Posts Tagged With: Port Royal

Jett, Ruggles, and Bainbridge

A few days ago, commenter Kees van den Berg posed the following question:

“I wonder, what happened with Jett, Ruggles and Bainbridge? I suppose they were arrested and confined in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. Is it true that they never were tried, but came free after a couple of weeks after taking the oath of allegiance to the US? Have you dates of confinement and release? Thank you beforehand.”

His question refers to Willie Storke Jett, Mortimer Bainbridge Ruggles, and Absalom Ruggles Bainbridge. Ruggles and Bainbridge were cousins which explains the last names as middle names coincidence.  These three men were Confederate soldiers who ran into John Wilkes Booth and David E. Herold during their escape.

About midday on April 24th, the fugitives were at Port Conway, VA on the banks of the Rappahannock River. They were waiting for the ferry to come so they could get to Port Royal on the other side. As they waited, Jett, Ruggles, and Bainbridge came riding up.  The three men were heading towards Richmond, ultimately to get their paroles. At first, Herold lied to the men and told them that he and his wounded brother were also Confederate veterans. Thinking the three soldiers were on their way south to meet up with others in order to continue the fight, Herold pulled Jett aside and asked him if they could join them. Surprised by Herold’s desperation, especially when he and his comrades had accepted the defeat of their cause, Jett asked Herold straight away who they really were. Herold replied back, “We are the assassinators of the President”.

After more conversation, Jett, Ruggles, and Bainbridge agreed to help the men. The five men and their three horses crossed the Rappahannock on the ferry guided by ferryman Jim Thornton. When they arrived at Port Royal, Jett searched out a place for Booth to stay. He came to the home of Sarah Jane Peyton, who agreed, sight unseen, to care for a wounded solider.

The home of Sarah Jane Peyton in Port Royal, VA

The home of Sarah Jane Peyton in Port Royal, VA

When Booth hobbled into her parlor, however, her hospitality changed. She no longer thought it proper for her to entertain a guest while her brother, the man of the house, was absent. She suggested to Jett that he might find better lodging for the wounded man a couple of miles down the road, at the farm of Richard Garrett. The three men rode to the Garrett place, with Booth and Herold sharing horses with Ruggles and Bainbridge, respectively. When they arrived at the Garrett farm, Bainbridge and Herold stayed by the outer gate as Jett, Booth and Ruggles approached the house. The Garretts agreed to care for Booth, whom Jett said was a wounded soldier named Boyd, until Jett’s return in a couple of days. Jett, Ruggles, Bainbridge, and Herold rode further south. They stopped at the Trappe, a house of entertainment, before separating for the evening. Jett and Ruggles went to the Star Hotel in Bowling Green. Jett was courting Izora Gouldman, the hotel-keeper’s daughter.  Bainbridge and Herold traveled to the home of Virginia Clarke. Coincidentally, both Bainbridge and Herold knew Virginia’s son James and were welcomed into her home for the night.

The next day, Bainbridge and Herold met back up with Ruggles, likely in Bowling Green. The three men rode back to the Garrett house where Booth had comfortably spent the night in an upstairs bedroom. Bainbridge and Ruggles dropped Herold off and then continued on to Port Royal. When they arrived, they found a troop of Union cavalry crossing the ferry from Port Conway to Port Royal. They turned around and put spurs to their horses. They rushed back to Booth and Herold at the Garrett farm long enough to tell them of the approaching troops, then they continued quickly south.

The rest is well-known. The Union troops learned from one of the residents of Port Conway that Willie Jett was among the men who crossed with John Wilkes Booth. What’s more, they learned of Jett’s affinity for Izora Gouldman. Unknowingly, the troops rode right past the Garret farm where Booth was hiding on their way to Bowling Green. They captured Jett at the Star Hotel and he agreed to take them to the Garrett farm. When the troops arrived, they kept Jett under guard near the gate of the farm while the rest surrounded the house and barn. Eventually Herold surrendered himself and the barn was lit on fire to smoke Booth out. Boston Corbett fired at Booth inside of the burning barn, paralyzing him. Booth was dragged from the barn, first placed under a tree and then on to the front porch of the house.  He died around dawn on April 26th.


During the lengthy crossing of the soldiers on their way back across the Rappahannock after killing Booth, Detective Luther Baker took possession of Booth’s body and the prisoner Jett. With two other soldiers, Baker departed Port Conway ahead of the rest of the troops. At some point during their travel to Belle Plain, where a steamboat would take them up to Washington, Baker let Willie Jett go. Jett had led the soldiers right to the assassin without a fight, and Baker did not believe there was any need to detain him further. When Baker got back to Washington, he was severely berated by Edwin Stanton for releasing Jett without authorization. An arrest order for Jett was quickly sent out:

An arrest order for Willie Jett dated April 28th.

An arrest order for Willie Jett dated April 28th.

Jett was re-arrested in Westmoreland County, VA on May 1st. He was transferred to Washington and imprisoned at the Old Capitol Prison with the other Lincoln assassination related suspects. On May 6th, he gave a lengthy statement to the authorities about his interaction with Booth, ending it with the assurance, “I have tried to evade nothing. From the beginning I have told everything.”  Jett was also called to testify at the trial of the conspirators, giving his testimony on May 17th.  Willie Jett was imprisoned for a month and was released on May 31st when he took an oath of allegiance at the Old Capitol Prison:

Willie Jett's Oath of Allegiance NARA

Though Jett had been a major player in the escape of John Wilkes Booth, he was not tried as a conspirator since he had never met Booth prior to April 24th and Jett had also assisted in Booth’s capture.  The government was only concerned with prosecuting those they believed had real knowledge of the conspiracy before it was carried out.  Jett did not fit this criteria.

In January of 1890, an account written by Lieutenant Ruggles was published in The Century Magazine. Not all of the details in Ruggles’ recollections almost 25 years after the fact are correct, but he does give this account of what happened to him and Bainbridge:

“Learning that Jett was a prisoner, and that we were to be arrested, tried, and hanged, as aiders and abetters, Bainbridge and myself stood not on the order of going, but went at once. Making our way into Essex County and crossing to Westmoreland, we went to our home up in King George County. Some ten days after, I was arrested at night by a squad of United States cavalry. Bainbridge was also captured. We were taken to Washington and placed in the Old Capitol Prison. We were not alone in our misery, however, for Dr. Stewart, at whose house Booth had stopped, William Lucas, the negro who had driven him to the ferry, and a number of others, were there, among them being Jett, who had escaped from Captain Doherty, and had been recaptured at his home in Westmoreland County.”

Lieutenant Ruggles was arrested in King George County either on May 2nd or May 3rd (both dates are given on two different records).  Private Bainbridge was arrested in King George County on May 4th or 5th (again two different dates on two different records).  They were both transported to the Old Capitol Prison and were incarcerated there starting on May 5th.  For some unknown reason (Ruggles thought it was by mistake), the two men were transferred out of the Old Capitol and sent all the way to Johnson’s Island, a prisoner of war camp for Confederate prisoners located near Sandusky, Ohio.  They left the Old Capitol Prison on May 11th and arrived at Johnson’s Island on the 13th.

Johnson's Island 1865 LOC

It didn’t take very long for those in charge at Johnson’s Island to determine that these two men were much more than your average prisoners of war.  It certainly looks like their transfer to Johnson’s Island was a mistake because, on May 15th, Ruggles and Bainbridge were being transferred back to D.C.  They arrived at the Old Capitol Prison on May 17th and this time they stayed there.

Neither Ruggles or Bainbridge were ever called to testify at the trial of the conspirators.  On June 3rd, both men were released from their confinement after taking the oath of allegiance:

Mortimer Ruggles Oath of Allegiance NARA

Absalom Bainbridge Oath of Allegiance NARA

Willie Jett never ended up marrying Izora Gouldman of the Star Hotel.  Instead he moved to Baltimore, married, went insane (possibly because of untreated syphilis), and died in an insane asylum in Virginia.  His body is buried in Fredericksburg.

Willie Jett's grave

After the war, Mortimer Bainbridge Ruggles and Absalom Ruggles Bainbridge continued to imitate each other.  Both men married and had two children.  Both moved to New York.  Both found occupations that forced them to move around; Ruggles as a traveling salesman and Bainbridge as an interior decorator.  Finally, both men died not only in the same year, but in the same month.  These two Confederate veterans are buried in two different cemeteries in New York:

Mortimer Ruggles' grave

Grave of Absalom Ruggles Bainbridge


While Jett, Ruggles, and Bainbridge spent a bit more time imprisoned than some of the other suspects in Lincoln’s assassination, their incarceration could have been longer, especially since it was known that they had contact with Booth and assisted him during his escape.  Booth’s brother, Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., who knew nothing about the assassination, was imprisoned until June 22nd.  John Lloyd, the man who gave Booth and Herold a carbine, field glasses, and some whiskey at the Surratt Tavern, wasn’t released until June 30th.  One of the last people released from the Old Capitol Prison was Joao Celestino, the Portuguese ship captain whose ill-timed threats against William Seward made authorities believe he was a main conspirator.  Celestino was released from the Old Capitol Prison on July 8th and was ordered to leave the U.S. within 10 days, never to return.  And, of course, Dr. Mudd, Edman Spangler, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlen were imprisoned at Fort Jefferson for three and a half years before the surviving three were pardoned in 1869.

The imprisonment endured by Jett, Ruggles, and Bainbridge could have certainly been worse had the government truly wanted to punish all those who assisted John Wilkes Booth.

American Brutus by Michael W. Kauffman
Brutus’ Judas: Willie Jett by Eric J. Mink
“Pursuit and Death of John Wilkes Booth” by Prentiss Ingraham, Century Magazine, Jan, 1890
Jett, Ruggles and Bainbridge’s prison records and oath of allegiances were accessed via (Bainbridge, Ruggles)
Rich Smyth

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A Boothie Black Friday

This morning I arose bright and early.  My reasoning for doing so was not the same as many others today.  I was not out hunting for an elusive deal or special discount sale.  Rather I woke early today to meet up with fellow Lincoln assassination researcher and author, Jim Garrett, for a day long Boothie “field trip”.  Together, Jim and I travelled down into Caroline County, Virginia to socialize with a couple of her noted residents and to investigate some Lincoln assassination sites in the area.

While driving down to Caroline County, Jim and I made a stop over in King George County to see the site of William McDaniel’s house.  William McDaniel is not featured in many assassination books as his connection to the story seems to be solely through family lore.  The book Come Retribution by authors Tidwell, Hall, and Gaddy contains a single sentence mentioning McDaniel, “At Office Hall, they [Booth, Herold and Charley Lucas] stopped for food at the home of William McDaniel.”  Though there does not seem to be any physical documentation for this visit, a phone conversation in the 1980’s between King George historian John Stanton and a McDaniel descendant also supported the family’s belief that someone, possibly the servants at the McDaniel house, fed Booth and Herold a meal on April 24th.

While we hardly have ironclad proof of the incident occurring, it is a harmless enough piece of oral tradition to pass on.  Jim showed me the spot on which the McDaniel house used to stand, the site having originally been shown to him by Elizabeth Lee, another King George County historian and head of the local historical society.  The house that is on the site today was built on the foundation of the former McDaniel house:

Site of the McDaniel House where is claimed John Wilkes Booth and David Herold were fed a meal while travelling through King George County on April 24th, 1865.

Site of the McDaniel House where is claimed John Wilkes Booth and David Herold were fed a meal while travelling through King George County on April 24th, 1865.

Our next stop was Green Falls, the home of Caroline County historian and former Smithsonian curator, Herb Collins.  I’ve highlighted Mr. Collins and his remarkable career on my site before and you can read about him here.  At Herb’s house, we were joined by Betty Ownsbey, the immensely delightful author and biographer of conspirator Lewis Powell.  Herb and Betty had never met before, but before too long, those two native Virginians were finishing each other’s sentences and having a grand time talking about the Old Dominion and its sites.

From Herb’s we travelled up to Port Royal and were met by Port Royal historian and long time resident Cleo Coleman.  Being as gracious as she is, Cleo was kind enough to open up the Port Royal Museum of American History for us.  Though I had visited the museum when it first opened up last year, neither Jim or Betty had ever been there.  Since my first visit they have increased their collection thanks, in part, to the continued generosity of Herb Collins, and acquired more display cases to showcase their treasures.  I took a couple pictures of their John Wilkes Booth in Caroline display:

Booth display Port Royal 2013

Hinge Port Royal 2013

The Port Royal Museum of American History is open on Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm. Please find the time to visit and support this wonderful fledging museum.

From the museum, Cleo took us over to the Port Royal Portrait Gallery, which contains many paintings of notable citizens of Caroline County:

Port Royal Portrait Gallery

The only Lincoln assassination related face in the gallery is that of Richard Henry Garrett, the owner the farm on which Booth died:

Richard Henry Garrett Port Royal

After John Wilkes Booth, David Herold, and Confederate soldiers Bainbridge, Ruggles and Willie Jett, crossed the Rappahannock river ferry into Port Royal, Jett proceeded to the home of the Peyton family.  Jett not only wanted to visit the family, but was also looking for someone who would take in the wounded Booth for the night.  He asked, the lady of the house, Miss Sarah Jane Peyton, if she would not mind entertaining and lodging a wounded Confederate soldier.  At first she agreed and Booth was led inside and rested on a lounge.  Not long after this, Miss Peyton, changed her mind and asked Jett to find another place for “Mr. Boyd”.

Front porch of the Peyton house

Front porch of the Peyton house

Willie Jett asked Miss Peyton if she thought her neighbor, a Mr. Catlett, would take the men in. She said she did not know and so Willie Jett went across the street to check. He discovered that Mr. Catlett was not at home.

The Catlett house, across the street from the Peyton home.

The Catlett house, across the street from the Peyton home.

According to Willie Jett, Miss Peyton then said to the men, “You can get him in anywhere up the road; Mr. Garrett’s or anywhere else.” Then the men rode further up the road, eventually depositing Booth off at the Garretts.

While Jett’s attempts at dropping Booth off at the Peyton and Catlett homes are the only two supported by documentation by Jett, local lore in Port Royal states that Jett attempted at least two more houses before deciding that the Garrett’s would be the best bet. One of the house supposed to have been visited by Jett after the Peyton and Catlett homes is the Murray House, further down King Street.

3 Murray house

The last place Jett attempted to drop off Booth according to local tradition was the Dickerson house at the end of King’s street.

Dickerson House Port Royal

While we were all in the Portrait Gallery, Cleo was kind enough to recount her personal knowledge of the Dickerson house and the local lore around it:

Ultimately, here’s a map of the different stops (some documented, some not) that Jett made with Booth trying to find a temporary respite for him:

Stops in Port Royal

After enjoying the paintings at the Port Royal portrait gallery, our group of five had lunch at a local restaurant with a nice view of the river:

The Rappahannock river will Belle Grove visible on the Port Conway shore.

The Rappahannock river will Belle Grove visible on the Port Conway shore.

Following lunch we bade our goodbye to Cleo, our Port Royal hostess, and to Betty, who had to return home. One of the things on Jim’s wish list for this trip was to find the location of Mrs. Virginia Clarke’s home south of Bowling Green. After dropping Booth off at the Garrett’s, Willie Jett proceeded to the Star Hotel in Bowling Green where he spent the night. Herold, Bainbridge and Ruggles continued on further to Mrs. Clarke’s home and that is where they spent the night on April 24th. Virginia’s son had served in the Confederacy and Ruggles and Bainbridge knew the Clarkes from his service with them.

Herb Collins is a walking encyclopedia and his recent book, Caroline County Virginia Estates; Residences and Historic Sites, demonstrates his immense knowledge of the area and its history. With Herb as our navigator, we quickly came across the location of Mrs. Clarke’s house. The home, gone since at least the 1960’s, has been replaced now by a large pond.

The site of the former Clarke house in Caroline County, VA

The site of the former Clarke house in Caroline County, VA

The gate to the Clarke house once stood here.

The gate to the Clarke house once stood here.

After visiting the site of the Clarke home we went back to Green Falls and said goodbye to Herb. On our way back, utilizing yet another of Herb’s books and his personal guidance, we stopped at Greenlawn Cemetery and found Virginia Clarke’s grave:

Virginia Clarke's grave

As the sun was going down, Jim and I returned to Port Royal to take a few pictures before departing for Maryland shores.  Our journey today proved to be an enlightening and enjoyable one.  We got to learn from and chat with our immensely knowledgeable friends in Virginia.  For our next field trip, Jim and I are hoping to see if we can arrange passage onto Fort A. P. Hill in Caroline County to visit the site where the house of ill repute, “The Trappe” once stood.  Herold, Jett, Bainbridge, and Ruggles visited the Trappe after dropping Booth off at the Garretts and before they found lodging for the night.  We’ll keep you informed.

In the true spirit of Black Friday, however, why not purchase Jim and his co-author Rich Smyth’s grave book and the upcoming second edition of Betty’s Lewis Powell book.  They’d make wonderful Christmas gifts.

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New Galleries: Port Conway & Port Royal

On the morning of April 24th, 1865, John Wilkes Booth and David E. Herold were being escorted through King George County, Virginia by Charley Lucas.  The night before, the pair had essentially evicted the free black family of the Lucases from their own cabin after being denied lodging at the home of Dr. Stuart’s, Cleydael.  Despite, or perhaps due to, the aggressive nature of these “guests”, William Lucas, the patriarch of the family allowed Booth and Herold to hire his son Charley to take carry them by wagon to the town of Port Conway. 

Port Conway was a small village on the northern side of the Rappahannock River that separated King George County from Caroline County.  It got its name from the Conway family of which President James Madison was descended  Not only was Madison’s mother’s maiden name Conway, but the fourth President of the United States was born there on the family plantation, Belle Grove.  Aside from Fredericksburg much further north, Port Conway was one of the few places one could cross the Rappahannock River via public ferry.  The ferry ran between Port Conway on the north, to Port Royal to the south.  When Booth and Herold were dropped off by Charley Lucas at Port Conway, they found the ferry was on the other side of the river and that they had to wait for it to return before they could cross.  While the pair waited at Port Conway, anxious to get across as quickly as possible, the came across William Rollins.  Rollins lived at Port Conway with his wife Bettie where he fished and ran a small store.  Herold tried to arrange for Rollins to take them over the Rappahannock River and offered him $10 to ferry them over and then take them to Bowling Green.  Rollins said he would consider it, but he had to go out and tend to his nets first as the shad were running.  Rollins stated that, if the ferry had not returned by the time he came back, he would take the two men across.  While Rollins was away fishing, three recently paroled Confederate soldiers rode up to Port Conway.  They were Willie Jett, Absalom Bainbridge, and Mortimer Ruggles.  Herold and Booth quickly made friends with these soldiers and ended up confiding their identities as the assassins of the President to them.  The trio, with defacto leader Jett, agreed to help the two men.  When Rollins returned, he saw that the ferry was making its way to Port Conway and David Herold told him his services were not going to be needed.  Jim Thornton, the ferry operator, ferried the five men, two fugitives and three soldiers, across the Rappahannock river to Port Royal.

In Port Royal, Jett called on the home of Miss Sarah Jane Peyton, looking for a home in which to lodge to two men.  At first, Miss Peyton agreed to let the “wounded Confederate soldiers” and his “brother”, stay and invited them into the house.  For some reason, perhaps after seeing the rough condition the two men were in, Sarah Jane Peyton changed her mind.  She told Jett that she could no longer house them because her brother, Randolph Peyton was not going to be at home for a couple days, and it would not be proper for two men to stay without the man of the house present.  Willie Jett went across the street and knocked on the door of Mr. Catlett, once again trying to find lodging for the two men.  Mr. Catlett was not at home.  According to Willie Jett, it was Sarah Jane Peyton who suggested they might try Mr. Garrett’s place up the road from Port Royal.  With that, all five men headed out of Port Royal and towards the Garrett farm.  In the end, it was due to the gossipy nature of Mrs. Bettie Rollins back over at Port Conway that led to John Wilkes Booth’s demise.  When the troops came to Port Conway and asked around, Mrs. Rollins told them that they might be able to find Willie Jett at a hotel in Bowling Green owned by his girlfriend’s parents.  It was at this hotel that Jett was found, just like Bettie Rollins thought he would be, and from there he led the troops back to the Garrett farm.

Today, nothing remains of Port Conway other than Belle Grove and a church.  The colonial town of Port Royal has fared far better with an active historical society and, as I posted here, a recently opened museum.

Click to see the newest galleries here on BoothieBarn:

Port Conway & Port Royal

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