Preface by Dave:
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of taking fellow Lincoln assassination researcher, Kate Ramirez, along the John Wilkes Booth escape route. During the day-long trek, she mentioned an article she had written about a glaring transcription error from one of the conspirator’s writings. I immediately asked her if I could publish her article on my site for us all to enjoy. What follows is Kate’s article, and another example of always looking at the original source material first, instead of relying on the work of others.
Please do not reproduce the material printed here (excluding the images of the poem and of David Herold’s signature which are found at the National Archives) without the consent of the author, Kate Ramirez.
Armed and Dangerous: A Historical Misreading by Kate Ramirez
In the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865, southern actor turned assassin John Wilkes Booth and his fellow co conspirator David E. Herold were moving south in an effort to escape the chaos seizing the northern states and the Union soldiers thirsty for their blood.
It was on the 24th, ten days after the nightmare at Ford’s Theatre, that Booth and Herold finally arrived in Port Conway, Virginia and proceeded across the Rappahannock River on what would be the final stages of their escape. Before crossing, the pair met a trio of Confederate soldiers. One, Private William “Willie” Jett, became the most well known of the three, often remembered as the man who betrayed Booth by leading the 16th New York Cavalry to the farm of Richard H. Garrett. There is a lesser known tale (which can be found in Michael Kauffman’s American Brutus) which tells of Jett asking the famous actor to sign something as a memento. In turn, Booth gave Jett something less incriminating than a signature: a poem.
Booth and Herold wrote the poems shown above. The top section belongs to Booth and the bottom to Herold. Historians have copied the poems for numerous books and articles but none have ever realized that one word in Herold’s poem has been misread and therefore miswritten the same number of times. The word is arm. Or, as it has been recorded, brow. The mistake is something of a contradiction, small in size but rather large when one realizes it has been sitting in plain view since 1865 and no one has noticed it.
The picture below shows where the word is found in the poem.
All the sources I have seen record the line as, “She shyly clung upon his brow.” However, it is my belief that the line actually reads, “She shyly clung upon his arm,” which would make much more sense. Brow is another word for forehead. You cannot cling to it. However, you can cling to an arm.
Some might argue that Herold’s poem rhymes and changing the words would throw off the rhyme scheme. After all, the words brow and arm sound nothing alike nor do they rhyme. While that is true, the word in question does not fall in the lines that rhyme. Herold’s poem rhymes the last word in every other line. In the photo below, the red arrows show the end words that rhyme. The black star is the word arm/brow. It does not have a matching rhyme.
Here is a close up picture of the word being discussed.
If it were the word brow, the letter O would be missing. Some might again argue that Herold was writing with a quick hand because he and Booth had to get moving. However, other words that include the letter O are written just fine. Look below at the words South and honor. All the letters are formed. There is clearly no O in the word thought to be brow.
Another probable cause for the misreading is the fact that Herold looped the letter A in an interesting way. If looked at too fast, the letter can look like a lowercase b. However, if you examine the pictures below, which shows the words dark and daughter, you will notice that Herold often wrote the letter A with a similar loop.
The final example involves the M in the word I believe to be arm. It appears to be the W of brow because of the extra line Herold left at the end. However, that line could also be decorative and Herold seemed to like writing with a decorative flair. Look at the photo of his signature below.
Just as the M was mistaken for a W, those fancy penmanship loops that decorate the H in Herold and the final D in David could both be mistaken for the letter E if glanced at too quick. Such letter loops look to have been part of Herold’s writing style and he incorporated them in, probably subconsciously, when he could.
Let’s review. The word arm would make more sense in the context of the poem than the word brow, changing the word would not affect the rhyme scheme, the letter O appears to be missing and not just squished in with the other letters due to quick writing, the letter A is looped and not the letter B, and the letter M has an extra embellishment and is not the letter W. Now look at the word again.
See what I’m talking about? The word once thought to be brow actually appears to be the word arm.
So to end by restoring the original voice of David E. Herold,
Dark daughter of the Sultry South
Thy dangerous eyes and lips
Essayed to win the prize and leave
Dear honor we Eclipse
She shyly clung upon his arm
He stayed now at the door
I could not love thee, dear so much
Loved I not Honor more.
Adieu, forever mine, my dear
Adieu forever more!
About the author: Kate Ramirez (also known under her penname Kate H.) is an avid writer and researcher of the Lincoln assassination. Her main focus within that topic is the lives of the conspirators and the defense of their names and voices.