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The Confederate Memorials

In addition to being a school teacher, I also have a part time job giving tours at Historic Port Tobacco Village in Charles County, Maryland. Port Tobacco is the original county seat of Charles County with a long and multifaceted history. The village also plays into the Lincoln assassination story due to George Atzerodt’s residence there and Thomas Jones being offered $100,000 for Booth’s whereabouts in a Port Tobacco hotel. It’s a nice spot to visit and learn some history.

Today, I was fortunate enough to give a tour to a group of four retirees from Pennsylvania. They were in Maryland to visit some of the Booth escape sites which means we got along swimmingly. I provided them insight into the Confederate leanings of Maryland during the Civil War and how Southern Maryland was a hotbed of Confederate sympathizers which worked in Booth’s favor. As we went on, the group asked me about the recent events in Charlottesville and the ongoing removal over Confederate monuments. This was the first time I had been asked to share my opinion about it in public.

I am not someone who shies away from or avoids the uncomfortable or dark parts of our history. I spend most of my time investigating and researching the individuals who murdered our 16th President. Though I am not a professional historian, I always try to look at things with a historian’s eye and understand the context of an event.

And so, with that historian’s perspective, I told the group my heartfelt opinion. The Confederate memorials in our country’s cities should come down. It is not only the right thing to do morally, but also historically.

I’d like to expand on the statement above by addressing some of the reasons I have come across regarding people’s reasons for wanting the Confederate memorials to remain.


1. “What’s the big deal? It’s just a statue.”

A great many people might have this sort of reaction when discussing the removal of Confederate memorials. It derives from either a lack of knowledge on the subject or from a view of “It doesn’t bother me so it shouldn’t bother you.” The former situation can hopefully be remedied by educating oneself about what the the memorials represent. The latter situation speaks to an individual’s inability to empathize and consider the feelings of others. You may not be personally offended by a statue of Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee, but one would hope it would not be difficult for you to see why others might be offended. As I teach my third graders, it is important that we attempt to put ourselves in the shoes of people different from ourselves and consider their feelings and points of view. When it comes to the Confederate memorials, it is imperative for white Americans who question the need to remove these pieces to see these statues through different eyes. How would you feel about walking by and seeing these statues if your ancestors were brought over to this country on slave ships and forced into generations of servitude? Or, as a person of color in this country who has to deal with both random and institutionalized acts of racism each day, how would you feel seeing these figures, who fought for white supremacy, in prominent positions in front of your local government buildings? One would hope that morality, understanding and compassion alone would make a compelling case for why these memorials deserve to be removed.

2. “You are erasing history”

This is among the most common reaction I have seen from people who are in favor of keeping the Confederate memorials, despite the moral objections to them. This view holds that the monuments are pieces of history and that they should remain since they represent our past. Some proponents of this view are able to admit that these statues represent a shameful part of our past, but that they still deserve to stay. While, on the face of it, this seems like a reasonable enough opinion, the truth of the matter is that these memorials do not represent the history that the proponents of this view think they do.

Perhaps the thing that has bothered me most in the recent days has been seeing those I considered educated historians fall into the trap of believing that these monuments represent benign figures of history. Below is a wonderful graphic put together by the Southern Poverty Law Center regarding when most of our nation’s over 1,500 public statues and memorials to the Confederacy were erected.

Please click to enlarge

According to the SPLC, “The dedication of Confederate monuments and the use of Confederate names and other iconography began shortly after the Civil War ended in 1865. But two distinct periods saw significant spikes. The first began around 1900 as Southern states were enacting Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise African Americans and re-segregate society after several decades of integration which followed Reconstruction. It lasted well into the 1920s, a period that also saw a strong revival of the Ku Klux Klan. The second period began in the mid-1950s and lasted until the late 1960s, the period encompassing the modern civil rights movement.”

The correlation should be evident and speaks to the true purpose of these memorials. The monuments that are coming down were never intended to be benign representations of Civil War history as some would like to think of them.  The erection of these statues were direct responses to the efforts of bringing about racial equality and, when viewed in that proper context, we can see the perception of these memorials as being symbols of white supremacy far more accurate then them being symbols of the past. The only history these memorials represent is one of white supremacy, and sadly their removal will not do anything to erase that part of our history or present.

I think it’s important for us to note that the memorials being removed are not historic markers on Civil War battlefields or educational panels inside of museums. Nor are people calling for the destruction of Confederate graves or headstones. The graphic above does not count the, “approximately 2,570 Civil War battlefields, markers, plaques, cemeteries and similar symbols that, for the most part, merely reflect historical events.” As far as I am aware, there have been no calls to shut down the Gettysburg battlefield, stop teaching about the Civil War in schools, or disinter Confederate dead. The Civil War is not going to be forgotten by the removal of these memorials. If you truly feel that that removing these statues will result in the “erasing of history”, I would like to point out to you that there are millions of articles, pamphlets, books, magazines, journals, dissertations, exhibits, maps, songs, documentaries, websites, etc, written about the Civil War that will teach you far more about history than a Jim Crow era statue to white supremacy ever could.

3. “Robert E. Lee (or any other Confederate name) also did a lot of positive things for the country, too.”

I’ve certainly seen this argument. The idea is that the people on the memorial pedestals may have expressed views contrary to the Confederacy, acted with honor, were well respected, helped to bring the nation back together after the war, or contributed to America in other ways.  This view holds that it is not fair for statues of these figures to be condemned just for “wearing the Gray”. This is an interesting point of view that I’d like to explore.

Using this view, I would like to propose that a new Civil War statue be placed in D.C.. The figure for the statue would be a man who, in the midst of the secession crisis wrote, “I believe in country right or wrong, but gentlemen the whole union is our country and no particular state. We should love the whole union and not only the state in which we were born. We are all one people, and should have but one wish, one object, one heart.” This man, so against secession, was described personally by his peers as, “a manly man; a term not easily defined, for there are those, blessed by nature, who have lacked the qualities of manhood. [He] was not one of these; he was firm as a rock, honest, sincere, and unassuming in his private associations. If he had not a good word, he never used a bad one, to friend or foe; yet he never brooked an insult or pocketed an affront. Young, impetuous, fearless, true, he was also kind, loving, and sympathetic; he could wile away hours playing with children, like a big boy (he often did so with mine) and the next moment, he was a man among men. His word was his bond, and men that knew him never doubted it.” Lastly, my proposed figure, a man who opposed secession and was so admired by his friends, was described as a “genius” by newspapers nationwide. “The hackneyed term, talent, cannot be used in speaking of this young [man] of such wonderful promise. It is genius in the broadest and largest acceptation of the term.” Doesn’t the man described above sound worthy of a possible memorial? Based on the side of these view points, the answer would certainly be, yes. And yet when I tell you that the man I have described is John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Lincoln, does it still seem like a good idea to place a memorial to him? Decency would hopefully compel you to say no, but why is that so? It is very much true that John Wilkes Booth opposed secession originally and found himself in trouble while performing in Montgomery, Alabama due to this pro-union view. Booth was loved and respected by practically every single person he interacted with. He was notably fond and good with children. His genius on the stage made it so that Booth was considered one of the country’s greatest actors. Yet, despite all of John Wilkes Booth’s positive attributes one would never put up a statue of him in a public square because he chose what his legacy would be when he shot Abraham Lincoln.

The same can be said for Lee, Jackson, Davis, and all of the Confederate officials. No matter what they may or may not have personally felt about issues like slavery, when they made their choices to fight against the Union, they surrendered their legacies to that of the Confederacy. While one is free to explore the complex histories of these figures, in the same way that this blog explores the histories of those connected in Lincoln’s death, nothing you can find will ever unravel these figures with the cause they sided with. All of the men featured on the memorials that are coming down chose the legacy of siding with the Confederacy. And, lest we forget, the Confederacy’s reason for existing was the perpetuation of racial based rape, torture, and genocide, otherwise known as slavery. That is the legacy of the Confederacy and those who fought to support it.

4. “Of course slavery was wrong but lots of people owned slaves. Are you going to target George Washington and Thomas Jefferson next because they were slave owners?”

Perhaps the most desperate of all of the reasons to keep the Confederate memorials is the above “slippery slope” analogy. It attempts to equate pre-Civil War slave owners such as Washington and Jefferson with the slave owning Confederates. It usually follows that, if we are to remove these Confederate statues, when will it end? Are we going to tear down Mount Vernon and Monticello since they had slaves? Such a false equivalency would be laughable if not for the large number of people who fall victim to it. One is free to compare historic figures such as George Washington and, say, Jefferson Davis. But to put them on equal footing just because they were both slave owners shows a total disregard for the time periods in which they lived and the causes for which they fought. There is no equivalency in the legacies of the first President of the United States and the only President of the Confederate States. The legacies of Washington and Thomas Jefferson are not spotless, but attempting to equate them with those who fought a war to continue the bondage of millions of people is an insult.

Even worse than attempting to equate Washington and Davis or Jefferson and Lee is attempting to equate a Confederate statue on the grounds of a courthouse with educational institutions like Mount Vernon and Monticello. Museums like Monticello should be commended for their continued efforts to explore their owners’ relationships with slavery even when doing so results in uncomfortable truths, such as Jefferson’s sexual abuse of Sally Hemmings.  It is also important to note that the efforts of these institutions in addressing the truth of our former Presidents and slavery were widely brought about by activists who demanded that the lives of the enslaved peoples on these plantations not be forgotten.

When museums are done right, they explain the events of the past, both good and bad, providing needed context for those in modern times to understand them. Museums are not in the business of justifying events of the past. These Confederate memorials, on the other hand, were erected for the express purpose of providing pro-Confederate propaganda by appealing to notions of honor, sacrifice, and nobility, in order to appease a white population uncomfortable with the thought of racial equality.

5. “I saw a video of people pulling down a statue. This is just the work of criminals who break the law.”

A few days ago a group of protesters wrapped a rope around a Confederate memorial on the courthouse grounds of Durham, North Carolina and pulled down a statue, which was largely crushed under the weight of its marble base as it fell. The police watched the events but did nothing to stop the protesters at the time. Since then several arrests have been made for the destruction of public property using video footage to identify those present. This morning, over 100 people lined up at the Durham County Detention Center to willingly surrender themselves for contributing to the memorials’ destruction. Many of those who surrendered themselves were not present when the memorial was pulled down but were standing in solidarity with those that did.

Did the protesters break the law by taking matters into their own hands and destroying the Confederate memorial? Yes, they did. Do they deserve punishment for the destruction of public  property? I believe that they do. But that instance of vigilantism and the action of of the community today in response to it, speaks to the importance of this issue and that these memorials cannot be ignored. People may not want to see it, but the Confederate memorials are a civil rights issue. The history of their creation and their intended message made it so that they were always were. Unfortunately, it took the murder of Heather Heyer at the hands of overt white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia to make others, including me, aware of the fight that has been occurring for decades.

The protesters in Durham tore down a statue and should be punished accordingly, but that doesn’t make them, or their cause, wrong. When Nazis and KKK members are unabashedly marching in the streets to support a Confederate monument and an innocent protester standing up to their hate is mowed down, there should be no question as to which side is in the right. They may have broken the law and others may very well follow them, but the cause of ridding our cities of these symbols of white supremacy is a just one.

This summer, Kate and I visited the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama. We watched the video and explored the exhibits regarding the stories of some of the men and women who lost their lives in the quest for equal rights for all Americans. It was a deeply moving experience which was concluded with a visit to the Civil Rights Memorial. I was struck with how many average white Americans during the 1950’s and 60’s era saw those engaged in the civil rights marches and events as “criminals” and ” law breakers”. By rebelling against racists practices, these individuals broke the law time and time again. They may have been on the wrong side of the law, but they were on the right side of history.


For those of you who may not have been aware of or were confused about the reasons why Confederate memorials were being removed from government properties, I hope this post has been helpful. When I concluded my tour today, the visitors informed me that, while they already supported the removal of the memorials due to Nazis and the KKK being in favor of keeping them, learning the history behind the creation of these public memorials had given then the insight they needed to strengthened their view.

We are not erasing history. Museums, battlefields, historic markers and our National Parks tell the story of the Civil War. The Confederate memorials in public squares do not tell the story of the Civil War. Many still are under the impression that removing these public statues is the same as destroying Confederate grave stones, but that is not what is happening. The statues are not, nor have they ever been, representations of benign history. These memorials are physical representations to the cause of white supremacy both in substance and intent. What we have seen, and what we will continue to see in the coming weeks, are Americans from all walks of life coming together to finally remove these memorials and define what causes are worthy of commemoration in today’s society. These memorials to white supremacy will be taken down. Confederate schools and streets will be renamed. These actions have no impact on the history of the Civil War, for the past has already been written. We are removing these statues for the sake of the future. When Nazis support the heritage of these white supremacist monuments and spill the blood of those who who fight back against their hate, it is up to all people to defy them. Removing these memorials show that we, as Americans, not only acknowledge the tragedies of our past, but understand that their demons still haunt us today. Removing these memorials will not eliminate the demons, but will prove that we will no longer let those demons represent who we are as a society.

References:
For an excellent view on the way the Confederacy is represented in our public spaces, I highly recommend: Whose Heritage?: Public Symbols of the Confederacy by the Southern Poverty Law Center
I also highly recommend the works of Civil War historian, Kevin Levin. He has an entire website about how the Civil War has been remembered over the years which is extremely insightful.

P.S. I have decided to preemptively disable the comment feature on this particular post. By disabling all comments, I can naively believe that everyone who has read this is on the side of morality and social justice. If you have read this post and still do not see several compelling reasons to remove the Confederate memorials, then nothing I, or anyone else can say, will change your mind. Everyone is free to believe what they will, but I will not allow my comment section to become filled with more false equivalences and hyperbole about how removing white supremacist statues is the same as desecrating Confederate dead. I’ve read the other side. I’ve addressed many of their reasons above.  If those reasons alone are not enough for you, then you and I have nothing to talk about.

Categories: History, News | Tags:

“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. 

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

BoothieBarn Live on NBC 4!

If any of you in the D.C. metropolitan area happened to be watching NBC’s News4 Midday today, you might have seen a familiar face and outfit. I was asked to appear on the live news show along with Melissa Willett of the Charles County Garden Club in order to promote this Saturday’s Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage in Charles County. Every three years the pilgrimage takes place in Charles County and this year it will be featuring two properties connected to the Lincoln assassination story. Participants in the tour will have the opportunity to visit and go inside Thomas Jones’ house of Huckleberry as well as walk the property of the Loyola on the Potomac Catholic Retreat which contains the exact site of where John Wilkes Booth and David Herold got into a boat and tried to cross the Potomac. Melissa and I were interviewed about the event by NBC anchor Barbara Harrison:

UPDATE: NBC 4 has put up a much better version of this interview on their website. Watch it here: http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Historic-Homes-Tour_Washington-DC-380991271.html

As stated in the interview I will be at Huckleberry from 10:00 – 5:00pm on Saturday, showing people the inside of the house and discussing Thomas Jones’ role in assisting John Wilkes Booth. Tickets for the tour, which contains a total of eight homes, are $35 and they can be purchased at any of the sites during the tour on Saturday, May 28, 2016. The proceeds from the event will be benefiting the Maryland Veterans Museum.

I enjoyed the interview with Ms. Harrison and was happy to see that, in the footage that rolled as we spoke, the highway marker for the Garrett site made an appearance. Kate and I wrote the text for that marker and it was on the day that we unveiled it that I made my first live television appearance. I always have fun sharing my interest in the Lincoln assassination story with others, even if it is for a brief time during a busy news show.

Categories: News | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

John Wilkes Booth’s Richard III

NOTE: The live event has already occurred but you can still watch a video of the production embedded below.

Tonight (2/2/2016) at 7:00 pm CST (8:00 pm EST) a very special staged reading of Shakespeare’s Richard III will be enacted by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Hidden Room Theatre troupe will be recreating the production as it appeared using a promptbook which belonged to, and was annotated by, John Wilkes Booth.

John Wilkes Booth's Richard III promptbook

John Wilkes Booth was famous for his portrayal of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and he regularly opened his engagements in different cities with Richard III. Booth’s first full appearance as Richard occurred on October 5, 1860 and his last was on May 12, 1864. Between those two dates he performed the lead role a total of 115 times. Richard was truly Booth’s title character and the one he was most known for. The adaptation of Richard III that Booth used for the role was one that was filled with sword fighting and intensity that suited the younger Booth well. Just as Edwin Booth is known today as being the world’s greatest Hamlet, John Wilkes Booth could have been remembered as the world’s greatest Richard, had he not chosen a different path.

The Harry Ransom Center has in its collection one of only two known promptbooks belonging to John Wilkes Booth. The complete book has been scanned and is available digitally HERE. The book is filled with John Wilkes Booth’s handwritten instructions and cues regarding how his version of Richard III should be staged and enacted. It makes alterations to the printed script’s directions and adds supplemental material on how he wanted scenes to go. Promptbooks were common for stars to send out to different theaters ahead of their engagements. The stock actors in the theater’s company would then read the book in order to know how a particular star wanted “their” version of the play to go.

Usually, other than traveling back in time ourselves, reading through John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook would be the best way to get an idea of what Booth’s acting looked like. However, tonight, John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook will be used as the source material for a production of Richard III. The event will be streamed live over the internet on the Harry Ranscom Center website. The live stream is scheduled to start at 7:00 pm CST and can be accessed by clicking this link: http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/multimedia/webcast/

During the event, Harry Ransom curator Eric Colleary will be live tweeting the event and answering your questions about the production and source material. You can follow along with the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #BoothR3.

I hope you are able to watch this unique production tonight. It is the closest we are able to get to actually watching John Wilkes Booth himself on the stage. For more information, please check out this program from the Harry Ransom Center.

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

Picture This: A New Image of Michael O’Laughlen

At around 9:00 p.m. on April 17, 1865, a young, mustachioed man in handcuffs was brought to Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard and placed aboard a ship named the U.S.S. Saugus. The Saugus was lying at anchor in the middle of the water in preparation for its role of becoming an island fortress to hold those arrested as conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination. This 24 year old man, whose presence on board christened the Saugus as a prison ship, was named Michael O’Laughlen.

O'Laughlen from Harper's Weekly

O’Laughlen was a long time friend of John Wilkes Booth. The two grew up as boys together on Exeter St. in Baltimore, where the Booth’s lived across the street from the O’Laughlen family. Though Booth had a more personal relationship with Samuel Williams O’Laughlen, Michael’s older brother, Booth still had fond memories of Michael. As both Booth and O’Laughlen grew up, their lives went in different directions. Booth became a noted Shakespearean star, following in the footsteps of his father and brothers, while O’Laughlen ended up joining a Maryland regiment which fought on the side of the Confederacy. Much of O’Laughlen’s time in the Confederacy was plagued with illness and by 1862 he was back home in Maryland assisting his brother in the hay and feed business.

In the fall of 1864, Booth reconnected with his old friend and the charismatic actor easily convinced O’Laughlen to join his plot to abduct President Lincoln for the benefit of the Confederacy. Delays and inaction continued for several months and O’Laughlen eventually lost interest in the plot and returned to work with his brother. On April 13, 1865, O’Laughlen traveled from Baltimore down to D.C. in order to take in the Grand Illumination celebration with friends. He allegedly made a couple of attempts to meet with Booth on this date, but failed to connect with the actor. When the assassination occurred on April 14th, O’Laughlen was terrified due to his intimate connection with the assassin. O’Laughlen returned to Baltimore but, after a few days, realized that his arrest would be unavoidable and imminent. O’Laughlen was the only conspirator to have turned himself in, arranging his surrender at the home of his sister.

And so it was that Michael O’Laughlen was the first of John Wilkes Booth’s conspirators to be placed aboard the Saugus, confined for his own protection away from mob violence that might do him harm but also in a condition that would prevent him from communicating with anyone. As other conspirators were arrested, they would be place aboard the Saugus as well, until the ship no longer had enough space to adequately isolate them all and the U.S.S. Montauk was brought alongside for additional space. O’Laughlen was kept aboard the Saugus during this time, confined to the ship’s head.

O’Laughlen was on the Saugus from April 17th until April 29th when all the accused aboard the ironclads were transferred to the Arsenal Penitentiary. The research of authors Barry Cauchon and John Elliott has shown pretty conclusively that during this period of confinement, photographer Alexander Gardner made four visits to the ships to photograph the conspirators. O’Laughlen’s mugshots were taken with the bulk of the other conspirators’ images on April 25th. The following are the two images previously known of Michael O’Laughlen:

Michael O'Laughlen Mug Shot Front

Michael O'Laughlen Mug Shot Profile

Until now, these two images were the only images we have ever found of Michael O’Laughlen. Mugshots such as these were used by artists to create engravings for the illustrated newspapers of the day. However as a low interest conspirator and one who was not involved in the actual assassination plot, few took the time to make an engraving of the mild mannered O’Laughlen. The public was far more interested in getting a look at Lewis Powell, the scoundrel who viciously attacked the Secretary of State, so far more impressive engravings were made of him.  One of the lesser known illustrated newspapers, the Washington Weekly Chronicle, contained engravings of most of the conspirators when they published their July 15, 1865 issue:

Washington Weekly Chronicle 7-15-1865

Though Lewis Powell took center stage, the Chronicle also provided this engraving of Michael O’Laughlen:

O'Laughlen Washington Weekly Chronicle

A detailed look will demonstrate that this particular engraving does not actually match either one of the two known mugshot photos of Michael O’Laughlen. It is somewhat similar to the hat-less photo of O’Laughlen, but this engraving shows more of his face than the original source image.

The easiest conclusion to draw is that the engraver added a little bit of their own artistic license when creating the drawing of Michael O’Laughlen. This is not unheard of. As a matter of fact, the large image of Lewis Powell in this edition does not match a known image of Lewis Powell. Despite the tagline that this engraving was based on a photograph taken especially for the Washington Weekly Chronicle, according to author Betty Ownsbey, this engraving of Lewis Powell appears to be a sort of composite between two images of Powell, instead.

Composite Powell Engraving Washington Weekly Chronicle

So it seemed reasonable that the engraving of Michael O’Laughlen in this issue was also not based on an actual photograph, but instead on an artist’s extrapolation of O’Laughlen’s mugshot photographs.

It turns out, however, that this engraving actually isn’t an extrapolation or artistic license. Today, while searching through the online digital collections of the Huntington Library in California, I decided to click on a thumbnail that I assumed was one of the two common mugshot photographs of Michael O’Laughlen.

O'Laughlen Thumbnail Huntington

Immediately I was struck with the suspicion that something was wrong. It was a strange feeling to have. Before me was obviously the hat-less mugshot photo of Michael O’Laughlen, and yet, at the same time, it wasn’t right. As a longtime researcher and reader on the Lincoln assassination I have become so accustomed to seeing the same images over and over again. My accustomed brain was saying, “Yep, this is the same picture of O’Laughlen you always see,” but, at the same time, I couldn’t shake the idea that something was different. Suddenly, I had to see Michael O’Laughlen’s mugshot photographs, I needed to silence the voice saying something was wrong. I opened up my O’Laughlen Picture Gallery and stared at the mugshots. Then it hit me, this image was not the same as the traditional hat-less mugshot. I was surprised and ecstatic to see that this was the photograph that the Washington Weekly Chronicle engraving was based on. Here, at long last, was O’Laughlen’s missing mugshot photograph:

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot Huntington Library

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot 2 Huntington Library

Unlike the original hat-less photo, O’Laughlen’s face is angled more towards the viewer in this image. The fact that O’Laughlen’s chin is slightly blurry here also hints that he was moving, possibly turning, when the photo was taken.

While Michael O’Laughlen escaped formal execution at the conclusion the trial of the conspirators, his ultimate fate would be equal to it. While serving his life sentence at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, O’Laughlen was one of the many souls who contracted Yellow Fever in the fall of 1867. Despite the attentive care provided to him by his fellow prisoners, Dr. Mudd, Edman Spangler, and Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen perished from Yellow Fever on September 23, 1867. Dr. Mudd lamented that O’Laughlen had become a dear friend to him and that he would miss his, “warm friendly disposition” and, “fine comprehensive intellect.”

This newly discovered mugshot of conspirator Michael O’Laughlen gives us another, much needed angle on a man whose life was tragically cut short due to his involvement in John Wilkes Booth’s plot against Lincoln. It gives us an additional chance to look into the eyes of a young man who has realized that he allowed a charismatic friend to lead him down the path of his own destruction.

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot 3 Huntington Library

This image should also remind us that there are still new discoveries to be made. The book of the Lincoln assassination will never be completely written, and, as demonstrated here, it will never be completely illustrated either.

References:
The Huntington Library Digital Collections
A Peek Inside the Walls: 13 Days Aboard the Monitors by John Elliott and Barry Cauchon
Betty Ownsbey
The Assassin’s Doctor by Robert K. Summers
LOC

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , | 28 Comments

A History of Rich Hill

A few days ago, a wonderful piece was published in the Southern Maryland newspapers about the renovations going on at Rich Hill, the former home of Samuel Cox and a stop on John Wilkes Booth’s escape. Up until last year, Rich Hill was a private and neglected residence which was at great risk of falling down. To illustrate this point, here are a couple pictures and a video I shot in of the interior of Rich Hill back in June of 2013:

Rich Hill June 2013 1

Rich Hill June 2013 2

This important piece of history was on the verge of being lost. However, in October of 2013, the Historical Society of Charles County entered into talks with the owner of Rich Hill hoping to gain custodianship over the building in the hopes of preserving it. This was good news to all those interested in the home’s history.  Despite the best of efforts, however, the talks involving the manner in which the home would be donated to the Historical Society of Charles County broke down. By Christmas of 2013, the outlook for Rich Hill looked dismal once more.

To help raise awareness of the tragic condition of this historic home I wrote the article below.  It was published in the January 2014 edition of the Surratt Courier. Soon thereafter (though likely not connected to my article), a deal was struck between the owner of Rich Hill and the Charles County Government. Rich Hill was donated to Charles County, and since then the county has been doing a wonderful job of working to restore the home and make it accessible to the public.  In April of this year, I spent two days as part of Charles County’s Lincoln 150 event standing on the porch of Rich Hill telling visitors the history of the home.  It was a wonderful two day event that attracted a large audience.

The article published this week in the newspapers highlights the work that has been done of late, including the recent removal of the 1970’s drywall to expose the period “guts” of the house.

Interior of Rich Hill Aug 2015

Work is continuing, funded in part by a $750,000 state bond.  Given the state of the house, however, it is known that additional funds will need to be secured to help renovate Rich Hill completely.

While Rich Hill is most associated with the escape of John Wilkes Booth, the property and house touts a far older and far reaching history than that. Here is my article that was published in January 2014 that gives a looked into this historic home. I have edited it down a bit as my original article described the collapse of talks between the Historical Society of Charles County and the previous owner and ended with a call for action.


A History of Rich Hill

by Dave Taylor

During the wee morning hours of April 16th, 1865, two men and their guide approached the door of a darkened, Charles County, Maryland home named Rich Hill.  “Not having a bell,” one of its sleeping occupants later recalled, the door was, “surmounted with a brass ‘knocker’.”  One of the three horseback men, under the cover of darkness, reached out a hand and grasped the brass tool.  He raised it upwards and, as the hinge reached the apex of its journey, the knocker was silently suspended for the briefest moment in time.  In a fraction of a second, the handle would fall, striking the metal plate beneath it and “in the stillness of night the sound from this” would resound, “with great distinctiveness”[1].  The silence of the night would be shattered and the lives of the family sleeping within the house’s walls would be changed forever.  History was knocking at the door of Rich Hill and its harbingers were John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln, and David Herold, his accomplice.

While Rich Hill would become known in American History due to the visitors that April night, the house and property had a notable history starting about 200 years before.  In April of 1666, a recent immigrant from Wales named Hugh Thomas was assigned and patented “600 acres of land, called Rich Hills, on the west side of the Wicomico river, in Charles county, Md.”[2]  Two years later, Hugh Thomas would sell half of his acreage at “Rich Hills” to an English immigrant turned St. Mary’s County merchant named Thomas Lomax.  Lomax paid Thomas using the standard currency of the day: tobacco.  For 3,500 lbs. of tobacco, Lomax acquired the northernmost 300 acres of the Rich Hill parcel, upon which the notable house would later be built.[3]   In 1676, Thomas Lomax gave his brother Cleborne (also spelled Claiborne/Cleiborne) Lomax 100 acres of the Rich Hill property.  When Thomas died in the early 1680’s, he was apparently unmarried and without any heirs and so the remainder of his Rich Hill property went to his brother as well.  In 1710, the Rich Hill land was sold out of the Lomax family to an intriguing widow by the name of Mary Contee.[4]

A trifecta of circumstances had made Mary Contee nee Townley a very wealthy woman:

  1. Mary Contee’s late husband, John Contee, had previously married a wealthy widow by the name of Charity Courts in 1703. When Charity died the same year of their marriage, John Contee inherited her sizable estate.  He and Mary were then married by June of 1704.
  2. In the same year of her marriage, Mary Contee’s cousin, Col. John Seymour was appointed the 10th Royal Governor of Maryland. Mary is recounted as a “favored cousin” of the Governor and due to this her husband John was appointed to several lucrative governmental positions becoming a representative of Charles County in Maryland’s Lower House and a justice in Charles County to name a couple.[5]
  3. Thus far, it has only been shown that John Contee had become a wealthy man. While Mary assumedly enjoyed the fruit of his abovementioned “labors”, how did she herself become wealthy?  That is where the real drama comes in.  John Contee died on August 3rd, 1708.  At the time of his death he possessed 3,697 acres of land and his personal property was assessed at 2,252 pounds sterling and 13 slaves.  According to his will which was passed by an Act of Assembly in 1708, Mary became the sole executrix of her husband’s vast estate.  However, it was later discovered that this will was not as it seemed.  In 1725, seventeen years after Mary Contee had inherited her husband’s holdings, John Contee’s blood nephew, a man by the name of Alexander Contee, had depositions taken with regards to the will that had made Mary such a wealthy woman.  Through these depositions Alexander Contee learned that John Contee’s will was a perjured fraud that was never agreed to by the deceased.  Alexander discovered that his uncle’s supposed will had actually been written by a man named Philip Lynes.  According the Alexander, Mr. Lynes was a man “very officious to oblige the said Mary” while John Contee was dying in the next room.  Philip Lynes was married to Anne Seymour, the Governor’s sister and therefore was also a cousin to Mary Contee.  The will was apparently brought before John Contee who was still of sound mind, and he refused to sign it as it was written.  Though Contee lived for about a week more, the will was never rewritten in terms he agreed to.  Due to these depositions, the Maryland Assembly passed another act in 1725 repealing the 1708 act that had granted Mary Contee as sole executrix.  The new act mentioned not only the maleficence of those who gained by this false will, but also the fraudulent way a knowingly unsigned will passed the Houses in the first place.  According to the new act, the fake will passed due to, “particular persons in power by whose Interest and Influence the said Act past both Houses of Assembly… contrary to the Standing rules of The Lower House.”  Perhaps Gov. Seymour, who was still in office in 1708, used his influence, once again, to intervene on behalf of his “favored cousin”.[6]

Therefore, it appears that Mary Contee purchased the Rich Hill property with fraudulently acquired capital.  She did not own it for very long, however.  By 1714, she had remarried a man by the name of Philemon Hemsley who facilitated the selling of the Rich Hill land for 21,000 lbs. of tobacco.  The new buyer was Gustavus Brown.[7]  Brown was a native of Dalkeith, Scotland and a surgeon by profession.  His immigration to Maryland was an accidental one:

“When a youth of 19 he became a Surgeon’s mate, or Surgeon, on one of the royal or King’s ships that came to the Colony in the Chesapeake Bay, 1708.  While his ship lay at anchor he went on shore, but before he could return a severe storm arose, which made it necessary for the ship to weigh anchor and put out to sea.  The young man was left with nothing but the clothes on his back.  He quickly made himself known, and informed the planters of his willingness to serve them if he could be provided with instruments and medicines, leaving them to judge if he was worthy of their confidence.”[8]

Brown started his medical practice in the Nanjemoy area of Charles County and quickly made a favorable reputation for himself.  In 1710, he married a woman by the name of Francis Fowke and the newlyweds lived temporarily with her father in Nanjemoy.

Dr. Gustauvs Brown Sr.

Dr. Gustavus Brown, Sr. Source: Smithsonian Institutions

Dr. and Mrs. Brown’s 1714 purchase of the Rich Hill property ushered in a new age for the estate.   Instead of solely using the land for the planting and harvesting of tobacco, Dr. Brown sought to create a home on the land.  It is this home that we see today and know as Rich Hill.

The exact date of construction on Rich Hill has not been determined.  According to its listing in the National Register of Historic Places, the house was “built probably in the in the early to mid 18th century”[9].  Looking at the genealogical records for Dr. Brown’s children, this author has determined that the house was built by 1720, as his daughter born that year was cited to have been born at “Rich Hills”.[10]

As it is today, Rich Hill was built as a 1 ½ story structure that appears as a full 2 story building from the exterior.  The original house had a hip roof and was built on top of cut stone piers.  While the front door was on the southwest side of the house as it is now, it was formerly on the center of this wall.  As you walked into Dr. Brown’s Rich Hill, the first floor consisted of four similarly sized rooms with a small stair hall in back flanked by a rear door.   The original building had two exterior chimneys which stood on the southeast and northwest sides of the house.[11]

The majority, if not all, of the Brown children were born at Rich Hill.  Dr. Brown and Frances had a total of twelve children as his practice prospered.  He had made a name for himself on both sides of the Potomac, treating residents of Maryland and Virginia.  One humorous story regarding Dr. Brown’s experiences as a physician is recounted below:

“On one occasion Dr. Brown was sent for in haste to pay a professional visit in the family of a Mr. H., a wealthy citizen of King George Co., Va., who was usually very slow in paying his physician for his valuable services, and who was also very ostentatious in displaying his wealth.  In leaving the chamber of his patient it was necessary for Dr. B. to pass through the dining room, where Mr. H. was entertaining some guests at dinner.  As Dr. B. entered the room a servant bearing a silver salver, on which stood two silver goblets filled with gold pieces, stepped up to him and said, ‘Dr. B., master wishes you to take out your fee.’ It was winter, and Dr. B. wore his overcoat.  Taking one of the goblets he quietly emptied it into one pocket, and the second goblet into another, and saying to the servant, ‘Tell your master I highly appreciate his liberality,’ he mounted his horse and returned home.”[12]

While his business grew, Gustavus Brown did suffer some of his own tragedies at home.  Out of his twelve children with Frances, three died in infancy.  In an odd twist, all of the children who died were boys who were named after their father.  Dr. Brown himself was actually the second Gustavus Brown as his father in Scotland bore the same name.  Dr. Brown named his first two boys, “Gustavus”, only to watch them both die before they were a year old.  When his third son was born, Dr. Brown gave him the name Richard, and this son would survive.  Perhaps thinking their curse of losing their male children was at an end, the couple named their fourth son “Gustavus Richard Brown” only to witness him perish 10 days after his birth.   While not documented, it is extremely likely that the three infant Gustavus Browns were buried somewhere on the Rich Hill property.

Frances Fowke Brown

Frances Fowke Brown Source: Smithsonian Institutions

Frances Fowke Brown died 1744 and was buried at the estate of her daughter and son-in-law in Stafford County, VA.  Dr. Brown remarried a widow named Margaret Boyd in 1746.  With Margaret, Dr. Brown had two more children at Rich Hill, a boy and a girl.  Though tempting fate, Dr. Brown named his youngest son after himself.  This “Gustavus Richard Brown” born on October 17th, 1747, would survive infancy, follow in his father’s footsteps into the medical profession, and enter the history books as one of George Washington’s friends and caregiver at the Father of Our Country’s final hour.  Dr. Brown’s other child with Margaret was named after her mother and would later marry Thomas Stone, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Maryland.  Their shared home, Habre de Venture, in Port Tobacco, MD is a National Historic Site run by the National Park Service.[13]

In April of 1762, the senior Dr. Brown died at Rich Hill.  His death was from “apoplexy” which was a general term that meant death happened suddenly after a loss of consciousness (i.e. severe heart attack or stroke).[14]  Dr. Brown was buried at Rich Hill, though the exact spot of his grave is lost today.[15]  Rich Hill and its 300 acres passed to his wife Margaret and then to his eldest son Rev. Richard Brown (who was also a medical doctor) and his wife Helen.

Rev. Richard Brown Source: Smithsonian Institutions

Rev. Richard Brown Source: Smithsonian Institutions

During his tenure in the house, Rev. Brown, through marriage and purchase, managed to acquire a large portion of the 600 acre Rich Hill parcel that was split back in 1668.  A tax assessment for Rich Hill in 1783 shows Rev. Richard Brown owning 566 acres of Rich Hill.  He also made some unknown “improvements” to the property, which probably entailed some work on the house.[16]  When Rev. Brown died in 1789, Rich Hill and its acreage swapped hands a few times between his descendants, with a loss of some of the land the Reverend had managed regain.

The Brown family owned Rich Hill continually for 93 years.  At least four generations of Browns had made that house their home.  It raised the men and women who befriended and married America’s founding fathers.  When it was sold out of Brown family in 1807 to a man named Samuel Cox, a new chapter for Rich Hill began.  The new owner and his descendants would own Rich Hill for the next 164 years and would witness the night history came knocking on their door.

Samuel Cox, the new owner of Rich Hill, is not the same man to whom John Wilkes Booth appeared to in 1865.  Rather, this Samuel Cox was the latter’s maternal grandfather.  From Samuel Cox, Rich Hill descended to his daughter Margaret who had married a man by the name of Hugh Cox.  What relation, if any, existed between Margaret Cox and Hugh Cox has yet to be determined.  Hugh and Margaret had five children born at Rich Hill, including their son Samuel, named for his grandfather.  Samuel Cox was born on November 22, 1819.  When Samuel’s mother, Margaret, died, his father Hugh found himself a new wife, Mary Ann T. T. Cox.  Hugh had three more children by Mary Ann.[17]

When Samuel Cox was 15 years of age, he was sent to the Charlotte Hall Military Academy.  He returned home three years later and followed in his father’s footsteps as a member of the wealthy planter class.  On December 6th, 1842, Samuel Cox married his Washington, D.C. cousin, Walter Ann Cox.  Walter Ann was named for her father who died a couple months before she was born.  By the late 1840’s Hugh Cox and his wife Mary Ann, were residing away from Rich Hill on another property they owned near La Plata called “Salem”[18].  In 1849, Hugh and Mary Ann officially gave Rich Hill to Samuel Cox as a gift.  Hugh Cox would die in December of that same year at the age of 70.[19]  Rich Hill was now in the hands of the man who would give aid to the assassin of the President.

Samuel Cox, Sr.

Samuel Cox, Sr.

Sometime in the first half of the 1800’s a significant amount of remodeling was done to Rich Hill.  Whether the work was commissioned by Hugh or Samuel Cox is unknown.  Regardless, both the exterior and interior of the house were drastically changed from Dr. Brown’s initial layout.   The hip roof was replaced with a gable roof.  The two chimneys on either end of the house were replaced with a large, double chimney on the northwest side of the house.  On the southeast side, where one of the chimneys had been, the Coxes built a one story frame addition.  This new addition contained a dining room and a bedroom in which Samuel Cox and his wife slept.  The front door was moved from the center of the southwest wall to its current location right near the intersection between the southwest and southeast walls.  The interior layout of the house was changed, too.  Originally containing four similarly sized rooms with a rear stair hall, the layout was an end hall plan with a large front room and two small rooms to the rear.  Much of the layout of Rich Hill today still follows the renovations done by the Cox family in the early 1800’s.[20]

Rich Hill Floorplan 2013

Samuel Cox was a successful farmer and participated in many political and social groups in the county.  Through the exertions of Samuel and his father before him, the Rich Hill farm prospered to 845 acres, even larger than its initial 600 acres in 1666.[21]  Despite his success in farming, Samuel Cox, like another previously discussed owner of Rich Hill, had difficulty producing a namesake.  None of his children with Walter Ann survived infancy.  Instead, Samuel Cox ended up adopting his late sister’s son, Samuel Robertson.  Though this younger Samuel had spent much of his life on his uncle’s farm and property, he was officially adopted and had his named changed to Samuel Cox, Jr. three days after his 17th birthday in 1864.[22]

Samuel Cox, Jr. was present at Rich Hill when John Wilkes Booth and David E. Herold arrived in the morning hours of April 16th.  Years later, he would write about the night he was awakened so early by the sound of that brass knocker on the door:

“There was at the time in the house, Col Saml Cox, his wife, his wife’s mother Mrs Lucy B. Walker, Ella M. Magruder, now my wife, two servant girls, Mary and Martha and myself.  Pa’s bedroom was on the first floor – and to the extreme eastern end of the house, and to approach the front door, which opens into the hall, Pa had to pass through the dining-room, where Mary and Martha slept.  The stairway to the 2nd floor is approached through a door midway the hall and at the head of this stairway Mrs. Walker slept.  My room is on the second floor and directly over the hall and two windows in this room are immediately over the front door looking out upon the yard and lawn in full view of the road which approached the house.  When I was aroused by the knock I jumped out of bed and went down in the hall and as I approached the front door where I found Pa standing with the door partially open with Mary standing just behind him in the doorway of the dining room only some six feet away…”[23]

Samuel Cox, his adopted son, and their servant Mary Swann would claim to investigators that Booth and Herold were never allowed entry into the house and were, instead turned away almost immediately.  Cox, Jr. would hold onto this story to his dying day, telling assassination author Osborne Oldroyd in 1901 that his father found the fugitives attempting to sleep in a gully close to the house the next morning.  It was only then, according to Cox, Jr., that his father instructed his farm overseer, Franklin Robey, to guide them into a nearby pine thicket while he sent Cox, Jr. to retrieve Thomas Jones, who would care for the men during their stay in the pine thicket.[24]  Other sources, however, including Oswell Swann, the ignorant guide of the assassin and his accomplice, would state that Booth and Herold spent a few hours inside of Rich Hill before they departed.  Some later second hand accounts also speak of Booth and Herold entering Rich Hill during that early morning for food and drink.  Regardless of whether or not the men entered the house, the knocking on the door of Rich Hill by David Herold secured the home’s role in the history of the 12 day escape of the assassin of President Lincoln.

Samuel Cox, Mary Swann, and Samuel Cox, Jr. were all arrested in the aftermath of Booth’s visit to their house.  They were informed on by Oswell Swann, who brought the troops to Rich Hill at about midnight on April 23rd.  The three residents were transported at first to nearby Bryantown.  After getting Mary Swann’s statement of events, Samuel Cox, Jr. and Mary were released, only to be rearrested a couple of days later.[25]  Samuel Cox, the elder, was transported up to Washington and was imprisoned at the Old Capitol Prison.  Though the authorities strongly suspected that Cox had aided the fugitives, with Mary Swann contradicting the account of Oswell Swann, there was nothing to prove their beliefs.  While imprisoned at the Old Capitol Prison, Samuel Cox wrote a letter to his wife on May 21st.  Addressed to “Mrs. W. A. Cox, Port Tobacco, MD”, Cox recounts, in part, the degree of his imprisonment, “…I know my dear wife it will give you as much pleasure to inform you as it was for me to receive, permission just as your letter was received, to walk in the yard for exercise, which I have been deprived of until to day, having been confined to my room now for nearly four weeks.”[26]  Cox was eventually released from the Old Capitol Prison on June 3rd, and returned home to Rich Hill to his waiting family.

Samuel Cox, Jr.

Samuel Cox, Jr.

The extent of Booth’s visit to Rich Hill remained quiet for a number of years.  During the interim, Samuel Cox died on January 7th, 1880.  In his will he left Rich Hill to his wife until her passing, after which the home and property would go to his only heir, Samuel Cox, Jr.  In 1884, newspaper correspondent George Alfred Townsend (GATH) met with Thomas Jones.  After years of silence, Jones shared with GATH his involvement in helping Booth and Herold during their “missing days” of the escape.  Jones did nothing to shield the Coxes from their involvement, divulging how he was brought to Rich Hill by Cox, Jr. and how his father insisted Jones help get the men across the river when the time was right.  In his article, entitled, How Wilkes Booth Crossed the Potomac, GATH describes Rich Hill:

“The prosperous foster brother [Cox] lived in a large two-story house, with handsome piazzas front and rear, and a tall, windowless roof with double chimneys at both ends; and to the right of the house, which faced west , was a long one story extension, used by Cox for his bedroom.  The house is on a slight elevation, and has both an outer and inner yard, to both of which are gates.  With its trellis-work and vines, fruit and shade trees, green shutters and dark red roofs, Cox’s property, called Rich Hill, made an agreeable contrast to the somber short pines which, at no great distance, seemed to cover the plain almost as thickly as wheat straws in the grain field.”[27]

Though Samuel Cox, Jr. was the man of the house, he officially became the sole owner of Rich Hill upon the death of his adoptive mother in 1894.  By that time, Cox, Jr. had already married and had 3 children by his wife, Ella Magruder.  These young Cox children, Lucy, Edith and Walter, grew up and were raised at Rich Hill.  Ella died in 1890 and Cox subsequently remarried a cousin of his named Ann Robertson.

Like his father before him, Cox, Jr. became a prominent member of Charles County society.  He had a sizable plantation with Rich Hill and he also owned Cox’s Station, a stop of the Baltimore and Philadelphia Railroad line that ran from Pope’s Creek on the Potomac up to Bowie in Prince George’s County where it connected to other lines.  The modern town of Bel Alton (where Rich Hill is located) bore the name Cox’s Station up until Cox sold a sizable parcel of land to the Southern Maryland Development Company in 1891 and they renamed the area to its modern name.  Cox, Jr. was also involved in local politics, running for and winning a seat in the Maryland general assembly in 1877.  Dr. Mudd, another familiar name in the Lincoln assassination story, ran alongside Cox, but was not elected.[28]

Cox and Mudd for Delegates

Samuel Cox, Jr. died on May 5, 1906 at the age of 59.  The ownership of the property passed to Cox’s son, Walter, who sold his share of it to his married sister, Lucy B. Neale.  Lucy and her family did not live at Rich Hill.  The last member of the Cox family to reside at Rich Hill was Samuel Cox, Jr.’s second wife, Ann Robertson Cox.  Her death on March 4th, 1930, marked the end of the Cox family’s habitation of Rich Hill.

Between the years of 1930 and 1969, Samuel Cox, Jr.’s grandchildren operated Rich Hill’s property as a tobacco farm for sharecroppers.  The land shrunk back down to 320 acres by 1971.  That year, Rich Hill and its 320 acres were sold to its current owner, Joseph Vallario, a senior member of the Maryland House of Delegates.[29]  In celebration for the bicentennial of the United States in 1976, Delegate Vallario restored Rich Hill to its appearance during Dr. Brown’s day.  This involved removing the front and back piazzas along with the one story addition that had been added by the Cox family in the 19th century.[30]  Though this did make Rich Hill look less like the house that Booth and Herold saw on April 16th, 1865, the restoration worked to preserve Rich Hill and keep it from falling down.  Rich Hill served as a beautiful rental property for many years after.

Today, however, Rich Hill is suffering heavily from neglect.  There are large, gaping holes in the exterior walls that expose the structure to the elements.  The once beautiful rooms that housed generations of Browns and Coxes, are crumbling and filled with trash.  To be frank, Rich Hill needs help and action if it is going to be saved.

While Rich Hill’s involvement in the story of Lincoln’s assassination is the house’s most discussed historical aspect, it is far more than the “stop on the trail of John Wilkes Booth” sign that stands some distance from it.  As has been shown through this article, Rich Hill has had a notable and lengthy lifespan.  It not only holds an important place in the history of Charles County, but it also affected the history of the nation due to the men and women who were raised under its roof.  If Rich Hill is left in its current neglected state, it will crumble and collapse.  If this happens, future generations will be the victims.  As a restored museum run by Charles County in conjunction with the Historical Society of Charles County, Rich Hill would continue to influence and affect the history of our nation.

[1] Samuel Cox, Jr., Letter to Mrs. B. T. Johnson, July 20, 1891, James O. Hall Research Center.

[2] William F. Boogher, Gleanings of Virginia History: An Historical and Genealogical Collection (Washington, D.C.: W.. F. Boogher, 1903), 283.

[3] 26 Apr. 1668. Charles County Circuit Court Liber D, Page 14.

[4] 3 Mar. 1710. Charles County Land Records, Liber C#2, Page 245.

[5] Edward C. Papenfuse, A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature 1635-1789 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), 230.

[6] Acts of the General Assembly hitherto unpublished 1694-1698, 1711-1729, Volume 38, ed. Bernard Steiner (Baltimore, MD: Lord Baltimore Press, 1918), 384-386.

[7] 12 Jan 1714. Charles Co. Land Records, Liber F#2, page 51

[8] Horace Edwin Hayden, Virginia Genealogies: A Genealogy of the Glassell Family of Scotland and Virginia : Also of the Families of Ball, Brown, Bryan, Conway, Daniel, Ewell, Holladay, Lewis, Littlepage, Moncure, Peyton, Robinson, Scott, Taylor, Wallace, and Others, of Virginia and Maryland (Wilkes-Barre, PA: E. B. Yorby, 1891), 152.

[9] National Registry of Historic Places Nomination Form, Rich Hill Farms (1976).

[10] Hayden, Virginia Genealogies, 162.

[11] Registry, Rich Hill Farms.

[12] Hayden, Virginia Genealogies, 153.

[13] Ibid, 147.

[14] Ibid, 151.

[15] Norma L. Hurley, “Samuel Cox of Charles County,” The Record – Publication of the Historical Society of Charles County, Inc., October 1991, 1-5.

[16] J. Richard Rivoire, Rich Hill Tract History (Charles County Historical Society).

[17] Hurley, “Samuel Cox”.

[18] “Mary Ann Cox Obituary,” Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, VA), February 9, 1856.

[19] Hurley, “Samuel Cox”.

[20] Registry, Rich Hill Farms.

[21] Michael W. Kauffman, American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (New York: Random House, 2004), 250.

[22] David Taylor, “The Name Game,” BoothieBarn.com. August 24, 2013. https://boothiebarn.com/2013/08/24/the-name-game/

[23] Cox, Letter to Mrs. B. T. Johnson.

[24] Osborn H. Oldroyd, The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (Washington, D.C.: O. H. Oldroyd, 1901), 267.

[25] Cox, Letter to Mrs. B. T. Johnson.

[26] Samuel Cox, Letter to Mrs. W. A. Cox, May 21, 1865, James O. Hall Research Center.

[27] George Alfred Townsend, “How Wilkes Booth Crossed the Potomac,” Century Magazine, April 1884, 827.

[28] Report of the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the Maryland State Bar Association held at Ocean City, Maryland July 3rd – 5th, 1907 (Baltimore, MD: Maryland State Bar Association, 1907), 75.

[29] Rivoire, Tract History.

[30] Registry, Rich Hill Farms


A group called “Friends of Rich Hill” was formed by the Historical Society of Charles County to raise donations for the renovation of Rich Hill. If you are interested, please send your donations to Friends of Rich Hill, P.O. Box 2806, La Plata, MD 20646

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The 4th of July at Port Royal

Port Royal Event 7-4-2015

Every year for the past 16 years, Port Royal, Virginia has put on a celebratory Independence Day event.  The day is filled with musicians, Revolutionary and Civil War reenactors, speakers, 18th century dancers, bagpipers, and a formal reading of the Declaration of Independence. It is a wonder annual program and a great way to spend part of the 4th.  Here are a few pictures that I managed to take of the event:

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This year, I had the honor of being asked to give a short speech.  Knowing my interest in the Lincoln assassination story, my fellow board members of Historic Port Royal asked me to speak on the topic of John Wilkes Booth.  I heartily agreed.  Later on though, as I was trying to prepare for my speech, I had a hard time reconciling the discussion of a Presidential assassin on the day of our country’s birth.  So, rather than discussing John Wilkes Booth, I decided to present a more Revolutionary tale.  Below is a video of the speech I presented.

I wish you all a very happy Independence Day.

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Take an Assassination Vacation!

With summer in full swing, now is the time to get out there and take a vacation. Whether it be a lengthy week long trip to a city or shore far distant, or a day’s drive to a “not so nearby” locale, there’s nothing like the thrill of going somewhere new. For the historically minded, vacations often involve adventures such as visiting a museum, rediscovering a National Park, or just taking a selfie with a historical marker off the highway. No matter what form they may take, vacations allow us to make our own marks and memories in places outside our everyday lives.

I’ve long said that the story of Lincoln’s assassination is told all over this nation. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of nowhere when suddenly I find a reference to the assassination staring me right in the face. The impact of Lincoln’s death and the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth reached around the globe. Over the last week, I have been working diligently to update the Maps section of this website in order to demonstrate how far reaching it truly is. The result has been the creation of five new maps, four which cover the entirety of the United States and a fifth map representing the rest of the world. All of these maps provide the locations, a brief description and the exact GPS coordinates of different sites related in some way to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

Lincoln Assassination Maps

The maps are still in the beginning stages. The 225 locations currently marked are little more than a drop in the bucket of the potential sites worldwide. Everyday, however, new sites pop into my head and I diligently research to determine their exact GPS coordinates. I’ve analyzed Civil War era maps to determine their modern counterparts, struggled with foreign languages in order to find international sites, and I have even spent hours staring at aerial pictures of cemeteries trying to determine the exact locations of specific graves. It is very slow work, but by pinpointing these sites with GPS coordinates, we can ensure that they will never be lost. The buildings and terrain around them may change but, with GPS, where they once stood can always be found.

With this in mind, I encourage you all to check out the newly updated Maps section of BoothieBarn. See if there’s something “not so nearby” that you might want to drive and see. Better yet, if you are already planning a trip somewhere, take a look and see if you’ll be passing by something assassination related. I mean what kid wouldn’t love to make a detour on their way to Disney World in order to visit a cemetery in Geneva, Florida? “Forget Cinderella’s Castle, Mommy. What I really want to see is the grave of Lewis Powell’s skull!”

So check out the Maps section here on BoothieBarn by clicking the image above. Then get out there and have yourself an assassination vacation!

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