Joseph Adrian Booth, born on February 8, 1840, was the youngest child of Junius Brutus Booth and Mary Ann Holmes. His middle name of Adrian was selected in honor of his eldest brother Junius, Jr., 18 years his senior, who was quite skilled at performing the character of Adrian De Mauprat in the play Richelieu. Joe spent his boyhood at different schools (often joined by his brother John Wilkes) and on the family farm at Tudor Hall. When Joe came of age, he had limited aspirations. With assistance from his brother Edwin, Joe became a treasurer at a theater in Baltimore. During the next theatrical season he accompanied Edwin on tour, occasionally filling in on stage with minor roles. Unlike his brothers however, Joe did not take to acting and never attempted to make a livelihood out of it. Instead, Joe decided to pursue a career in medicine. In the fall of 1860, he enrolled at the Medical College of South Carolina. He seemed happy with his choice of profession and, for the first time, appeared to have a path in life. The outbreak of the Civil War, however, threw a wrench in his plans. Joseph was in Charleston when the attack on Fort Sumter occurred on April 12, 1861. Following in the footsteps of his older brother John Wilkes who left his acting engagement in 1859 to soldier at the execution of John Brown, Joseph entered the fray, albeit briefly, to assist as an army surgeon during the attack. He may have been influenced to do so by his mentor, Dr. Columbus DaVega, who designed and ran a floating hospital for the attacking Confederate troops. Though the documentation is lacking, it is entirely possible that Joseph assisted Dr. DaVega on his floating hospital during the siege on Fort Sumter. Joe’s service with the Confederacy was short lived however, and, after the medical college had been shut done due to the upcoming war, he returned back north.
For a time he may have joined up with his brother John Wilkes, accompanying him on tour as he had with Edwin a couple of years before. By early 1862, however, Joseph Booth ran off and disappeared for a time. He left home with barely a note to explain himself. The family was unsure if he had enlisted in the army, run off, or even committed suicide. He showed up a couple months later in England, where Edwin was touring for a year. While there he had hoped to see his grandmother, but she had passed away before he had arrived. He was, however, the first of the Booths to meet his brand new niece Edwina, who had been born in England in December of 1861. Joe, who enjoyed changing how he said certain words, called her Ed-wine-a, like the beverage. Edwin and Joe visited Paris together as Edwin unsuccessfully searched for a theater there to engage him. By July 15, 1862, Joe was off again, this time he headed for Australia. When later asked his reasons for going to Australia, Joe responded, “I went out there with this quite boyish freak to make my fortune. I tried mining for a time. Was on a sheep and cattle station, northern part – clerk in the station.” Joe stayed in Australia for quite some time, much to the lament of his mother. A poor correspondent, Mary Ann Booth worried daily about her youngest son:
“…Rosalie went yesterday to Blockley post office – but no letters – I saw the [ship] Africa brought the Australian mails – but I don’t know of what date, so I thought there might be one for me – its 6 months today since Joseph left Gravesend [England] – but as no one saw him off how can we be sure that he went there I do think it was the cruelest thing that could be, Josey to throw himself away as he has done and make us all so very miserable he is hardly ever out of my thoughts by day, & at night I dream of him.”
Eventually Joe tired of life in Australia but he was still not ready to come home. It’s possible that Joe was enacting this long journey in order to avoid the Union draft at home. Though he would later claim to have been neutral when it came to the war, his brief service with the Confederacy may have made him unwilling to fight for the Union. When he did leave Australia, he set sail for California. His eldest brother Junius was living in California at the time and with his help, Joe found work as a mail carrier for Well’s Fargo in San Francisco. June departed California with his family not long after Joe’s arrival leaving Joe alone again. Joe worked for Well’s Fargo for about a year before tiring of the work. He spoke thusly about it, “I disliked the business very much. The city is very hilly, and I had a great part of the city to go over. I was on foot. Had to carry a great many letters around.” Joe quit Well’s Fargo and decided he finally wanted to come home.
Joe departed California for the long journey to New York on April 13, 1865. The next day, his brother John Wilkes Booth assassinated the President. Joe’s boat arrived in Panama on May 2nd. Joe and the other passengers learned then that the President had been assassinated by a man named Booth. Joe, however was not worried as there were many people with the last name of Booth. From the Pacific side of Panama it was necessary to board a train to cross the isthmus and catch a different ship on the Atlantic side. Sometime during the train ride across Panama, Joe learned that the man named Booth who had assassinated Lincoln was, in fact, his own brother. A fellow passenger wrote sympathetically of the impact this news had on Joe:
“He said to me oh it is awful to think that my brother should be guilty of such a horrid crime, he said also that his brother must have been crazy to have committed such a deed, and said it would drive him mad. he was very much depressed in spirits and wanted me to be with him all the time to cheer him up. He also said that he wished he was dead and often spoke of his mother and said that this was a dreadful blow for her at her time of life and said that this would blight the future of the rest of the family. He seemed to be very much affected during the rest of the voyage and as we occupied the same berth he would nestle up to me and ask me to be his friend and to stand by him as he felt almost heart broken and friendless.”
While en route to New York, the authorities had learned of Joe’s suspicious departure from California the day before his brother shot the President. When his ship arrived in New York on May 11th, Joseph Booth was arrested and interrogated the next day. In his lengthy interrogation, Joe stated that he had very little correspondence with his brother over the past three years and know absolutely nothing about his plot. Joe also explained his long absence from home.
The entire interrogation can be read starting here on Fold3.com (with a paid membership) or as an appendix in the book, John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir by Asia Booth Clarke edited by Terry Alford. General John Dix conducted the interrogation, and telegraphed to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that he had found, “nothing to justify his detention.” Joe was then released and went home to his mourning family.
A future post will detail more about Joseph Adrian Booth, especially his post assassination life. In the meantime, you can learn more about the youngest Booth sibling by checking out his new Picture Gallery!
Sadly, there are only two known images of Joseph Booth. All the other images in the Joseph Adrian Booth Picture Gallery contain stories and documentation relating to his life. Remember to click on an image to open its attachment page which contains a description about it. You can also open the image full size by clicking the image’s dimensions on the top of its attachment page.
John Wilkes Booth’s Enigmatic Brother Joseph by John C. Brennan
The Youngest Brother – Joseph Booth by Tom Fink
John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir by Asia Booth Clarke edited by Terry Alford
Edwin Booth: A Biography and Performance History by Arthur Bloom
Junius Brutus Booth: Theatrical Prometheus by Stephen M. Archer
John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux