Apr. 26, 1865 Port Royal Caroline County Virginia, USA
Presidential Assassin. An acclaimed Shakespearean stage actor, he assassinated 16th United States President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. Born in Bel Air, Maryland, he was the 10th child of Junius Brutus Booth, and English-born stage actor who had gained fame for his dramatic Shakespearean roles first in England, then in the United States. John Wilkes Booth followed in his father’s profession, debuting on stage at age 17. He soon became nationally renowned for his acting abilities, and became part of a touring Shakespearean company based in Richmond, Virginia. By the time of the Civil War he had become one of the most famous theatre figures in the United States. A Southern-rights supporter and sympathizer, he was strongly opposed to the Abolitionist movement, and became a Confederate agent after the war began, using his position as a national touring actor to smuggle quinine into southern hands. He was outspoken with his devotion to the South, and his virulent distain for President Lincoln and the North. In 1864 he formulated a plan to kidnap the President, but it did not go beyond any talking and planning stages by the time Abraham Lincoln was re-elected in November 1864. After that point the plot changed from kidnapping to assassination. During this period he would recruit the figures that would be forever linked to the Lincoln Assassination – Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt, and John Surratt. They often met at the boarding house of John Surratt’s mother, Mary Surratt. The plan coalesced after President Lincoln’s 2nd Inauguration, fueled by Booth’s increasing hatred of the President, especially in the face of comments Lincoln made about granting suffrage to the freed slaves. On April 14, 1865, while President Lincoln was attending a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, Booth leveled a single shot derringer pistol at the back of Lincoln’s head and fired, mortally wounded him. He then jumped from the Presidential Box on to the stage, infamously shouting “Sic Semper Tyrannis!” (“Thus Always to Tyrants!”). He escaped on a previous placed horse, and became the subject of the largest manhunt in American history up to that point, especially after President Lincoln died the next morning. Hunted though Maryland and Virginia, he kept a diary, using it to justify his actions. On April 26, 1865 he and fellow conspirator David Herold were caught and trapped in a barn on the Garrett Family Farm in Port Royal, Virginia, by a detachment of the 16th New York Volunteer Cavalry. After the barn was set ablaze, he was shot and mortally wounded by Sergeant Boston Corbett, dying a few hours later. The body was later taken to Washington, DC, where it was positively identified as John Wilkes Booth by ten people who knew him intimately. Originally interred at the Washington Arsenal, in 1869 the remains were released to the family, and they were interred in the family lot in Baltimore, Maryland’s Green Mount Cemetery, where they lie in an unmarked grave. Theories later would be expounded that Booth did not die in the Garrett Barn, and lived into old life anonymously. Modern day legal efforts to exhume the remains for DNA testing and identification were eventually rejected. John Wilkes Booth’s older brother, Edwin Booth, became renown in his own right in the 19th century as an acclaimed tragedian actor, and had clashed so frequently with his brother over the issues involved in the Civil War that John Wilkes was banished from his brother’s house.