Grave Thursday: Dr. William Queen

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.


Dr. William Queen

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Burial Location: St. Mary’s Cemetery, Bryantown, Maryland

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Dr. William Queen was a physician in Charles County, Maryland who lived about six miles south of Bryantown. On November 11, 1864, John Wilkes Booth rode the stage down from Washington, D.C. to Bryantown where he spent the night. In his possession, Booth carried a letter of introduction to Dr. Queen. Booth had acquired this letter while he was in Montreal, Canada in the middle of October from a Confederate smuggler named Patrick Martin. Martin was from St. Mary’s County and still had contacts with the underground network of Confederate sympathizers and operatives back in Southern Maryland. Booth was anxious to connect with these individuals for his planned abduction plot against Abraham Lincoln. When Booth arrived in Bryantown the first time, he was able to send word to Dr. Queen that he wanted to meet with him. The next day Dr. Queen’s son, Joseph, picked Booth up at the Bryantown Tavern and brought him to his father’s home. John Wilkes Booth spent the night of November 12, at Dr. Queen’s home.

Dr. Queen’s son-in-law, John Thompson, would later testify at the trial of the conspirators that Booth’s letter of introduction to the doctor only mentioned that the actor was looking to purchase some land in the area and asked Dr. Queen to furnish him with assistance in this regard. This, however, is likely just a cover story that Booth and the Queen family committed to using. Booth’s true purpose was to scout the lands and roads of Charles County while simultaneously looking for individuals who would assist him in his abduction plot.

Dr. Queen was about 73 years old when Booth first arrived at his home. He was quite infirm and less than a year later he would become bedridden. So while Dr. Queen could not provide Booth with much in the way of physical assistance, his knowledge of the people and land was helpful. The next day, on November 13th, John Wilkes Booth joined Dr. Queen and his family in attending church at St. Mary’s Church in Bryantown. “Coincidentally” Dr. Samuel Mudd made the decision to attend St. Mary’s Church that Sunday rather than his home church of St. Peter’s. John Thompson introduced John Wilkes Booth to Dr. Mudd outside of the church before services commenced.

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John Wilkes Booth would return to Dr. Queen’s home after church was over and subsequently return back to Washington.

Booth was not absent from Charles County for very long, however. On December 17th, he returned to Bryantown and spent another night with Dr. Queen and his family. The next morning, a Sunday, Booth once again attended church at St. Mary’s before he met up with Dr. Mudd. For the next few days, Dr. Mudd, not Dr. Queen, would be Booth’s host. In this way, Dr. Mudd came to replace Dr. Queen as a more able bodied facilitator of Booth’s plot. Mudd introduced the actor to Thomas Harbin, a Confederate agent who signed on to help with the abduction plot. It was also during this trip that Dr. Mudd helped Booth to purchase a horse from the doctor’s next door neighbor, George Gardiner. Booth returned to Washington on December 22nd, and, the very next day, Dr. Mudd took a visit to Washington where he happened to introduce Booth to John Surratt, who would become another willing and helpful participant in Booth’s plot.

After the assassination of Lincoln and the subsequent investigation, Dr. Queen avoided arrest due to his declining health that had left him bedridden. His son-in-law, John Thompson, was taken up to Washington in his stead. Thompson would testify at the trial about Booth’s arrival in the county and his introduction to Dr. Mudd.

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Dr. Queen’s health continued to deteriorate and, on March 1, 1866, he died at his home near Bryantown. He was buried next to his first wife and his son Joseph (the son who had transported Booth to the Queen home in November of 1864) who had died in November of 1865. The family plot is near the back of St. Mary’s Church cemetery, the same cemetery where Dr. Mudd would later be buried.

One of the artifacts in the collection of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum is a newspaper clipping that was owned by one of Dr. Queen’s daughters, Molly Queen. The clipping contains a poem called “Then and Now” which was a piece of political propaganda related to the election of 1864. The poem laments the poor condition of the country due to the last four years of Lincoln’s presidency and encourages the reader to vote for the Democratic candidate, George McClellan. The poem ends with the line: “Three cheers for Mac and the good times coming; And a groan for Abraham!”

While this piece completely fits with the political point of view of the Queen family and so many others in Southern Maryland, what makes this artifact unique and worth saving is an ambiguous signature which is affixed in pencil to the side of the clipping:

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John Wilkes Booth did visit the Queen family for the first time just a few days after the election of 1864 and so it is likely that Molly Queen had this clipping out and around during the actor’s visit. Even if this is not actually John Wilkes Booth’s signature, it still is a fascinating artifact connecting John Wilkes Booth and the family of Dr. William Queen.

GPS coordinates for Dr. William Queen’s grave: 38.539667, -76.836000

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

Grave Thursday: Frederick Aiken

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.


Frederick Aiken

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Burial Location: Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Frederick Aiken was one of Mary Surratt’s defense counsels at the trial of the conspirators. A dramatic version of his exploits during the trial was the subject of the 2010 movie, The Conspirator, starring James McAvoy and Robin WrightDuring the course of researching for the film, it was discovered by researcher Christine Christensen that Aiken had been buried in an unmarked grave in D.C.’s Oak Hill Cemetery. The Surratt Society completed a fundraiser to mark Aiken’s grave. I briefly posted about the installment of the grave marker in 2012.

I highly recommend Christine Christensen’s article about Aiken’s life called, Finding Frederick.

Coincidentally, Frederick Aiken is buried within throwing distance of another attorney at the trial of the conspirators, William Smith Cox, the lawyer who represented Michael O’Laughlen. Later, Walter Cox would be involved in a trial for another assassinated president when he was the presiding judge at the trial of Charles Guiteau, the assassin of President James Garfield.

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GPS coordinates for Frederick Aiken’s grave: 38.914285, -77.058428

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Edwin Booth and the “Big Hole in the Ground”

edwin-booth-circa-1876-harvard In 1876, eleven years after his brother assassinated Abraham Lincoln, Edwin Booth was still making his living as a touring actor. After a brief period of respectful grief and contemplation in the months following his brother’s crime, Edwin’s success and fame as an actor had only increased through the years. However, while Edwin was widely respected and praised for his talents, his business dealings over the past decade had hurt him considerably. The lavish theater he financed, constructed, and named after himself in New York had bankrupted him and he had been forced to sell ownership of it to help cover his debts. As much as he disliked the stress of touring, it was the only way he was able to recoup his losses and provide for his family. He had hoped the Booth Theatre would be his home for years, but its failure required him to retake the role as a touring star.

One man who knew the pain of losing a theater all too well was John T. Ford – he having lost his theater in Washington due to Edwin’s brother’s crime. John T. Ford approached Edwin Booth with an idea for a tour of the heart of the former Confederate states. Edwin Booth had not played in these areas since before the Civil War and John T. Ford assured Edwin that there would be a fortune to be made in his return. Edwin agreed and starting in January of 1876, he began a tour of cities in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. Joining him on this tour was his second wife, Mary McVicker. As Ford had predicted, Edwin was widely acclaimed during his performances in the South. “It was an ordinary sight to behold the ladies standing in double lines throwing flowers in his path as [Edwin] walked from his hotel to the theatre,” the company manager John Barron later recalled.

While the tour was a financially successful one and Edwin was pleased by the reception of his audiences, he was often displeased with the newspaper articles that accompanied his tour. The articles often contained “disgraceful anecdotes” about his father, Junius Brutus Booth, “all in the main false or exaggerated.” Worse yet, Edwin could not escape the shadow of his brother’s crime. He would write to a friend that during his tour he was, “daily reminded of the disgrace and misery that can never be forgotten by me or any member of my family.” Edwin was no doubt aware that there was a strong desire by many Southerners to see not just “Booth, the great Tragedian” but also “Booth, the brother of the assassin.”

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The tour with Ford was a short one with Edwin completing his final performance in Bowling Green, Kentucky on March 3rd. The entire tour grossed almost $90,000. Edwin made his own arrangements to perform in Louisville, Kentucky starting on March 13th, leaving him with a few days of downtime. Edwin decided to take this opportunity to visit a local landmark, Mammoth Cave.

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Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world with over 405 miles worth of surveyed passageways. Edwin Booth was greatly impressed by his experience touring through just a small bit of the cave system and wrote about his experience to his daughter Edwina. Please be aware that in this letter Edwin writes the words of his black guide, William Garvin, in the form of “negro dialect” which is most widely known today due to the writings of Mark Twain. Edwin also demonstrates his racial views which, while not acceptable today, were common with white men of the period. Edwin Booth was likely unaware that his guide was a veteran of the Civil War and had done more to protect the country that they shared than the actor ever did.

“I must tell you of our ride from Mammoth Cave, that ” big hole in the ground.” I shall try to relate the wonders I heard in the cavern, and describe our jog over the stones through the forest. Our guide was a bright young colored chap, who produced by his imitations of dogs, cows, etc., some fine effects of ventriloquism on our way through the cave. In pointing out to us a huge stone shaped like a coffin he would remark: “Dis is de giant’s coff-in”; then, taking us to the other dilapidated side of it : ” Dis is what he coughed out.” Then we reached what they call down there “The Altar,” where some foolish folk were married once upon a time. “De young lady swore she nebber would marry any man on the face ob the earth, so she came down yer and got married under de face ob de earth. ‘Spec’ she wanted materomony inter de groun’.” Then he would cry out, ” Hi ! John ! ” and we could hear the echo, as we thought, far away; then he would strike the ground with his staff, and we could hear a loud, reverberating sound, as tho’ all beneath were hollow, though when any of us tried it, no sound would come. He had finally to own up that he was both cause and effect.

William Garvin, Edwin Booth's guide through the Mammoth Cave

William Garvin, Edwin Booth’s guide through the Mammoth Cave

Frequently we found in different chambers in the cave crystallizations hanging from the rocky ceilings called “stalactites,” and others rising from the ground directly beneath them, reaching up and often joining the ones from above, and forming a solid pillar from floor to roof; these latter are called ” stalagmites.” William, our guide (very serious all the time), remarked that ” De upper ones was called stalac-tite ’cause dey stuck tight to de roof, and de odder ones stalag-mite — cause dey might reach the upper ones, and den again dey might n’t.” A facetious and comical darky, truly! One of these columns, or pillars, had a sort of knob on it shaped like a fat dumpling face, which is named here “Lot’s Wife.” William said, “And she has n’t done poutin’ about it yet.” So we went laughing at his weak jokes; for it was funny to us actors to see this fellow throwing his wit at us, and our appreciation of his acting made him very happy. I think I have already written about the pretty little bats that hang about the walls and roof of the cave in clusters, with heads down and mouths wide open, as if laughing in childish glee at the fun they are having in playing “upside down.”

One of the geological formations pointed out by William Garvin was the “Giant’s Coffin”. This large slab of rock, about 40 feet long resembles a huge coffin when viewed from the right angle.

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This and the other features of Mammoth Cave must have made a lasting impression on Edwin. Perhaps it was seeing these sights in person and then recounting them in his descriptions to Edwina that fueled Edwin’s desire to return. Over a year would pass, but as soon as it was convenient, Edwin made a return visit to Kentucky with both Edwina and Mary McVicker in tow.

In November of 1877, Edwin had a break of a little over a week after his engagement in Philadelphia ended and his new engagement in Cleveland was set to begin. Though it was certainly out of the way, Edwin rushed his family off to Cave City, Kentucky so that he could visit Mammoth Cave, once again. Whether Edwina was invited to join her father in exploring the cave on this trip is unknown, but I’d like to think that she was. It was, after all, a special day for the Booths. Edwin had scheduled his return visit to the cave to fall on November 13th, his 44th birthday.

Edwin revisited much of the same sites he saw in the year prior, possibly with William as his guide once again. This time, when the group of Edwin and his friends got to the “Giant’s Coffin”, Edwin enacted a plan he had thought up.

“While there Mr. Booth laid the first stone of what he hopes will become a monument to the memory of Shakespeare. The stone, weighing about two hundred pounds, was, with considerable exertion on the actor’s part, placed in position at the foot of the ‘Giant’s Coffin’ and the name of Shakespeare and the date painted on it in large white letters. Mr. Booth hopes that visitors to the cave, in the future, will each add a stone to the monument until it becomes one fitting the memory of the great author.”

Various searches have failed to come up with anything regarding a Shakespeare monument near the Giant’s Coffin, so I think it’s safe to say that Edwin’s dream never came to fruition. However, it would be an interesting piece of research to see if the cornerstone he laid and painted still exists somewhere near the coffin formation.

While Edwin Booth’s monument to Shakespeare may not stand today, he still managed to leave an indelible mark on Mammoth Cave just as the cave had left on him. According to local stories, during one of Edwin’s two trips to the cave he gave an impromptu recitation from Hamlet, his signature piece. He gave his recitation from high up on a ledge outcropping that was known as the Theater Gallery. To his few friends and the other souls who were lucky enough to be present, this was a truly unique performance by the greatest actor of the day in the most breathtaking of settings. Ever since that performance, the area in which he gave his recitation has been appropriately called “Booth’s Amphitheater” in honor of the great tragedian who enjoyed his visits to that “big hole in the ground” in Kentucky.

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References:
American Tragedian: The Life of Edwin Booth by Daniel J. Watermeier
Edwin Booth: A Biography and Performance History by Arthur W. Bloom
Edwin Booth: Recollections by His Daughter, Edwina Booth Grossmann, and Letters to Her and to His Friends by Edwina Booth Grossman
“Edwin Booth’s Birthday” Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, Saturday, November 17, 1877
Mammoth Cave National Park
Black Guides of Mammoth Cave
Pictorial Guide to the Mammoth Cave, Kentucky by Adam Binkerd

Categories: History | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Grave Thursday: William Seward

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.


William Henry Seward

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Burial Location: Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, New York

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Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

As Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Henry Seward was targeted by John Wilkes Booth in his plot to eliminate the heads of the United States’ government. On the night of April 14, 1865, Booth assigned his conspirator, Lewis Powell, to break into Secretary Seward’s home located near the White House in order to assassinate him. Despite stabbing the Secretary several times and bringing carnage to the rest of the household, Lewis Powell failed in his assassination attempt. The attack left Seward with a permanently disfigured face evidence of which can be seen in the image above. Despite the horrors of that night and the loss of his friend, Seward remained in his position as Secretary of State during the administration of Andrew Johnson. It was during this continued service that Seward facilitated the purchase of a large chunk of land from Russia. The purchase, known in its day to some as “Seward’s Folly”, resulted in the United States acquiring the territory, and later state, of Alaska.

In his last few years, William Seward toured not only America but the world, using his contacts from his days as Secretary of State to visit China, Japan, the Middle East, and Europe. When in the States, Seward resided in his home in Auburn, New York which he had inherited from his father-in-law in 1851. Upon his death on October 10, 1872, William Seward was buried in the family’s lot in nearby Fort Hill Cemetery.

Since 1955, the Seward house in Auburn, New York has operated as a museum, telling the life story of one of America’s great statesmen. I highly recommend you visit their website, SewardHouse.org, and befriend them on social media. They provide wonderful bits of history about the life and times of William Seward. If you ever visit their museum, be sure to see their piece of blood stained linen, a poignant relic of the night Lewis Powell tried to end the Secretary’s life.

Blood stained sheet

If you are interested in learning more about William Seward, especially about his life beyond the assassination attempt, I highly recommend the book, Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man by Walter Stahr.

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My sincere thanks go to assassination researcher Bill Binzel for sending me images of the Seward family graves in Auburn, NY and for allowing me to use them for Grave Thursday. For more images related to the attempt on William Seward’s life, visit the Seward Assassination Attempt Picture Gallery.

GPS coordinates for William Seward’s grave: 42.924505, -76.571807

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , | 10 Comments

Grave Thursday: Junius Brutus Booth

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.


Junius Brutus Booth

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Burial Location: Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland

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Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Junius Brutus Booth, the father of the Maryland Booths, needs no introduction to anyone who has done any reading about the Lincoln assassination. In addition to the many books that include brief stories about him in order to provide background on the upbringing of John Wilkes Booth, Junius Brutus Booth’s life has been thoroughly documented in Stephen Archer’s wonderful book, Junius Brutus Booth: Theatrical Prometheus. I will not insult that text by trying to summarize the life of such a brilliant tragedian in only a few paragraphs.

So while I will not go into a full history of Junius Brutus Booth, I do want to recount one aspect of Junius’ life that I feel is especially appropriate given the recent events here in America. I want to preface this by acknowledging that Junius was not a perfect man and had his fair share of personal demons, often brought upon by drink. However, despite all of the negative or troubling aspects of Junius’ life, he did have one personality trait that was considered eccentric that I wish more of us sought to emulate today. Junius Brutus Booth had a great an appreciation for the different religions and beliefs in the world and a desire to learn about them.

In Asia Booth Clarke’s 1865 book about her father entitled, Passages, Incidents, and Anecdotes in the life of Junius Brutus Booth (the elder), she writes the following about her father’s views on religion.

“All forms of religion and all temples of devotion were sacred to him, and in passing churches he never failed to bare his head reverently. He worshiped at many shrines; he admired the Koran, and in that volume many beautiful passages are underscored; days sacred to color, ore, and metals, were religiously observed by him. In the synagogues he was known as a Jew, because he conversed with rabbis and learned doctors, and joined their worship in the Hebraic tongue. He read the Talmud and strictly adhered to many of its laws.

Several fathers of the Roman Catholic Church recount pleasant hours spent with him in theological discourse, and aver that he was of their persuasion, by his knowledge of the mysteries of their faith.  Of the numerous houses of worship to which I have accompanied my father, the one he most loved to frequent was a floating church or “Sailor’s Bethel.” The congregation was of the humblest degree, and the ministry not at all edifying. I remember kneeling through a lengthy impromptu prayer, which contained no spirit of piety to my childish ears, and looking around wearily at my father, I beheld his face so earnestly inspired with devotion that I felt rebuked, and it became pleasant to attend to that which was so devoid of interest before.

His reverence for religion was universal and deep-rooted. It was daily shown in acts of philanthropy and humane deeds which were too misdirected. He was not a sectarian, but made many creeds his study, and although the dogmas of the church might have yielded him a more enduring peace, the tenderness of his heart, from which which emanated his loving-kindness and great charity, afforded strength to his declining years.”

Junius Brutus Booth’s appreciation and study of different religions is evident in his own writings as well. In 1825, he wrote to his father Richard about visiting a settlement of Shakers (an offspring of the Quakers) a few miles from Albany, New York. He wrote of this sect of Christians far more sympathetically than most of his day:

“They are the most singular people I ever beheld. They have more simplicity and apparent primitive Christianity than all other classes of Christians…There is nothing to disgust – much to admire in them, and their ceremonies whose description would excite ridicule, produce a very contrary effect in witnessing. They are the best of Christians for they don’t prosecute and are harmless. All they desire is to live and die unmolested – but they are often insulted by the foolish and thoughtless.”

Booth’s knowledge of different faiths extended beyond the Abrahamic religions. Booth was especially found of Hinduism and seemed to favor it writing in 1834 that:

“Although practical Christianity is a beautiful type of Man’s approach to perfection, he is not so near it as is the poor despised and unavenged Hindoo [sic]. So thoroughly am I convinced that these Asiatics are nearest the Truth, that were I acquainted with their language and living in Hindustan, I should most conscientiously and devotedly become a worshipper…of those Images, which every minute satisfy the Hindoo who and what he is himself and also of his relative position in the World…”

To Junius Brutus Booth, all faiths were valid and possessed an inherent value. Junius was fluent in so much of the world’s religions that he would analyze and find commonalities in their teachings. While others would use religion to separate and isolate, Junius found ways to combine them. In 1834, he began a letter to merchant with the heading:

“Year of the Christ
Feb. 3. 1834
of the Planet
5594

Praise be to Allah!”

In this way he included the year according to the Christian (1834) and Jewish (5594) calendars and also gave reverence to the Islamic name for God (Allah).

Junius also demonstrated his ability to merge the teachings of multiple religions together upon the death of his own father, Richard Booth. When Richard died, Junius cut a lock of hair from his father’s head and tied it with a green cord, green being the symbolic color of paradise to Muslims and the color most associated with the prophet Mohammed. Junius then had Richard’s funeral presided over by a minister of the Episcopal church, the Christian religion his wife most associated with and under which his children were raised. Finally, the gravestone Junius placed on his father’s grave was originally engraved in Hebrew and the text spoke not of one god or faith, but more of the Hindu belief of oneness with the universe:

“I take my departure from life as from an inn
Thee I follow to the internal kingdom of
The most renowned ruler –
– thence to the stars”

After Junius Brutus Booth’s own death in 1852, Asia would recall a visit from two of the Booths’ neighbors who considered themselves “pillars of the church”. They visited the grieving Mary Ann and her children and told them of their desire to “convert” the household to Christianity. Mary Ann replied succinctly that she was a Christian and that her household did not require converting. The neighbors were unhappy that the Booth children had experienced the “wickedness” of different faiths and provided Mary Ann various pamphlets on how to set her children back on the correct path to their one true salvation. They even gave Rosalie Booth a short pamphlet entitled “Her Feet Take Hold on Hell” in their attempt to aid her conversion to the true path. After the neighbors departed, Asia Booth seethed with anger over their sanctimonious nature and “narrow comprehension of devotion.”

“I could not reconcile the two ideas,” Asia later wrote, “but I felt it a sacrilege, their intrusion and brazen ignorance. I remembered [my father’s] respect of all creeds, his silent reverence for every man’s peculiar faith, his great regard even for a little picture of a Mosque given to him by a Moslem [sic], and here were these egotistical little people teaching us our prayers, trying to make us accept his death as a judgement for our wickedness, a call to righteousness. His life had been a living lesson, for his piety was so real and deep it did not show itself in Sunday clothes, a conspicuous missal, or studied countenance, but calm and unassuming it always took the lowest seat, that his Host coming might say, ‘ Friend, go up higher.'”

In the 1800’s, Junius’ appreciation for different religions may have been considered eccentric. Today, however, I see the desire to understand the belief systems of others as a crucial trait for us all. The world is far more connected in 2016 than it was in 1852. Being completely ignorant and dismissive of faiths is no longer an option. Whether our country wants to admit it or not, we live in a global community and, despite a recent success to the contrary, America will not go back to limiting the equality of others due to their beliefs. Like Junius Brutus Booth, we must respect the beliefs of others and acknowledge the shared humanity of all people.

GPS coordinates for Junius Brutus Booth’s grave: 39.307097, -76.606022

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

James Donaldson: William Seward’s Helpful Hand

When it comes to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, I often find myself interested in the little people. I enjoy looking into the lives of those who witnessed, took part in, or crossed paths with John Wilkes Booth’s plot. The recent Grave Thursday posts help to demonstrate this interest as Kate and I have been highlighting some of the minor characters that are connected, in some way, to Lincoln’s death. Today’s post shares in this theme by introducing a man on the outskirts of the events of April 14, 1865, James Donaldson.

According to his death record, James Donaldson was born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1818. By 1852, Donaldson was married, starting a family, and resided in Washington, D.C., the city he would call home for the rest of his life. In 1853, James Donaldson was hired as a watchman for the State Department under Secretary of State William Marcy where he was paid $500 a year. He continued in the employ of the State Department rising through the ranks to become an assistant messenger with a salary of $700 a year. When Abraham Lincoln appointed William Seward to be the Secretary of State in 1861, Donaldson found himself under a new boss that he would become very close to as the years went on.

Being a messenger for the State Department during the Civil War was a important job. In addition to running messages for the Secretary throughout the city of Washington, Donaldson was also called upon to join Seward on his trips across the north. In August of 1863, Seward was entertaining the dignitaries of  several foreign governments, playing tour guide to the ministers of England, France, Russia, Nicaragua, Italy, Sweden, Hamburg, Spain, Prussia, and Chile. He took the ministers and some of their attaches on a brief sight seeing trip to show the ministers the wonderful resources the northern states possessed and to persuade them that backing the Union in the Civil War would be to their respective government’s benefit. Donaldson was asked to come along on this trip with Seward. One place Seward and Donaldson took the ministers was Trenton Falls in New York. At least two pictures were taken of the party at Trenton Falls.

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In the first image Secretary Seward is seated on the rock with a large hat in his hand while in the second one he is the rightmost standing figure. These images also capture assistant messenger James Donaldson who is the leftmost standing figure in both images:

After visiting Trenton Falls, the group would make their way to Seward’s home in Auburn, New York (which is now a museum) where the summit continued. After the end of the summit, Seward and Donaldson returned to the Secretary’s home in Washington, D.C.

By 1865, James Donaldson was 48 years old and had been working for the State Department for over 12 years. On April 5, William Seward was injured in Washington, D.C., when he was forced to jump out of a runaway carriage. The incident resulted in Seward receiving a broken arm, a broken jaw, and a concussion. After this accident, Seward would be bed-ridden as he slowly recovered. While Seward would be assigned two army nurses to look after him during his recovery, the whole Seward household took turns keeping an eye on the Secretary. James Donaldson, practically one of the family members by now, took his turn tending to his boss.

By the afternoon of April 14th, Seward was feeling better. James Donaldson had been with the Secretary that afternoon but was informed by him that he need not stay into the night. Donaldson obediently heeded his boss’ words but informed the family that he would return to attend the Secretary early the next morning. With that Donaldson departed the Seward home.

We all know what happened next. That night, at around 10:15 pm, Lewis Powell, one of John Wilkes Booth’s conspirators, entered the Seward home intent on murdering Secretary Seward.

Fight in the Room - The Assassination and History of the Conspiracy

While Powell failed to enact a fatal blow to the Secretary he did manage to injure five of the home’s occupants. The Secretary and two of his sons were wounded, as was the army nurse who was attending him that evening, and one of Donaldson’s coworkers, lead State Department messenger Emerick Hansell. Donaldson quickly made his reappearance to the Seward home and witnessed the carnage. With so many others already occupying the rooms with the Secretary and his sons, Donaldson made his way to the room where Hansell had been placed. His friend and coworker was suffering a deep stab wound to the spine and was not expected to live.

Fanny Seward, the Secretary’s daughter, recounted in her diary Donaldson’s reaction to what he saw:

In the middle of the room sat Donaldson, his face buried in his hands—crying aloud, like a child. I touched his shoulder & said— “Donaldson, you were not hurt?”

“No Miss Fanny” he said— “I wasn’t here. If I had been here this wouldn’t have happened. If I had been here I’d have been a dead man. Oh, why wasn’t I here?”

Miraculously, none of the wounds inflected by Lewis Powell on April 14th proved to be fatal and all five of the injured persons would recover to various degrees. The Secretary’s recovery, however, was not a swift one. The damage caused by Powell’s blade exacerbated Seward’s broken jaw. A new type of splint had to be designed and installed to help heal the wounds. It would not be until October of 1865 that the various apparatuses were all removed from Seward’s mouth and jaw.

During this long period of convalescence, James Donaldson was extremely attentive to his boss. Perhaps Donaldson felt survivor’s guilt at being one of the few men who escaped injury on April 14th because he was lucky enough to have been absent from the house. Regardless of the reason, Donaldson was his boss’ constant companion during his recovery.

In August of 1865, the grateful friends of William Seward decided to reward James Donaldson for his continued helpfulness to the wounded Secretary by presenting him with a gift:

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It was for his unceasing devotion to his boss that Donaldson was gifted $1,000 from grateful citizens. Such gifts of appreciation would continue for others who were affected by the attempt on Seward’s life. In 1871, Private George Robinson, the army nurse who was stabbed while attempting the protect the Secretary, was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal and $5,000 for his bravery. In 1876, Donaldson’s coworker, messenger Emerick Hansell, was given $2,000 for the pain and suffering he received the night Lewis Powell dropped in.

In addition to the funds, Donaldson also found that he had been commissioned as a Justice of the Peace by President Andrew Johnson himself. It does not appear that Donaldson immediately took up this role of Justice of the Peace but, instead, continued in his capacity as an assistant messenger to Secretary Seward and the State Department.

Donaldson continued under the employ of Seward throughout Andrew Johnson’s presidency, and likely could have remained at his position even after Seward’s term as Secretary of State ended. Seward was, after all, the fourth Secretary of State Donaldson had worked under. However, Donaldson had bonded so much with Seward that he likely did not want to serve anyone else after him. James Donaldson resigned as a state department messenger on March 4, 1869. Frederick Seward later wrote:

“Seward’s messenger and attendant, Donaldson, resigned his place in the department on the same day as his chief. In reply to his affectionate farewell letter, Seward wrote that he had reserved for his last official act, a recognition of his long and faithful service.”

After leaving the employment of the State Department, James Donaldson took up the job that he had been granted in 1865 and became a Justice of the Peace. He also found himself employment as a crier of the court.

james-donaldson-as-justice-1872

Donaldson’s friendship with Seward continued despite Seward having moved back to his home in Auburn. In 1871, the D.C. newspapers carried a story about Donaldson having recently traveled to visit with his old boss, who himself had just returned from a grand journey across Asia and Europe.

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Though there is no record of it, it seems very likely that James Donaldson would have attended the funeral of William Seward when the statesman died on October 10, 1872. At the very least, Donaldson must have recalled his former boss and the bond the two had forged after that dark night in April, 1865

James Donaldson would outlive William Seward by fourteen years, dying on December 3, 1886.

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There’s no question that James Donaldson is one of the little people when it comes to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. His connection to the event can be summarized as “he was lucky enough not to be present at the Seward house on the night Lewis Powell attacked and he afterwards cared for Seward during the Secretary’s recovery.” However, despite his small role in the drama of 1865, James Donaldson’s actions demonstrate a great deal of humanity. Like the nation, he wept at the blood that had been shed. He pined to know why such a tragedy had occurred and why he had been spared. Then, after the initial shock and sadness abated, Donaldson picked himself up and worked hard to help another. If nothing else, James Donaldson represents the plethora of decent men and women who tried to make things better after one of the greatest tragedies in our nation.

References:
Ancestry.com
Trent Falls photographs – Library of Congress
Newspaper extracts – GenealogyBank.com
Fanny Seward’s diary from the University of Rochester
Seward at Washington as Senator and Secretary of State (1861 – 1872) by Frederick W. Seward

Categories: History | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Grave Thursday: Virginia Clarke

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.


Virginia Clarke

The home of Virginia Clarke outside of Bowling Green, Virginia.

The home of Virginia Clarke outside of Bowling Green, Virginia.

Burial Location: Greenlawn Cemetery, Bowling Green, Virginia

virginia-clarkes-grave

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

One of the most forgotten and overlooked parts of the escape of the assassins of Abraham Lincoln involves the home of Mrs. Virginia Clarke. This is probably due to the fact that Mrs. Clarke’s home is technically not a part of John Wilkes Booth’s escape route. The lead assassin never got as far south as Mrs. Clarke’s home and, therefore, never saw the home pictured above. However, Booth’s accomplice and fellow fugitive, David Herold, not only saw this house but spent the night at Mrs. Clarke’s during the brief period of time where he separated from the assassin. On the afternoon of April 24, 1865, John Wilkes Booth and David Herold were waiting at the ferry crossing of Port Conway, Virginia, waiting to cross over to Port Royal on the other side of the Rappahannock River. As they waited, three Confederate soldiers rode up to the ferry landing. After some parlay, the fugitives announced their identities to the men. The soldiers, Willie Jett, Absalom Bainbridge and Mortimer Ruggles vowed to give Booth and Herold assistance on their escape. After crossing the ferry Jett attempted to find Booth refuge at the home of Sarah Jane Peyton, but she rebuffed him after seeing the condition Booth was in. The group of five then rode about two miles south of Port Royal where Jett dropped Booth off with the Garrett family. It was at this time that Herold separated from John Wilkes Booth for the first time since the pair had met up at Soper’s Hill outside of Washington on April 14th. While Booth enjoyed the hospitality of the unsuspecting Garrett family on the night of April 24th, Herold made his way with Absalom Bainbridge to Mrs. Clarke’s home.

David Herold briefly mentions this visit to Mrs. Clarke’s in his interrogation:

“One of the soldiers named Bennington [Bainbridge], was going to see a gentleman named Clark[e] whom I met some three or four years ago, & of whom I had heard people in Maryland speak. I do not know Clark’s christian name. Both Bennington & Clark had belonged to Mosby’s command. We went there and Bennington introduced me…We staid there all night.”

James Clarke, Herold and Bainbridge’s mutual acquaintance, was not at home when the pair arrived. Therefore Bainbridge had to introduce Herold to James’ mother, Virginia Clarke. Bainbridge introduced  Herold to Mrs. Clarke using the pseudonym of Mr. Boyd, the same name Jett had used to pass Booth off on the Garrett family.

Practically nothing is known about Herold’s stay with Mrs. Clarke and the next morning he was riding back with Bainbridge to Bowling Green to meet back up with Ruggles and Jett who had spent the night at the Star Hotel. Ruggles, Bainbridge, and Herold rode back up to the Garrett farm where Herold joined back up with Booth. The rest is history.

Mrs. Clarke’s home no longer stands. The area where it was once located has been transformed into a man-made lake.

Site of the Clarke house Caroline

When Virginia Clarke died in 1877, she was originally buried in a family cemetery belonging to her son-in-law’s family. However, when Fort A. P . Hill was created in Caroline County in the 1940’s, that family cemetery, along with many others, had to be removed. Greenlawn Cemetery in Bowling Green was created specifically to receive the transplanted graves of those originally interred on land now owned by Fort A. P. Hill.

Check out the Maps page for more details. For more information about the actions of Willie Jett, Absalom Bainbridge and Mortimer Ruggles click this link.

GPS coordinates for Virginia Clarke’s grave: 38.070225, -77.338979

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Grave Thursday: Mark Gray Lyons

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.


Mark Gray Lyons

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Burial Location: Oakland Cemetery, Keokuk, Iowa

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mark-gray-lyons-grave-anima

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

On the night of Shakespeare’s birthday in 1879, Edwin Booth was performing in Richard II at McVicker’s Theatre in Chicago. While the world renowned actor and brother of Lincoln’s assassin demonstrated his histrionic talent upon the stage, a crazed man by the name of Mark Gray Lyons leveled a revolver at him and fired.

Mark Gray Lyons was the subject of a previous post here on BoothieBarn. Please click here to read the story of Mark Gray Lyons and the aftermath of his attack on Edwin Booth.

When Mark Gray Lyons died in May of 1904, he was buried at Oakland Cemetery in his home town of Keokuk, Iowa. The above images were taken when Kate and I drove through Keokuk last year on our way to visit Boston Corbett’s dug out home near Concordia, Kansas. Check out the Maps page for more details about these places.

GPS coordinates for Mark Gray Lyons’ grave: 40.403335, -91.402980

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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