Many know that John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in 1865, but few are aware of his remarkable family history, knowledge that adds to our understanding of the infamous assassination. John Wilkes’s father was named Junius Brutus Booth, a singularly unusual name to encounter outside of Roman history. Junius Brutus’s name undoubtedly was meant to reference the founder of the Roman Republic, Lucius Junius Brutus, and to reflect his father and grandfather’s anti-authoritarian political views, which Junius Brutus shared. After establishing a career as an actor of acknowledged skill in England, Junius Brutus abandoned his wife and child to elope to America with Mary Anne Holmes, with whom he eventually had ten children.
Junius Brutus attempted to impart his anti-authoritarian political views to his family. Sympathizing with his father’s ideology, John Wilkes Booth’s radical political beliefs led him to develop a vehement hatred towards Lincoln, whom he thought was attempting to destroy America’s republican government. Like many families of the period, however, the Booths were divided in their political views. John Wilkes’s brother Edwin supported the North. Edwin is an interesting character in his own right; a renowned Shakespearean actor, Edwin was especially known for his portrayal of Hamlet.
The Booth Family Papers are contained within the Stanley Swift collection, the cornerstone of the Henneke Archives of Performing Arts, which are named after Ben Graf Henneke. The Booth Family Papers contain forty-two autographed letters, the majority of which are from Edwin Booth. The collection includes seven playbills from the Theatre Royal, advertising plays in which Junius Brutus Booth performed before he immigrated to America. A press notice from the U.S. War Department offering a reward for Booth and his accomplices, dated April 20, 1865, is also featured in the collection.
For scholars who are interested in researching Lincoln’s assassination, Special Collections possesses additional materials pertaining to this topic: a playbill advertising Our American Cousin, the performance where Lincoln was shot, and a fragment of wallpaper from Ford’s theater (E457.65.F67 1865 Oversz).
Thank you, it should be a good addition to the collection.