Posts Tagged With: John Wilkes Booth

“You know best, Captain” The Executed Conspirators in Lincoln’s Assassination

On June 27, 2017, I was fortunate enough to return to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in order to speak to their volunteers and members of the public. The topic of my talk revolved around the four conspirators who were executed for their involvement in John Wilkes Booth’s plot against Lincoln. The following is a video of that talk that the ALPLM was kind enough to put on YouTube:

In the process of researching and writing this speech I consulted many excellent books. Specifically, I’d like to point out the vital scholarship of Betty Ownsbey in her book on Lewis Powell and the research of Kate Clifford-Larson in her book about Mary Surratt. These texts are a wealth of information and proved invaluable in preparing for this speech. I would also like to thank Betty Ownsbey and Dr. Blaine Houmes for allowing me to use some of their images in this speech.

The day before the speech I gave a radio interview to WTAX, the local Springfield station, about the speech and my interest in the Lincoln assassination. It’s only about 5 minutes long and can be heard here: https://soundcloud.com/news-radio-wtax/6-26-17-dave-taylor-lincoln-assassination-expert-podcast

I’d like to thank the folks at the ALPLM for allowing me to come back and speak to their volunteers. I must admit that I definitely feel a strong sense of pride at being able to tell people that I’ve spoken at the Lincoln library. Kate and I had an amazing time touring the museum and being taken into the vault to see their treasures.

I hope you all enjoy the speech.

Dave

EDIT: For ease of access I’m also going to embed the video of my prior speech for the ALPLM in which I discussed John Wilkes Booth’s history:

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The Great Boothie Road Trip 2017 ©

Tomorrow, June 21, 2017, Kate and I are taking to the road on what we’re calling the Great Boothie Road Trip 2017 ©. It will be quiet here on the blog for next couple of weeks as we drive out to see family, friends, and of course, Boothie sites from our Lincoln assassination maps! A week from now we’ll be in Springfield, Illinois where I will be presenting at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. As a follow up to my speech on John Wilkes Booth last summer, this year I will be speaking on the four conspirators who were executed for their involvement in Lincoln’s death . For those of you who live in the area and might be interested in attending this speech, the ALPLM has free tickets available to those who register. See this site to reserve your tickets: https://alplmfoundation.tix.com/Event.aspx?EventCode=978923 For those of you not in the area, the speech is scheduled to be recorded and I will let you all know when it is put online.

As excited as I am to be speaking at the Lincoln library once again, that speech will only be a small part of our multi-state road trip with many fascinating detours and stops. While we’re hoping to put up a full post about our adventures when we get back, I encourage you all to follow our exploits as we go via Twitter. You don’t have to be signed up for Twitter to see what Kate and I are tweeting. You can either visit my Twitter page, which is accessible by clicking here, or by watching the Twitter bar on this website. For desktop users, the Twitter bar should be somewhere on the right hand side and for mobile users, it should be near the bottom of the page. For those of you who do have Twitter, we are planning on using the hashtag #BoothieRoadTrip if you want to follow along.

Well, you’ll have to excuse me now because Kate and I have a scheduled departure time of 4:00 am tomorrow. It’s time for us to get some rest. We hope you’ll follow us as we experience the Great Boothie Road Trip 2017 ©!

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In the Words of Asia Booth

Asia Booth Clarke was the chronicler of the Booth family. In a few hours from this posting, Kate will be up at at Tudor Hall to give her first of two talks this year about Asia and her writings. The basis of Kate’s speech is the collection of letters Asia wrote to her life long pen pal Mary Jane “Jean” Anderson.

As Kate put the final flourishes on her speech, I decided to put together this animated .gif showing some of Asia’s words from her letters to Jean. Asia’s original letters to Jean are housed in the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.

If you are not able to make it to Kate’s speech this time around, she will be at Tudor Hall to give it again on October 8, 2017.

Lastly, if you want to learn a little more about Jean Anderson, here is a short and unfortunately shaky video I recorded at her grave in Green Mount Cemetery:

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John Wilkes Booth’s Acting Debut

On August 14, 1855, John Wilkes Booth, the seventeen-year-old son of the late, great Junius Brutus Booth, made his professional debut upon the stage. For one performance only, John Wilkes Booth performed the role of Richmond in the third act of Shakespeare’s Richard III at Baltimore’s Charles Street Theatre.

As shown by the above newspaper advertisements, the performance was part of a benefit for Booth’s friend and fellow actor, John Sleeper Clarke. Clarke had known John Wilkes and Edwin Booth from their shared boyhood in Baltimore. The three boys and a few other friends used to perform together in self produced children’s shows for their neighbors, dubbing themselves The Tripple Alley Players. Using makeshift costumes and borrowed props the boys would stage shows in back rooms, stables, or cellars charging their friends a penny for a ticket. These performances definitely made an impact on the boys as four of The Tripple Alley Players would grow up to become professional actors. Clarke’s real name was John Sleeper and he had been nicknamed “Sleepy” by his peers. Seeing how such a name would make him a subject of ridicule on the stage, he wisely chose the stage name of John Sleeper Clarke for the rest of his life.

John Sleeper Clarke

It is interesting to note that this performance was not only the debut of John Wilkes Booth, but also the first time Clarke performed in the play of Toodles. This comedy would later become a staple for Clarke and the role he was best known for. As a benefit performance, Clarke was entitled to all of the box office returns for that night after expenses, so the young actor was eager to draw in as many patrons as possible. Clarke heavily advertised the debut of John Wilkes, the son of the great tragedian Booth, in order to pull in the largest audience he could. Sadly, there do not seem to be any reviews in the days that followed about John Wilkes’ performance. Booth himself, however, was very happy with his performance. He had not told his family of his intentions to act on the stage for Clarke and so they did not witness his debut. Instead he came riding back to Tudor Hall after the fact to inform them. The story of his return is recounted in Asia Booth’s memoir about her brother and follows below. Please note that the following text demonstrates racial language and views which are not acceptable today but were held by John Wilkes, Asia, and most of the Booth family.

“Wilkes went for a brief visit to Baltimore, and on the day of his return I was under the low trees outside our grounds pulling mandrakes, gathering may-apples and dew-berries. Six little darkies, seven dogs, and a couple of cats who always followed the dogs, were my company. Our baskets were partly filled, and the clatter of hoofs sounding clear, I looked out from the bushes to see Wilkes returning on Cola. He came up rapidly then dismounted, while the dogs yelped and the cats rubbed against his legs, and the piping querulous voices of the darkies called out in the uproar, ‘How do, Mars’ Johnnie.’

He had a greeting for all and threw a packet of candies from his saddle-case far beyond where we stood, saying, ‘After it, Nigs! Don’t let the dogs get it!’ The never-forgotten bag of candies was longingly looked for by the blacks, young and old, whenever ‘Mars’ Johnnie’ came from town or village.

Turning to me, he said, ‘Well, Mother Bunch, guess what I’ve done!’ Then answering my silence, he said, ‘I’ve made my first appearance on any stage, for this night only, and in big capitals.’

He had acted ‘Richmond’ at the St. Charles’ Theatre [sic], Baltimore. His face shone with enthusiasm, and by the exultant tone of his voice it was plain that he had passed the test night. He had made his venture in life and would soon follow on the road he had broken. Mother was not so pleased as we to hear of this adventure; she thought it premature, and that he had been influenced by others who wished to gain notoriety and money by the use of his name.”

Mary Ann Booth was right on the money when she expressed her belief that Wilkes had been used for the sake of his name in his first performance. Clarke asked his friend to perform, literally, for his own benefit. Even from early on, Clarke understood the power in the Booth name and sought to gain from it. Later he would go into business with Edwin Booth and then come into the family by marrying Asia. However, even if Clarke’s inclusion of John Wilkes as an actor stemmed from his own self-interest, he did help foster the young man’s growth. When the next theatrical season began, Clarke got John Wilkes a job as a stock actor in Philadelphia. From here Booth would start down the road of learning his craft. Thus, it is from this minor performance in Baltimore’s Charles Street Theatre, that John Wilkes Booth’s career as an actor began.

References:
John Wilkes Booth Day by Day by Arthur F. Loux
John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir by Asia Booth Clarke edited by Terry Alford
Newspaper extracts from Genealogybank.com

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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

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

“An Evening with John Wilkes Booth”

On March 3, 2017, Kate and I presented at an event for the Friends of Rich Hill and the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco. The event venue was the restored Port Tobacco courthouse in Port Tobacco, Maryland. Though Port Tobacco is the former stomping grounds of conspirator George Atzerodt, the subject of this event was the lead assassin, John Wilkes Booth. While I have given speeches about Booth in the past, including my 2016 speech for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum volunteers, I had never previously attempted to portray John Wilkes Booth in the first person. The event in Port Tobacco, billed as “An Evening with John Wilkes Booth”, was my first attempt at being John Wilkes Booth, rather than just discussing John Wilkes Booth.

The following play is meant to provide an insight into the mind of John Wilkes Booth by utilizing much of his own words and writings. Some of the words said by Booth are uncomfortable to hear, but they are vital if we are to truly understand the world view of Lincoln’s assassin. The video of the performance is embedded below or you can watch it directly on YouTube by clicking here.

If you are interested in more first person portrayals of conspirators, Kate will be performing as Mary Surratt twice in April, 2017. On April 1st, Kate will be performing her one woman show about Mrs. Surratt’s imprisonment at the annual Surratt Society Conference in Clinton, Maryland. To sign up for the conference please visit the Surratt House Museum’s website. Kate will also be portraying Mary Surratt at an event in Port Tobacco, Maryland on Friday, April 7th at 6:00 pm. At this performance, Mrs. Suratt will be joined by George Atzerodt and the two of them will discuss their involvement in the conspiracy against Lincoln. The event at Port Tobacco is free and open to the public.

EDIT: I just realized that today is the five year anniversary of my very first posting here on BoothieBarn. When I started this site, it was an outlet for me to share some of the interesting things I had learned while researching the Lincoln assassination. I didn’t really know if it would be of interest to anyone other than myself. However, through this site I have made many wonderful friends and have been fortunate enough to speak about John Wilkes Booth and Lincoln’s assassination in several venues. And so after 5 years, 400+ posts and almost 600 followers later, I want to thank you all for your much appreciated support. As long as I keep finding interesting things about the Lincoln assassination to share, I expect posts will continue here on BoothieBarn for many more years to come. 

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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

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