Abe Lincoln History

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John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth
John Wilkes Booth was an American stage actor who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre, in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865.

May 10, 1838, Bel Air, MD
Died: April 26, 1865, Port Royal, VA
Buried: 1869, Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD
Spouse: Izola Mills DŽArcy (m. 1859–1865)
Siblings: Edwin Booth, Asia Booth
John Wilkes Booth was born on a farm near Bel Air, Maryland, about 25 miles from Baltimore. His birth date was May 10, 1838. He was the ninth of ten children of Junius Booth and Mary Ann Holmes. John's parents were British and had moved to the United States in 1821. In addition to the farm at Bel Air (where the Booth family had slaves), the family also owned a home on North Exeter Street in Baltimore where the colder months of the year were spent. Junius was one of the most famous actors on the American stage although he was an eccentric personality who had problems with alcohol and spells of madness. As a young man John attended several private schools including a boarding school operated by Quakers at Cockeysville.

On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth became the first person to assassinate an American president when he shot and killed Abraham Lincoln in his box at Ford’s Theater in Washington. An unsuccessful attempt had been made on Andrew Jackson 30 years before in 1835, and Lincoln had himself been the subject of an earlier assassination attempt by an unknown assailant in August 1864. The assassination of Lincoln was planned and carried out by the well-known stage actor John Wilkes Booth, as part of a larger conspiracy in a bid to revive the Confederate cause.

Lincoln was shot while watching the play Our American Cousin with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Using a .44 caliber derringer pistol—a small, easily concealed handgun—Booth fired a single shot (timed so that that the audience’s laughter would mask the report) into Lincoln’s brain at point-blank range before jumping to the stage and escaping into the night. After a two-week manhunt, Federal troops cornered Booth in a barn in Maryland, where a Union soldier shot him in the neck. Booth died two hours later.

John Wilkes Booth Motive
On April 11, 1865, two days after Lee's army surrendered to Grant, Booth attended a speech at the White House in which Lincoln supported the idea of enfranchising the former slaves. Furiously provoked, Booth decided on assassination and is quoted as saying to Lewis Powell:

“That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I'll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever give.”

"Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment"

What did John Wilkes Booth say after he killed Lincoln?
President Abraham Lincoln is shot in the head at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. The assassin, actor John Wilkes Booth, shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis! (Ever thus to tyrants!) The South is avenged,” as he jumped onto the stage and fled on horseback.

What happened to John Wilkes Booth?
John Wilkes Booth is killed when Union soldiers track him down to a Virginia farm 12 days after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Twenty-six-year-old Booth was one of the most famous actors in the country when he shot Lincoln during a performance at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., on the night of April 14.

How many brothers and sisters did John Wilkes Booth have?
John Wilkes Booth was born on a farm near Bel Air, Maryland, about 25 miles from Baltimore. His birth date was May 10, 1838. He was the ninth of ten children of Junius Booth and Mary Ann Holmes.

John Wilkes Booth quotes
“This country was formed for the white not for the black man. And looking upon African slavery from the same stand-point, as held by those noble framers of our Constitution, I for one, have ever considered it, one of the greatest blessings that God ever bestowed upon a favored nation.”

“Tell mother, tell mother, I died for my country... useless... useless.”

Revolver carried by John Wilkes Booth during his escape; it was with him when he was caught and killed.

Photographs found in Booth's pocket at the time of his capture. Lucy Hale, pictured at far left, was Booth's fiance and daughter of Senator John P. Hale, a well-known abolitionist.

One of the two Spencer Carbines owned by John Wilkes Booth. Booth was armed with this gun when he was apprehended, though he never fired a shot. The other rifle was found at Mary Surratt's tavern in Maryland.
Whistle carried by John Wilkes Booth during his flight through Maryland and Virginia. Signal whistles were used as a means of communication across distances at that time.
All photos by Carol M. Highsmith.
Abe Lincoln History