The Son of John Wilkes Booth

Yesterday, Lindsey returned home after completing a two week internship in London for her Masters in Museum Studies degree. Though no royal baby was born while she was there, she still managed to keep herself extremely busy with all the schoolwork she had to do. It was go, go, go for most of the trip, but on Saturday, the day before she left, she was kind enough to do a smattering of research on my account.

At first blush, London may seem far removed from the story of the Lincoln assassination. However, the history of the assassin is very much based in his ancestral London roots. We can document that the Booth family had called London home since at least John Wilkes Booth’s great grandfather’s christening in London in 1723. Junius Brutus Booth, the patriarch of the theatrical dynasty that fathered the assassin, was born in and started his career on the London stages of Covent Garden and Drury Lane. A few years after the assassination, John Sleeper Clarke moved his family, including his wife and sister to the assassin, Asia Booth Clarke, to London. Asia never saw America again except for when her body was returned to Baltimore, and John Sleeper sleeps forever in a London cemetery.

So there were many possible Boothie missions for me to spring on poor, unprepared London Lindsey. Should I have her find the location of Junius’ boyhood home? Have her search through the London Metropolitan Archives for Booth birth and death certificates? Send her to a theatre library to photograph early Junius playbills? In the end, I decided to ask her to do what she does so well, look for a grave.

Prior to Lindsey’s trip, I had conducted some research regarding the Booth children buried in London. Three children of Junius Brutus Booth are buried in London. The first to die, and is safely assumed to be buried in London, was Junius’ first child, Amelia. In my last post in the series regarding Junius’ early theatrical career I hinted about this unborn child conceived with Adelaide Delannoy. Amelia died in infancy and, thus far, an exact date of death and place of burial has yet to be found. The other two Booth children buried in London are Richard Booth, Junius’s other child with Adelaide who lived into adulthood, and Henry Byron Booth, Junius’ son with Mary Ann Holmes who died when the family was visiting London. A further post will document their deaths and burials once I receive paperwork in the mail from the London Metropolitan Archives.

While researching the above however, I came across an interesting letter in the James O. Hall Research Center of another Booth buried in London whose father had a familiar name:

Henry Booth letter

Coincidences occur, of course, and there are likely hundreds of Booths in London today with no connection to the assassin of the President, but the fact that this Henry Wilkes Booth was buried in St. John’s of Clerkenwell, the same neighborhood where our Booth family resided, is worth following up. It appears that James O. Hall, forever investigating every lead, agreed and in another letter he recounts a time when he was in England and attempted to find the above mentioned stone. He was unsuccessful as, “the usual London rain” cut his search short.

The rain however, was probably a blessing as it turns out Mr. Hall was in the wrong cemetery. Just from my slight research into the matter I can tell you that London cemeteries are a nightmare. They are called different names at different times and many smaller cemeteries that existed during the Civil War era were transformed into parks with the grave stones removed. To be honest, I was not really all that confident that I had found the correct cemetery that contained Henry Wilkes Booth and I fully expected Lindsey to call me back that night a bit perturbed that I sent her on a fool’s quest. What’s more, I wasn’t even sure the stone still existed since this letter was written in 1988 or if was legible anymore. However, the beauty and brain she is, Lindsey managed to find the small cemetery and, as luck would have it, one of the few gravestones that remain in this micro park is that of Henry Wilkes Booth’s:

Henry Wilkes Booth's grave 1

Henry Wilkes Booth's Grave

So who is this Henry Wilkes Booth, son of John Wilkes Booth anyway? Before you start thinking “escape theory” no, this is not a post-assassination son of “our” John Wilkes Booth. The death date for Henry Wilkes of 1837, a full year before our John Wilkes was born, luckily nips that in the bud. In fact, Henry Wilkes and John Wilkes were second cousins as this partial family tree shows.

Henry Wilkes relation to John Wilkes

What is interesting is how the name John Wilkes Booth was already in the family before the American John Wilkes Booth was born. Many authors have written that our John Wilkes Booth gets his name from the British radical John Wilkes. We know that, in his younger days, Richard Booth attempted to sail off to the colonies in order to fight on behalf of the American Revolution. Richard wrote to John Wilkes asking for his assistance, noting a kinship between them. Richard’s mother was Elizabeth Wilkes who is assumed to be distantly related to John Wilkes. In his book, The Mad Booths of Maryland, author Stanley Kimmel wrote that Richard Booth was given the honor of naming his grandson John Wilkes Booth, though no source is given for this idea.

While it is entirely possible and seemingly appropriate that America loving Richard named his grandson John Wilkes Booth after the British agitator who sided with America during the revolution, the name had already been used in the family. The American Booths had contact with the British Booths and during Junius’ divorce proceedings with Adelaide, the British John Wilkes Booth was brought up as he controlled some of Junius’ assets that were left to him by his grandmother. Perhaps therefore, the assassin of President Lincoln was not named after the great radical John Wilkes, but after his father’s cousin, John Wilkes Booth of London.

Regardless, this one gravestone for Henry Wilkes Booth is one of the very few that remain of the illustrious Booth family in London. Today, it is one of five or so gravestones in the 320 square yard park “St. John’s Churchyard” off of St. John’s Street in London.

2013-07-20 14.00.17

I am very appreciative of Lindsey for using her one day off not to sight see, but to track down this grave for me.

References:
Junius Brutus Booth: Theatrical Prometheus by Stephen M. Archer
James O. Hall Research Center
Art Loux Archives
Lindsey Horn

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “The Son of John Wilkes Booth

  1. Rich smyth

    Great detective work that payed off. I am sure the two of you were very excited when she discovered the plot!

    • We were lucky but, yes, I was very happy that she managed to find it.

      It’s amazing that the stone still exists after the transformation that occurred around it.

  2. Richard Sloan

    nice work, and overlaying the wordage on the stone is very clever! You two never cease to amaze me. (“life” should have a capital “L.”)
    Did Lindsey visit any Beatles sites (such as Strawberry Fields or Abbey Road)?

  3. Bryantown Tavern
    22 July 2013

    Mr. Hall told me one time that he often was able to bring out the inscriptions on old tombstones (for purposes of photographing them for his files) by squirting (canned) shaving cream onto the faces of the stones and then immediately wiping off the surface soap/cream with a cloth – but leaving the residual cream in the depressed inscriptions. This seemed to look well in the phtographs and, of course, did no harm to the grave stones themselves. FYI.

    Robert W. Cook

  4. Thanks for another great post!

  5. Tammy

    Did “our” JWB have any children of his own before he died?

  6. Pingback: “Our dear little Henry is dead!” | BoothieBarn

  7. Did you ever received the paperwork on their deaths and burials from the London Metropolitan Archives?

  8. Carolyn,

    I didn’t get much from the Archives. All I got were the baptism records for Junius’ children with Adelaide, Amelia and Richard. I also got the burial record for Henry Byron. I put two of those documents up with this post: https://boothiebarn.com/2013/07/26/our-dear-little-henry-is-dead/

    I’m meaning to do more research on Richard Junius Booth and so I will put up his baptism form when I complete that. I also have his burial record and a picture of his grave plot.

  9. Charlie

    Awesome read! I didn’t know about this facet at all. Thanks for the work and info.

  10. d bass

    who are the modern day descendants of the Booth family?

  11. Michael Herring

    I am indeed grateful for your work and contribution to history. I most certainly appreciate it as an historian in South Alabama , USA . Thank you both .

  12. On the latest Bones TV show it was stated that Seeley Booth was a descendant of the John Wilks Booth this affected his security rating. is this possible.

    • While a great television plot point, no, there are no known descendants of John Wilkes Booth. Booth never married and while it may be possible he had a child out of wedlock, he was a famous and womanizing actor after all, no children have even been confirmed. Even if he did have a child, it certainly would not have been given the last name of Booth after what he had done. It’s safe to say that John Wilkes Booth died without progeny.

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