“At last, after what seemed an interminable age, we reached [Huckleberry]. We stopped under a pear tree near the stable, about forty or fifty yards from my house. It was then between nine and ten o’clock.
‘Wait here,’ I said, ‘while I go in and get you some supper, which you can eat here while I get something for myself.’
‘Oh,’ said Booth, ‘can’t I go in and get some of your hot coffee?’
It cut me to the heart when this poor creature, whose head had not been under a roof, who had not tasted warm food, felt the glow of a fire, or seen a cheerful light for nearly a week, there in the dark, wet night at my threshold, made this piteous request to be allowed to enter a human habitation. I felt a great wave of pity for him, and a lump rose in my throat as I answered, ‘My friend, it wouldn’t do. Indeed it would not be safe. There are servants in the house who would be sure to see you and then we would all be lost. Remember, this is your last chance to get away.’
To refuse that appeal, prompted by a feeling I could so well understand, was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.” – Thomas A. Jones in his book, J. Wilkes Booth
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“Tuesday morning, after my visit to the pine thicket, I rode up to Port Tobacco.
Tuesday was then, as it is now, the day for the transaction of public business in our county. I was therefore likely to meet a good many people in the county-town that day, and bear whatever was going on.
I found the men gathered about in little groups on the square, as men in villages will al ways be found when anything of more than usual interest is engaging public attention. Upon this occasion, of course, they were discussing the assassination, and the probable whereabouts of the assassin. The general impression seemed to be that Booth had not crossed the river.
I mingled with the people and listened till I was satisfied that nothing was positively known. Every expression was merely surmise.
It was while in Port Tobacco that day I made the acquaintance of Captain Williams. He was standing in the bar-room of the old Brawner Hotel (now St. Charles Hotel) in the act of drinking with several gentlemen who were gathered around him, when I entered. Some one introduced me to him and he politely invited me to drink with him. Just as we were about to take the drink, standing with our glasses in our hands, he turned to me and said, ‘I will give one hundred thousand dollars to any one who will give me the information that will lead to Booth’s capture.’
I replied, ‘That is a large sum of money and ought to get him if money can do it.’
In Mr. George Alfred Townsend’s article, ‘How Wilkes Booth Crossed the Potomac’ published in the Century magazine of April, 1884, the author comments upon this offer made in my presence and partly to me, in the following terms: ‘When we consider that the end of the war had come and all the Confederate hopes were blasted and every man’s slave set free, we may reflect upon the fidelity of this poor man whose land was not his own and with inevitable poverty before him perhaps for the rest of bit days,’ etc. It appears from this that Mr. Townsend thinks I deserve some need of praise for not being bribed to betray what I considered a sacred trust. But it seems to me that, had I, for money, betrayed the man whose hand I had taken, whose confidence I had won, and to whom I had promised succor, I would have been, of all traitors, the most abject and despicable. Money won by such vile means would have been accursed and the pale face of the man whose life I had sold, would have haunted me to my grave. True, the hopes of the Confederacy were like autumn leaves when the blast has swept by. True, the little I had accumulated through twenty years of unremitting toil was irrevocably lost. But, thank God, there was something I still possessed — something I still could call my own, and its name was Honor.
In 1889, soon after I was dismissed from the humble position I had held under the Federal Government in the Navy Yard at Washington, I met, for the first time since those memorable and eventful days of which I have been writing. Captain Williams. He was then a detective in Washington City. In the interview I then had with him (a not very accurate account of which was published in the newspapers at the time) Captain Williams told me that that day in Port Tobacco he very strongly suspected I knew more than I was willing to tell. But there was certainly nothing in his manner from which I could have inferred that he was any more suspicious of me than he was of any one else in southern Maryland.” – Thomas Jones from J. Wilkes Booth
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Port Tobacco weaves in and out of the assassination story. In the days of the kidnapping plot, John Surratt and Thomas Harbin convinced Port Tobacco-ite Richard Smoot to sell them a boat with which to ferry the abducted President across the Potomac river. Conspirator George Atzerodt lived, worked, and “married” in Port Tobacco before joining Booth in his plot. As seen above, Thomas Jones, while hiding Booth and Herold in the pine thicket after the assassination, could have made a fortune in Port Tobacco had he betrayed the pair. Conspiracy was ripe in Port Tobacco.
You can read more about Port Tobacco’s history as the former county seat of Charles County and it’s involvement in the Lincoln assassination story by visiting these sites:
While this post doesn’t contain much in the way of new material or research, I hope the following pictures of assassination related places and things are, nevertheless, enjoyable and informative.
After leaving Spangler’s grave, I continued my trek around Charles County, MD. My next stop was Rich Hill, the home of Colonel Samuel Cox:
As you can see, Rich Hill is in delapidated condition. Neglect is taking a toll on this historic house.
From Rich Hill, I traveled down the road to the “Pine Thicket”:
Booth and Herold moved around in this pine thicket while Thomas Jones kept them hidden from federal troops. The first place Jones met the pair in the thicket was near an old hollowed out stump that was used as a point for the Confederate mail line. The Collis house was later built on this spot. I drove down the dead end street near these signs and visited the Collis house. Next door to the home I was previously shown to be the Collis house however, there is a house that also looks very similar to the engraving in Thomas Jones’ book:
So at this point I’m not sure where the real Collis house might be. Either way a small part of the pine thicket still exists, right across from the Bel Alton post office.
From here I decided to travel to Port Tobacco to see if I could sneak in a tour of the reconstructed Port Tobacco Courthouse. I passed this sign while heading there:
While the Courthouse building was open, there were many people setting up for a wedding reception so I quickly made my leave:
From Port Tobacco I took a non-Boothie stop to the Thomas Stone National Historic Site. Thomas Stone was a Maryland signer of the Declaration of Independence and his home, Habre-De-Venture, is a National Park. The property is quite beautiful and it was a wonderful day to go walking around their nature trail.
I chatted with the NPS ranger in the Thomas Stone visitor’s center for awhile and learned that she was friends of the Wearmouths, authors of Charles County history books. The pair, John and Roberta, wrote many books including ones about Port Tobacco, Thomas Jones and collected abstracts from the Port Tobacco Times newspaper. They had previously run a small antique store out of their home called, “Stone’s Throw”. She called the Wearmouths and I was invited over to see one antique related to a place I had already visited that day. I traveled to the Wearmouth’s house (literally a stone’s throw from the National Park) and chatted briefly with John and Roberta about their books. I was then showed the antique I had heard about, a piece that had once belonged to Samuel Cox, Jr. and was once housed at Rich Hill:
This large, oak, china cabinet with curved glass is circa 1895 and is from Baltimore or D.C. The piece was shipped to Bel Alton on the Baltimore and Potomac Rail Road. The back of the piece is stenciled “S. Cox Bel Alton” to assure correct delivery off of the train. The Wearmouths bought it from an antique dealer who had acquired it from a lady who lived a few doors down from Rich Hill.
After all this I was pretty tired, so my impromptu trip around Charles County, Maryland came to an end.
P.S. Apparently while I was off driving around, you all were visiting my blog. Today was a record day with over 310 visitors! Thanks!
In this undated mini-letter (or lengthy autograph), Thomas Austin Jones succinctly attests to his role in hiding the aiding the fugitives.
“Captn Williams offered the reward on Tuesday 18th of April 1865 in Brawner’s Hotel in Port Tobacco,Md.And on the 22d of April 1865 at night I took Booth and Harold to a point on thePotomac River, known as Dent’s Meadow, in Charles County, Md.
And from thence landed them on a Point at the mouth of Machodoc Chreek, in King George County, Va.
T. A. Jones”
In a brushy outlying area of the St. Ignatius Cemetery in Port Tobacco, Maryland, there is a weather worn grave marker:
While extremely faded from time and neglect, the name on the marker and some information can still be gleaned from it. From this picture we can make out something along the lines of:
To the Memory of
Edward John Collis
Once of Angelo
Who Died at Bel Alton
April 21, 1895
Aged 52 Years
Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.
They rest from their labours and their works do follow them.”
The outlying location of this grave is a wonderful metaphor for this man’s outlying connection to the assassination story.
Edward John Collis was born at Wollaston Hall in Worcestershire, England on March 28, 1843. His father was a deputy Lord Lieutenant in Worcestershire. On July 9th, 1867, Edward married Elizabeth Louis Swann in England. An educated man, Mr. Collis worked in mines as an engineer. He and his wife came to America in 1887 for pleasure and health. Working in the mines caused Mr. Collis to contract rheumatic fever. Finding the American climate and way of life to his liking, Mr. Collis and his wife bought property and settled in Bel Alton, Maryland in 1890. Though being a newcomer to the area, Mr. Collis engrained himself in local functions and positions in Charles county. The Englishman who took well to the Southern Maryland way of life passed away in 1895, five short years after moving in. His cause of death was reported in the papers to have been from epilepsy and nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys).
This gent’s connection to the Lincoln assassination is as follows. During the short time Mr. Collis was in Maryland, he lived in a particular house. That house was built on the land where Thomas A. Jones first met John Wilkes Booth and David Herold as they were hidden in the pine thicket. In Thomas Jones’ book, J. Wilkes Booth, written in 1893, Jones cites, “An Englishman, named Collis, now occupies a house built upon the exact spot where I first beheld the fugitives.”
In 1865, everyone referred to the land where the pair hid as Captain Michael Stone Robertson’s land, even though the good captain had been killed in 1862 at the Battle of Harrisonburg. Regardless, after the pair arrived at Colonel Samuel Cox’s home, Rich Hill, Cox had his overseer hide the men in the pine thicket to avoid detection. He then sent his son, Samuel Cox, Jr. to fetch Thomas Jones. Jones agreed to help the pair and, over the next several days, he brought them food, water, and supplies. When the soldiers cleared the area, Jones put them on a boat across the Potomac. Before any of that occurred, however, Jones met Booth and Herold right where Edward Collis’ house stood.
Today, it is believed that original Collis house still stands as part of this modern house:
While Edward John Collis only has a passing connection with the history of the assassination, he is still worthy of a mention. When Collis died in 1895, one of his pallbearers was Samuel Cox, Jr. This means that Samuel Cox, Jr. not only helped direct Thomas Jones to the spot where he found the conspirators, but he also laid to rest a man who made his home there.
Abstracts from the Port Tobacco Times and Charles County Advertiser – Vol 6 by Roberta J. Wearmouth
J. Wilkes Booth by Thomas A. Jones
The wonderful Mr. Joe Gleason who showed me this grave and house.