3, 2016, Historic Port Royal will be participating in The Community Give.

The Community Give Icon

What is The Community Give? It’s a 24-hour online day of giving event that benefits nonprofit organizations. It was created by The Community Foundation located in Fredericksburg, Virginia and is a way for locals and non-locals, to give back to worthy nonprofits in the Rappahannock River region. This year is Historic Port Royal‘s first year participating in The Community Give and we’d love to have your support.

For a gift of $10 or more, you can help Historic Port Royal to increase public awareness of its museums and seasonal events; help us purchase promotional materials, advertisements, and signage; and support our museum by allowing us to purchase archival-grade storage and curation materials and general office supplies.

You can find Historic Port Royal’s donation page on the Community Give website by searching under Preservation, or by clicking this link. Remember that the donation period is only active during the 24 hours of May 3, 2016 EST.

In addition to your donations, the Community Foundation also awards different prizes to non-profits throughout the event and after it is completed. One of the prizes is a “Newcomer Prize” in which $500 is awarded to the nonprofit that is new to the Community Give this year and makes the most money. We would love for our debut year to include this prize. If you donate at least $25 at different times throughout the day we are also entered into drawings to receive other bonus awards from the Community Foundation. Check out the Leaderboard page of the Community Give to see how we’re doing throughout the day and to see what other awards you might be able to help us receive with your donation.

I hope that you will consider donating to Historic Port Royal during the Community Give on May 3rd. HPR is the steward of Port Royal’s history and treasures. As was demonstrated by last week’s tour, Historic Port Royal is also devoted to teaching the public about the death of John Wilkes Booth. The Garrett farmhouse may be gone, but, with your support, Historic Port Royal will continue to tell the dramatic ending to the true story that is the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Thank you.

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John Wilkes Booth Escape Route Tour Through Virginia

While there have been many wonderful books written about the Lincoln assassination, whenever someone asks for my opinion about the best book on the subject I always direct them to American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. In terms of depth of research and wealth of knowledge I believe American Brutus to be unparalleled in Lincoln assassination scholarship. In turn, I also view its author, Michael Kauffman, to be the foremost expert on the Lincoln assassination. The man has spent over 50 years delving into every single side story relating to Booth and the assassination. Not only that but Mr. Kauffman has also “walked the walked” in personally recreating many of the events relating to the history. His stories of jumping from a ladder onto the stage at Ford’s Theatre and his own attempt to row across the Potomac were big motivations to me and inspired me to create my “John Wilkes Booth in the Woods” reenactment.  Mr. Kauffman is a walking encyclopedia and also happens to be one of the nicest people you could meet. Needless to say that whenever I get a chance to talk and learn from Mr. Kauffman, I am definitely in awe of his knowledge and experience.

Mike Kauffman and Us 4-14-15

The reason I am saying all of this is because there is a rare opportunity for those of you in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area to learn from this true expert on the Lincoln assassination. While Mr. Kauffman was once a fixture of the John Wilkes Booth escape route bus tours put on by the Surratt Society, he retired from doing that a few years ago and rarely does bus tours anymore. However, he will be conducting a very special John Wilkes Booth escape route bus tour on Saturday, April 30, 2016. This unique bus tour is being put on by Historic Port Royal, the historical society in Port Royal, Virginia, where John Wilkes Booth was cornered and killed. This tour is focused entirely on Booth’s escape through Virginia and will commence just over the Potomac River in King George County, Virginia. Here’s a scanned page about the event from the newest HPR newsletter:

HPR Page April 30 BERT Kauffman

Click to enlarge

As some of you may know, I am a board member for Historic Port Royal. We are a growing historical society and currently operate three different museums: The Port Royal Museum of American History, The Port Royal Museum of Medicine, and the Old Port Royal School. Each year HPR also organizes an Independence Day celebration. This is in addition to our quarterly newsletter and public events and speakers throughout the year. If you are not already a member of Historic Port Royal, please join us. We are a 100% volunteer organization and so your small annual dues help us preserve our growing collection of artifacts and keep the lights on at our museums so that more people may come and learn about this historic town.

Historic Port Royal is using this bus tour as a fundraiser and we would love to sell out every seat on the bus. As stated on the above flyer, the tour is from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturday, April 30, 2016. The cost is $65 which includes a box lunch.

For those who have taken other Booth escape route tours before, this tour will include familiar spots such as Mrs. Quesenberry’s house, Dr. Stuart’s Cleydael, and the Peyton House in Port Royal. However it will also include stops at Belle Grove Plantation (the birthplace of President James Madison where members of the 16th NY Cavalry stopped while on the hunt for Booth), The Port Royal Museum Museum of American History (which contains several artifacts relating to the Garrett farm and the death of Booth), and a fuller tour of Port Royal itself complete with a skit on the porch of the Peyton House re-enacting Booth’s arrival in town (by Kate and yours truly).

The whole event promises to be one that participants will not soon forget especially with a guide as knowledgeable as Michael Kauffman.

To get more information or to reserve your spot please call HPR Treasurer Bill Henderson at (804) 450-3994 or email him at WehLsu82@aol.com. There are very few seats left for this special tour of John Wilkes Booth’s escape through Virginia led by Lincoln assassination expert Michael Kauffman. I hope to see some of you there.

Kauffman BERT tix HPR

Categories: News | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

“To Whom it May Concern”

On this date in 1865, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a telling letter written by John Wilkes Booth, the recent assassin of President Lincoln.

To Whom is Published

The letter is known to readers of the Lincoln assassination story as John Wilkes Booth’s, “To Whom it May Concern” letter. Its title is derived from the letter’s greeting which was appropriated by Booth from a letter written by Lincoln in July of 1864. At that time, a small delegation of “peace emissaries” representing the Confederacy had approached the Union government under the guise of facilitating a cessation of hostilities and possible re-unification of the nation under the condition that they be allowed to continue the practice of slavery. It was a difficult period in the war and Lincoln himself knew his chance of winning re-election later that year was slim. Knowing that Lincoln would never agree to their terms, the so-called “Niagara Falls peace conference” was a piece of propaganda for the Confederacy, which was more aimed to further diminish Lincoln’s approval and chance of re-election. Lincoln was likely well aware of conference’s true purpose and wrote to the “peace emissaries” that any discussion of peace must include the “abandonment of slavery”.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Knowing that his position would be viewed and lamented as stubbornness by the Confederacy and by the Democrats running against him, Lincoln decided to add further insult to injury by refusing to address the emissaries by name. Instead, Lincoln wrote his note “To Whom it May Concern,” diminishing the importance and respectability of the so-called “peace emissaries.” John Wilkes Booth subsequently used this somewhat insulting address in his own explanatory letter that follows.

The letter was published due to the efforts of Booth’s brother-in-law, John Sleeper Clarke. Following the assassination of Lincoln, Clarke and his wife, Asia Booth, recalled that John Wilkes had left a package of papers in the safe of their home in Philadelphia. Upon opening the package they found this letter, another addressed to his mother, Mary Ann Booth, and some oil stocks. As more and more Booths arrived at the Clarkes’ home (Mary Ann came from New York very soon after hearing the tragic news in order to comfort Asia, who was pregnant, and Junius Jr. arrived from an acting engagement in Cincinnati to be with the family), John Sleeper thought that the letters would be of help in proving the family’s innocence as to John’s plan. Clarke had copies made of both the To Whom it May Concern letter and the one addressed to Mrs. Booth. Then, accompanied by a member of the Philadelphia press corps, Clarke went to the office of William Millward, the Provost Marshal of Philadelphia.

John Sleeper Clarke

John Sleeper Clarke

Clarke asked the Marshal for permission to publish the letters and the circumstances surrounding their discovery in order to demonstrate that the family had no foreknowledge of John Wilkes’ crime. Millward approved the publication of the To Whom it May Concern letter for the next day but not the letter that John Wilkes wrote to his mother. Millward did not want anything published that might garner sympathy for the assassin. This was a let down to Clarke, as Booth’s letter to his mother more effectively demonstrated how completely unaware the family was as to John Wilkes’ intentions. While the To Whom it May Concern letter was published, it did not assuage the suspicion on the Booth family. Shortly after the letter was published, both John Sleeper Clarke and Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. were arrested and taken down to Washington, D.C. The youngest Booth, Joseph, would also be arrested leaving Edwin as the only male Booth not to be locked up. This series of events greatly bothered Clarke, who would complain about his improper treatment and the favored treatment of Edwin for the rest of his days. The assassination and the events that followed it marked the beginning of John Sleeper Clarke rejecting all things Booth, including his wife, Asia, whom he would grow to loathe.

Though not dated besides the year, Booth’s letter was likely written just following Lincoln’s miraculous re-election in November of 1864. The letter lays out John Wilkes Booth’s political and ideological beliefs and provides his reasons for his plan to abduct President Lincoln. Booth had started, sort of halfheartedly at first, to assemble a crew of conspirators in the summer of 1864 with the idea of abducting the President and taking him South. In this manner, Booth hoped to use Lincoln as a hostage to reinstate the prisoner exchange program between the Union and the Confederacy. This idea took on an increased importance in Booth’s mind after Lincoln’s surprise re-election on November 8, 1864. Immediately following this date, John Wilkes Booth began acting more in earnest and less than a week after the election, he was in Southern Maryland scouting the area and looking for others who might help him in his plot.

John Wilkes Booth Gutman 27

John Wilkes Booth

This letter, therefore, was written right at the beginning of Booth’s plot to abduct the President. It contains perhaps the most honest look into the mind and thoughts of John Wilkes Booth. In less than six months after this letter was written, the same motivations that led Booth to consider abduction, led him to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

"To Whom It May Concern" 1864 RG 60 Department of Justice Segregated Documents from Attorney General Letters Received, 1809-1870 Box 4 ReDiscovery Identifier: 6542

My Dear Sir                                                                                                                  1864.

You may use this, as you think best. But as some, may wish to know the when, the who, and the why, and as I know not, how, to direct, I give it (in the words of your master)

“To whom it may concern”

Right, or wrong, God, judge me, not man. For be my motive good or bad, of one thing I am sure, the lasting condemnation of the North.

I love peace more than life. Have loved the Union beyond expression. For four years have I waited, hoped, and prayed, for the dark clouds to break, and for the restoration of our former sunshine. To wait longer, would be a crime. All hope for peace is dead. My prayers have proved as idle as my hopes. ‘God’s’ will be done: I go to see, and share the bitter end.

I have ever held the South were right. The very nomination of Abraham Lincoln four years ago, spoke plainly – war – war upon Southern rights and institutions, his election proved it. “Await an overt act.” Yes till you are bound and plundered. What folly. The South were wise. Who thinks of argument and patience when the finger of his enemy presses on the trigger. In a foreign war, I too could

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 1 NARA

say, “Country right or wrong”, but in a struggle such as ours (where the brother tries to pierce the brothers heart) for God’s sake choose the right. When a country such as ours like this, spurns justice from her side, she forfeits the allegiance of every honest freeman, and should leave him untrammeled by any fealty soever, to act, as his conscience may approve.

People of the North, to hate tyranny to love liberty and justice, to strike at wrong and oppression, was the teaching of our fathers. The study of our early history will not let me forget it. And may it never.

This country was formed for the white not for the black man. And looking upon African slavery from the same stand-point, held by those noble framers of our Constitution, I for one, have ever considered it, one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us,) that God ever bestowed upon a favored nation. Witness heretofore our wealth and power, witness their elevation in happiness and enlightenment above their race, elsewhere. I have lived among it most of my life and have seen less harsh treatment from master to man, than I have beheld in the North from father to son. Yet Heaven

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 2 NARA

knows no one would be willing to do, more for the negro race than I. Could I but see a way to still better their condition. But Lincoln’s policy is only preparing the way, for their total annihilation. The South are not, nor have they been, fighting for the continuance of slavery, the first battle of Bull-run did away with that idea. Their causes since for war, have been as noble, and greater far than those that urged our fathers on. Even should we allow, they were wrong at the beginning of this contest, cruelty and injustice, have made the wrong become the right. And they stand now (before the wonder and admiration of the world,) as a noble band of patriotic heroes. Hereafter, reading of their deeds, Thermopylae will be forgotten.

When I aided in the capture and the g execution of John Brown, (who was a murderer on our Western Border, and who was fairly tried and convicted, – before an impartial judge & jury – of treason, – and who by the way has since been made a God – I was proud of my little share in the transaction, for I deemed it my duty and that I was helping our common country to perform an act of justice. But what was a crime in poor John Brown, is now considered (by themselves) as the greatest and only virtue, of the whole

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 3 NARA

Republican party. Strange transmigration. Vice to become a virtue. Simply because more indulge in it. I thought then, as now, that the abolitionists, were the only traitors in the land, and that the entire party deserved the fate of poor old Brown. Not because they wish to abolish slavery, but on account of the means they have ever used endeavored to use, to effect that abolition. If Brown were living, I doubt if he himself would set slavery, against the Union. Most, in or many, in the North do, And openly curse the Union, if the South are to return and retain a single right guaranteed them by every tie which we once revered as sacred. The south can make no choice. It is either extermination, or slavery for themselves, (worse than death) to draw from. I would know my choice.

I have, also, studied hard to discover upon what grounds, the rights of a state to secede have been denied, when our very name (United States) and the Declaration of Independence, both provide for secession. But there is no time for words. I write in haste. I know how foolish I shall be deemed, for undertaking such a step, as this, where on the one side, I have many friends, and everything to make me happy. Where my profession alone has gained me an income of more than twenty thousand dollars a year. And where my great personal ambition in my profession has such a great field for labor. On the other hand- the south have

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 4 NARA

never bestowed upon me one kind word. A place now, where I have no friends, except beneath the sod. A place where I must become either become a private soldier, or a beggar. To give up all of the former for the latter, besides my mother and sisters whom I love so dearly, (although they so widely differ with me in opinion) seems insane. But God is my judge. I love justice, more than I do a country, that disowns it. More than fame and wealth. More – (Heaven pardon me if wrong) more than a happy home. I have never been upon a battlefield, but O my countrymen, could you all but see the reality or effects of this horrid war, as I have seen them (in every State, save Virginia) I know you would think like me. And would pray the Almighty to create in the Northern mind a sense of right and justice, (even should it possess no seasoning of mercy), and that he would dry up this sea of blood between us, – which is daily growing wider.

Alas, poor country, is, she to meet her threatened doom. Four years ago I would have given a thousand lives to see her remain, (as I had always known her) powerful and unbroken. And even now I would hold my life as naught, to see her what she was. O my friends if the fearful scenes of the past four years had never been enacted, or if what had been, had been but a frightful dream, from which we could now awake, with what overflowing hearts could we bless our God and pray for his continued favor. How I have loved the old flag can never, now, be known. A few years since and

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 5 NARA

the entire world could boast of none so pure and spotless. But I have of late been seeing and hearing of the bloody deeds of which she has been made, the emblem, and would shudder to think how changed she had grown. O How I have longed to see her break from the mist of blood and death that now circles round her folds, spoiling her beauty and tarnishing her honor. But no, day by day has she been draged deeper and deeper into cruelty and oppression, till now (in my eyes) her once bright-red stripes look like bloody gashes on the face of Heaven. I look now upon my early admiration of her glories as a dream. My love, (as things stand to day,) is for the South alone. Nor, do I deem it a dishonor, in attempting to make for her a prisoner of this man, to whom she owes so much of misery. If success attends me, I go penniless to her side. They say she has found that “last ditch” which the North have so long derided, and been endeavoring to force her in, forgetting they are our brothers, and that its impolitic to goad an enemy to madness. Should I reach her in safety and find it true, I will proudly beg permission to triumph or die in that same “ditch” by her side.

A Confederate, at present doing duty upon his own responsibility

J WilkesBooth

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 6 NARA

References:
“Right or Wrong, God Judge Me” : The Writings of John Wilkes Booth edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper
NARA

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

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