Edward John Collis

In a brushy outlying area of the St. Ignatius Cemetery in Port Tobacco, Maryland, there is a weather worn grave marker:

While extremely faded from time and neglect, the name on the marker and some information can still be gleaned from it.  From this picture we can make out something along the lines of:

“Sacred
To the Memory of
Edward John Collis
Once of Angelo
Stourbridge, England
Who Died at Bel Alton
April 21, 1895
Aged 52 Years
Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.
They rest from their labours and their works do follow them.”

The outlying location of this grave is a wonderful metaphor for this man’s outlying connection to the assassination story.

Edward John Collis was born at Wollaston Hall in Worcestershire, England on March 28, 1843.  His father was a deputy Lord Lieutenant in Worcestershire.  On July 9th, 1867, Edward married Elizabeth Louis Swann in England.  An educated man, Mr. Collis worked in mines as an engineer.  He and his wife came to America in 1887 for pleasure and health.  Working in the mines caused Mr. Collis to contract rheumatic fever.  Finding the American climate and way of life to his liking, Mr. Collis and his wife bought property and settled in Bel Alton, Maryland in 1890.  Though being a newcomer to the area, Mr. Collis engrained himself in local functions and positions in Charles county.  The Englishman who took well to the Southern Maryland way of life passed away in 1895, five short years after moving in.  His cause of death was reported in the papers to have been from epilepsy and nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys).

This gent’s connection to the Lincoln assassination is as follows.  During the short time Mr. Collis was in Maryland, he lived in a particular house.  That house was built on the land where Thomas A. Jones first met John Wilkes Booth and David Herold as they were hidden in the pine thicket.  In Thomas Jones’ book, J. Wilkes Booth, written in 1893, Jones cites, “An Englishman, named Collis, now occupies a house built upon the exact spot where I first beheld the fugitives.”

A drawing of the Collis house taken from Thomas Jone’s book.

In 1865, everyone referred to the land where the pair hid as Captain Michael Stone Robertson’s land, even though the good captain had been killed in 1862 at the Battle of Harrisonburg.  Regardless, after the pair arrived at Colonel Samuel Cox’s home, Rich Hill, Cox had his overseer hide the men in the pine thicket to avoid detection.  He then sent his son, Samuel Cox, Jr. to fetch Thomas Jones.  Jones agreed to help the pair and, over the next several days, he brought them food, water, and supplies.  When the soldiers cleared the area, Jones put them on a boat across the Potomac.  Before any of that occurred, however, Jones met Booth and Herold right where Edward Collis’ house stood.

Today, it is believed that original Collis house still stands as part of this modern house:

While Edward John Collis only has a passing connection with the history of the assassination, he is still worthy of a mention. When Collis died in 1895, one of his pallbearers was Samuel Cox, Jr.  This means that Samuel Cox, Jr. not only helped direct Thomas Jones to the spot where he found the conspirators, but he also laid to rest a man who made his home there.

References:
Abstracts from the Port Tobacco Times and Charles County Advertiser – Vol 6 by Roberta J. Wearmouth
J. Wilkes Booth by Thomas A. Jones
The wonderful Mr. Joe Gleason who showed me this grave and house.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Edward John Collis

  1. Through all my years of studying the Lincoln assassination, I have never taken the time to learn the background of Mr. Collis. I have pointed out the house on many a Booth Tour with the Surratt Society and knew that Collis was an Englishman (thanks to reading Thomas Jones’s book), but that was the extent of my education. Thanks for giving me a history lesson.

    • Laurie,

      Practically all of my biographical information about the man comes from his long obituary in the Port Tobacco Times. Mr. Collis was a fairly wealthy man and Joe Gleason has told me that he owned lots of property in the area. This is probably likely, I just haven’t investigated it further.

      ~Dave

  2. Richard Townend

    Hi,
    My wife is a relation of John Edward Collis and its absolutely fascinating that I have stumbled on this information – just with a simple search in Google of his name and Bel Alton where we knew he moved to from England and died !!! I will have to advise the rest of the Collis family.
    Richard

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  5. chris epting

    So, the pine thicket obviously extended to where the house is today–was that the only spot where Booth holed up in there?

    • Chris,

      It is very likely that Booth and Herold moved around a bit when they were in the pine thicket. The Collis house merely marks the location where Thomas Jones first saw the pair. Their exact movements while in the pines, however, is unknown.

      On a side note, you may be interested in checking out the reenactment I did portraying what life was like for John Wilkes Booth while he was in the pine thicket: https://boothiebarn.com/john-wilkes-booth-in-the-woods/

      Sincerely,

      DAve

  6. Mike Burch

    The original structure of the Collis house does indeed still exist. The houses has has several additions over the years, but the original house is noted correctly in the photo of the current house. The house belongs to my parents, and it’s where I grew up. I distinctly remember, when renovations were underway, when we tour the siding off of the original house, the original door as shown in the sketch was still in place. The original structure of that portion of the house was logs that have been hewn out and attached to each other by wooden pegs. During those renovations, my father did not bother the original structure other than to help shore up certain areas of it underneath the current siding all of that original structure still exists, including the chimney .

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