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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Senator’s Daughter – The Woman Who Loved John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth – the name brings to mind one of the most infamous murders in American history – the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The circumstances of Lincoln’s assassination and Booth’s death days later are common knowledge. What is not so well known is the identity of the woman whose picture Booth carried in his pocket when he was captured and killed. That woman was his fiancé, Lucy Hale, the twenty-two year old daughter of influential New Hampshire senator John Parker Hale.

The circumstances of John Wilkes Booth’s courtship of Lucy Hale paint a picture of star-crossed lovers. Lucy Hale was a pretty woman, but she was nothing like the beautiful young actresses who surrounded John Wilkes Booth, onstage and off. Living in Washington with her parents and sister, Lucy devoted time to her work with the Sanitation Committee, the Red Cross of the era, and even rode in a horse-drawn ambulance to the front line in Virginia during a lull in the fighting. Her father, a passionate abolitionist, appears to have hoped to unite his daughter in marriage with Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s son rather than an actor with a flair for romantic gestures and outspoken southern sympathies. John Wilkes Booth, an actor whose performances drew acclaim for his talent and notice for his formidable appeal to women, had been called “the handsomest man in America” and “the most promising young actor on the American stage”, and provoked outrage for what some citizens considered “treasonable statements”.

Despite the obstacles, their romance began in the early months of 1865. By March, the couple were secretly engaged. Senator Hale, eager to separate his daughter from the outspoken southern sympathizer, visited Lincoln on the morning of the assassination to seek an appointment as ambassador to Spain. The ambassadorship would provide the means to move his family, including Lucy, out of the country and away from John Wilkes Booth. When Lincoln offered the position, Senator Hale accepted on the spot.

Could John Wilkes Booth have fallen for the subtle charms of the senator’s daughter, or had his motivations for their romance been much more sinister?

Historians are divided on this question, although several aspects of their courtship point to motivations other than true love on Booth’s part. A relationship with Lucy Hale benefited Booth’s plans because Lucy enjoyed some degree of political influence and provided access to many powerful figures in the government. Booth even attended Lincoln’s Second Inaugural on March 4, 1865 as Lucy Hale’s invited guest. Several men who went on to participate in the horrifying events of April 14, 1865, including the brutal attempted murder of Secretary of State Seward, were also in the crowd that day. Was this a coincidence? Possibly. Booth’s later comments to a friend when he remarked about his excellent chance to kill the President that day add a chilling aspect to this event and cast into doubt the idea that the Lincoln conspirators had all just happened to gather to watch the man they despised take his second oath of office.

The nature of Booth’s pursuit of Lucy Hale also casts his motives into doubt. Lucy received a romantic note on Valentine’s Day, 1862, signed “A Stranger”. The writer of the note was none other than John Wilkes Booth. Despite this dramatic beginning, he did not continue his pursuit until nearly three years later, at which point he seemed determined to marry her. Within a few short months, they were engaged. During the time of their courtship, Booth was a key plotter in a scheme to kidnap Lincoln, a plan that went awry and led to the assassination conspiracy. Why had Booth become so ardent in his pursuit of Lucy Hale at the same time his schemes against Lincoln were about to be put into play?

His devotion to Lucy Hale is also unclear. While Lucy’s picture was found with Booth at his death, four other portraits of comely young actresses were also found in his pocket diary. Does a man in love carry photographs of several other women into a situation where he had to anticipate danger and possible death?

Historians widely believe Lucy Hale had no knowledge of her secret fiancé’s plans. One can only imagine her shock and horror at the revelation that her lover was to go down in history as a notorious assassin. Did she ever wonder if she unknowingly aided Booth in his scheme? Could her connections in Washington and her father’s political status have furthered Booth’s plans?

The story of Lucy Hale and John Wilkes Booth and their ill-fated, and possibly ill-motivated, romance was one inspiration for my action-packed historical romance due to be released in the coming months by The Wild Rose Press. Set against the backdrop of the tempestuous years of
the Civil War, Destiny is the story of Emma Davenport, the daughter of an influential senator, and the man whose love is her destiny. When Emma is swept away by Christopher Staton, a charming traitor who plans to use her as a pawn in his quest for vengeance, one man risks his neck to save her from a ruthless plot that could destroy them both. Jack Travis embarks upon a bold scheme to protect Emma from Staton and loses his heart in the process.

John Wilkes Booth authored an American tragedy that rivaled any tragedy he performed on the stage. Undoubtedly, Lucy Hale found herself caught up in the horror of his actions. Did she ever wonder if she might have done something to prevent Booth’s infamous actions on that long-ago April night? Had his charming manners and handsome face blinded her to the truth? Sadly, we can only hazard a guess....


Eliza Knight said...


Love your cover :)

Hugs, Eliza

Paty Jager said...

What intriguing information. I'm sure your book is going to be just as thrilling as the event that led your to write it.

The Paperback Diva said...

What a wonderful post! It's too easy to forget that history is about people not just events.

Victoria Gray said...

It is hard for us to imagine now that John Wilkes Booth was a celebrity before he became America's first Presidential assassin. The research I've done included a mention that he was earning $20,000 a year by the end of 1859, which would be equivalent to more than half a million dollars today. While he wouldn't have been the "Brad Pitt" of his day, he certainly received acclaim and was considered to be quite the ladies' man.

Brenda said...

Just heard there was a documentary on this subject, wish I had seen it. Interesting subject to base your book on.

dancealert at aol dot com

jim said...

Any one connected in any way to John Booth was arrested and thrown into prison, except for Lucy Hale. Even John T Ford the ex mayor of Baltimore and owner of the Ford Theatre got 39 days. This was to ensure that fear was installed into everyone, either to keep their mouths shut, or to lie on the witness stand.
However Asia Booth his beloved sister, had her own special detective, day and night, stay at her home in Philadelphia to intercept all her letters and guard should her brother return. He even asked if he could have his wife stay but she told him no, as it would distract him from his task.
Edwin, his pro-union brother, was so famous as an actor they let him be, but kept a close guard around him. It would be a fair assumption that Lucy Hale must have had at least an inkling that Booth was involved in plotting to kidnap Lincoln; since the government new from Louis Weichmann (a federal prison clerk acting as a conspirator and long time catholic college friend of John Surratt)in February when he reported it to Captain Gleason his senior Clerk at the Capitol Prison.
There is a lot more to this than we can possibly imagine as governments are the masterminds of conspiracies.
Yes, it probably was Lucy who was with the VIPs allowed onto the Montauk, possibly through her father's influence with the navy. However it wasn't to sob it was to take a lock of the murdered man's hair. This was according to Colonel Baker himself, head of the NDP and recorded in his own book, that a young lady tried to get a lock of his hair. He intervened but she must have got her proof that it was not Booth but a Confederate soldier with fair hair!

lauried said...


jim said...

It is said that she had several romantic suiters from the age of 17including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Robert Lincoln and William Chandler (who used to write her poems from Harvard U and whom she eventually married and ironically he became Secretay of the Navy some time after Wells). Her relationship with JWB led to a secret engagement but her father did not approve of an actor, it is said. Her father was appointed Minister to Spain that very day by Lincoln and Stanton since there had been a cabinet meeting at midday that included General Grant and possibly Gideon Wells the Secretary of the Navy. John Parker Hale was a great critic of Wells and got him to abolish flogging. She herself did not believe that John could have possibly killed the President. Several witnesses said they were together on the evening of Good Friday the 14th April. Indeed she visited him at the National Hotel that night. How is it then possible that Booth and his men could have arranged to carry out several assasinations -ie Lincoln, Seward, Johnson and Grant as they supposedly planned to do that night; having only 12 hours notice that Lincoln and Grant would be in the Ford Theatre ? And why did Grant renege in order to see his family in Burlington, New Jersey that very night after being personally invited by the President himself. Remember this was the most famous General in the land who eventually became President after Andy Johnson.
Romance would have been the last thing on Booth's mind that night. Lucy was possiblly the women that got the lock of hair off the dead body on the Montauk. Baker head of the NDP stated in his book that a young lady came on board with VIP's and took a lock of the dead man's hair. The colour was not of Booth (jet black) but red or fair. Other witnesses and soldiers have said that the murdered man had red hair and that he was a Confederate soldier.
Needless to say Lucy was thereby un-impeached by Stanton as he allowed her to go with her father to Spain for 5 years well before the Military Trial in May 1865. So she never had to give witness and of course everyone assumes she new nothing of the plot to kidnap. This may be true because Booth had already reneged on his plot to kidnap, having been informed by Samuel Arnold by letter that the government new about the plot. Indeed a certain Captain Gleason, senior clerk at the Capitol Prison had been informed by a junior clerk and friend of the gang-Louis Weichmann, in February.
In any case the kidnap plan was to kidnap Lincoln in the field when sometimes alone with his driver in his carriage. In fact they did attempt a kidnap near the Seventh Street Hospital but Salmon Chase was in the carriage and they did not want him.