A Plaque for Mary Surratt

In June of 1917, a museum in Richmond, Virginia was given a memorial plaque. Measuring 15 inches high and 10 inches across, the bronze plaque featured a cast ivy design along the top, a central cross, four fleur-de-lis, and two small flowers. The tablet was a gift intended to be displayed on the wall of one of the rooms within the museum and spoke of the innocence of the executed Lincoln conspirator, Mary Surratt.

The plaque was commissioned by the Maryland Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It was created by a Baltimore artist named Joseph Maxwell Miller at a cost of $100. The Maryland UDC presented the plaque to the White House of the Confederacy, then known as the Confederate Museum. Within the museum there were 11 rooms devoted to the 11 different states within the Confederacy along with three others for the Confederates from the sympathetic border states of Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland. This plaque was an addition to the Maryland Room within the Confederate Museum.

The ladies of the Maryland UDC were quite proud of this piece. In their end of the year report for 1917, the following paragraph was included.

“For many years we have wished to place a tablet in memory of Mrs. Mary E. Surratt, of Maryland, an innocent woman who was tried and condemned by the Federal Government. This year we have accomplished our purpose, and the beautiful tablet of golden bronze, the work of Maxwell Miller, a young artist of Baltimore, is hanging in the Maryland Room in Richmond, with the inscription of her own words, “To God, I commend my cause!”

Aside from the fact that there is no evidence that Mary Surratt ever said the words the UDC attributed to her (and that the final plaque inscription doesn’t even bear that phrase), the plaque also puts the wrong date for Mary’s execution. Mary Surratt and the other condemned conspirators were executed on July 7, 1865, not the 9th as the plaque states.

It’s extremely fitting that, like the many other memorials and monuments created by the UDC and other Confederate groups, this memorial to Mary Surratt is a misrepresentation of history not just in fact, but also in intent. While there is an evidence based case to be made regarding Mary Surratt’s (possible) innocence, this plaque is not about portraying history as much as it is a tool for furthering the narrative of the Myth of the Lost Cause. It’s amazing how much the “murder” of Mary Surratt played into the narrative of Confederate organizations in the decades following her execution.

In looking for period documentation regarding this plaque I searched the issues of the Confederate Veteran magazine. The magazine was founded in 1893, at around the same time the White House of the Confederacy was opened as a museum. Confederate Veteran later became an official publication for the UDC and other Confederate groups. I finally found a mention of the plaque in the July 1920 edition which stated, plainly, “The Baltimore chapter also placed in the Maryland Room, Richmond Museum, a tablet to Mrs. Mary E. Surratt, the only Memorial by any Chapter to this martyred woman.” The Maryland UDC may have placed the only physical memorial to Mary Surratt, but her “martyrdom” was a regular feature in the Confederate Veteran magazine. Mrs. Surratt’s case was often used in conjunction with other Confederate talking points devoted to perpetuating the Myth of the Lost Cause and the villainy of the North. Here’s just a sampling of the Mary Surratt mentions I found while searching the 1916 – 1920 editions of the Confederate Veteran. Please note: very little of what follows is factually accurate and the points that are accurate are largely misleading or given false equivalences. As such, what follows is made up almost entirely of Confederate revisionist propaganda which constituted the bulk of the Confederate Veteran magazine.

June 1916: “For years after Appomattox the South was the victim of slander and falsehood heaped high – the Surratt case, the Wirz trial (the two darkest blots on the country’s escutcheon), the Andersonville stories, the Fort Pillow massacre, and a host of others circulated by rabid politicians in an effort to justify the horrors of Reconstruction.

Time works wonders, though, and one by one these bubble lies have been pricked by the pen of fact. Every intelligent American, except a few who still prefer to remain in darkness so far as the War between the States is concerned, knows that the South did not fight to perpetuate slavery, that the right of secession was believed by statesmen North and South to be guaranteed by the Constitution, that the suffering among Union prisoners in the South was due primarily to the refusal of the Washington administration to exchange prisoners, that President Davis and other Confederate officials were horrified by the assassination of Lincoln, that Mrs. Surratt had nothing to do with that crime, that the burning of Chambersburg was in retaliation for the burning and destruction by Hunter and others in Virginia, and that Chambersburg and Lawrence were the only two Northern towns put to the torch by Confederates, where a score of Southern towns were burned by the invaders.”

August 1919: “Students of our national history cannot fail to observe the marked and unvarying absence of any reference or allusion to Mrs. Surratt in works relating to American biography, textbooks, cyclopedias, etc., prepared under the auspices of Northern scholars and controlled by Northern publishers. The typical pupil would never become aware of her existence if dependent upon the authorities to whom he looks for light and guidance…Let me again commend the memory of Mrs. Surratt to the devout perusal of those educational oracles of the South who are unable to control or restrain their eagerness to grovel in the earth at the feet of a triumphant enemy whose crowning garland and wreath of glory was the slaughter of an innocent woman.”

March 1920: “Among the crowning infamies associated with our national record three may be cited as unchallengeable, preeminent, and unique in their ghastly atrocity, the murder of Mrs. Surratt, the campaign of Sherman in the Carolinas, and the treatment inflicted upon President Davis by specific direction of the Federal government while a prostrate captive in his cell at Fortress Monroe.”

For organizations like the United Confederate Veterans, the UDC, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Mary Surratt was an effective and useful recruiting tool. By taking the legitimate ambiguity regarding her knowledge of the assassination plot against Lincoln and the difficult legality regarding her trial and conviction, Confederate apologists slowly developed Mary Surratt into a martyr for their cause. Over time, they perpetuated the uncertainty regarding Mary’s guilt, transforming it into a near universal belief of her innocence. Once that was done, she was brought up constantly, becoming the epitome of the virtuous and innocent Southern woman who paid the ultimate price at the hands of the villainous North. In this way, Confederate groups could use Mrs. Surratt’s established infallibility to assist in the development of other false equivalences. In the 1916 excerpt from above, for example, Mary Surratt’s name sits in a list with the claim that the South did not fight the Civil War over slavery, thus helping this highly erroneous statement portray itself as just and legitimate as the established truth of Mrs. Surratt’s innocence.

The 1920 excerpt is perhaps the most telling of the Confederate Veteran‘s (and therefore the organizations attached to it) goals. When speaking of the three most heinous crimes ever committed in our nation’s history, the execution of Mrs. Surratt, the wartime crusade of General Sherman, and the shackling of Jefferson Davis while imprisoned, all superseded our country’s centuries-long abominable practice of genocide and rape known as slavery – a practice that the South absolutely fought to perpetuate. It is in this way that Mary Surratt’s claimed innocence did the most damage. Her agreed upon martyrdom allowed Confederate revisionists to literally whitewash the atrocities of the past, providing them with a virtuous, white, Southern woman to supplant the millions of enslaved men, women and children, who toiled and died in bondage.

The modern effort of reassessing and removing Confederate monuments of the past is a study of whose history was supplanted when these monuments went up in the first place. Whose story did our ancestors choose to elevate and whose did they choose to ignore? As a society we need to constantly be reassessing the actions and motivations of those in the past in order to create a better future. Even the White House of the Confederacy knew this to be true when they renovated their museum in the 1980’s. They transformed the museum from a collection of shrines to the different Confederate states, into a historic house museum which educates the public about the time period in which the Davis family lived there. Mary Surratt’s plaque has been off of the walls of the museum since 1988 with no “loss of history” having occurred as a result. The White House of the Confederacy has continued to reassess itself and its place in furthering the narrative of Confederate apologists. In 2013, the then Museum of the Confederacy merged with the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. Together they took the name of the American Civil War Museum and have been actively increasing their collections to house more artifacts relating to the Union and enslaved peoples. Their efforts are commendable, especially in the wake of backlash from the remnants of the UDC and other neo-Confederate groups that exist today.

This plaque to Mrs. Surratt is currently housed in the collection of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond. The debate about Mary Surratt’s guilt or innocence in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln will continue to take place even without this memorial tablet on display and interested visitors can make research appointments to view this artifact as we did. It may seem like merely a plaque for Mary Surratt but, like so many other Confederate memorials, its a representation of the values of the people who commissioned it and, as such, no longer represents who we want to be as a nation. Let us, instead, continue to work to balance the scales of representation and allow other, previously suppressed stories of pain and perseverance rise from the overlooked depths and find their place in the historical narrative of commemoration.

References:
American Civil War Museum
Minutes of the Twenty-Fourth Annual Convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy
Confederate Veteran magazine Volumes 24, 27, & 28

Categories: History | Tags: , , , | 19 Comments

John Wilkes Booth at the Bel Air Academy

The Bel Air Academy was one of the earliest institutions of learning that the future assassin of Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, attended. Founded in 1811, the Academy, which was also known as the Harford County Academy, was one of many private institutions that existed in the 1800’s well before centralized school districts were the norm. The Academy catered mainly to the education of the locals in Harford County, but also advertised itself as a suitable boarding school for out of town pupils.

The exact date of John Wilkes Booth’s attendance of the Bel Air Academy is not known with exact certainty, but it appears to have started in about 1846, when Booth was eight years old. John Wilkes was joined at the school by his younger brother, Joseph, who was a little less than two years his junior.

In 1848, the Bel Air Academy received a new principal who also served as teacher. His name was Edwin Arnold. A native of Canada, Dr. Arnold was the son of Rev. Oliver Arnold, an Anglican pastor and Indian teacher in New Brunswick. Edwin Arnold was also ordained in the Anglican faith but resigned from the pastorate after eight years in order to devote his full time to teaching. Prior to becoming the principal of the Bel Air Academy, Dr. Arnold had served schools in New Brunswick; Freehold, New Jersey; Bordentown, New Jersey; Easton, Maryland; and Washington, D.C. When Dr. Arnold was chosen to lead the Bel Air Academy, he was highly spoken of by all his former schools. Edwin Arnold moved himself and his family next to the Bel Air Academy building. The principal’s son, Edwin, Jr. joined the school as one of his father’s pupils.

Edwin Arnold provided the students at the Academy a classical education based on the English tradition. The days were spent reading, memorizing, reciting, and learning the lessons of classic works of literature. For an extra fee, students could also receive instruction in the French language taught by another teacher whom Dr. Arnold hired for the purpose. Dr. Arnold was also fond of arithmetic, writing and publishing his own book on its proper instruction called Arithmetical Questions, a new plan, intended to answer the double purpose of arithmetical instruction and miscellaneous information. With the help of his colleague, the book was also available in French.

At the time of Dr. Arnold’s arrival at the school, and likely in the time preceding it, John Wilkes Booth was known as one of the school’s “day scholars”. This meant that, everyday, John Wilkes rode his horse from the family farm outside of Bel Air into town for school. Joseph Booth, on the other hand, lived with and lodged with Edwin Arnold and his family. Such accommodations cost more money, but Dr. Arnold highlighted the benefits of one-on-one after hours instruction and continual access to his library to student boarders. It appears that Mary Ann and Junius Booth decided that it was their youngest son, Joseph, who would make better use of such an arrangement as opposed to their less educationally inclined son, John Wilkes.

Joseph Booth

One of the Booths’ fellow students at the Bel Air Academy was a boy by the name of George Y. Maynadier. In the years that followed, Maynadier became an important figure in Harford County. As a young lawyer he was elected state’s attorney for the county from 1862 to 1867. In 1871, he was made a Harford County judge. Maynadier did another stint as state’s attorney from 1879 to 1887 and in his later retirement from civic duty, though he was still a lawyer, Maynadier was one of the editors for the local Bel Air newspaper, the Southern Aegis.

In 1902, as part of his editorial duties for the Aegis, Maynadier wrote an article about his time at the Bel Air Academy with the Booth brothers. Titled “Additional Reminiscences of the Booth Family”, George Maynadier’s account gives us our only glimpse into the Booths’ time at the Bel Air Academy. In the article he describes the differences between the two brothers:

“…John Wilkes and Joseph A. Booth, as I said, were both pupils of Dr. Arnold at the Bel Air Academy for the five [sic] years or a large portion of that time during which the writer attended that school. John Wilkes was by no means considered a studious boy – or as one inclined to take advantage to the full of his educational opportunities. Joseph A. was much more naturally that way inclined, that is, was much more studious. The two were very little alike in appearance – John Wilkes being much the handsomer in his face and figure. The clear cut lineaments of his face with slightly acquiline nose and altogether magnetic expression of countenance was such as once seen could never be forgotten or mistaken for anyone else. Joseph was a lighter complexion, of slender build, as the expression is, and of all together different shape of features and expression…John Wilkes was by no means deficient in intelligence and brains (very much in fact the other way), but was not “bookish”, which is all I mean, when I say he was not as a boy devoted to his studies…”

Maynadier’s description of John Wilkes as a less than studious boy is backed up by Asia Booth’s own notes on her brother. “He had to plod,” Asia wrote, “His was not a quickly receptive mind.”

In his narrative, Maynadier recalled a booze filled party that he, the Booth brothers, and even the principal’s son, Edwin Arnold, Jr., took part in at the close of a spring session. This event likely occurred in the spring of 1849.

“I well remember a school boy incident in which the brothers, John Wilkes and Joseph figured and which if I am not mistaken, the president of the Board of County Commissioners and others of my contemporaries of the Academy in the regime of Dr. Arnold, now resident hereabout, can recall as well as myself. A debating club had existed for a long time at that institution and thereby in the way of dues etc. a fund of some size, comparatively, had accumulated. As the spring of the year and short evenings were approaching, and we had concluded to suspend the club at least for a while, the question arose what to do with our money. It was soon resolved that we would “blow it in” in a grand “blow out” at our last meeting, prior to suspending altogether. Accordingly, the day scholars procured to be prepared at home and brought with them sundry cakes and confections and so forth, and Hughey Rogers, barkeeper at the Harford House, was seduced by the larger boys (some of them in fact young men) into making divers pitchers of hot stuff (it was cold weather) or cogent quality. So on the night in questions, the matter having been carefully concealed from Dr. Arnold, the affair came off. The Doctor’s son, one of the good boys of the school, had been taken into our plans in order to insure his secrecy, as we well knew he otherwise would “blow” on us if he found it out. The Booth boys, I remember, were among the chief promoters and leaders in the affair, although they were most efficiently seconded and encouraged by others fully as much inclined for mischief and a “good time” as themselves. Well, it is only necessary to say, that after partaking of the refreshments provided, including Hughey Rogers’ “hot stuff,” which was freely imbibed, pandemonium broke loose at the old Academy and continued loose until midnight. Card playing and shouting (it would be a misnomer to say singing) of songs interspersed with blood curdling yells and whoops such as only boys can emit, made up the bulk of the proceedings on the festive occasion. This was Friday night and you can imagine our consternation on the following Monday morning, when on the assembling if school we learned from his own lips that we had been visited, unknown to ourselves, by the venerable Dr. Arnold himself. He had expected something and made a personal inspection and fairly caught us all in crimine delicto. The only thing that saved us from being expelled was that so many were engaged in the affair, equally guilty, that expulsion as a punishment would have broken up the school. We received, however, such a lecture as made us thoroughly ashamed of our conduct…”

For reference, at the assumed time that this rambunctious party of boys occurred John Wilkes Booth, George Maynadier, and Joseph Booth were 11, 10, and 9 years-old, respectively. While Dr. Arnold did not expel any of the party participants (the inclusion of his own 8 year-old son caused difficulty in that), the spring session of 1849 proved to be John Wilkes Booth’s last at the Bel Air Academy. In the fall of 1849, John Wilkes Booth was sent by his parents to the Milton Boarding School in Cockeysville, Maryland. It appears, however, that Joseph Booth stayed on at the Bel Air Academy with Dr. Arnold for a couple more years before the brothers were reunited in school together at St. Timothy’s Hall in Catonsville, Maryland in 1852.

The Bel Air Academy building (with later additions) still stands today.

Dr. Arnold continued as the head of the Bel Air Academy until either 1853 or 1854. In November of 1854, he became the principal of Elkton Academy, which was located about 30 miles east of Bel Air. Coincidentally, in the fall of 1854, Asia Booth wrote a note to her friend Jean Anderson stating that, “Joe goes to school in Elkton, Cecil County”. It appears that Joseph Booth was, for a time, returned to the tutelage of Dr. Arnold.

While John Wilkes Booth had ended his formal education in 1853, he was still seen from time to time around Bel Air. Even after he started his stage career, Wilkes returned to his former hometown. He spent most of the summer of 1861 in isolation in Bel Air, renting a hotel room and memorizing plays. In his article, Maynadier recalled a run in with Booth during this time.

“I remember on one occasion whilst a party of us younger men were gathered on the upper porch of the dwelling house now occupied as a store by Mr. C. C. Rouse, sometime in the sixties [likely 1861], discussing politics and what not, on a July afternoon, when everything seemed to be in repose and quiet prevailed all around, we were suddenly startled by a terrific explosion and crash as if a mine had been sprung in our midst. On leaping to our feet, it was discovered that Mr. John Wilkes Booth had espied our assemblage from the porch of the adjoining hotel, and procuring all the ‘torpedoes’ left over from the fourth of July, had hurled them in our midst to enjoy the effect of the explosion.”

It appears that Booth couldn’t help playing a trick on his old Bel Air Academy chums.

Dr. Arnold, meanwhile, had departed the Elkton Academy in April of 1856 and traveled to the north Baltimore suburb of Mount Washington, where he had set up his own school, the Rugby Institute. The start of the Civil War greatly reduced the number of enrolled pupils and Arnold was forced to close the Institute down in August of 1861. During the war, Dr. Arnold and his family took up residence in Calvert County in Southern Maryland where he became a farmer. At war’s end he resumed his career as a teacher, heading up the Salisbury Institute on Maryland’s eastern shore while his family stayed in Calvert County. Dr. Arnold’s daughter died in 1869, and the 64 year-old teacher ended his educational career that same year. The one time teacher of John Wilkes Booth died at his Calvert County home on March 11, 1874 and was buried next to his daughter.

In his 1902 article about the Booth brothers, George Maynadier included a cryptic note about another of their Bel Air Academy peers. Giving only initials, Maynadier recalled one of the bullies at the school who was acquainted with John Wilkes and who, in the days after Lincoln’s assassination, ended his own life under mysterious circumstances:

“But my paper is drawing out too long – One other matter which may or may not be authentic, I will set down here and then close these meager additions to the already voluminous Booth reminiscences. At the time when John Wilkes and Joseph A. Booth were pupils at the Academy, there lived in Bel Air a family by the name of L— (I do not for obvious reasons mention the name.) The eldest son, about the age of John Wilkes Booth, was also a pupil at the Academy and intimate with the latter. He was likewise the most notorious of all the boys and young men at school or in the village, as the ringleader of everything desperate and reckless. In those days I was afraid of him, as all the smaller boys were, who often, ‘tasted his quality’ in the shape of a cuff on the head or a punch in the ribs and so forth – consequently, it may be, that he was not so desperate and bad as I thought him to be, but simply reckless and thoughtless of consequences. However, sometime prior to or during the first years of the war, he left Bel Air and removed to Baltimore or Washington, I do not remember which, and turned up at the latter place as an attache, in the medical or drug division of some of the departments of the army. –And here comes the story.- It will be remembered that immediately on the occurance of the assassination, strict lines were drawn and no one was suffered to leave the City unless by special permit. G—– L—, it was said made an effort within a day or two after the tragedy, to get through the lines. He failed and on being repulsed several times, returned and matters in his case culminated by his TAKING HIS OWN LIFE, for what reason, no one apparently knew. This matter was given no prominence that I ever observed, at the time, nor have I heard it commented on to any extent since – But it was, if true, a curious coincidence, that an old schoolmate and intimate associate of former days of John Wilkes Booth, and of the character of man of L—, should have acted as above stated if indeed the matter is true as I have heard it. ‘I tell the tale as ‘twas told to me,’ is all the comment I have to make…”

The name of the schoolmate whom Maynadier refused to provide the full name of was George B. Love. In addition, his recollection of the events regarding Love’s death are correct and George Love did commit suicide after being captured trying to cross the Union lines out of Washington after the assassination of Lincoln.

George Love’s story is a fascinating one that I would love (no pun intended) to tell you. However, as I was working on this blog post I discovered that fellow researcher and author Susan Higginbotham had already beaten me to the punch. Unbeknownst to each other, we were both researching Love’s story at the same time. Susan had visited Love’s grave in Baltimore Cemetery and when I emailed her today asking for permission to use her photo of his grave in this blog post, she informed me of the similar path we had been taking. So, rather than telling you the story of George Love here, you’re all going to have to wait a month until Susan’s article titled, “The Strange, Sad Case of George B. Love” is published in the August 2018 edition of the Surratt Courier. Susan has done a marvelous job delving into Love’s life and mysterious death. If you’re not already a member of the Surratt Society, sign up today so that you won’t miss out on getting Susan’s excellent article.

The old Bel Air Academy building, the place where George Maynadier, George Love, Joseph and John Wilkes Booth, and many others received their early education still stands in Bel Air. Now offices for a law firm and others, a small historic plaque above the door gives the name of what this building once was. For about three years, John Wilkes Booth plodded through classical literature and arithmetic here. Perhaps if he had spent less time at play and more time at his studies, these walls could have changed the course of history.

References:
(1902, March 7) Additional Reminiscences of the Booth Family. Southern Aegis, p 4.
Bel Air Academy – Maryland Historical Trust Inventory
Harry Ransom Center
Karen Needles of the Lincoln Archives Digital Project who acquired information about George Love for me
Susan Higginbotham

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

Grave Thursday: William Keeler

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.


William Frederick Keeler

Burial Location: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

In 1865, William Keeler was a naval officer serving as assistant paymaster on board the USS Florida. Keeler’s military service had started in 1862 when he was assigned as acting paymaster of the Union’s first ironclad warship, the USS Monitor. Keeler was aboard the Monitor during its battle with CSS Virginia (the former USS Merrimack) which ended in a stalemate between the ironclads. In his correspondences with his wife, Keeler wrote about the battle and his own role of passing orders from the Captain to the men stationed at the gun turrets. Keeler was still stationed aboard the Monitor when the ship floundered and sank in December of 1862. The paymaster was one of the lucky few who were saved from drowning. After the loss of the Monitor, Keeler was transferred to the Florida, a sidewheel steamship. While aboard the Florida in 1864, he was injured in the back by a shell fragment near Wilmington, North Carolina. Keeler recovered from his wounding but it would cause him continued trouble in his later years. When the Civil War effectively came to an end in April of 1865, Keeler was happy to see that the days of combat were behind him.

On the evening of July 17, 1865, the Florida, stationed near Hampton, Virginia where the Chesapeake Bay empties into the Atlantic, was met by another steamship, the State of Maine. An exchange of passengers occurred between the two vessels with the Florida receiving four army officers, a guard of 28 soldiers, and “4 Rebel prisoners”. Those four rebel prisoners were the remaining Lincoln assassination conspirators, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, and Edman Spangler. Having been steamed out of Washington on the State of Maine, it was now the Florida‘s job to transport the convicted conspirators to their island prison of Fort Jefferson, located about seventy miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida departed Virginia at 7:00 pm on July 17 with its state prisoners aboard.

Many years after the fact, conspirator Samuel Arnold described the journey to Fort Jefferson, Florida aboard the Florida:

“All intercourse with the crew was prohibited, guards being stationed around us, and we were not permitted to move without being accompanied by an armed marine. Subsistence of the grossest kind was issued, in the shape of fat salt pork and hard-tack. We remained on deck during the day, closely watching, as far as we were able, the steering of the vessel by the sun, and found we were steaming due South. The course was unchanged the next day and I began to suspect that fatal isle, the Dry Tortugas, was our destined home of the future.

From this time out we remained on deck, our beds being brought up at night and taken between decks in the morning…. After the second day on the ocean the irons were removed from our feet during the day, but replaced at night, and we were permitted from this day out the privilege of being on deck on account of the oppressive heat of the climate, where we could catch the cool sea breeze as it swept across the deck in the ship’s onward track over the bounding ocean.”

The trip to Fort Jefferson took a week. Despite Arnold’s assertion that the prisoners were not allowed to speak with those aboard the Florida, two of the officers who had been assigned escort duty from Washington, General Levi Dodd and Captain George Dutton, would report that Dr. Mudd gave an impromptu confession after learning the location of his life imprisonment. According to Captain Dutton, on July 22 Dr. Mudd admitted to him that he had, in fact, recognized John Wilkes Booth when Booth showed up at his house following Lincoln’s assassination. This ran contrary to what the doctor had reported in his statements prior to his arrest. In addition, Dr. Mudd also admitted to Dutton that he had traveled up to Washington at Christmastime of 1864 to meet Booth by appointment so that he could introduce Booth to John Surratt.

Dr. Mudd and the other Lincoln conspirators arrived at Fort Jefferson on July 24th. They departed the ship and the Florida, with assistant paymaster Keeler and the rest of its crew, steamed away from the island prison. While imprisoned Dr. Mudd learned that his confession to Captain Dutton had been made known to Judge Advocate Joseph Holt and that Holt, in turn, had moved to amend the official transcript of the conspiracy trial to include Dutton’s statement. When Dr. Mudd learned that his confession had been given wide press and had been added to the official trial transcript, he was livid. He immediately wrote a letter to his wife, meant for publication, in which he denied having made any such “confession.” But, by then, the damage had been done and nothing Dr. Mudd could do would change his fate. Fort Jefferson was to be his prison for the next three and a half years.

In 1866, William Keeler was honorably discharged from the Navy and the then 45 year-old returned to civilian life.  He moved back to his home in LaSalle, Illinois. On the morning of January 21, 1869, William Keeler was reading the prior day’s edition of the Chicago Tribune newspaper when he noticed an interesting an article. Keeler learned that an effort was underway to secure a pardon for Dr. Samuel Mudd. The effort was being led by the family and friends of Dr. Mudd and the cause had been buoyed by a recent petition signed by a group of soldiers who Dr. Mudd tended to during an 1867 epidemic of Yellow Fever at Fort Jefferson. The Tribune article implied that a pardon for Dr. Mudd would likely be in the future.

Reading this, William Keeler reflected on his period of military service and, specifically, his own memories of transporting the Lincoln conspirators to the Dry Tortugas. In the same way that Dr. Mudd was said to have unburdened himself in the presence of General Dodd and Captain Dutton aboard the Florida, William Keeler also remembered a similar conversation with the imprisoned doctor. Pen in hand, Keeler wrote a note to his congressman, Burton Cook.

LaSalle Ill
Jany 21st 1869

Hon B. C. Cook

Dear Sir
I learn by yesterdays Chicago Tribune that efforts are being made to procure the pardon of Dr. Mudd. The U.S. Steamer Florida to which I was attached conveyed him & his associates from Hampton Roads to the Tortugas. In conversation with myself, & I think with others on our passage down he admitted what ^I believe^ the prosecution failed to prove at his trial – viz – that he knew who Booth was when he set his leg & of what crime he was guilty. I have thought it might be nice to have these facts known if they are not
Very truly yours
W. F. Keeler

While Congressman Cook did pass along Keeler’s letter to the Attorney General, it does not appear that it had any influence. Dr. Mudd was awarded a pardon from President Johnson on February 8, 1869 and was released a month later.

William Keeler eventually moved his family from Illinois to Mayport, Florida where he lived out the rest of his days dying on Febraur 27, 1886. His body was transported back north and laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. Keeler’s grave is very close to the grave of Lt. Edward Doherty, the commander of the detachment of 16th NY Cavalry that cornered and killed John Wilkes Booth.

GPS coordinates for William Keeler’s grave: 38.880713, -77.077834

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

An Interview with Dr. Mudd

On March 20, 1869, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd walked in the front door of his Charles County, Maryland home. Such a return to one’s property would hardly be worth mentioning if not for the fact that it had been almost four years since the doctor had set foot on his farm. The last time Dr. Mudd was able to take in the land around him and the house which he called his home was on April 21, 1865, the day he was arrested for suspicion of complicity in Abraham Lincoln’s death. Since that time, Dr. Mudd had been imprisoned in nearby Bryantown, the Old Capitol Prison in D.C., and finally the Old Arsenal Penitentiary where he was put on trial by military commission. Found guilty, Dr. Mudd barely escaped with his life when he was sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to Fort Jefferson off of the coast of Florida. From July 24, 1865 through March 11, 1869, the desolate Dry Tortugas was the only home the prisoner, Dr. Mudd, had known. During his time on the island, he had tried (and failed) to escape, causing himself and the other Lincoln conspirators to suffer the consequences. In 1867, when a Yellow Fever epidemic swept the Fort causing his companion Michael O’Laughlen to die, Dr. Mudd volunteered his medical services and tended to the ill. With the  common belief of the day being that those infected with Yellow Fever were contagious, Mudd’s assistance to the sick was seen as a selfless and noble act. His actions worked in his favor to help him secure a pardon in the final days of Andrew Johnson’s presidency. Nine days after leaving Fort Jefferson, Dr. Samuel Mudd stepped through the threshold of his home to greet his waiting children.

Less than a week after his homecoming, Dr. Mudd heard an unexpected knock on his door. Though you might expect him to be incredibly wary of unannounced visitors, he opened the door and welcomed a small party of men inside. Among the group was a newspaper reporter from the New York Herald. The reporter and his party had come from Washington and had spent about eight hours making their way down to the isolated Mudd farm. They wanted to speak with Dr. Mudd about his experiences regarding John Wilkes Booth and the Dry Tortugas.

“…His face grew extremely serious and he answered that of all things he wished to avoid it was newspaper publicity, simply because nothing was ever printed in connection with his name that did not misrepresent him.”

Yet, despite his apprehension and claim he did not wish to speak about the events that cost the last four years of his life, in the end, Dr. Mudd and his wife did open up about their most famous visitors and their aftermath. The following is a transcription of part of the New York Herald article that was published on March 31, 1869, just a few days after speaking with Dr. Mudd. The entire article is quite long, with the first half dealing with the author’s slow trek to get to the Mudd farm from Washington. While filled with vivid and sometimes flowery details of the journey, for ease of reading only the parts relating to the interview with Dr. Mudd are featured below. If you are interested in reading the whole article, you can do so by clicking here or the headline below.

The interview (like all the statements and correspondences from Dr. Mudd) contains a variety of truths, half-truths, omissions, and outright falsehoods regarding Booth’s relationship with Mudd and his time at the Mudd farm. Still, this interview provides an interesting and personal view of one of the more debated conspirators in the Lincoln assassination story.

…We knocked for admission at the same door that Booth did after his six hours’ ride –it took us eight – and were promptly answered by a pale and serious looking gentleman, who, in answer to our inquiry if he were Dr. Mudd, replied, “That’s my name.” It was gratifying after so long a journey to find the man you sought directly on hand and apparently prepared to furnish you will the amplest stores of information regarding his connection with Booth, &c. Having stated the object of our visit – that the Herald led an interest in learning some particulars of his experience in the Dry Tortugas and his recollections of the assassination conspirators – his face grew extremely serious and he answered that of all things he wished to avoid it was newspaper publicity, simply because nothing was ever printed in connection with his name that did not misrepresent him.

“A burned child dreads the fire,” he exclaimed, “and I have reason to be suspicious of every one. It was in this way Booth came to my house, representing himself as being on a journey from Richmond to Washington, and that his horse fell on him. Six months or so from now, when my mind is more settled and when I understand that changes have taken place in public opinion regarding me, I shall be prepared to speak freely and fully on these matters you are anxious to know about. At present, for the reason stated, I would rather not say anything.”

Having, however, convinced the doctor that it was with no motive to misrepresent his statements that we paid him this visit and tat between Booth’s case and ours there was no analogy, he invited us to pass the evening at his house and postpone our return to Washington till the morning. Left alone for a while in the parlor, an ample, square apartment, with folding doors separating it from the dining room, we began to feel an irresistible inclination to imagine two strangers on horseback riding up to the door in the dim gray of an April morning, the younger of the two lifting the other from his saddle and bother like evil stars crossing the threshold of an innocent and happy household to blast its peace forever, Dr. Mudd’s return disturbed our reveries.

The Doctor says he is thirty-five years of age, married in 1860 [sic], built the house in which he now lives after his marriage, owned a well stocked farm of about thirty acres, and was in the enjoyment of a pretty extensive practice up to the time of his arrest in 1865. The word went well and smoothly with him previous to that unhappy event. His house was furnished with all the comfort of a country gentleman’s residence. He had his horses and hounds, and in the sporting season was foremost at every fox hunt and at every many outdoor sport. He had robust health and a vigorous, athletic frame in those days, but it is very different with him now. Above the middle height, with a reddish mustache and chin whisker, a high forehead and attenuated nose, his appearance indicates a man of calm and slow reflection, gentle in manner, and of a very domestic turn. He says he was born within a few miles of this house, and has lived all his life in the country. His whole desire now it to be allowed to spend the balance of his days quietly in the bosom of his family. In his sunken, lustreless eye, pallid lips and cold, ashy complexion one can read the words “Dry Tortugas” with a terrible significance. In the prime of his years, looking prematurely old and careworn, there are few indeed who could gaze on the wreck and ravage in the face of this man before them without feeling a sentiment of sympathy and commiseration. “I have come home,” said the Doctor sorrowfully, “to find nothing left me but my house and family. No money, no provisions, no crops in the ground and no clear way before me where to derive the means of support in my present [unintelligible] condition.” There was no deception here. In the scantly furniture of the house and in the pale, sad countenance of the speaker there was evidence enough of poor and altered fortune. It was not evening and growing rapidly dark. A big fire blazed on the ample hearth, and Mrs. Mudd, an intelligent and handsome lady, with one of her children, joined the Doctor and ourselves in the conversation over the events of that memorable April morning after the assassination.

“Did you see Booth, Mrs. Mudd?” we inquired with a feeling of intense interest to hear her reply.

“Yes,” she replied, “I saw himself and Harold after they entered this parlor. Booth stretched himself out on that sofa there and Harold stooped down to whisper something to him.”

“How did Booth look?”

“Very bad. He seemed as though he had been drinking very hard; his eyes were red and swollen and his hair in disorder.”

“Did he appear to suffer much?”

“Not after he laid down on the sofa. In fact, it seemed as if hardly anything was wrong with him then.”

“What kind of a fracture did Booth sustain?” we inquired, addressing the Doctor.

“Well,” said he, “after he was laid down on that sofa and having told me his leg was fractured by his horse falling on him during his journey up from Richmond, I took a knife and split the leg of his boot down to the instep, slipped it off and the sock with it; I then felt carefully with both hands down along his leg, but at first could discover nothing like crepitation till, after a second investigation, I found on the outside, near the ankle, something that felt like indurated flesh, and then for the first time I concluded it was a direct and clean fracture of the bone. I then improvised out of pasteboard a sort of boot that adhered close enough to the leg to keep it rigidly straight below the knee, without at all interfering with the flexure of the leg. A low cut show was substituted for the leather boot, and between five and six o’clock in the morning Booth and his companions started off for a point on the river below.”

“How did Booth’s horse look after his long ride?” we inquired.

“The boy, after putting him up in the stable,” the Doctor replied, “reported that his back underneath the forward part of the saddle was raw and bloody. This circumstance tallied with Booth’s account that he had been riding all day previous from Richmond, and no suspicion arose in my mind for one instant that the man whose leg I was attending to was anything more than what he represented himself.”

“You knew Booth before, Doctor?”

“Yes,” replied the Doctor. “I was first introduced to Booth in November, 1864, at the church yonder, spoke a few words to him and never saw him afterwards until a little while before Christmas, when I happened to be in Washington making a few purchases and waiting for some friends from Baltimore who promised to meet me at the Pennsylvania House and come out here to spend the holidays. I was walking past the National Hotel at the time, when a person tapped me on the shoulder and, on turning round, I discovered it was the gentleman I was introduced to at the church about six weeks previously. He asked me aside for a moment and said he desired an introduction to John H. Surratt, with whom he presumed I was acquainted. I said that I was. Surratt and I became almost necessarily acquainted from the fact of his living on the road I travelled so often on my way to Washington, and having the only tavern on the way that I cared to visit. Booth and I walked along the avenue three or four blocks, when we suddenly came across Surratt and Weichman [sic], and all four having become acquainted we adjourned to the National Hotel and had a round of drinks. The witnesses in my case swore that Booth and I moved to a corner of the room and were engaged for an hour or so in secret conversation. That was a barefaced lie. The whole four of us were in loud and open conversation all the time we were together, and when we separated we four never met again.”

“You told the soldiers, Doctor, the course the fugitives pursued after leaving your house?”

“I did. I told them the route that Booth told me he intended to take; but Booth, it seems, changed his mind after quitting here and went another way. This was natural enough; yet I was straightway accused of seeking to set the soldiers astray, and it was urged against me as proof positive of implication in the conspiracy.”

“You must have felt seriously agitated on being arrested in connection with this matter?”

“No, sir. I was just as self-possessed as I am now. They might have hanged me at the time and I should have faced death just as composedly as I smoke this pipe.”

“What did you think of the military commission?”

“Well, it would take me too long to tell you. Suffice it to say that not a man of them sat on my trial with an unbiased and unprejudiced mind. Before a word of evidence was heard my case was prejudged and I was already condemned on the strength of wild rumor and misrepresentation. The witnesses perjured themselves, and while I was sitting there in that dock, listening to their monstrous falsehoods, I felt ashamed of my species and lost faith forever in all mankind. That men could stand up in that court and take an oath before Heaven to tell the truth and the next moment set themselves to work to swear away by downright perjury the life of a fellow man was a thing that I in my innocence of the world never thought possible. After I was convicted and sent away to the Dry Tortugas a confession was got up by Secretary Stanton, purporting to have been made by me to Captain Dutton on board the steamer, and was afterwards appended to the official report of my trial. This was one of the most infamous dodges practiced against me, and was evidently intended as a justification for the illegality of my conviction. I never made such a confession and never could have made it, even if I tried.”

“How did their treat you down to the Dry Tortugas?”

“Well, I feel indisposed to say much on that head. If I made disclosures of matters with which I am acquainted certain officers in command there might find themselves curiously compromised.”

“You did good service caring the fever plague, Doctor?”

“Well, I can say this, that as long as I acted as post physician not a single life was lost. My whole time was devoted to fighting the spread of disease and investigating its specific nature. I found that the disease does not generate the poison which gives rise to the plague. The difference between contagion and infection which I have discovered is that one generates the poison from which the fever springs and the other does not. Contagion, such a smallpox, measles, &c., generates the poison which spreads the complaint of yellow fever, typhoid fever and other such infectious diseases. It requires contact with the poison and not with the disease to infect a person, and if a thousand cases of fever were removed from the place of the disease no danger whatever need be apprehended. The Fever in the Dry Tortugas was of the same type as typhoid, and the treatment on the expectant plan – that, is watching the case the treating the symptoms as they manifest themselves.”

“Were you untrammelled in your management of the sick?”

“No, sir; there’s where I felt the awkwardness of my position. I was trammelled and consequently could not act with the independence a physician under such circumstances should have.”

The Doctor talked at considerable length on many other topics connected with his imprisonment. In replying to the remark that his feelings must have been greatly exercised at coming within sight of his old home and meeting his wife once more he said, with visible tremor, that words were entirely inadequate to express the overwhelming emotions that filled his mind. It appears that a few days before he left the Dry Tortugas a company of the Third artillery, who were on board a transport about being shipped to some other point, on seeing the Doctor walking on the parapet, set up three cheers for the man who periled his life for them in the heroic fight with the dread visitation of fever. We talked along till midnight, then retired to a comfortable leather bed, and, rising with the sun in the morning, started out homeward journey to Washington.

References:
(1869, March 31) Dr. Mudd. New York Herald, p. 10.

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Beyond the Courtyard

Good evening to the historically theatrical nerds out there.

As many of you know, yesterday was the anniversary of the Lincoln conspirators’ execution. Just prior to this, July 6th marked the reveal of the commission’s verdict to both the public and, more importantly, to the four people condemned to die the following day. On this July 6th, 153 years later, the Society for the Restoration for Port Tobacco (SRPT) hosted for their First Friday event “Beyond the Courtyard: The Final Hour of the Lincoln Conspirators.”

Set in Washington’s Old Arsenal Penitentiary on the afternoon of the infamous hanging, the first person performance (written by Dave and me) had a four person cast, making it the largest of the Lincoln assassination themed reenactments done with the SRPT. Being a woman, I took on the role of Mary Surratt.

Dave, with all his impressive height, played Lewis Powell (called Paine by the other characters).

Bob Bowser, a board member and docent at the Dr. Mudd House Museum was David Herold.

Lastly, Southern Maryland naturalist Mike Callahan lent his German accent to the role of George Atzerodt.

Throughout the unfolding narrative, each person reflects on the various choices that drove them to conspire against the Union government, and the witnesses who brought those choices to light, until their tales intersect and lead to a collision of opinions and an outburst of violence. However, in the end, history still came with a vengeance.

Although we were all inside the Port Tobacco Courthouse, miles from Washington and in conditions much better than those suffered by the conspirators, it still felt eerie to be bringing a past back to life so soon before the anniversary of its haunting termination. Though over 150 years have passed, the echoes of the event which closed the Civil War can still be felt today.

Below you can view the program and see if you too can hear those reverberations of a time not so unlike our own. Please note that this was a staged reading and also took creative license with the dialogue. No incarceration accounts from the conspirators exist.

Local photographer, Eva Lightfoot, captured the great photos of the event that accompany this blog post. The rest of the album, along with other examples of her work, can be seen on her website.

Until next time.

-Kate

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The Execution of the Lincoln Conspirators

The sun was bright and hot as Alexander Gardner tended to his equipment on July 7, 1865. The noted Civil War photographer had brought two cameras with him, one wet plate and one stereoscopic, with which to capture the day’s event. Gardner was lucky, due to his prestige he was able to set himself up in the cool shade of a nearby building overlooking the scene. From his vantage point, facing out of two windows on the second floor of an old shoe factory on the property, Gardner could take in the entire scene.

Men began trickling into the courtyard below. Most were soldiers on assigned guard duty, but there was also a notable contingent of civilians. Many were newspapermen, here to commit to writing what Gardner would record on glass. A few others had come, in spite of the oppressive heat, to see justice meted out. Gardner focused his cameras on the object around which all the men had gathered – a hastily built gallows. Over the course of the next thirty minutes or so, Gardner would take at least 10 photographs of the proceedings. Through his lens, the execution of Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt was recorded in haunting clarity.

By using high resolution versions of Alexander Gardner’s photographs available through the Library of Congress, one can splice most of the execution photographs together to recreate the final moments of the four condemned conspirators in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in vivid detail. NOTE: The animation is below but is a bit large so it might take a second to load, especially on mobile devices.

Alexander Gardner’s photographs of the hanging provide us with a glimpse of the past that no newspaper report can equally replicate. Combined with modern technology, these photographs bring realism to a story whose epilogue was written 153 years ago today.

Click to view the full sized composite image

References:
The post was inspired by the work of Barry Cauchon and John Elliott

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Mapping John Wilkes Booth’s Career

Prior to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth was known as one of the preeminent actors of his day. Having come from a theatrical dynasty that included his father and brothers, Booth found great success as a touring star. His engagements in different cities were always well attended and, even in his early attempts, his talent in his chosen roles was commented on in the press.

The best works that delve into Booth’s theatrical career are John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Arthur F. Loux (2014)Rough Magic: The Theatrical Life of John Wilkes Booth by Deirdre Kincaid (2000), and Lust for Fame: The Stage Career of John Wilkes Booth by Gordon Samples (1982). These texts establish an accounting of Booth’s travels as a touring star while also providing specific details about his engagements in the different cities of the nation.

Over the past week, I have completed an update to the Maps section of BoothieBarn. Utilizing the above named sources (specifically Art Loux‘s book), I have been able to mark the location of every theater John Wilkes Booth performed in during his career. Booth acted in a total of 42 different theater venues over his ten-year career, often returning to the same ones for repeat engagements. Of the 42 theaters Booth performed in, only one is still in operation as a theater with at least part of the structure the same as when Booth performed there. That single remaining venue is Ford’s Theatre.

The Montgomery Theatre in Montgomery, Alabama was the only other extant theater building John Wilkes Booth performed in besides Ford’s Theatre. It was demolished in 2017.

Not only are the vast majority of theaters that once dotted the major cities of the United States during the Victorian era gone, but, for most of them, there is not even a sign to mark where these historic centers of culture and entertainment once stood. Of the 42 venues John Wilkes Booth performed in, for example, only eight have some sort of historic marker or plaque near the site. Still, by using historic maps, city directories, and newspaper records, I have managed to pinpoint the exact location of each of these 42 theaters and provide GPS coordinates for them.

The different venues can be found by clicking on or zooming in on any of the Lincoln Assassination Maps that can be found on the Maps page. For ease of use, however, I have created the following table below that gives an outline of Booth’s theatrical career. Clicking on the hyperlinked name of any one of the theaters in the table will open its corresponding map and center it above the theater site. You can then click the pin to get more information about the theater and Booth’s time there. NOTE: After publishing this post, I’ve found that the theater hyperlinks will work without issue on actual computers and on mobile devices / tablets that DO NOT have the Google Maps app installed. If you have the Google Maps app installed, the hyperlinks may not open the maps as described. For IOS (Apple) users with the Google Maps app installed you can still open the maps by pressing and holding one of the hyperlinks lightly for a bit. Then press the “Open in New Tab” option that comes up. After doing this once, all subsequent clicks by you should load the maps in the browser rather than in the Google Maps app (thought you may have to zoom out/in to get the background map to load properly). My apologies for the inconvenience. The table works without issue on a desktop computer.

I have divided John Wilkes Booth’s acting career into four parts; his debut, his time as a stock actor, his time as a touring star, and his retirement / conspiracy period. After the table is a brief overview of these parts of John Wilkes Booth’s career.

John Wilkes Booth’s Acting Career

(1855 – 1865)

Assembled from John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Arthur F. Loux

 Click the theater name to open its location in Google Maps

Not included: Childhood theatricals or impromptu dramatic readings

Engagement

Start – End

City, State

Theater

Debut (1855)

August 14, 1855

Baltimore, Maryland

Charles Street Theatre

Stock Actor (1857 – 1860)

August 11, 1857 –

June 19, 1858

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Arch Street Theatre

September 4, 1858 –

October 30, 1858

Richmond, Virginia

Marshall Theatre

November 1, 1858 –

November 13, 1858

Lynchburg, Virginia

Dudley Hall

November 15, 1858 –

February 12, 1859

Richmond, Virginia

Marshall Theatre

February 14, 1859 –

February 24, 1859

Petersburg, Virginia

Phoenix Hall

February 25, 1859 –

May 16, 1859

Richmond, Virginia

Marshall Theatre

May 17, 1859 –

June 15, 1859

Lynchburg, Virginia

Dudley Hall

June 17, 1859 –

June 25, 1859

Petersburg, Virginia

Phoenix Hall

June 27, 1859

Richmond, Virginia

Marshall Theatre

September 3, 1859 –

October 15, 1859

October 17, 1859 –

October 22, 1859

Lynchburg, Virginia

Dudley Hall

October 24, 1859 –

November 9, 1859

Richmond, Virginia

Marshall Theatre

November 14 1859 –

November 18, 1859

December 5, 1859 –

December 10, 1859

December 12, 1859 –

December 22, 1859

Petersburg, Virginia

Phoenix Hall

December 23, 1859 –

April 21, 1860

Richmond, Virginia

Marshall Theatre

April 23, 1860 –

April 28, 1860

Petersburg, Virginia

Phoenix Hall

April 30, 1860 –

May 12, 1860

Norfolk, Virginia

Unknown

May 14, 1860 –

May 31, 1860

Richmond, Virginia

Marshall Theatre

Touring Star (1860 – 1864)

October 1, 1860 –

October 12, 1860

Columbus, Georgia

Temperance Hall

October 20, 1860

October 29, 1860 –

November 3, 1860

Montgomery, Alabama

Montgomery Theatre

November 16, 1860

December 1, 1860

January 21, 1861 –

February 2, 1861

Rochester, New York

Metropolitan Theatre

February 11, 1861 –

February 12, 1861

Albany, New York

Gayety Theatre

February 18, 1861 –

February 23, 1861

March 4, 1861 –

March 16, 1861

March 18, 1861 –

April 13, 1861

Portland, Maine

Portland Theatre

April 22, 1861 –

April 25, 1861

Albany, New York

Gayety Theatre

October 21, 1861 –

October 25, 1861

Providence, Rhode Island

Providence Theatre

October 28, 1861 –

November 9, 1861

Buffalo, New York

Metropolitan Theatre

November 11, 1861 –

November 18, 1861

Detroit, Michigan

H. A. Perry’s Metropolitan Theatre

November 25, 1861 –

December 7, 1861

Cincinnati, Ohio

Wood’s Theatre

December 9, 1861 –

December 23, 1861

Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville Theatre

December 25, 1861 –

December 31, 1861

Indianapolis, Indiana

Metropolitan Hall

January 6, 1862 –

January 18, 1862

St. Louis, Missouri

Ben DeBar’s St. Louis Theatre

January 20, 1862 –

February 1, 1862

Chicago, Illinois

McVicker’s Theatre

February 17, 1862 –

March 3, 1862

Baltimore, Maryland

Holliday Street Theatre

March 11, 1862

Baltimore, Maryland

Front Street Theatre

March 17, 1862 –

April 5, 1862

New York City, New York

Mary Provost’s Theatre

April 21, 1862 –

May 3, 1862

St. Louis, Missouri

Ben DeBar’s St. Louis Theatre

May 12, 1862 –

May 24, 1862

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Museum

June 2, 1862 –

June 21, 1862

Chicago, Illinois

McVicker’s Theatre

June 25, 1862 –

June 30, 1862

Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville Theatre

October 23, 1862 –

October 24, 1862

Lexington, Kentucky

Opera House

October 27, 1862 –

November 8, 1862

Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville Theatre

November 10, 1862 –

November 22, 1862

Cincinnati, Ohio

National Theatre

November 24, 1862 –

November 29, 1862

Indianapolis, Indiana

Metropolitan Hall

December 1, 1862 –

December 20, 1862

Chicago, Illinois

McVicker’s Theatre

December 22, 1862 –

January 3, 1863

St. Louis, Missouri

Ben DeBar’s St. Louis Theatre

January 5, 1863 –

January 10, 1863

Indianapolis, Indiana

Metropolitan Hall

January 19, 1863 –

February 14, 1863

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Museum

March 2, 1863 –

March 14, 1863

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Arch Street Theatre

March 16, 1863 –

March 21, 1863

Baltimore, Maryland

Holliday Street Theatre

April 11, 1863 –

April 18, 1863

Washington, D.C.

Grover’s National Theatre

April 27, 1863 –

May 9, 1863

Washington, D.C.

Washington Theatre

May 18, 1863 –

June 6, 1863

Chicago, Illinois

McVicker’s Theatre

June 15, 1863 –

June 26, 1863

St. Louis, Missouri

Ben DeBar’s St. Louis Theatre

June 30, 1863 –

July 3, 1863

Cleveland, Ohio

Academy of Music

July 6, 1863 –

July 11, 1863

Buffalo, New York

Metropolitan Theatre

September 28, 1863 –

October 10, 1863

Boston, Massachusetts

Howard Athenaeum

October 12, 1863 –

October 13, 1863

Worcester, Massachusetts

Worcester Theatre

October 14, 1863 –

October 15, 1863

Springfield, Massachusetts

Music Hall

October 16, 1863 –

October 19, 1863

Providence, Rhode Island

Academy of Music

October 20, 1863 –

October 22, 1863

Hartford, Connecticut

Allyn Hall

October 23, 1863

Springfield, Massachusetts

Music Hall

October 24, 1863 –

October 26, 1863

Brooklyn, New York

Academy of Music

October 27, 1863 –

October 29, 1863

New Haven, Connecticut

Music Hall

November 2, 1863 –

November 14, 1863

Washington, D.C.

Ford’s Theatre

November 26, 1863 –

December 5, 1863

Cleveland, Ohio

Academy of Music

December 22, 1863 –

December 31, 1863

Leavenworth, Kansas

Union Theatre

January 5, 1864

St. Joseph, Missouri

Corby’s Hall

January 12, 1864 –

January 16, 1864

St. Louis, Missouri

Ben DeBar’s St. Louis Theatre

January 18, 1864 –

January 30, 1864

Louisville, Kentucky

Wood’s Theatre

February 1, 1864 –

February 13, 1864

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville Theatre

February 15, 1864 –

February 26, 1864

Cincinnati, Ohio

Wood’s Theatre

March 14, 1864 –

March 25, 1864

New Orleans, Louisiana

St. Charles Theatre

March 29, 1864 –

April 3, 1864

April 25, 1864 –

May 28, 1864

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Museum

Retirement / Conspiracy Period (1864 – 1865)

November 25, 1864

New York City, New York

Winter Garden Theatre

March 18, 1865

Washington, D.C.

Ford’s Theatre

Debut (1855)

As a child, John Wilkes Booth acted in kiddie theatrical productions put on by his brother Edwin and their Baltimore neighbors. He also took part in productions put on at the various schools he attended. However, Booth’s professional debut occurred on August 14, 1855, when he played Richmond in the battle scene of Richard III at Baltimore’s Charles Street Theatre. Booth was 17 years-old and the production was a benefit performance for his former childhood playmate turned actor, John Sleeper Clarke. Clarke would go on to marry Booth’s sister Asia in 1859. Booth did not tell his family about this performance ahead of time and, upon returning home to the family farm of Tudor Hall , he said to Asia, “Guess what I’ve done! I’ve made my first appearance on any stage, for this night only, and in big capitals.”

Stock Actor (1857 – 1860)

Despite making his debut in 1855, Booth did not immediately go into the acting profession. It wasn’t until two years later that John Wilkes Booth’s career of an actor truly began. Like practically all actors, Booth had to start at the bottom and learn the trade. He signed up as a stock actor in Philadelphia’s Arch Street Theatre. He worked a whole season at the Arch Street getting paid $8 a week. His roles were extremely small with little lines, and he rarely was important enough to be mentioned in playbills or reviews. Still, during this time he was learning the plays and gaining valuable experience from the star actors that would come to the Arch Street for their engagements. When the 1858 acting season began, Booth signed up to be a part of George Kunkel’s stock company of actors which paid him $11 per week. Kunkel’s group was based at the Marshall Theatre in Richmond but would occasionally travel to Petersburg and Lynchburg for engagements. Booth spent two seasons with Kunkel’s group, building his craft and experience. By the fall of 1860, John Wilkes Booth was about ready to strike out on his own starring tour.

Touring Star (1860 – 1864)

Though Booth suffered a few mishaps during his first season as a touring star, it was during this period that he reclaimed the name of Booth and started garnering the attention of the theater world. As time went on, Booth’s technique improved and soon he found himself booking engagements in theaters across the nation. Even as a Civil War fractured the nation in two, John Wilkes Booth had no difficulty in finding theaters eager to have him appear. While generally celebrated everywhere he went, Booth found his greatest success in Boston, St. Louis, and Chicago, often returning to those cities for engagements. During the 1863-64 season Booth attempted a schedule of shorter engagements in some smaller cities and, while financially successful, the rapid pace exhausted him. When the acting season ended in May of 1864, Booth set his sights on an easier way to make money: the oil business. His attempt to make money in oil ventures occupied him during the summer of 1864, but he was not successful. It was also during this time that Booth’s mind turned to a devious plot against President Lincoln.

Retirement / Conspiracy Period (1864 – 1865)

John Wilkes Booth did not resume his touring career when the acting season began in the fall of 1864. To his questioning friends and family, Booth said he had become rich in the oil fields of Pennsylvania and no longer needed to act. This was a lie used to cover up his preoccupation on his abduction (later assassination) plot against Lincoln. Booth would perform on stage only two times during the last 11 months of his life. On November 11, 1864, John Wilkes Booth took part in a single performance with his brothers Junius, Jr. and Edwin. Known as the Booth Benefit performance of Julius Caesar, the proceeds of the performance went to the erection of a statue of Shakespeare in New York’s Central Park.

Then, on March 18, 1865, John Wilkes Booth made his final stage performance in a production of The Apostate at Ford’s Theatre. The performance was a benefit for his friend, actor John McCullough. Less than a month later, John Wilkes Booth returned to the stage of Ford’s Theatre, this time with a bloodied knife in his hand and a fatally wounded President slumped over in his theater box.

For more information about the stage career of John Wilkes Booth, please check out John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Arthur F. Loux.

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Booth’s Richard III on Stage

Two years ago, Eric Colleary, Curator of Theater and Performing Arts at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center, collaborated with Beth Burns of the Austin based theater company, Hidden Room Theatre, to conduct a staged reading of Richard III based on a promptbook in the collection of the Ransom Center that was once owned and annotated by John Wilkes Booth. The staged reading (which can be viewed by clicking this link) was a great success. Since that time Eric, Beth, and the Hidden Room Theatre company have continued their collaboration and have managed to turn Booth’s promptbook into a full production that will soon take the stage.

For those of you who live in the Austin, Texas area, this is a wonderful opportunity to essentially go back in time and experience live theater as it was in the 1860s.  Over the past few months, the entire creative team behind the production has conducted in-depth research on theater history and dramatic techniques in order to make this show as accurate to the period as possible. A few days ago, Eric and Beth took part in a fascinating discussion / question and answer session regarding how their collaboration came about and the impressive work being done to bring it to fruition.

As you can see, despite its title, the upcoming production of Booth’s Richard III is far more than just a re-enactment of John Wilkes Booth’s edits to Shakespeare’s (really Cibber’s) work. Instead, it is a rare look into the type of acting and production that was commonplace in the 1800s but is almost completely lost today. John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook is a time capsule of theater history and it is a rare event to see such a piece of history brought back to life. The Hidden Room Theatre in collaboration with the Harry Ransom Center will be performing Richard III at Austin’s Scottish Rite Theater for only eight performances starting on Friday, June 15 and running through Saturday, June 30. For more information, and to purchase tickets, please click this link or the image below:

For those of you who, like me, are no where near Austin, Beth Burns mentioned in the question and answer session that she is hoping one of the shows will be recorded and later made available online. While I am grateful for that, I know a recorded show will not be able to replace the total immersive effect of witnessing it firsthand. Beth also mentioned her hope that this show may live on in the future as an educational tool for college and university theater companies that wish to re-enact theater history. So there is chance Booth’s Richard III could be do a bit of touring if interest is high. Though I know it is a bit of a pipe dream, I, for one, would love to see this show produced by the Ford’s Theatre Society on their historic stage.

In closing, I would ask that any of you who are able to get to Austin during the show’s run and see Booth’s Richard III to please report back to those of us who were not so fortunate. The comment section will definitely be open. I’d love to hear your thoughts on experiencing 1860s theater just as people like Mr. Lincoln would have.

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