Tudor Hall [the Booth family home near Bel Air, Md.]: June 18, 1855. pp. Quarto, on a folded folio sheet of light blue paper. Old folds, a few light stains. Very good. In a half morocco box. Item #WRCAM47252
One of the few surviving letters of John Wilkes Booth, assassin of Abraham Lincoln and scion of one of the most famous acting families in the United States. Written to his close childhood friend, T. William O'Laughlen, describing Booth's youthful escapades in rural Maryland, this is the longest letter by Booth known to survive, and provides a fascinating insight into one of the most infamous characters in American history. William O'Laughlen's brother, Michael, was later convicted in the Conspiracy Trial in 1865 and sentenced to life in prison. William, who remained friendly with Booth, was not implicated. John Wilkes Booth's father, Junius Brutus Booth, was a brilliant but erratic British actor who eloped to the United States with Booth's mother in 1821. While the elder Booth toured the country performing, he established his family in the peace of rural Harford County, Maryland, northeast of Baltimore, acquiring the home they named "Tudor Hall" outside the county seat of Bel Air (now open to the public as the county cultural center). By the time John Wilkes was born in 1838 his eldest brothers were already acting with their father. Although Junius Brutus died of alcoholism in 1852, his eldest sons formed a dynasty of actors. By the late 1850s the Booths were arguably the leading stage family of the country. Despite the turbulent family history and the raciness associated with the stage, John Wilkes grew up in the comparatively stable life of rural Maryland and various boarding schools. This chatty and spirited letter, written when Booth was just seventeen to his boyhood friend, reflects well what his main concerns were: parties, girls, and gossip about mutual acquaintances. Booth writes, in part: "Well the first week in June was taken up by a fair held in Church Ville [a hamlet about three miles from Tudor Hall; the church described here still exists] for the benefit of the Presbyterian church....I was there night and day and you must not think I am blowing when I say I cut quite a dash. I saw pretty girls home from Fair at ten o'clock at night at some at the distance of four or five miles....the day after tomorrow I am invited to a strawberry eating and I promise you I will do my duty, and from then until teusday [sic] I will do nothing but gun, ride, and sleep and eat....Stevenson Archer, a young lawyer in Bel Air [whose brother was later head of Lee's medical corps until captured at Gettysburg] went to Boston and brought back a wife worth $60,000.00 that's what I call doing the thing up brown. He gave a party but I was one of the Non Visitants. In plain English I was not invited. Ned Webster another of the same profession and from the same place has gone off to get himself a wife, and I hear he has got himself a very rich one. It's an old saying that a lawyer can lie like the devil also in making women conscent [sic]. The devil tempted mother Eve with an apple. I don't know whether lawyers use apples or no but they all tempt the ladies. It is strange too that ladies like to be connected to the law in any way, but it is always best to agree with a lawyer as well as a doctor for they have the means for revenge, hurrah. I have wrote a long letter at last." The young Booth, both naive and cosmopolitan, was on the verge of greater fame. Within two months he appeared on the Baltimore stage in his first role, and within a year he was an acclaimed actor. By the time of the Civil War he was one of the most famous stage figures in the United States. Booth letters and even his autograph are rare; he was not much of a correspondent. Of the seventy letters or documents signed by Booth which survive, forty-nine are letters, and twenty-seven are in institutions. Of these, eleven have appeared at auction since 1969, including this one (Christie's Dec. 5, 1997, $21,850). The correspondence with William O'Laughlen was rediscovered in 1965, when a cache of eight letters was found by a Baltimore cleaning lady in a basement. They are the earliest known Booth letters, as well as some of the longest and most interesting; most of the others are business-like notes about theatre engagements and the like. It has often been speculated that acquaintances destroyed correspondence lest they be implicated, but of course this is unknowable. A rare opportunity to acquire a superb letter by one of the most infamous figures in American history. James Swanson & Daniel Weinberg, LINCOLN'S ASSASSINS, THEIR TRIAL AND EXECUTION, pp.40-41. "RIGHT OR WRONG, GOD JUDGE ME," THE WRITINGS OF JOHN WILKES BOOTH, pp.41-42.