A Sister’s Sorrow

Asia Booth Clarke, John Wilkes Booth’s sister, had a lifelong pen pal named Jean Anderson.  From her early days at Tudor Hall to her isolated years in England, Asia wrote to Jean with regularity.  For years, some of Asia Booth Clarke’s letters to Jean Anderson were held at the Peale Museum in Baltimore.  What follows is a transcript of Asia’s letter to Jean in the aftermath of the assassination:

Asia Booth Clarke

Asia Booth Clarke


Philadelphia, May 22, 1865.

My Dear Jean:

I have received both of your letters, and although feeling the kindness of your sympathy, could not compose my thoughts to write — I can give you no idea of the desolation which has fallen upon us. The sorrow of his death is very bitter, but the disgrace is far heavier; – Already people are asserting that it is a political affair — the work of the bloody rebellion — the enthusiastic love of country, etc. but I am fraud to us it will always be a crime –

Junius and John Clarke have been two weeks to-day confined in the old Capital – prison Washington for no complicity or evidence — Junius wrote an innocent letter from Cincinnati, which by a wicked misconstruction has been the cause of his arrest. He begged him to quit the oil business and attend to his profession, not knowing the “oil” signified conspiracy in Washington as it has since been proven that all employed in the plot, passed themselves off as “oil merchants”.

John Clarke was arrested for having in his house a package of papers upon which he had never laid his hands or his eyes, but after the occurrence when I produced them, thinking it was a will put here for safe keeping — John took them to the U.S. Marshall, who reported to head-quarters, hence this long imprisonment for two entirely innocent men –

I would not object at present to have back for my private use all the money they have squandered on Sanitary Commissions, Hospital Endowments, Relief of Soldiers Widows, and the like, for the good done by them as actors and citizens goes nothing towards providing their innocence, and it might well have been tendered to a better purpose –

I suppose they will be examined in the leisure of the Court and return home to be nursed through a spell of illness, — as one Gent has done who was released last week, — and whose arrest proved only a farce as General somebody in authority expressed it — Poor old country, she has seen her best days, and I care not how soon I turn my back upon her shores forever, it is the history of the Republic over again.

I was shocked and grieved to see the names of Michael O’Laughlin and Samuel Arnold. I am still some surprised to learn that all engaged in the plot are Roman Catholics — John Wilkes was of that faith — preferably — and I was glad that he had fixed his faith on one religion for he was always of a pious mind and I wont speak of his qualities, you knew him. My health is very delicate at present but I seem completely numbed and hardened in sorrow.

The report of Blanche and Edwin are without truth, their marriage not to have been until September and I do not think it will be postponed so that it is a long way off yet. Edwin is here with me. Mother went home to N.Y. last week. She has been with me until he came.

I told you I believe that Wilkes was engaged to Miss Hale, — They were most devoted lovers and she has written heart broken letters to Edwin about it — Their marriage was to have been in a year, when she promised to return from Spain for him, either with her father or without him, that was the decision only a few days before the fearful calamity — Some terrible oath hurried him to this wretched end. God help him. Remember me to all and write often.

Yours every time,


The “Blanche” that Asia refers to is Blanche Hanel, Edwin Booth’s fiancée.  Edwin Booth’s first wife, Mary Devlin, died in February in 1863.  By September of 1864, Edwin was romantically involved with Blanche Hanel, a wealthy Philadelphian.  As Asia wrote above, the two were engaged to be married when the assassination occurred.  In addition to retreating from the stage, Edwin also wrote to Blanche allowing her to break off their engagement due to the circumstances.  At first Blanche stayed by Edwin and as Asia writes, their engagement continued.  In the end, however, Blanche’s father would not allow the marriage and by November of 1865, Edwin and Blanche’s relationship ended.  It wouldn’t be until June of 1869 that Edwin Booth would remarry, this time to Mary McVicker of the Chicago theatrical family.

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12 thoughts on “A Sister’s Sorrow

  1. Laurie Verge

    Very interesting that Asia states that her brother had converted to Catholicism. She is mistaken, of course, about the others in the plot all being Catholic. Since I have always told people that there was no evidence of Booth’s conversion, it would be interesting to see if there are records.

    I can think of only two reasons he would have converted: The Catholic Church in Maryland supported slavery OR his fiancee, Lucy Hale, was Catholic. Anyone know what faith the Hales practiced?

    • I read Asia’s account as though Wilkes preferred Catholicism, but wasn’t one officially. If I’m remembering correctly, I believe Asia was a Catholic, so perhaps her brother spoke agreeably of her religion and Asia inferred he preferred it for himself.

    • Sally

      I have read that John Parker Hale (Lucy’s father) was a great church-goer and attended churches of various denominations. But he was most closely affiliated with the Unitarians. I would assume Lucy followed the same path.

      • Laurie Verge

        Thank you, Sally. In 1865, that would have been a difficult pairing of faiths if Booth had converted to Catholicism. It has been said that the Hales did not like the fact that Booth was an actor, and he didn’t like the fact that they were abolitionists. I think there could have been some religious conflicts also if the boyfriend felt strongly enough about Catholicism to support the Trinity.

  2. Rich smyth

    Hi Dave,
    What do we know about Jean Anderson?

    • Jean Anderson was a childhood friend of Asia’s. Her married name was Jean Anderson Sherwood. That’s about all I know about her. The Peale Museum which once housed her collection of Asia letters shut down, and I believe the entire museum collection was supposed to have been given to the Maryland Historical Society. I haven’t been able to dig them up through their website. I have transcripts that were made by author Stanley Kimmel.

  3. Laurie Verge

    OK, now you’re telling me something new. I need to re-read my biographies on the Booths. I don’t ever remember any faith being mentioned with any of the family except the usual references to there being Judaism in their ancestral line.

    • I could easily be mistaken, Laurie. I don’t know where I read that from. Perhaps you could check with Terry “Google” Alford. If to do, ask him about who Jean Anderson was and where her Asia letters ended up.

  4. Laurie Verge

    After I posted, I recalled that Mary Ann Holmes Booth was Episcopal. I think that Asia was also given the burial rites of the Episcopal church. Maybe some of the anti-Catholic propaganda that went around after the assassination mistakenly portrayed the sister and brother as Catholics?

    Booth’s body was re-interred in Green Mount Cemetery in 1869 using the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer administered by an Episcopal priest.

    There is mention someplace of Booth having contributed to a project at one of the Catholic churches attended by the Surratts. I believe there was also a Catholic medal found on his body, and I have wondered if it was something that he was given in exchange for his donation. As much traveling as he did, a St. Christopher’s medal wouldn’t hurt…

    I’ll check with Terry, but I was of the understanding that the existing Anderson letters were turned over to the Maryland Historical Society (which has been notorious for not knowing what is in their collection or where to find them – and you didn’t hear me say that!).

    • It seems more convincing to me that Asia was Catholic. In a letter Asia wrote to Jean in February of 1868, she states the following:

      “Junius is married again and had a son born to him last December. He married Miss Perry a young widow whom he knew in California. Mollie Booth my wild charge is here at Notre Dame Convent. She has lately become a Catholic. I was so pleased with that notice of the Carmelite Jubilee it was thoughtful of you to send it. Three of my children are Catholics, also Mollie and Edwina.”

  5. Laurie Verge

    If Asia received the last rites of the Catholic Church, had a funeral held in front of the high altar in a Catholic Church, and is buried in blessed ground, then I will feel more secure in pronouncing her a Catholic.

    Was John Sleeper Clarke a Catholic? That might explain three of their children (likely the boys) being Catholic. I don’t know who Mollie Booth was – Junius’s child? Edwina was the daughter of Edwin and Mary Devlin. I would bet dimes to donuts that an Irish lass like Mary Devlin would be Catholic and would want her child raised in the Church.

  6. Pingback: The Booth Children and Mary Ann’s Acting Career | BoothieBarn

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