Grave Thursday: Dr. Charles Urquhart

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. Charles Urquhart, Jr.

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Burial Location: Urquhart Family Cemetery, Locust Grove, Virginia

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Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

At about 4:00 am on the morning of April 26, 1865, Dr. Charles Urquhart, Jr. was hastily awakened from his bed in Port Royal, Virginia. The doctor was just a little shy of 65 years old and had been the resident physician in Port Royal since he first moved to Caroline County from Germanna, Virginia in 1821. Over the last forty years, Dr. Urquhart had become a pillar of the Port Royal community, serving not only as town doctor but also as a deacon at St. Peter’s Church and master of the masonic lodge in town for about 10 years. In 1853, Dr. Urquhart had married Louisa Care, a long time neighbor of his who was about 30 years his junior. The pair’s only child, a daughter named Finella “Nellie” Urquhart, was born in 1861. The Urquhart family owned several pieces of property in Port Royal but made their home right on the shore of the Rappahannock River. Their home was located just a few yards away from the landing for the ferry that ran between Port Royal and Port Conway on the other side of the river.

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Dr. Urquhart’s home in Port Royal, Virginia as it appeared circa 1930. Image Source: Surratt House Museum

The good doctor may have been accustomed to receiving late night/early morning visitors who were in need of medical attention, but nothing could prepare him for this unique house call. Upon answering the door, Dr. Urquhart was met by a Union soldier who hastening him to get dressed and come with him a few miles south of Port Royal to the farm of Richard H. Garrett. By following the soldier’s command, Dr. Urquhart rode into the pages of history.

When the doctor arrived at the Garrett farm, he saw a tobacco barn being completely consumed by fire, a man with his arms tied behind a tree, and a detachment of over 20 Union solders meandering about the grounds. On the front porch of the house, Dr. Urquhart was presented with his patient; a young man about 25 years of age who was suffering from an apparent bullet wound to the neck. His name was John Wilkes Booth and he was the wanted assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.  The soldiers and detectives that were present pounced on the doctor to give his prognosis of the patient. Detective Luther Byron Baker stated:

“We asked the surgeon to examine him, to see if he would live. The surgeon examined him for ten or fifteen minutes, & probed the wound, though I told him the ball had gone through the neck. At first he said he thought Booth might live, he then expressed a different opinion, saying he could not survive… While the surgeon was examining him, he seemed to be unconscious. He slowly rallied afterwards, then sunk away. His mouth and lips began to look purple, and his throat became swollen.”

There was nothing Dr. Urquhart could do for the assassin other than to monitor him and direct the soldiers and Garrett ladies who were tending to him. Booth, as stated, had already lost consciousness before the doctor had arrived. Urquhart was, therefore, not present when Booth issued his final words of “Useless, Useless” while looking at his own hands. According to Baker, John Wilkes Booth died, “not half an hour after the physician pronounced his case hopeless.”

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It was at the death of John Wilkes Booth that the Garrett family procured a small remembrance of the man they had unknowingly cared for during the past two days – a small lock of the assassin’s hair. There are many stories about who exactly cut the lock from Booth’s head, with one of the stories giving the credit to Dr. Urquhart. Lucinda Holloway, Mrs. Garrett’s sister and live-in teacher of her children, later told the story of Booth’s death to a newspaperman. The reporter then wrote, “A little struggle just as [Booth] died threw a lock of his jet black hair over his marble white forehead, which Dr. Urquhart clipped off at the request of Miss H[olloway], she thinking it would be a sweet memento for some friend or relation of his.” It would take a few years but eventually, in 1878, Edwin Booth did receive from the Garrett family a lock of hair cut from his brother’s head at the time of his death. It was not, however, the complete lock of hair the family had procured. The balance of the treasured item remained in the Garrett family for many years more.

Despite his brush with a note worthy event, it does not appear that Dr. Urquhart ever recorded his thoughts on being present at the death of John Wilkes Booth. In truth, however, he didn’t have that much time to reflect on his involvement with history. In June of 1866, Dr. Urquhart and his family went to visit his sister-in-law in Culpepper, Virginia. While enjoying their hospitality Dr. Urquhart suffered a stroke that left him speechless. Knowing his condition was mortal, he was able to make his final wishes known through writing. He asked to be buried alongside his mother in the family burial ground in Germanna. Dr. Charles Urquhart, Jr. died on July 7, 1866.

After his death, Dr. Urquhart’s brother-in-law, Ezra Bauder, wrote a touching letter to another of their relatives about the doctor’s death and burial:

“It is with the most painful emotions that I feel called upon to announce the death of our dear friend & connection Dr. Chas. Urquhart. He is gone – calmly, tranquilly, oh! how quietly he has passed away! He is now sleeping his last sleep. He has fought his last battle with the rude world. There will be no other struggle. He now reposes by the side of his mother. His ashes will mingle with his kindred, whilst the sod which he trod in his infancy covers his remains. He is buried in a beautiful spot. The winds will not sigh through the big walnut, which shelters his father’s grave & his because a noble form is buried there. A life of quiet benevolence & Christian virtue has been illustrated in that now lifeless form, the tenement of that spirit which we know reposes on ‘the bosom of his Father & his God.'”

The doctor’s final wishes were granted and he was buried beside his mother and father in the old Urquhart burying ground in Germanna. Given his wealth and his family’s tenderness for him, it seems likely that Dr. Urquhart had a gravestone when he was buried in 1866. However, as time went by, the Urquhart family cemetery was slowly covered by overgrowth and the victim of vandalism. Around 1960, the land where the Urquhart Family Cemetery was located was acquired by the Germanna Foundation, which is an organization that “preserves the heritage of the earliest organized settlements of Germans in colonial Virginia”. At the time of the Germanna Foundation’s initial possession of the cemetery, there was only one gravestone left in the cemetery and it, too, had been felled and broken by vandals. The sole gravestone in the cemetery was that of Dr. Urquhart’s mother, Finella Urquhart. The stone, which is heavily eroded from time, is engraved with the following:

“Finella Urquhart – wife of Charles Urquhart – departed this life May 23rd, 1816 in the 30th year of her age – this tomb is dedicated to her remains as a memorial of her worth by an affectionate husband. Her virtues are recorded in the memory of her neighbors and filial tears consecrate her resting place”

In the 1980’s an effort was made by Carroll M. Garnett, a descendant of one of Mrs. Urquhart’s sisters, to put a marker on the grave of Dr. Urquhart. This task was accomplished on April 12, 1983 with a special ceremony. The quote for Dr. Urquhart’s memorial comes from the letter written by his brother-in-law after his death. At the 1983 ceremony a foot stone for Dr. Urquhart was also put in that read “The Physician who Attended John Wilkes Booth, Garrett’s Farm, Caroline County, VA, April 26, 1865”. In the years since the dedication ceremony, however, this foot stone has gone missing.

Mr. Garnett also attempted to get two historic highway markers put in to honor Dr. Urquhart. Though neither of the signs came to fruition, one marker was to be placed on the site of Dr. Urquhart’s home in Port Royal. The home (which burned down in 1935) was not far from St. Peter’s Church where Louisa Urquhart and her daughter Nellie are buried. The proposed text for that marker was:

“HOME OF BOOTH’S DOCTOR

During the early morning of April 26, 1865, Dr. Charles Urquhart, Jr., residing at this site, was roused by Union cavalrymen and ordered to the Garrett farm, located 4 miles SW, to give medical attention to John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln’s assassin. Dr. Urquhart treated Booth for his gunshot wound and later pronounced him dead.”

The other proposed highway marker was to be near what is now the Brawdus Martin Germanna Visitor Center in Locust Grove, Virginia. It is from this visitor center that the Germanna Foundation continues to care for the Urquhart Family Cemetery. One can visit the cemetery by parking at the visitor center, which is adjacent to Germanna Community College. The Foundation has cut a path through the grass and woods that leads right to the Urquhart cemetery.

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Dr. Charles Urquhart was probably pretty tired after being awakened so early on the morning of April 26, 1865. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that, “he is now sleeping his last sleep,” under the trees of his family burying ground in Germanna.

References:
Program: Honoring Dr. Charles Urquhart, Jr. at Germanna, Orange County, Va, Tuesday, April 12, 1983
Carroll M. Garnett’s application for historic highway markers, August 15, 1982

GPS coordinates for Dr. Chalres Urquhart’s grave: 38.376483, -77.784450

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

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4 thoughts on “Grave Thursday: Dr. Charles Urquhart

  1. Peter C Gaudet

    Dave – fascinating history of Dr Urquhart. Do we have any information regarding the Urquhart’s sympathies during the war? Additionally, I presume that Mr Garnett had an idea of the family alliances when he drafted the proposed roadside waymarkers that clearly sound as though Dr Urquhart was sympathetic to the plight of Booth as he lay dying in the Garrett porch. At any rate, just some thoughts.
    Kindest regards,
    Peter Gaudet

  2. Dennis D. Urban

    I don’t suppose any image of the doctor has ever been found other than the probably inaccurate drawing above?

  3. Richard Sloan

    well, at least one of the sign makers knew how to spell “cemetery”!

  4. Michelle Dick

    This is very interesting! I love my Thursday posts!! Thanks for all you do!

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