Grave Thursday

Grave Thursday: John Hubbard

On select Thursdays 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.


John B. Hubbard

Burial Location: Friendship Methodist Church Cemetery, Seneca, South Carolina

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

John B. Hubbard’s connection to the Lincoln assassination story can be summarized in a three sentences. 1. He was one of the detectives assigned to guard the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their imprisonment and trial. 2. In this position, Hubbard was called to testify at the trial about one of his captives. 3. Two years later Hubbard was recalled to provide similar testimony at the impeachment proceedings against Andrew Johnson. While that, in essence, describes the reason John B. Hubbard first came to my attention, Hubbard’s post 1865 life makes him a worthy subject for the following lengthy post. If you have the time, please read on about John B. Hubbard, a man who not only attended the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their trial, but also raised a police force that fought against the KKK.


First off, very few details regarding the personal life of John B. Hubbard are available and it takes a bit of deducing to piece together the basic details of his life. Hubbard was likely born between 1828 and 1830.  At the time of his death, newspapers claimed that Hubbard was a cousin of Horace Greeley and was originally from New York. When described during the trial of the conspirators in 1865, a reporter said he was from California. When Hubbard provided testimony during the impeachment proceedings against Andrew Johnson, he stated at the time that “My home is in Connecticut,” though it is not known if that was also his birthplace.

When the Civil War broke out, John Hubbard did not serve in the military. On March 25, 1865, he became a detective in Col. Lafayette Baker’s National Detective Police. At the time of Lincoln’s assassination, Hubbard was in Chicago having just come up from Springfield. Upon hearing the news of Lincoln’s death, Hubbard travelled to Washington and reported to Baker. It does not appear that Hubbard took part in the manhunt for the assassins or, if he did, his part was not effective enough for him to submit a reward request. However, once John Wilkes Booth was dead and the other conspirators were in custody, Baker did have role for Hubbard to play. Hubbard became one of four detectives who were assigned to watch over the conspirators at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary during their trial. Hubbard was joined in this assignment by fellow detectives M. Trail, John Roberts, and Charles Fellows. These four men took shifts of six hours each day to watch over the conspirators. They were entirely separate from General John Hartranft’s detachment of soldiers and staff who served as the main guards and caretakers for the imprisoned conspirators. Hubbard and the other detectives were Baker’s personal eyes and ears during the conspirators’ imprisonment, demonstrating Baker’s habit of “watching the watchers” as well.

Hubbard served as Baker’s spy at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary starting on April 29th. Once the trial of the conspirators started, Hubbard and the other detectives were tasked with further duties:

As the trial continued, Hubbard and the others became more acquainted with the men and woman they were guarding. On June 3rd, Hubbard and his fellow detective, John Roberts, were actually called to testify by Lewis Powell’s defense lawyer, William Doster. Realizing the hopeless nature of Powell’s case, Doster was trying to set up an insanity defense for his client and used words Powell had spoken to his captors to set it up. The following is Hubbard’s testimony:

John B. Hubbard,
a witness called for the accused, Lewis Payne, being duly sworn, testified as follows:

By Mr. Doster:

Q. Please state to the Court whether or not you are in charge, at times, of the prisoner Payne?
A. Yes, sir: I am at times.
Q. Have you at any time had any conversation with him during his confinement?
A. I have, occasionally.
Q. Please state what the substance of that conversation was.

Assistant Judge Advocate Burnett: That I object to.

The Judge Advocate: Is this conversation offered as a confession, or as evidence of insanity?

Mr. Doster: As evidence of insanity. I believe it is a settled principle of law, that all declarations are admissible under the plea of insanity.

Assistant Judge Advocate Bingham: There is no such principle of the law, that all declarations are admissible on the part of the accused for any purpose. I object to the introduction of the declarations of the prisoner made on his own motion.

The Judge Advocate: If the Court please: as a confession, of course this declaration is not at all competent; but, if it is relied upon as indicating an insane condition of mind, I think it would be better for the Court to consider it. We shall be careful, however, to exclude from its consideration these statements so far as the question of the guilt or innocence of the prisoner of the particular crime is concerned, and to admit them only so far as they may aid in solving the question of insanity raised by the counsel.

Assistant Judge Advocate Bingham: On the suggestion of the Judge Advocate General, which is entered of record, I beg leave to state to the Court that I shall not insist upon my objection.

The question being repeated to the witness, he answered as follows:

A. I was taking him out of the Courtroom, about the third or fourth day of the trial, and he said he wished they would make haste and hang him; he was tired of life. He would rather be hung than come back here in the Courtroom. That is all he ever said to me.
Q. Did he ever have any conversation with you in reference to the subject of his constipation?
A. Yes: about a week ago.
Q. What did he say?
A. He said that he had been so ever since he had been here.
Q. What had been so?
A. He had been constipated.
Q. Have you any personal knowledge as to the truth of that fact?
A. No sir, I have not.

By the Judge Advocate:

Q. To whom did you first communicate this statement of his?
A. To the officer.
Q. What officers?
A. Colonel Dodd, I think, or Colonel McCall, and, I believe, to General Hartranft.
Q. Nobody else?
A. No, sir.

By Assistant Judge Advocate Bingham:

Q. What else did he say in his talk the third or fourth day of his trial?
A. I have given all he said going downstairs.

The question directed at Hubbard regarding Lewis Powell’s constipation may seem irrelevant, but that subject was broached the day before by another Doster witness, Dr. Charles Nichols. Nichols assented to Doster’s claim that constipation over a long duration could be taken as evidence of insanity. Doster would use the testimony of Hubbard and his next witness, Col. McCall of General Hartranft’s staff, to prove that Powell had been constipated for almost five weeks in his attempt to strengthen his insanity defense.

Hubbard’s fellow Baker detective, John Roberts, also testified regarding Lewis Powell. Roberts stated that, on the day Powell was asked to put on the clothes he was wearing on the night of April 14th and was subsequently identified by Seward’s son in court, Powell had told him (Roberts) that the prosecution was, “tracing him pretty close, and that he wanted to die.” Doster was hoping to use Hubbard’s and Roberts’ testimony to demonstrate Powell’s suicidal thoughts and, therefore, further insanity.

In the end, of course, Doster’s insanity defense for Powell was unsuccessful. Hubbard and the other detectives were undoubtedly present on the hot afternoon of July 7, 1865 when Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt and Mary Surratt met death upon the gallows. After the deaths of half of the conspirators, half of Baker’s detectives were reassigned:

On July 17th, there was no longer any need for John B. Hubbard to remain at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary as the remaining four conspirators were placed aboard a steamer and sent to Fort Jefferson prison. Hubbard would leave Baker’s employ not long after that. For his services with Baker, Hubbard was paid $150 a month.

In 1866, John B. Hubbard made his way down to South Carolina which was then part of the Second Military District. After the close of the Civil War, the U.S. Army created several administrative units in the former Confederate states. The districts acted as the de facto military government of those states until new civilian governments were re-established. The new state governments were required to ratify the 14th amendment which granted voting rights to black men. In the Second Military District, which compromised North and South Carolina, John B. Hubbard found employment as a detective for the commander of the district, General Daniel Sickles.

On May 17, 1867, John Hubbard was called up from South Carolina to testify at the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson. His testimony in Washington was brief and mainly concerned his duties during the conspiracy trial. He was asked about any confessions that may have been written by the conspirators during his time with them. The only one he recalled was one written by George Atzerodt. Hubbard claimed he did not believe Lewis Powell ever wrote a confession. For this brief testimony, the government paid Hubbard $49 for his 3 days and 470 miles of travel. He subsequently returned to South Carolina.

In August of 1867, General Sickles was removed as commander of the Second Military District and was replaced by General Edward Canby. Hubbard continued in his services as a detective for General Canby until the district was dissolved upon South Carolina’s adoption of a new state constitution and re-admittance to the Union in 1868. The first elected Governor of South Carolina under the new 1868 Constitution was Robert Kingston Scott, a former Union brigadier general and a Republican from Pennsylvania. The new state constitution arranged for the organization of a new state police. Gov. Scott chose John Hubbard to become the state’s first Chief Constable.

Robert Kingston Scott

During the Reconstruction Era, people like Gov. Scott and John Hubbard were referred to as carpet-baggers. This term was used to describe northerners who moved to the conquered South for their own personal gain and, ostensibly, brought their few belongings with them in cheap carpetbags. The term was not without merit as the most notorious carpetbaggers truly were unscrupulous individuals seeking only to gain power and wealth at the expense of the locals. However, not every northerner who moved to the South during Reconstruction was a carpetbagger. Nevertheless, the term came to represent all northerners who moved to the southern states during Reconstruction regardless of intent.

Denouncing and attacking all northerners as carpetbaggers became one of the main strategies of the southern papers during Reconstruction. The view that all carpetbagger officials were engaging in graft, bribery, and embezzlement was so pervasive that it is very difficult to tell the difference between true instances of carpetbaggery and anti-northerner propaganda.

However, as problematic as financial corruption on the part of carpetbaggers was, what was far more damaging to the sensibilities of white Southerners was the forced advancement of racial equality in the region. The South lost the Civil War and was forced to abandon slavery, but it could not be forced to abandon its belief in white supremacy. As Republican controlled governments established themselves in the South and pushed to ensure equal voting and citizenship rights for the recently freed slaves, the white Democratic populations pushed back with often violent vengeance. (Note: It is important to remember that while the two main political parties of today share the same names as those in existence 150 years ago, the viewpoints of each party have shifted significantly over time. The Republican and Democratic parties of today have little in common with their counterparts of the past.) It was during this time that one of the first incarnations of the Ku Klux Klan arose in South Carolina. As Chief Constable of the state, John B. Hubbard gave a deposition about the Klan’s activities and the work of his force to try to contain them:

“In all the counties except one there were threats, intimidations, and violence used against republicans. Men were taken out by the Ku Klux and whipped, to frighten them from voting the republican ticket. My subordinates officially notified me that in all the counties west of Broad River, as well as in York County, Ku Klux abounded in numbers, and spread general terror all over the county…In Laurens County cases were officially reported to me in which men were stationed on the highways to prevent republican voters from going to the polls. Numerous outrages and murders were perpetrated on republicans.  There was one case in which, in the town of Laurens, a man was publicly shot down in the streets for simply saying he was a republican; another case, in which twenty shots were fired upon a republican in daylight, until he was chased entirely out of town…I daily expected to hear that my deputies were killed, and that anarchy had taken possession of the county.”

The widespread attacks against South Carolina’s Republican voters described by Hubbard above occurred during the election of 1868. The Klan’s efforts to intimidate Republican voters, both white and black, caused the black voter turnout in 1868 to be extremely low. Elaine Frantz Parsons, author of Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction, noted that, “The dramatically lopsided election results in 1868 seemed clear proof to Republicans of a massive campaign of voter intimidation, but Democratic newspapers cynically shrugged it off. Nothing that in the Ninety-Sixth District only eight or ten black men voted, the Charleston News explained, ‘The colored people did not desire to vote and preferred to stay at home.’”

In order to combat the widespread voter intimidation practiced by the Ku Klux Klan, Gov. Scott gave Hubbard the funds and authority to help raise local black militias for the purposes of defense of the Republican citizens. Hubbard’s various constables throughout the state aided the militias in various ways. When Democratic supporters provided Winchester rifles to members of the Ku Klux, Hubbard, in turn, managed to get rifles for some of the militia men. Hubbard desired a larger paramilitary force of Northerners to send to counties where there had been intimidation and in 1870 Gov. Scott agreed to the idea. They commissioned C.C. Baker, a New York carpetbagger who ran a gold mining business in Union county, to go to New York and find men to work as “detectives”. Baker outsourced the job to a man named James Kerrigan who assembled twenty five men. Years later, Hubbard would admit that, “I don’t think it possible to have found or selected a more dangerous lot of men than were in any city of the union.” Parsons explains the failure of this force:

“While there is no record of the Kerrigan detectives causing problems during their stay in Union,Scott’s decision to bring them to Union only confirmed Democratic white’s fears that the Republicans would use their superior bureaucratic organization and resources to mobilize force from beyond the county… Kerrigan’s men did very little, generated no indictments, and left within a few days. But the presence of these hired detectives fed dramatically into Democratic Union Countians’ sense of lack of control… Things did not turn out as Scott and Hubbard had planned”

Bringing in this large number of carpetbaggers to intimidate the Ku-Kluxes in Union actually did the opposite. This event and a subsequent murder of a white man by one of the black militias (likely one of the only times the militias themselves were violent), caused the community of Union to unite behind the Klan. They subsequently engaged in two prison raids and mass lynchings which were covered nationwide and caught the attention of President Grant. The atrocities caused by the Klan in South Carolina helped push Enforcement Acts through Congress. These acts allowed federal troops to enforce the law in the South rather than relying on state militias. It resulted in the arrests and trials of hundreds of Klan members and the suspension of habeas corpus in nine counties in South Carolina.  The Enforcement Acts virtually destroyed the Klan in South Carolina and greatly reduced its power throughout the rest of the South. It would not be until 1915, upon the release of the film, The Birth of a Nation, that the Klan would reassemble itself.  The acts essentially put Hubbard’s deputies out of a job as his force was superseded by federal troops who were far more effective. While Hubbard’s force disbanded, Hubbard did not. In 1872, a year after the third Enforcement Act was put into place, Hubbard is listed as living in Charleston as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. In this capacity he aided the federal troops in making arrests and identifying Ku Kluxes and Ku Klux crimes throughout the state. For two years he worked with the federal troops to rid South Carolina of the KKK with great success.

In 1874, after two years as a Deputy Marshal, Hubbard left the law and became a Special Agent for the Treasury Department. His duties in this position and length of tenure are unknown.

This political cartoon depicts Rutherford B. Hayes strolling off with the prize of the “Solid South” having made a deal with the Devil.

Reconstruction ended with the Great Betrayal of 1877 which gave Rutherford B. Hayes the contested presidency in return for him pulling all remaining federal troops out of the South. With the troops gone, there was no way to apply the Enforcement Acts and the large scale disenfranchisement of black voters began at a state level.

This was also the period of time when the Democratic leaders sought to punish those carpetbagging Republicans who had controlled their states during the Reconstruction years. Charges were brought up against many former Republican officials. The author of Hubbard’s later obituary stated that, “When Democrats overthrew the reconstruction Government in 1876, Hubbard left the State Capitol and fled to the mountains in the northwestern part of the State where he has lived ever since… How he managed to escape their vengeance is still a mystery.” The truth is, Hubbard did not escape the vengeance of the Democrats who now held power. In order to save himself, Hubbard turned against a bigger carpetbagger than himself, his former boss, Governor Robert Scott.

Scott’s tenure as governor ended in 1872 and, though he had continued to live in South Carolina afterwards, he fled the state when the Democrats took power in 1877. Hubbard was either not so quick or had grown attached to his southern home. Rather than run, in 1878, Hubbard subjected himself to be interviewed by the Democrat’s Joint Investigating Committee on Public Frauds. He gave a long testimony and produced many records and correspondences. The committee believed that Gov. Scott had misappropriate massive amounts of funds (which he likely did) and that Hubbard’s constabulary was used for the express purpose of helping Republican candidates and to intimidate Democratic voters. Hubbard reinforced the very notions the committee was looking for but his motive for doing so are unknown. He acknowledged that his constabulary of deputies was used to promote Republican candidates and support Republican voters. Hubbard also laid the blame on Scott regarding the (failed) attempt to establish a paramilitary force of white Republicans in Union. Hubbard provided enough correspondence from his deputies to satiate the committee’s belief that his police force was merely a propaganda arm for the Republicans. To hammer the final nail into the coffin, Hubbard stated flatly that, “Ostensibly, the object of the constabulary force was for the preservation of the peace, but in reality it was organized and used for political purposes and ends.” For this testimony, even though it seemed to prove that Hubbard was engaged with Gov. Scott in the misappropriation of funds in order to intimate Democratic voters state wide, Hubbard was sincerely thanked.

Hubbard’s testimony in 1878 is perplexing. While there is obvious truth that his deputies were tasked with supporting the Republican candidates and voters, this was largely done due to the large scale voter suppression they were facing. Hubbard’s additional claim that the force was organized purely for political purposes also discounts the many arrests that the deputies, and Hubbard himself, made to maintain law and respect the rights of the black citizens. Perhaps the incongruous part of Hubbard’s testimony is his claim that, prior to the establishment of the black militias, there was “but little lawlessness” in the counties. This idea is completely contradicted by his report on the Ku Klux Klan activity which preceded the establishment of the militias. Granted the violence did increase after the establishment of the militias but what preceded it would hardly have been referred as “little lawlessness”.

In the end, the motives of Hubbard’s 1878 testimony are unknown.  Did he provide the investigating committee with the information and testimony they sought, even if it was not completely accurate or his true feelings, in order to save himself? Or did Hubbard truly come to think of his former police force as nothing but a political tool that was abused by the former Governor?

Regardless of his true feelings, Hubbard’s testimony apparently allowed him to remain in South Carolina without issue. Though, it should be noted, Hubbard did move from his former homes in Columbia and Charleston to the relatively isolated region in the state’s northwest. On July 4, 1880, John Hubbard married Eliza C. Fredericks at her home in Seneca, South Carolina. Hubbard was about 50 years old and his new bride was 47. Their marriage lasted only eight years before John’s death.

John B. Hubbard died on December 17, 1888 near Seneca. When the newspapers reported his death they briefly recounted that he had, “taken a prominent part in the execution of Mrs. Surratt” and was “a chief advisor” in the breakup of the KKK.  The papers had little to add about his final years. “It is said he was a moonshiner,” they reported. “For the last four or five years he had disappeared altogether from public notice. He died in his mountain vastness.”

Eliza Hubbard outlived her husband by a number of years before dying in 1900. She is buried alongside him in Friendship Methodist Church Cemetery in Seneca. Unfortunately, both of their gravestones have been broken in half.

Like many Grave Thursday offerings, John B. Hubbard is a minor character when it comes to his involvement in the story of the Lincoln assassination. Nevertheless, when making plans to visit South Carolina in order to view the recent eclipse, I made sure that Kate and I found lodging not far from his final resting place. I wanted to find the grave of this man who had such an interesting life beyond 1865. John Hubbard is still very much a mystery in some respects and his true feelings regarding his deputy force are difficult to know for certainty. Nevertheless, I believe that John Hubbard’s legacy should be that he opposed the KKK. He and his deputies fought against the Klan’s attempts to intimidate and prevent African Americans from engaging in their right to be heard and represented.

While doing research for this post, I stumbled across the KKK book quoted earlier by Elaine Frantz Parsons. The details I found regarding Hubbard convinced me to purchase the digital version. I often buy books like this solely for reference purposes, taking out the parts relating to my particular subject but never reading the entire text cover to cover. Though my initial intent was to use the book just for the parts relating to Hubbard, I have found this book extremely engrossing and have already read far beyond any mention of Hubbard. It is an emotionally difficult read but extremely relevant, I think, to current events. I was particular fascinated with how the Democratic newspapers of the time reported on the KKK atrocities. Parsons aptly notes that the, “Democratic elites kept their standard posture of publicly admiring the idea of the Ku-Klux while rigorously denying any local accounts of Ku-Kluxes or Klux attacks”. The denial of local attacks (or claims of “fake news” in modern parlance) was maintained as long as possible until enough outside reports forced the newspapers to acknowledge them. But even when the attacks were finally acknowledged, the Democratic papers in Union County printed story after story about how the crimes reported had actually been carried out by the black Republican militias who were being paid by wealthy radical Republicans in the North to stage attacks and even kill their own in order to illicit sympathy in the North. All of this propaganda worked to turn people to the same side as the KKK without them realizing it. Average citizens, many of who would never put on a hood themselves and cause violence, surrendered the basic tenants of their Christian morality when they embraced the fear and conspiracy of the propagandists.  Parsons points out that though the first KKK was physically destroyed through the Enforcement Acts, its ideas were not. Through their few years of violence and support in the propagandist newspapers, they successfully turned public opinion in their favor and scared those who would stand against them into silence. They lost their form when federal troops came to oppose them, but, when Reconstruction ended, their ideas were put into place when the suppression of black voting rights continued and Jim Crow laws were enacted.

It is for this reason that I admire John Hubbard to a degree.  When Hubbard fought against the KKK, he faced immense backlash from those around him. He was detested for being an outsider and the newspapers condemned him for trying to force his will on the local population. Hubbard himself mentioned the dangers he faced in travelling into KKK dominated counties, “Every time that I myself went into those counties I thought I would not get back alive. I was told by prominent democrats that I would not get back; that I would be killed…that their political friends had sworn to kill me.” Even in the fact of all this, however, Hubbard continued to fight. First with his own police force and then with the federal troops who came into the South.

John B. Hubbard may have been a carpetbagger. He may have used his constabulary for political purposes. We may never truly know his motives. But, when all is said and done, John Hubbard opposed the KKK and its propaganda, and that puts him on the right side of morality and history.

References:
Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction by Elaine Frantz Parsons
The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts edited by William Edwards
John Hubbard’s testimony in Impeachment Investigation: Testimony Taken Before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives in the Investigation of the Charges Against Andrew Johnson
John Hubbard’s Ku Klux Klan report in House Documents, Volume 265
Report of the Joint Investigating Committee on Public Frauds and Election of Hon. J.J. Patterson to the United States Senate: Made to the General Assembly of South Carolina at the Regular Session 1877-78
Newspaper articles accessed via GenealogyBank.com

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

Grave Thursday: Alexius Thomas

On select Thursdays 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.


Alexius Thomas

Burial Location: Unknown

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

In 1865, a man named Alexius Thomas was living on the road between Beantown and Bryantown in Charles County, Maryland. He had been born into slavery in about 1820 and from that time until Maryland’s slavery abolishing Constitution was approved in November of 1864, Thomas had been considered the property of a man named Henry Lowe Mudd. Thomas was likely given his name of Alexius in memory of Henry Mudd’s father who bore that name and died when Henry was less than 2 years old. Even though, by 1865, he was now emancipated, Alexius Thomas still lived on and worked the land owned by his former master. While working on the afternoon of April 15, Thomas happened to see a young, “clean made, neat built man, about 5 ½ feet tall” ride by him on a bright bay horse. The man was headed to Bryantown and did not stop. “In a little while – I don’t think he had time to go to Bryantown, he passed me again, and went on down the road toward Beantown,” Thomas recalled. Later that evening, right around dusk, Thomas observed the same man once more and this time the young man came up to him. “Uncle, where am I at?” the man asked Thomas. “I am entirely lost.” Thomas proceeded to point out the cardinal directions to the stranger to help him get his bearings. The man then asked Thomas if he was near the home of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd. Thomas told him he was not far from Dr. Mudd’s house and that the property he was currently on was actually owned by Henry Lowe Mudd, Doctor Sam’s father.  The young man then asked about the possibility of staying the night at the house and Thomas said he did not know if Mr. Mudd was at home. “I think I won’t bother anyone tonight,” the man replied before asking, “Isn’t there a large swamp near here?” Thomas replied in the affirmative and pointed out the location of the swamp past one of their tobacco houses. When the stranger asked Thomas if he would like to go to Bryantown, Thomas replied that he could not go at all which seemed enough for the stranger. As he was departing, he told Thomas, “Well, I will take the swamp anyhow, I won’t bother anybody tonight.” With that, the stranger departed in the direction of the swamp and Alexius Thomas was pulled into his house by his wife, Mary.

The home of Henry Lowe Mudd. Alexius Thomas lived near this site.

The whole interaction would have been otherwise forgotten except that the man Alexius Thomas found himself observing and then conversing with was none other than David Herold, the accomplice of assassin John Wilkes Booth. When Thomas observed Herold on the afternoon, the fugitive was riding towards Bryantown in hopes of securing a wagon to use as transport for the wounded Booth who was recuperating at Dr. Mudd’s house. Dr. Mudd was accompanying Herold towards Bryantown but Herold rode ahead and split from Mudd at a point where the road forks. This is why Thomas did not see Dr. Mudd ride by that day, as the doctor took the other path. Apparently, as Herold got close to Bryantown, he witnessed the presence of Union soldiers who were on alert due to the assassination of Lincoln. Herold did not travel all the way into Bryantown, as aptly noted by Thomas, and returned to the Mudd farm. In the late afternoon, Herold and Booth departed the Mudd farm, heading toward the swamp. It is assumed that when Herold emerged and spoke with Thomas around dusk, he was doing so because he and Booth had become lost and turned around inside the swamp. Herold was no doubt disheartened to learn that they had covered a very short distance in the past few hours and then made inquiries about staying the night in order to avoid suspicion. This was an unnecessary precaution, however, as Alexius Thomas had not yet heard the news about Lincoln’s death. He would learn of the news, however, and on April 21, Thomas found himself imprisoned inside of the Bryantown Tavern where he gave a formal statement of what had occurred. Dr. Samuel Mudd, who, on April 18th, had first answered questions from detectives about the “strangers” who showed up at his house, was also imprisoned at Bryantown Tavern that day. Mudd and Thomas were both shipped up to Washington for further questioning and investigation. While Dr. Mudd would be found to be a conspirator in Booth’s plans, Thomas was held in the Old Capitol Prison as a witness. He was not called to testify at the trial of the conspirators and was released from custody on May 18.

After his passing interaction with history, Alexius Thomas largely disappears. He is enumerated in the 1870 census as “Alick”, one of many misspellings of his name. Other variations of his name include Alexis, Electus, Eluctus, Elictus, and even the far afield, Elliott. Thomas’ name pops up one final time in the November 1, 1872 edition of the Port Tobacco Times where he is included on a list of registered voters in Charles County’s eighth district. At some point after 1872, it appears that Alexius Thomas passed away. In the 1880 census Mary Thomas is listed as “widowed” and is living with her son, Alexius, Jr, along with her other children.

Alexius Thomas’ final resting place is not known. He is almost assuredly buried somewhere in Charles County, but, like so many black citizens during the Civil War and Reconstruction era, his grave is unmarked and unknown. Like so many others, Alexius Thomas’ legacy is not written in stone but in his descendants. Though Alexius was born a slave and couldn’t read or write, he undoubtedly stressed the importance of education to his children after emancipation came. His sons, Daniel and Alexius, Jr., were unable to write but did learn to read. When they got older, both men served as trustees for their district’s “colored school” which aided in the education of their neighbors and friends.

It is also interesting to note that Alexius’ youngest child, born in the years after his run in with the assassin’s accomplice, was given the name Abraham in memory of the late President. This son was called Abe Thomas and he lived his whole life in Charles County, working as a farm laborer. Though his grave is unmarked, we know that Abe Thomas is buried in Oldfields Episcopal Church Cemetery in Hughesville, Charles County. Abe Thomas, named for the President by his father, Alexius Thomas who unknowingly assisted the assassin and his accomplice with directions, died on May 10, 1938, the 100th anniversary of John Wilkes Booth’s birth.

References:
Statements of Alexius Thomas [1 & 2] in the edited volume The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence by William Edwards and Edward Steers, Jr.
1870 Federal Census record for Alick [sic] Thomas
1880 Federal Census record for Mary Thomas, Loch [Alexius, Jr.], & Abraham Thomas
The Port Tobacco Times and Charles County Advertiser
Burials in Charles County Maryland, Vol II by the Charles County Maryland Genealogical Society

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | 5 Comments

Grave Thursday: The Montgomery Theatre

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.


The Montgomery Theatre

Burial Location: 39 S Perry St, Montgomery, Alabama

Connection the the Lincoln Assassination:

For this week’s Grave Thursday we are dealing with the death of a place, rather than a person. The place is the old Montgomery Theatre in Montgomery, Alabama which is currently in the final phases of demolition.

In the fall of 1859, Colonel Charles T. Pollard, president of the Montgomery and West Point Railroad, commissioned the construction of a new theater in Montgomery, Alabama. The brick contractor was B. F. Randolph who used his female slaves as the laborers for the theater’s masonry and plastering. By October of 1860, the large and stately Montgomery Theatre was completed. The first lessee and manager of the theater was Matthew Canning, who opened the theater with his troupe of actors on October 22, 1860.

Matthew W. Canning

22 year-old John Wilkes Booth was part of Matthew Canning’s troupe of actors.  Booth’s tour with Canning was his first as a star performer. Prior to this he had been learning his craft in Philadelphia and Richmond. Attempting to succeed on his own talents rather than his prestigious family name, he had been and was continuing to be billed “J. B. Wilkes” or “John Wilkes”.

When the Canning troupe presented the grand opening performance of the show, School for Scandal, at the Montgomery Theatre, John Wilkes Booth was not present. Ten days earlier, when the troupe had been in Columbus, Georgia, Booth had suffered an accidental gunshot wound to his thigh. Though stories differ, the most reliable account holds that Booth and Canning were attempting to clean a pistol when the weapon accidentally discharged. This gunshot wound ended Booth’s performances in Columbus and caused him to sit out most of his starring performances in Montgomery as well.

John Wilkes Booth finally made his debut at the Montgomery Theatre on Monday, October 29, 1860, when he performed as Pescara in The Apostate. He would perform for the rest of the week before closing his engagement to recuperate further. John Wilkes Booth was resting in Montgomery, Alabama when Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States on November 6, 1860.

On November 16, Booth returned to the stage of the Montgomery Theatre in a benefit performance for his fellow actor, Kate Bateman. Booth played Romeo to Bateman’s Juliet.

The troupe’s final day at the Montgomery Theatre was on December 1, 1860 in a benefit performance for Booth himself. Booth performed in a two act play called Rafaelle, the Reprobate, and then his fellow actor, Maggie Mitchell, performed in Katy O’Sheal. The evening was ended with Booth performing the titular character in the fifth act of Shakespeare’s Richard III. This performance marked the end of Booth’s engagement in Montgomery but it also marked a new beginning for the young actor. It was on the stage at the Montgomery Theatre that John Wilkes Booth reclaimed his true name and was billed as J. Wilkes Booth. From this day onward, the actor would always use his true name.

John Wilkes Booth would never return to Montgomery, but the beautiful theater he helped to christen would continue to operate for many years. Edwin Booth would perform on the same stage in 1876, 1882, and 1888 along with countless other luminaries of the stage.

After 47 years of operation, the Montgomery Theatre was closed on November 13, 1907 when a newer, grander theater was opened in the city. The old theater’s interior was remodeled into a department store but the outside retained its original construction. The Webber department store lasted until the 1990’s when it finally closed. After a few years the building was bought by a foundation which paid almost half a million dollars to replace the roof. In 2010, the foundation sold the building to a developer who planned to restore the structure and create retail and housing space within the interior. Unfortunately while work was being done to restore the building in June of 2014, the structure suffered a partial collapse.

Though the hope was that the restoration would continue, the owner of the building didn’t have the funds to continue after the collapse. The ownership of the building reverted to the city of Montgomery in December of 2014. The city valiantly made efforts to find a buyer willing and financially able to restore the structure, offering to sell structure for $1 to any developers who would restore it. In the end, however, the city could not find a buyer with the means to restore the building. The property was sold off and slated for demolition which began in late 2016. Here is how the building looked on March 30th of this year:

Though the Montgomery Theatre building could not be saved, deconstruction of the building has been slow to allow for the salvage of some of the structure’s cast iron, bricks, and masonry pieces. Some of the windows of the theater are also being saved and will be given to the local historical society.

Despite the loss of the Montgomery Theatre building, the history of the site will not be lost. There is a historic marker that will be returned once construction on the site is completed. In addition, the company that is redeveloping the property has vowed to, “include a plaza and information to recognize the building’s history.”

I want to close this post with the words of an old time Montgomery resident by the name of Frank P. O’Brien. O’Brien was present the night the Montgomery Theatre opened in 1860. When the theatre closed in 1907 he gave his reminiscences of the many plays and actors that had graced its stage. At the end of the article, O’Brien stated the following words, which are very fitting today:

“Wednesday night, November thirteenth, the curtain was ‘rung down’ in the old play-house to give way to one of more modern construction. The soft glow of unforgotten scenes alone is left to me, and many whose hearts have throbbed with hope for future years, as nightly we ascended the broad stairs from the street to listen to and witness scenes of comedy, music, and tragedy. Thus is marked the passing of the glory of the old Montgomery theatre…There is not one of us who has not gone up the wide stairs loving, and come down them loving the more. There is not one of us who has not left some weight of the soul there and never returned to claim it.

Vale! old house, the ghostly shadows of scenes long to be remembered will continue to hover within thy hallowed walls ’till the inevitable march of progress hastens thy destruction.”

GPS coordinates for the former site of Montgomery Theatre: 32.378385, -86.307671

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

The Hidden History of James P. Ferguson

On April 1, 2017, I spoke at the annual Surratt Society Conference. The topic of my speech revolved around the hidden histories of some of the minor characters in the Lincoln assassination story. One of the subjects of that talk was James P. Ferguson, assassination witness and proprietor of the Greenback Saloon next to Ford’s Theatre. The following text comes from my speech and is presented in lieu of a Grave Thursday post.


James Patton Ferguson

Burial Location: Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

In the assassination story, James P. Ferguson is known as being the man who owned the Greenback Saloon on the north side of Ford’s Theatre. Ferguson was well acquainted with the actor turned assassin, John Wilkes Booth. On the day of Lincoln’s assassination, in the late afternoon hours, Booth had showed off his escape horse to Ferguson and some of the Ford’s Theatre employees. That night, Ferguson secured two tickets to “Our American Cousin”. He had been told that General Grant was going to be the guest of the Lincoln’s that night and Ferguson wanted to see the great general. Ferguson secured seats on the balcony level opposite the President’s box in order to get a good view of its occupants. When the President arrived with different guests, Ferguson was disappointed but kept his eyes on the box hoping that Grant might join the party later. Ferguson was perhaps the only person looking at the President’s box when John Wilkes Booth entered and fired. He was one of the first witnesses to be interviewed and his descriptions of the events of that night are one of the best.

Hidden History:

James Patton Ferguson was born on August 20, 1828 in Highland County, Ohio. As a young man he had a roving restless nature. He found employment as a boatman on a river steamboat that ran between Cincinnati and New Orleans, he was elected as a policeman in Cincinnati until he was fired for being found asleep in a barrel while on duty, then he moved to New Orleans where he worked as a bartender. While he would continue to work as a bartender and restaurant keeper for the rest of his life, in the mid 1850’s Ferguson left his job in New Orleans and joined up as a soldier of fortune. Ferguson traveled down to Nicaragua to fight under the command of a man named William Walker.

William Walker

William Walker was a Tennessean physician and lawyer turned mercenary. He was a firm believer in both the practice of slavery and in belief of Manifest destiny. Walker sought to annex land in Mexico and Central America in order to create new American colonies that practiced slavery. These colonies would be ruled by Walker as republics in the hope they would later be accepted into the United States as additional slave states. In 1853, Walker successfully invaded the sparsely inhabited Mexican state of Baja and declared it the Republic of Lower California.

Walker planned to invade and annex the nearby Mexican state of Sonora but, in 1854, with his supplies running low, he retreated back to the U.S. Though he was put on trial for violating the Neutrality Act of 1794 which made it illegal for an American to wage a war against any country at peace with the United States, Walker was acquitted by a jury after only 8 minutes of deliberation.

While Walker had been fighting in Mexico in 1854, a civil war had broken out in Nicaragua.  The two groups fighting for control of the country were the Legitimist Party and the Democratic Party. After hearing about Walker’s incursion into Mexico, the leader of the Democratic party, Francisco Castellon, sought Walker’s help to defeat the Legitimists. Back then, Nicaragua, like Panama, was a crucial point for transcontinental trade. Walker saw the benefit of controlling Nicaragua and traveled down to “help” Castellon and the Democrats. On June 29, 1855, Walker with a group of about 45 mercenaries and 100 natives, seized the city of Rivas, Nicaragua. By October of 1855, Walker and his men had completely defeated the Legitimist army and had seized their capital of Granada. The civil war in Nicaragua had been won for the Democratic Party. News of Walker’s success traveled far and wide and apparently made an impression on the 27 year-old James P Ferguson. Ferguson left New Orleans and traveled down to Nicaragua to join Walker and his men.

As commander of the whole army, William Walker essentially ruled Nicaragua through a provisional president. Walker’s regime was even recognized as the legitimate government of Nicaragua by U.S. President Franklin Pierce. Though it is unknown when exactly James P. Ferguson joined the ranks of Walker’s army, we know it was at least by April of 1856. You see after the Nicaraguan Civil war ended with Walker’s army victorious, the neighboring countries of Costa Rica and Honduras had growing concerns over their border. Walker’s well known desire to annex and expand his territory was a problem. In March of 1856, Costa Rica declared war not on Nicaragua but on Walker’s army of mercenary invaders. On April 11, 1856, the army of Costa Rica made attacked on Walker’s army in Rivas, the same city that Walker had seized when he first arrived in Nicaragua the year earlier. James P. Ferguson was in that battle which was later known as the Second Battle of Rivas. The Costa Rican army of almost 9,000 volunteers were too much for Walker and he was forced to retreat to his stronghold of Granada. At the end of the battle casualties were high on both sides. Though the circumstances are unknown, Ferguson is listed as one of those wounded during the battle.

He was lucky he was not killed, for, as they were retreating from Rivas, Walker ordered the bodies of the dead to be thrown into the city’s wells in order to poison the town’s water supply. This dastardly deed was very effective and resulted in a cholera epidemic after the battle had ended. The Costa Rican army unwittingly brought tainted water back with them when they returned home which resulted in a cholera epidemic that killed 10% of the country’s population.

The wounded James P. Ferguson left Nicaragua shortly after the Second Battle of Rivas and returned to the United States. Though he recovered, for the rest of his life, James P. Ferguson would walk with a limp.

After his return to the U.S., Ferguson went back to his chosen profession as a bartender. When the Civil War broke out, Ferguson, like many others, made his was to Washington, D.C. which had increased in size due to the war. In April of 1861, 33 year-old Ferguson married a woman named Martha who was about the same age as him. The pair settled down in D.C. where Ferguson came to run the Greenback Saloon.

Among the countless others who made Washington their home was a young couple named Sabret and Ann Cecil. The Cecils had three children. In 1862, Sabret died unexpectedly leaving Ann to raise their children Martha, Mary and John all by herself. To make ends meet Ann worked as a dressmaker. Somehow, the Fergusons came to know Ann and her children. Perhaps seeing the difficult situation Ann was in as a single mother and perhaps because James and Martha never had any children of their own, the Fergusons apparently offered to help Ann by caring for her middle daughter, Mary Ella, at the time. The Fergusons provided Ella with lodging and care and she became essentially one of the family. James Ferguson was very fond of 12 year-old and doted upon her greatly.

Martha Ferguson’s health was not always the greatest and that is the reason why, on the night of Lincoln’s assassination, it was Mary Ella Cecil who was James P. Ferguson’s guest at Ford’s Theatre instead. Ferguson’s detailed account of the crime made him a hot commodity with his story being  carried in many of the newspapers of the day, while Ella doesn’t seem to have been interviewed at all.

A few months after the assassination, Martha Ferguson’s health worsened and so James suggested that his wife leave D.C. James arranged for Martha to stay with some friends of his in his home state of Ohio. With Martha gone, Ella went back to live with her mother Ann. While James was very dutiful in writing letters to his wife in the period shortly after her departure, over time his letters to her became less and less until they inexplicably stopped coming altogether. By late 1866, Martha heard some terrible news from some of her other acquaintances, her husband had apparently taken a mistress and was parading her around as his wife. Angry, Martha left Ohio and travelled back to D.C. to confront her cheating spouse. When she arrived in D.C. she found that James had left the city, apparently having learned of her return. She traced him up to Baltimore before learning he departed that city and gone back to D.C. just before she had arrived. Returning to D.C., Martha learned the identity of the woman who was her husband’s mistress. Filled with fury and anger, Martha knocked on a door that was located near 6th St and H St, right around the corner from Mary Surratt’s boarding house. When the door opened Martha Ferguson upbraided the girl who had ruined her life, Mary Ella Cecil.

Yes, it appears that at some point over the years, James P. Ferguson’s interest in Ella changed from guardian to suitor. It’s possible that Ferguson was interested in Ella romantically as far back as the assassination when Ella was only 14 years old. It seems increasingly likely that James Ferguson sent his wife away to Ohio in order to remove any barriers against his relationship with Ella.

James Ferguson was not present in the home that Ella shared with her mother, but unfortunately “Jimmy the canary was. You see, as a token of his affection, James had presented Ella with a lovely canary whom Ella named Jimmy after its donor. Martha, seeing the bird and hearing its name, was so enraged that, to quote to newspaper, “she took the bird and wrung its head off”.

Screaming ensued between Ella and Martha and Ella seized Martha in order to kick her out of the house. At this, Martha pulled out a revolver and aimed it at Ella’s chest. Martha pulled the trigger three times, but the gun did not fire. Someone intervened and prevented the two from fighting further while a police officer was sent for. Martha Ferguson was arrested and charged with assault and battery with intent to kill with her bail set at $1,000.

Despite a hearty search, I was unable to find any additional details about Martha’s arrest or even if she stood trial for what she had done. It is unlikely Martha went to jail for committing avicide against Jimmy the canary and though she intended to serious harm Ella, the fact that the gun did not fire also probably saved her. Regardless, Martha falls completely off the radar after her arrest, even to the point that James did not know where to find her. In spring of 1867, James sought to divorce Martha but the issued subpoena is returned as Martha was, “not to be found”.

In July of 1867, James took a legal notice in the National Intelligencer stating that if she does not appear within 40 days he will go through the divorce proceedings in her absence. There is no evidence that Martha ever comes forward and in December of 1867, the divorce is put on the docket in the D.C. courts. On February, 11, 1868, James P. Ferguson is granted a divorce against Martha. In what is likely a final insult to Mrs. Ferguson, James alleges that his reason for divorce is because Martha committed adultery in October and November of 1866 and was also addicted to drinking.

Fifteen days after his divorce from Martha, 39 year old James P. Ferguson married 17 year-old Mary Ella Cecil in DC. After losing his bar and restaurant the couple would move to Cincinnati and have three children together. James P. Ferguson died in 1897 while Ella lived almost 40 more years dying in 1936. They are buried together in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.

That’s some of the hidden history of James P. Ferguson, saloon keeper, key assassination witness, Nicaraguan mercenary, and creepy adopted father/husband.

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , | 11 Comments

Grave Thursday: Julia Ward Howe

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.


Julia Ward Howe

Burial Location: Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

A Happy Women’s History Month to you all you researchers out there. This is Kate, taking over for Dave today.

For this Grave Thursday, we are going to discuss the strong willed social activist and suffragist who not only gave the Union one of its most recognized anthems but also wrote a lesser known, though equally beautiful, poem for the Booth family.

Julia Ward Howe is most often remembered for transforming the lyrics of “John Brown’s Body” into the patriotic hymn “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” This is rather appropriate considering her husband, Samuel, was a member of the Secret Six, a staunch abolitionist group that financed John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. However, Howe wrote many other poems during her lifetime that were never set to music.

Long before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, Julia Ward Howe had made the acquaintances of various members of the Booth family, specifically John Wilkes’ older brother, Edwin, with whom she developed a close friendship. In writing about her life, Howe spoke of her early admiration and introduction to the great actor:

“It was in the days now spoken of that I first saw Edwin Booth. Dr. Howe and I betook ourselves to the Boston Theatre one rainy evening, expecting to see nothing more than an ordinary performance. The play was “Richelieu,” and we had seen but little of Mr. Booth’s part in it before we turned to each other and said, “This is the real thing.” In every word, in every gesture, the touch of genius made itself felt. A little later I saw him in “Hamlet,” and was even more astonished and delighted. While he was still completing this his first engagement in Boston, I received a letter from his manager, proposing that I should write a play for Mr. Booth. My first drama, though not a success, had made me somewhat known to theatrical people. I had been made painfully aware of its defects, and desired nothing more than to profit by the lesson of experience in producing something that should deserve entire approbation. It was therefore with a good hope of success that I undertook to write the play. Mr. Booth himself called upon me, in pursuance of his request. The favorable impression which he had made upon me was not lessened by a nearer view. I found him modest, intelligent, and above all genuine, — the man as worthy of admiration as the artist. Although I had seen Mr. Booth in a variety of characters, I could only think of representing him as Hippolytus, a beautiful youth, of heroic type, enamored of a high ideal. This was the part which I desired to create for him. I undertook the composition without much delay, and devoted to it the months of one summer’s sojourn at Lawton’s Valley…

Edwin Booth circa 1860

And here, through the summer heats, and in spite of many wasps, I wrote my five-act drama, dreaming of the fine emphasis which Mr. Booth would give to its best passages and of the beautiful appearance he would make in classic costume. He, meanwhile, was growing into great fame and favor with the public, and was called hither and thither by numerous engagements. The period of his courtship and marriage intervened, and a number of years elapsed between the completion of the play and his first reading of it.

At last there came a time in which the production of the play seemed possible. Charlotte Cushman and Edwin Booth were both in Boston performing, as I remember, but not at the same theatre. They agreed to act in my play. E. L. Davenport, manager of the Howard Athenaeum, undertook to produce it, and my dream was very near becoming a reality. But lo! On a sudden, the manager bethought him that the time was rather late in the season; that the play would require new scenery; and, more than all, that his wife, who was also an actress, was not pleased with a secondary part assigned to her. A polite note informed me of his change of mind. This was, I think, the greatest ‘let down’ that I ever experienced. It affected me seriously for some days, after which I determined to attempt nothing more for the stage.

In truth, there appeared to be little reason for this action on the part of the manager. Miss Cushman, speaking of it, said to me, “My dear, if Edwin Booth and I had done nothing more than to stand upon the stage and say ‘good evening’ to each other, the house would have been filled.””

Despite Howe’s deep disappointment over Edwin never performing the play she had written for him, the two remained close friends. This friendship extended to the woman who would become Edwin’s wife and the love of his life, Mary Devlin. Howe recalled the object of Edwin’s affection with great fondness:

“Mr. Booth, in the course of these years, experienced great happiness and great sorrow. On the occasion of our first meeting he had spoken to me of “little Mary Devlin” as an actress of much promise, who had recently been admired in several heavy parts.” In process of time he became engaged to this young girl. Before the announcement of this fact he appeared with her several times before the Boston public. Few that saw it will ever forget a performance of Romeo and Juliet in which the two true lovers were at their best, ideally young, beautiful, and identified with their parts. I soon became well acquainted with this exquisite little woman…”

Mary Devlin Booth, Edwin Booth’s first wife

In time, Howe’s friendship with the Booths extended to their daughter, Edwina. Much later in her life, Howe maintained a correspondence with Edwina Booth, even after her father’s death. In 1908, just two years before Howe’s own death in 1910, the 89 year-old Howe sent two poems to Edwina. According to the accompanying letter, Edwina, who was 48 at the time, had come across two poems that had been in her father’s possession. She believed one or both of them to have been written by Howe many years before. Edwina asked Howe to write her name below the verses she recognized as her own so she could correctly identify them. One of the pieces included with the letter was authored by Mary Elizabeth Blake, though Howe mislabeled the work as belonging to poet T. W. Parsons. The other poem, which was the work of Howe herself, was entitled To Mary. This poem had been written by Howe in 1863, upon her attendance at the funeral for Mary Devlin Booth.

To Mary

Thou gracious atom, verging to decay,
What wert thou in the moment of thy stay?
The flowers in thy faded hands that lie
More briefly than thyself scarce bloom and die.

How was it when swift feet thy beauty bore,
And Life’s warm ripple sunned thy marble o’er?
A slender maiden, captured by a kiss,
Wed at the altar for a three year’s bliss;

No longer space my life’s indenture gave,
From Juliet’s courtship to Ophelia’s grave.
The modest helper of heroic art,
The heaven bound anchor of a sinking heart.

Ask him who wooed me, earliest and last,
What was my office in Love’s sacred past?
What was she, here in silken shell empearled?
But my life’s life – the comfort of the world.

In addition to the poem, Howe recalled Mary Devlin Booth’s funeral in her autobiography:

“These lines recall to me the scene of Mary Booth’s funeral, which took place in wintry weather, the service being held at the chapel in Mount Auburn. Hers was a most pathetic figure as she lay, serene and lovely, surrounded with flowers. As Edwin Booth followed the casket, his eyes heavy with grief, I could not but remember how often I had seen him enact the part of Hamlet at the stage burial of Ophelia.”

Julia Ward Howe was one of the few guests present at Mary Devlin’s funeral. Edwin was also joined by his mother, Mary Ann Holmes Booth, who had traveled from New York to Massachusetts to comfort her son. Edwin’s brother-in-law, John Sleeper Clarke was present but not his wife Asia Booth. Asia had never liked Mary Devlin (or really any other woman) and stayed home in Philadelphia. Howe described the only other family member who tended to Edwin in his grief:

“Beside or behind [Edwin] walked a young man of remarkable beauty, to be sadly known at a later date as Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Lincoln and the victim of his own crime.”

John Wilkes Booth was the only Booth sibling who was able/willing to attend the funeral service of his sister-in-law. John Wilkes cancelled his upcoming acting engagement and hastened to Cambridge to be with his grieving brother.

Though life expectancy in the nineteenth century was much lower than today, Julia Ward Howe was one of the exceptions to the rule, living to the old age of 91. During that time, she buried her own husband at Mount Auburn Cemetery in a grave about 80 yards away from Mary Devlin’s. In 1893, Howe returned to Mount Auburn to mourn the loss of Mary’s husband, Edwin. She returned to Edwin’s grave a year later when his beautiful monument was unveiled.

Julia Ward Howe, the groundbreaking poet, abolitionist, and suffragist died of pneumonia on October 17, 1910. She was laid to rest next to her husband in Mount Auburn Cemetery. Howe now lies just across from the hill atop which, 47 years earlier, she witnessed the funeral of a soul taken too soon. She never forgot the picture of the heartbroken husband, “his eyes heavy with grief,” and the dutiful brother by his side, “a young man of remarkable beauty.”

Until next time.

Kate

P.S. By Dave: Julia Ward Howe stated that one of her greatest disappointments in life was that the play she had written for Edwin Booth was never performed. After Howe’s death, actress Margaret Anglin sought to rectify this oversight. During her engagement in Boston in March of 1911, Anglin received permission to perform Howe’s forgotten play. Hippolytus was performed for one night only on March 24, 1911 with all the proceedings going to benefit the Julia Ward Howe Memorial Fund. The title role, which had been written for Edwin, was played by Walter Hampden with high praise. Years later, Hampden would become the fourth president of Edwin Booth’s private club, The Players. Today, the research library housed in The Players is known as the Hampden-Booth Library.

GPS coordinates for Julia Ward Howe’s grave: 42.369612, -71.147075

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Grave Thursday: Fleetwood Lindley

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.


Fleetwood Herndon Lindley

Burial Location: Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

On September 26, 1901, Fleetwood Lindley was attending his school in Springfield, Illinois when he received a note sent by his father. The note told the 14 year-old to leave school immediately, hop on his bicycle, and ride quickly to Oak Ridge Cemetery. When Lindley arrived at the cemetery he found a group of twenty men and two women gathered around the outside of Abraham Lincoln’s tomb. Over the past 15 months, the final resting place of President Lincoln had undergone massive renovations. During that time, the coffins of the Lincoln family had been placed in a temporary crypt next to the tomb. With the restoration complete, the coffins were officially being moved back into the tomb. While the coffins of Mary Todd, Willie, Tad, and Eddie Lincoln, would be placed in the wall of the tomb, it had been ordered by the last surviving Lincoln son, Robert Todd, that his father’s coffin be placed in a cage ten feet deep where it would be encased in concrete for all time. This seemingly extreme burial procedure was due in part to the almost successful grave robbing of Lincoln’s remains in 1876.

Though Robert Todd Lincoln had requested that his father’s coffin not be reopened at the time of the final burial, those present on September 26, 1901 could not pass up the chance to look upon the face of the Great Emancipator. Under the guise of verifying that the body of Abraham Lincoln did, indeed, lay inside the coffin, the decision was made to open part of it. Lincoln’s coffin had been opened four times previous to this, the last of which having occurred in 1887. Fleetwood’s father, Joseph Lindley, had been present when the casket was opened back in 1887 and likely wanted his son to share in the experience this time.

A piece of the lead-lined coffin was chiseled away. Fleetwood Lindley joined the others present and took his turn gazing upon Lincoln’s face for the last time. After the identification was complete, the coffin was resealed, and Lincoln was placed into his concrete tomb.

Gazing upon the face of Abraham Lincoln made an indelible impression on Fleetwood, who was the youngest person present that day. He would describe the scene several times over the course of his life. He lived his whole life in Springfield, starting his own floral business which he ran for over 40 years. He was a frequent speaker around Springfield and later served as the president of the board of managers for Oak Ridge Cemetery. He could often be found greeting visitors to Lincoln’s tomb and telling his story about viewing Lincoln’s remains.

“Lincoln’s face seemed to be well preserved. It was ash white in color,” Lindley recalled in 1934. “The head piece in the lead coffin had rotted away and Lincoln’s head was thrown back and resting to one side. His clothes were mildewed.”

In 1962, Lindley told his rotary club that, “We all filed slowly around the coffin. Lincoln was a chalky white. The head rest had given away, so his head had slipped backward. He had been in the casket for 36 years. His nose and chin were the most predominant features. The body was remarkably well preserved. He looked just like his pictures.”

While Fleetwood Lindley was well known around Springfield, he achieved wider recognition when he was highlighted in Life Magazine on February 15, 1963. At the time of his interview, Lindley was the last surviving member of the group of 23 that had viewed Lincoln’s remains. He gave his interview to the Life Magazine reporter from his room at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield where he was awaiting a gall bladder operation. The Life Magazine article describing the final identification of Abraham Lincoln can be read, in full, here.

Lindley ended his recollections with the following, “Yes, his face was chalky white. His clothes were mildewed. And I was allowed to hold one of the leather straps as we lowered the casket for the concrete to be poured. I was not scared at the time but I slept with Lincoln for the next six months.”

Fleetwood Lindley in his later years

The interview for Life Magazine proved to be the last one Fleetwood Lindley ever gave. He passed away only a couple of days later on January 31*, 1963 at St. John’s Hospital. He was 75 years old.

Fleetwood Lindley, the last living person to have seen the face of Abraham Lincoln, is buried not far from the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Location of Fleetwood Lindley’s grave in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, IL

* Many online sources, including Wikipedia and FindaGrave, give Lindley’s death date as February 1, 1963 due to that date having been given in the Life Magazine article. However, his obituary and death record clearly indicate he died at around 9:30 pm on Thursday, January 31, 1963.

GPS coordinates for Fleetwood Lindley’s grave: 39.822233, -89.658423

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

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.

dr-urquhart-grave-1

Burial Location: Urquhart Family Cemetery, Locust Grove, Virginia

dr-urquhart-cemetery-1

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.

dr-urquharts-home-circa-1930

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.”

death-of-the-assassin-booth-urquhart

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.

dr-urquhart-cemetery-trail

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

Grave Thursday: General Lew Wallace

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.


General Lewis Wallace

Gen Lew Wallace NARA

Burial Location: Oak Hill Cemetery, Crawfordsville, Indiana

Lew Wallace Grave 1

Lew Wallace Grave 2

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

On February 15, 1905, Major General Lew Wallace died at his home in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The late general had been many things during his lifetime: soldier, lawyer, governor, diplomat, inventor, and artist. Today, however, he is most likely known for his work as an author and especially for his acclaimed novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ. There have been several books written about Lew Wallace and his study in Crawfordsville is a wonderful museum about his life and legacy.

I previously visited the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in 2014 and posted about this fascinating place. As I noted then, Wallace’s name is most known to assassination researchers due to his being assigned as one of the nine military commissioners that presided over the trial of the conspirators. During the lengthy trial proceedings, Wallace took the time to sketch the accused conspirators and later used these drawings to compose a painting of Booth and his accomplices which is now on display in his Crawfordsville study:

The Conspirators in the Lew Wallace Study Labeled

During the conspiracy trial proceedings Wallace kept fairly quiet, but he did pipe up from time to time. He was one of the first to defend Senator Reverdy Johnson, a defense lawyer for Mrs. Surratt who was accused by another of the commission members as being ill suited to appear before the court because he represented a secretly treasonous state during the war, Maryland. Wallace asked that Johnson be allowed to explain himself and wanted him to be able to do so in open session. The complaint against Johnson was dropped and he would be approved by the court. After a few days of service however, Johnson would relieve himself from the proceedings, leaving Mrs. Surratt’s defense to Frederick Aiken and John Clampitt.

Lew Wallace was also responsible for the first instance of “dress up” for conspirator Lewis Powell. During the testimony of George Robinson, the army nurse who had grappled with Powell during the latter’s attack on Secretary of State William Seward, Wallace asked for the prisoner to rise. Wallace then had the guard who had been sitting next to Powell place the hat that had been found at the Secretary’s home on the head of the prisoner to see if it fit. According to the newspapers, “Payne here stood up in the dock and the hat was placed on his head for purpose of identification. As this was done Payne smiled with a sort of grimace at the sort of figure he was making.” Wallace then asked the guard, “Does it fit pretty loose, or pretty tight?” The orderly replied that the hat was, “Pretty tight”. Later on during that day’s testimony, Lewis Powell would exhibit more of the clothes he had worn when he attacked Seward.

In June of 1865, during the final days of the conspiracy trial, Wallace wrote to his wife about his growing impatience and predictions about the outcome:

“The trial is not yet over: but I say to myself, certainly it can’t endure beyond this week, and do all I can to be patient. Judge Bingham, on the side of the government, speaks tomorrow, and then the Com. votes ‘guilty or not guilty.’ I have passed a few words with my associate members, and think we can agree in a couple of hours at farthest. Three, if not four, of the eight will be acquitted that is, they would be, if we voted today. What effect Bingham will have remains to be see.”

Wallace’s assumption that “three, if not four, of the eight” conspirators would be acquitted is an interesting one. The case against Edman Spangler was the prosecution’s weakest which would account for at least one acquittal in Wallace’s mind. The other questionable cases to Wallace were likely those of Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, and Dr. Mudd. General Wallace was one of four commission members who did not sign the clemency plea on behalf of Mary Surratt, likely demonstrating his belief that Mrs. Surratt was guilty. In the end, however, Wallace’s belief of three or four acquittal’s did not prove to be accurate since all eight of the conspirators were found guilty.

Lew Wallace near the end of his life

Lew Wallace, in his study, near the end of his life

To learn more about General Lew Wallace, a man who led an illustrious life outside of his brief connections to the Lincoln assassination story, I highly suggest a visit to the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The museum has a great website and is also very active on social media like Twitter and Facebook. Wallace’s final resting place in Oak Hill Cemetery is only a short drive from the museum. His obelisk, seemingly the tallest in the cemetery, is capped with the carved shape of a draped American flag, a fitting tribute to a lifetime of service to his country.

Lew Wallace Grave 3

GPS coordinates for Lew Wallace’s grave: 40.056945, -86.914723

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

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