Brother against Brother: John Wilkes and Edwin Booth

By Laurel Wilson ’19

When John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln, he became one of the most infamous figures in American history almost overnight. This rapid fall from grace took quite a toll on his family, especially his brother, Edwin. Edwin Booth was one of the most accomplished and successful actors of the Civil War era. He became famous for his portrayals of Shakespearian roles, especially Hamlet, which became his signature role. The Booths were an illustrious family of actors, though Edwin would become the most critically acclaimed and famous for his acting ability.

John, Edwin, and Junius Booth, Jr. 1864. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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The Other Booth: The Cult Following of John Wilkes’s Brother

By Nicole Hindley ’18

Edwin Booth as Hamlet in 1864. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Edwin Booth as Hamlet in 1864. Via Wikimedia Commons.

On an April night in 1865, John Wilkes Booth became the most notorious actor of the nineteenth century. However, he is not remembered in history because of his ability to capture the hearts of an audience. In fact, rumors have spread throughout the years that he was not even that great of an actor. He is remembered only as the villain who shot and killed President Lincoln, on the night of April 15, 1865. It is because of the crime he committed that Booth acquired his infamous reputation of the 19th century. Many actors of the Civil War era, including Booth’s own brother, have been overshadowed by the memory of John Wilkes Booth.

Edwin Booth is the less famous Booth in modern memory, but back in the nineteenth century Edwin was a superstar. He tackled the hardest Shakespeare roles, playing Macbeth in Macbeth and Hamlet in Hamlet.  In fact, his production of Hamlet was so popular that it played for one hundred performances at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre. According theatre scholar Richard Sautter, this was highly unusual for its time. A majority of the time shows played for a night, a couple of days, or even a week, but so many performances was rare at the time. Julia Ward Howe, wrote in her diary how she was impressed with Booth’s performance of Hamlet, “Saw Booth in ‘Hamlet’ — still first-rate, I think, although he has played it one hundred nights in New York.” Continue reading “The Other Booth: The Cult Following of John Wilkes’s Brother”

John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir

By David Bruce Smith

John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir By Asia Booth Clarke Edited by Terry Alford 151 pp. University Press of Mississippi $18.63
John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir
By Asia Booth Clarke
Edited by Terry Alford
151 pp. University Press of Mississippi $18.63

A gypsy read John Wilkes Booth’s palm and predicted tragedy. “Ah, you’ve a bad hand; the lines all cris-cras [sic]. It’s full enough of sorrow. Full of trouble. Trouble in plenty, everywhere I look. You’ll break hearts . . .  You’ll die young, and leave many to mourn you . . . but you’ll be rich, generous and free with your money. You’re born under an unlucky star . . . you’ll make a bad end . . .  You’ll have a fast life—short, but a grand one. Now, young sir, I’ve never seen a worse hand, and I wish I hadn’t seen it, but every word I’ve told is true by the signs. You’d best turn a missionary or a priest and try to escape it.”

Afterwards, when the prophecy fulfilled, the Booth family was denounced for Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and never forgiven by the country. They were hunted, hounded, and harassed for the rest of their lives. Asia Booth Clarke immigrated to England to dodge the deluge, because she was “personally unknown…” there, and never returned–permanently. Continue reading “John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir”

Theater of War: Booth and Beyond

By Val Merlina ’14

Lastly, we come upon perhaps the best known actor of the Civil War era, John Wilkes Booth. Of course, the reason memory allows us to recall the name is not because of the merits achieved through his profession, but rather because he murdered the elected executive official – United States President Abraham Lincoln. Booth, a product of a theater family, was a dramatic, eccentric, and impatient being. He wanted the leading roles, did not want to prepare the role, but to simply play the role. His brother, Edwin Booth, a talented poetical performer, one might deduce, did prepare for his roles, as he performed the role of Hamlet for one-hundred shows straight in New York City during his career.

JW Booth

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The Story of Lewis Payne by Allie Ward

Lewis Payne His story started like that of many young men in the South. Lewis Thornton Powell was the youngest son of nine children born to the Baptist minister and plantation owner George Calder Powell. The Powell family was forced to sell their …

By Allie Ward ’14

Free_photo_lewis_payne_standing_in_an_overcoat_and_hat
Lewis Payne

His story started like that of many young men in the South. Lewis Thornton Powell was the youngest son of nine children born to the Baptist minister and plantation owner George Calder Powell. The Powell family was forced to sell their Alabama plantation due to financial difficulties when Lewis was young and moved to Live Oak, Florida, to start anew on a family farm. When news came that the Confederacy was in need of volunteers, Lewis and his two older brothers joined their ranks on May 30, 1861.  Private Powell and the 2nd Florida Infantry first marched into battle during the siege of Yorktown in April 1862. After this the 2nd was attached to Jubal Early’s Brigade and participated in numerous battles including Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Gains Mill, Second Manassas, Harpers Ferry, Sharpsburg, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.

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