Posts Tagged With: Port Conway

The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (April 25 – May 8)

Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

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The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (September 13 – September 19)

Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

Continue reading

Categories: History, OTD | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Visit to “The Trap”

On April 24, 1865, John Wilkes Booth, the fugitive assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, was dropped off at the Garrett farm just outside of Port Royal, Virginia. Over the prior ten days, Booth and his accomplice David Herold had successfully eluded the massive manhunt searching for them in Maryland and had made their way into Virginia. By portraying himself as a wounded Confederate soldier named James Boyd, John Wilkes Booth was welcomed in by the Garrett family and given the hospitality of their home and farm. David Herold, on the other hand, decided for the first time to depart from Booth’s company. Whether this was his own choice or whether Booth sent him away on purpose, perhaps to scout the route ahead, is unknown. Regardless, Herold did not stay at the Garrett farm on April 24th and, instead, continued on towards Bowling Green with the three Confederate soldiers that he and Booth had met in Port Conway. When the sun went down on April 24th,  Herold and one of the soldiers, Absalom Bainbridge, would spend the night outside of Bowling Green, Virginia at the home of a Mrs. Virginia Clarke. Before that would occur, however, David Herold and the three Confederate soldiers would all make a pit stop on the road between Port Royal and Bowling Green at a tavern known as “The Trap.”

The Trap was built around 1752 and initially operated as a private home. Its location of being about half way between Port Royal and Bowling Green earned it the nickname of the “Halfway House.” In 1777, a wealthy man by the name of Peyton Stern (whose land holdings in Caroline County at that time stretched over 2,000 acres and included what would become the Garrett family farm) started operating the building as a tavern. In the 1830’s the tavern was acquired by a man named George Washington Carter, whose family owned an adjacent land tract of 452 acres. George Washington Carter died in 1853 leaving his widow, Martha, to care for their large family of children. Similar to the Surratt Tavern in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Mrs. Carter would continue to operate the tavern as a means of income and offer lodging for visitors passing by on the road. The Trap also operated as the local post office in the same way the Surratt Tavern did.

In 1865, Mrs. Carter was running The Trap with the help of her four daughters. The daughters were twins Martha and Mary (27), Sarah (23), and Agnes (20). On April 5, The Trap briefly received a fairly distinguished guest by the name of Thomas Conolly.

Thomas Conolly

Thomas Conolly

Conolly was an Irish member of British parliament who had crossed the Atlantic to visit the Confederacy. He was well connected, wealthy, and was able to meet many of the Confederacy’s elite. Conolly was lavishly wined and dined during his trip, likely in the hopes that impressing him would motivate him to convince his countrymen to support the Confederacy. Conolly had departed Richmond just before the Union troops seized it and was making his way north. He mentions his stop at The Trap in his diary which has been published as An Irishman in Dixie: Thomas Conolly’s Diary of the Fall of the Confederacy.

“Stopped again from the exhausted state of our horse at the Trap 1/2 way to Port Royal where we find Mrs Carter & her 4 pretty daughters. The house was full of Virginia Cavalry going to join their Regts & the girls & mother serving them all round with all they had. Got some dinner bacon & greens & pickled peaches & corn bread & milk. Matty [Martha] & I had a pleasant chat & I gave her the other gold stud wh[ich] pleased her much.”

Conolly’s diary paints The Trap as a bustling and busy tavern with soldiers anxious to get food and drink. It was, therefore, not out of the ordinary when, on April 24th, David Herold, Willie Jett, Mortimer Ruggles and Absalom Bainbridge stopped by The Trap after dropping John Wilkes Booth off at the Garrett farm.

The men all took drinks while at The Trap and apparently discussed, within earshot of Mrs. Carter or her daughters, their plan to split up at Bowling Green and for Herold and Bainbridge to find lodging at Mrs. Clarke’s while Jett and Ruggles stayed at the Star Hotel. After their rest stop at The Trap, the man saddled back up and rode on to Bowling Green.

About 12 hours later, on April 25th, David Herold, Absalom Bainbridge and Mortimer Ruggles returned to The Trap this time headed in the opposite direction. They had followed through on their plan to spend the night in and outside of Bowling Green and now Herold was heading back towards Booth with Ruggles and Bainbridge as his guides. Once again, Herold, Bainbridge and Ruggles took drinks at The Trap. Sadly we do not really know any of the conversation or even the amount of time the men stayed at The Trap before they bade the Carter ladies goodbye.

Herold 1

David Herold was dropped off at the Garrett farm on April 25th and rejoined John Wilkes Booth who had been treated with much generosity and kindness by the unsuspecting Garretts. Bainbridge and Ruggles continued on the road until they reached Port Royal and witnessed a detachment of Union troops crossing the Rappahannock river. This was the 16th New York Cavalry and they had finally found John Wilkes Booth trail. The troops had learned from William Rollins in Port Conway that Booth had been seen in the company of Confederate soldiers, one of whom was Willie Jett. Mrs. Rollins knew that Willie Jett was dating a girl in Bowling Green and that they would likely be heading there. Bainbridge and Ruggles turned around and rode back to the Garretts to warn Booth and Herold before heading out of the area themselves.

The 16th NY Cavalry, with William Rollins in tow, successfully crossed the Rappahannock and then began riding down the same road Booth and Herold had been on the day before. They unknowingly passed John Wilkes Booth and David Herold as they rode by the Garrett farm on their way to Bowling Green. By 9:00 pm, the band of soldiers found themselves at that old half way house, The Trap.

When the Union soldiers entered The Trap and began searching the premises, Mrs. Carter and her daughters were understandably excited and distraught at the intrusion by Yankee soldiers. The soldiers found no men in the large, log house as the Carter ladies “raised and kept up such a clamor.” In order to try to get some needed information from the Carters, two of the detectives with the 16th NY, Everton Conger and Luther Baker, told them that they were in pursuit of “a party that had committed an outrage on a girl.”

Everton Conger and Luther Baker

Everton Conger and Luther Baker

This claim softened the Carter ladies’ dispositions and made them inclined to tell the soldiers all they could. They verified that a group of men had stopped by the day before on their way to Bowling Green and that three of them had come back a few hours before the troopers arrival. The Carters also mentioned having overheard the conversation about the men splitting up with some lodging at Mrs. Clarke’s home. The detectives contemplated splitting up the detachment in order to send some men to Mrs. Clarke’s and the rest on to Bowling Green, but decided to move, as a whole group, on to Bowling Green. The 16th NY was at The Trap for about a half hour to forty-five minutes before carrying on.

In Bowling Green, the troopers found Willie Jett asleep in the Star Hotel. He immediately surrendered and informed the men that Booth was at the Garrett farm and that they had unwittingly gone right past him. They placed Jett under arrest and then hightailed it back up the road, passing right by The Trap again without stopping.

The rest, as they say, is history. The 16th NY successfully corner John Wilkes Booth in the Garretts’ tobacco barn, light the barn on fire to smoke him out, and then Sergeant Boston Corbett paralyzes Booth with a gunshot wound to the neck. John Wilkes Booth dies around dawn on April 26, 1865. David Herold, two of the Garrett sons, William Rollins, and Booth’s body are all taken back up to Washington for trial, imprisonment and questioning, and burial, respectively.

Mrs. Carter and her daughters likely heard later that the men the troopers were looking for at their tavern were not wanted for an outrage on a girl but, rather, for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

After the Civil War, Mrs. Carter and her daughters continued to run The Trap as tavern. Out of the four daughters, only Agnes would marry but would be widowed soon after the birth of her own daughter. Unfortunately, times continued to be tough for the Carters and in 1870’s Mrs. Carter had defaulted on her loans. She sold off some of her land to try to stay afloat but in 1888 the land containing the tavern was auctioned off to pay for her debts. The tavern property was purchased by a man named George Lonesome who, in 1913, sold it to man named J. Harvey Whittaker. Sometime between 1900 and 1924, The Trap tavern was demolished. A subsequent owner named J. D. Smithers built and ran a store on the site from 1924 until 1941.

During World War II, the United States government, in need of suitable training and maneuvering ground, seized and purchased over 77,000 acres of Caroline County, Virginia. Residents in the area were given between two weeks and two days to move out of their homes, taking all of their belongings with them, never to return. For many, the land seized by the government had been their homesteads for generations. It was a difficult time for many families in the area who had to leave the farms that had been in their families for years. Yet, the land provided to create the training grounds of Fort A.P. Hill was essential for the war effort. Today, Fort A.P.Hill is split in half by a highway, Route 301. The southern half, which contains the area of The Trap, is the home of various live weapons ranges and is practically always off limits to the public, even to those whose ancestors lived, died, and were buried there.

That being said, today, June 11, 2016, was the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Fort A. P. Hill and as such they had various history exhibits and activities planned for the day that were open to the public. The activities included a one time tour of the Delos area where The Trap was located. What follows are some pictures of The Trap site that David Herold and the members of the 16th New York Cavalry visited.

Trap Tour Map

This map was provided in a booklet tour participants received and shows a modern aerial photo of the sites with former land tracts superimposed over the image. The Trap tavern where Herold et al stopped is actually labelled here as #2 Smithers’ Store, as a man named Smithers ran a store on the former site of The Trap from 1924 – 1941. As stated above, the farm owned by George Washington Carter and inherited by Martha Carter was 452 acres which is why #1 is labeled as the Trap farm but is actually the location of a later home built on the property around the 1890’s.

Trap Ice House 1

Trap Ice House 2

While the main residence that occupied #1 “Trap Farm” was built in the 1890’s, there are some remnants of a much earlier outbuilding in the area that was likely connected to the tavern. These pictures show what is left of an old, sizable ice house. In the days before refrigeration, families would essentially dig a large hole in the ground. The deeper you dig the cooler the earth is and at a certain point it can get close to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. You would place your ice in these deep pits and then cover it  with saw dust or another insulator to slow down melting, allowing you to have ice even in the summer months. The whole thing would then be covered with a primitive roof of some sort. The size and depth of this ice house and its relative proximity to The Trap tavern has led the archaeologists to conclude that this ice house was used by the tavern to provide them with their ice.

Trap dirt explanation

This image is a preface for the ones that follow and explains why much of The Trap site and the old road that ran right in front of it look like a construction site today. The entire site around The Trap is covered in this layer of “foreign dirt” that had to be removed before excavations could be done.

Trap Rolling Road

In this image you can see very clearly the traces of the old “Rolling Road” that connected Bowling Green to Port Royal. This image is taken looking southwest in the direction of Bowling Green.

Trap Rolling Road 2

This image shows the remains of the Rolling Road in the opposite direction. You can just make out at the end how the road is beginning to turn towards the left. Following that turn takes you north towards Port Royal. David Herold, Bainbridge, Ruggles, and the 16th New York Cavalry all traveled this road twice on their way to and from Bowling Green.

The Trap Site 6-11-16

The Trap site 2 6-11-16

These pictures show the site of The Trap tavern itself. In the top picture you can see a dark square in the foreground. That is one of the brick piers that the tavern sat on. It was highlighted by spraying it with water to make the color more noticeable. In the bottom image you can no longer see the square as the water has evaporated but it is located between the green bags in the middle. The bottom image is taken from the Rolling Road to give you an idea of how close to the road the tavern stood. It was located on this perfect spot where the road curved north making its own intersection.

Dave in The Trap

This is an images of me standing “in” The Trap. You can see the Rolling Road behind me.

The tour of The Trap site was a wonderful experience and one that I felt lucky to take part in. The location of The Trap inside the boundaries of the live range area of Fort A. P. Hill insures that it will rarely be open to the public. At the same time, Fort A. P. Hill seem to be the perfect stewards of the site and their archaeology efforts demonstrate their commitment to preserving the cultural heritage of the land they occupy.

In closing, I would be remiss if I did not address the two “elephants in the room” when it comes to The Trap. One issue is the correct spelling of the tavern. I, like many others, have always spelled it as The Trappe. You can find this spelling in other texts and articles about the assassination. According to one of our guides for the day, John Mullins, the site was originally spelled Trap and not Trappe. John says that this spelling did not come about until the 1890’s or so and was likely started after the area became known as Delos. The spelling of The Trap with the extra “pe” was likely people’s inadvertent way of referring to the old name and making it seem ever older by giving it the old English spelling.

The second item that I failed to address was the reputation of The Trap and the Carter ladies. Some texts and authors state that The Trap was a thinly disguised brothel run by Mrs. Carter and her daughters. When I first began researching the Lincoln assassination I heard from several knowledgeable individuals that The Trap had a slightly scandalous reputation. However, in researching the topic I have yet to come across anything that truly supports this idea. The origin of this misconception appears to be an April 27, 1865 statement from Luther Baker. In recounting the hunt for Booth, Baker shares the detachment’s stop at the Trap thusly: “About halfway to Bowling Green, which is 15 miles from the ferry, we stopped at a log house called the halfway house. We found there four or five ladies, who keep a house of entertainment.” Baker then proceeds to recount how no men were found in the house and how the ladies eventually gave them the information they needed. This wording that the Carter ladies kept a “house of entertainment” seems to be the fairly innocuous wellspring from which all unseemly rumors have flowed. However, in its early days, The Trap was a house of entertainment. Horse races and card games took place there. According to one of our guides for the tour, the name of The Trap was an old reference to how the tavern was a money trap for those who went there to play cards. Whether Mrs. Carter and her daughters still allowed card playing when they owned the tavern is unclear, but even if they did, a little card playing doesn’t equate to a house of sin. Unless better evidence can be found to support the idea that they were improper in anyway, I think Mrs. Carter and her daughters deserve to have their reputations vindicated.

Former Community of Delos (The Trap) Tour Itinerary booklet
“The Trappe” by James O. Hall published in the Surratt Courier June 1987
John Mullins, Kerri Holland, Rich Davis – Archaeologists
The Lincoln Assassination – The Reward Files edited by William Edwards
An Irishman in Dixie: Thomas Conolly’s Diary of the Fall of the Confederacy edited by Nelson D. Lankford

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

John Wilkes Booth Escape Route Tour Through Virginia

While there have been many wonderful books written about the Lincoln assassination, whenever someone asks for my opinion about the best book on the subject I always direct them to American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. In terms of depth of research and wealth of knowledge I believe American Brutus to be unparalleled in Lincoln assassination scholarship. In turn, I also view its author, Michael Kauffman, to be the foremost expert on the Lincoln assassination. The man has spent over 50 years delving into every single side story relating to Booth and the assassination. Not only that but Mr. Kauffman has also “walked the walked” in personally recreating many of the events relating to the history. His stories of jumping from a ladder onto the stage at Ford’s Theatre and his own attempt to row across the Potomac were big motivations to me and inspired me to create my “John Wilkes Booth in the Woods” reenactment.  Mr. Kauffman is a walking encyclopedia and also happens to be one of the nicest people you could meet. Needless to say that whenever I get a chance to talk and learn from Mr. Kauffman, I am definitely in awe of his knowledge and experience.

The reason I am saying all of this is because there is a rare opportunity for those of you in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area to learn from this true expert on the Lincoln assassination. While Mr. Kauffman was once a fixture of the John Wilkes Booth escape route bus tours put on by the Surratt Society, he retired from doing that a few years ago and rarely does bus tours anymore. However, he will be conducting a very special John Wilkes Booth escape route bus tour on Saturday, April 30, 2016. This unique bus tour is being put on by Historic Port Royal, the historical society in Port Royal, Virginia, where John Wilkes Booth was cornered and killed. This tour is focused entirely on Booth’s escape through Virginia and will commence just over the Potomac River in King George County, Virginia. Here’s a scanned page about the event from the newest HPR newsletter:

HPR Page April 30 BERT Kauffman

Click to enlarge

As some of you may know, I am a board member for Historic Port Royal. We are a growing historical society and currently operate three different museums: The Port Royal Museum of American History, The Port Royal Museum of Medicine, and the Old Port Royal School. Each year HPR also organizes an Independence Day celebration. This is in addition to our quarterly newsletter and public events and speakers throughout the year. If you are not already a member of Historic Port Royal, please join us. We are a 100% volunteer organization and so your small annual dues help us preserve our growing collection of artifacts and keep the lights on at our museums so that more people may come and learn about this historic town.

Historic Port Royal is using this bus tour as a fundraiser and we would love to sell out every seat on the bus. As stated on the above flyer, the tour is from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturday, April 30, 2016. The cost is $65 which includes a box lunch.

For those who have taken other Booth escape route tours before, this tour will include familiar spots such as Mrs. Quesenberry’s house, Dr. Stuart’s Cleydael, and the Peyton House in Port Royal. However it will also include stops at Belle Grove Plantation (the birthplace of President James Madison where members of the 16th NY Cavalry stopped while on the hunt for Booth), The Port Royal Museum Museum of American History (which contains several artifacts relating to the Garrett farm and the death of Booth), and a fuller tour of Port Royal itself complete with a skit on the porch of the Peyton House re-enacting Booth’s arrival in town (by yours truly).

The whole event promises to be one that participants will not soon forget especially with a guide as knowledgeable as Michael Kauffman.

To get more information or to reserve your spot please call HPR Treasurer Bill Henderson at (804) 450-3994 or email him at There are very few seats left for this special tour of John Wilkes Booth’s escape through Virginia led by Lincoln assassination expert Michael Kauffman. I hope to see some of you there.

Kauffman BERT tix HPR

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Retracing the Steps of the 16th New York

When John Wilkes Booth looked out between the slats of Mr. Garrett’s tobacco barn in the early morning hours of April 26, 1865, the faces he saw staring back at him belonged to the troopers of the 16th New York Cavalry.  Through perseverance and a good bit of luck, the troop of twenty-six men commanded by Lieutenant Edward P. Doherty, detectives Luther Baker and Everton Conger, managed to locate and surround the assassin of President Lincoln.  On the last day of the 2014,  I retraced some of the steps the troopers took which concluded in them successfully locating the most wanted man in America.

Luther Baker, Lafayette Baker, and Everton Conger posed as if planing the capture of John Wilkes Booth. Image animated by Chubachus (

Following the crime of April 14th, numerous troop detachments were sent out to scour the countryside in search of the assassin.  However, with the assistance of others, Booth and Herold always managed to stay one or two steps ahead of the soldiers.  When the pair crossed over into Virginia, they had a huge lead over their pursuers.  While the manhunt succeeded in identifying and arresting some of the major players in the escape (John M. Lloyd, Dr. Samuel Mudd, even Thomas Jones), up until the moment he was killed, the widespread belief among those searching for him held that Booth was still hiding out in Maryland.  The reason the 16th New York had even made its way into Virginia to search for the assassin was due to a serendipitous case of mistaken identity.

On April 16th, two Confederate agents named Thomas Harbin and Joseph Baden, Jr. crossed the Potomac river from a point on the Maryland shore called Banks O’Dee.  Harbin had been introduced to John Wilkes Booth by Dr. Mudd and had apparently agreed to help the actor in his initial abduction plot against Lincoln.  The increased troop detail in Southern Maryland and his acquaintance with the assassin probably motivated Harbin to cross to safer shores in Virginia.  On the 19th of April, while detectives from James O’Beirne’s Washington D.C. provost marshal’s office were in Southern Maryland looking for information and acting as spies, a farmer in Banks O’Dee named Richard Claggett mentioned having seen two men cross the river on the 16th.  As days passed with no other signs of the fugitives, two of O’Beirne’s men followed up on this lead and traveled into the Northern Neck of Virginia where few troops had been deployed.  The detectives found a boat but nothing more.  On the morning of the 24th O’Beirne, himself in the field at Port Tobacco, had a telegraph sent to the War Department about the theory that the fugitives may have already crossed into Virginia.  Lafayette Baker, head of the National Detective Police, decided O’Beirne’s theory warranted further investigation and received permission from  Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to send a cavalry troop.  An order went out for a “reliable and discreet commissioned officer” to command the mission.  Lt. Edward Doherty of the 16th New York Cavalry answered the order.

Edward P. Doherty of the 16th New York Cavalry

Edward P. Doherty of the 16th New York Cavalry

A call then went out for twenty five privates from the 16th New York to join him, and Doherty took the first twenty-five who responded, regardless of their rank.  Lafayette Baker also sent two detectives with the 16th New York.  One was his cousin, Luther Byron Baker, and the other was a former Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger.  Both had served with Lafayette Baker in the District of Columbia Cavalry.  Technically, Luther Baker and Everton Conger were civilians at the time which would have left Doherty as the de facto leader of the group.  However, once Booth was cornered and killed and the applications for reward money came in, battle lines were drawn with Conger and Baker both refuting Doherty’s ownership of the operation, making it difficult to ascertain who Lafayette Baker truly put in charge (if anyone).

Regardless, after receiving their orders to investigate the Northern Necks of Virginia, the detectives and the soldiers of the 16th NY made their way to the Sixth Street wharf in Washington D.C. and boarded the propeller-driven steamer, John S. Ide.  The Ide steamed them down the Potomac, depositing them at Belle Plain, Virginia which is right at the border of King George and Stafford counties.  It had taken Booth and Herold nine days to reach King George County. The troops made it there from D.C. in four hours.

Belle Plain map 1

Here are some pictures Belle Plain today showing the location where the John S. Ide docked and unloaded the soldiers:

Belle Plain 2

Belle Plain 1

Belle Plain Pano

The detachment unloaded here at around 10 pm on April 24th.  Knowing that Booth was suffering from a broken leg, they immediately set about looking for doctors in the area.  Luther Baker recalled the long night of April 24/25th thusly:

“The direction we took I could not tell positively.  We went under the bluffs, and waked up the inhabitants of a house, to ascertain if any physicians resided in that locality.  We learned the names of three of them, found them, and questioned them closely as to whether or not they had attended anyone with a fractured limb, or had heard of anyone with a fractured limb in the vicinity.  We also questioned a negro and a few white persons upon the subject.  All had heard of no such case.”

Around daybreak on the 25th, the 16th New York arrived at the home of Dr. Horace Ashton, the last doctor on their list.  Like the other doctors in the area, Dr. Ashton had neither seen or heard anything in regard to a man with a broken leg in the area.  The doctor was a fairly wealthy man with a large plantation which he called, Bleak Hill.

Bleak Hill map

The doctor fed the troopers’ horses and provided the soldiers with a well deserved breakfast.  Bleak Hill still stands today though the large building on the property apparently dates to 1870.

Bleak Hill 1

Bleak Hill 2

When the troops departed Bleak Hill, they split into two groups, each tracing a different route down to Port Conway on the Rappahannock River.  Lt. Doherty and the majority of his men took the main road to Port Conway passing through Office Hall.  Unbeknownst to the men, they were now on the trail of Booth and Herold as the pair had also passed through Office Hall on their way between Cleydael and Port Conway 24 hours before.  Baker, Conger and four troopers took a less traveled route and eventually met up with the posse in Port Conway around lunch time.

The horses were again in need of feed and were lucky enough to find hospitality at the home of a wealthy planter named Carolinus Turner.  His large and beautiful home was called Belle Grove and had the distinction of being the site of President James Madison’s birth.  About half of the troopers were served lunch at Belle Grove with the rest being fed elsewhere.  After lunch, Col. Conger, exhausted and suffering the long term effects of previous battle wounds, fell asleep from exhaustion in the hall of Belle Grove.

Belle Grove map

Today, Belle Grove is operated as a beautiful bed and breakfast. As refreshing as Col. Conger’s rest in the hallway must have been, I can say from personal experience that is nothing compared to a night or two in their luxurious Madison Suite.

Belle Grove 1

Belle Grove Front

Belle Grove Hallway

Belle Grove Hallway with Conger

As Conger slept, Lt. Doherty and some of his men made their way the half mile down the road to Port Conway, where they interviewed the inhabitants. It was here, in tiny little Port Conway on the Rappahannock River that the 16th New York finally got their first real lead on Booth’s whereabouts. Local fisherman William Rollins, had seen Booth and Herold as they were waiting to cross the Rappahannock the day before. Even more helpful, Rollins’ wife not only recognized the Confederate soldiers who ended up crossing the ferry with the pair, but knew that one of them, Willie Jett, was courting Izora Gouldman who lived in nearby Bowling Green. With this information in hand, Doherty sent one of his men to wake up Conger and the whole posse began the task of crossing the Rappahannock river. It took a while as the small ferry could only carry a few horses at a time. When the entire group made it across the river, they set about galloping at full speed to Bowling Green. Unknowingly, they rode right past the Garrett farm where Booth and Herold were hiding out.

Bowling Green map

Once in Bowling Green (a place I did not visit on New Year’s but you can see other pictures relating to it in the Bowling Green Picture Gallery), the company found Jett sleeping in the Star Hotel. Surrounded by troopers, he “offered” to take the men to the Garrett place where he had dropped off Booth two days before. The troops, with Jett in tow, headed back to the Garrett Farm.

Garrett's farm map

The rest, as they say, is history. Booth and Herold had been exiled to the tobacco barn that night due to their strange behavior when the troops were originally galloping past on the way to Bowling Green. With the barn surrounded, Herold surrendered while an obstinate Booth asked for 50 paces so that he could come out shooting. Eventually Conger tired of the ongoing parley and set fire to the barn. Sergeant Boston Corbett aimed his pistol through the slats of the barn and shot Booth, striking him in the neck, and paralyzing him. He was pulled to the porch of the farmhouse and died there right after sunrise.

Today the site of the Garrett house is in the wooded median of Route 301, surrounded on all sides by Fort A. P. Hill. The only marker at the site, aside from a warning that digging for artifacts in illegal, is a metal pipe sticking out of the ground which marks the center line of the western most chimney of the Garrett house.

Garrett site 1-1-2015 Pano

Garrett Site 1-1-2015

A visit to the Garrett site on New Year’s day (a tradition of mine ever since I moved to Maryland) ended our retracing of the route of the 16th New York Cavalry. After getting a breakfast and food for their horses at Garrett’s, the troopers returned to Belle Plain. With Booth’s body in tow and Herold taken prisoner, the victorious men reboarded the John S. Ide and steamed back up to D.C. They were Lincoln’s Avengers and no doubt spent that steamship ride dreaming of the fame and reward money that awaited them.

American Brutus by Michael W. Kauffman
The Lincoln Assassination: The Reward Files by William Edwards
Belle Grove Plantation

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Jett, Ruggles, and Bainbridge

A few days ago, commenter Kees van den Berg posed the following question:

“I wonder, what happened with Jett, Ruggles and Bainbridge? I suppose they were arrested and confined in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. Is it true that they never were tried, but came free after a couple of weeks after taking the oath of allegiance to the US? Have you dates of confinement and release? Thank you beforehand.”

His question refers to Willie Storke Jett, Mortimer Bainbridge Ruggles, and Absalom Ruggles Bainbridge. Ruggles and Bainbridge were cousins which explains the last names as middle names coincidence.  These three men were Confederate soldiers who ran into John Wilkes Booth and David E. Herold during their escape.

About midday on April 24th, the fugitives were at Port Conway, VA on the banks of the Rappahannock River. They were waiting for the ferry to come so they could get to Port Royal on the other side. As they waited, Jett, Ruggles, and Bainbridge came riding up.  The three men were heading towards Richmond, ultimately to get their paroles. At first, Herold lied to the men and told them that he and his wounded brother were also Confederate veterans. Thinking the three soldiers were on their way south to meet up with others in order to continue the fight, Herold pulled Jett aside and asked him if they could join them. Surprised by Herold’s desperation, especially when he and his comrades had accepted the defeat of their cause, Jett asked Herold straight away who they really were. Herold replied back, “We are the assassinators of the President”.

After more conversation, Jett, Ruggles, and Bainbridge agreed to help the men. The five men and their three horses crossed the Rappahannock on the ferry guided by ferryman Jim Thornton. When they arrived at Port Royal, Jett searched out a place for Booth to stay. He came to the home of Sarah Jane Peyton, who agreed, sight unseen, to care for a wounded solider.

The home of Sarah Jane Peyton in Port Royal, VA

The home of Sarah Jane Peyton in Port Royal, VA

When Booth hobbled into her parlor, however, her hospitality changed. She no longer thought it proper for her to entertain a guest while her brother, the man of the house, was absent. She suggested to Jett that he might find better lodging for the wounded man a couple of miles down the road, at the farm of Richard Garrett. The three men rode to the Garrett place, with Booth and Herold sharing horses with Ruggles and Bainbridge, respectively. When they arrived at the Garrett farm, Bainbridge and Herold stayed by the outer gate as Jett, Booth and Ruggles approached the house. The Garretts agreed to care for Booth, whom Jett said was a wounded soldier named Boyd, until Jett’s return in a couple of days. Jett, Ruggles, Bainbridge, and Herold rode further south. They stopped at the Trappe, a house of entertainment, before separating for the evening. Jett and Ruggles went to the Star Hotel in Bowling Green. Jett was courting Izora Gouldman, the hotel-keeper’s daughter.  Bainbridge and Herold traveled to the home of Virginia Clarke. Coincidentally, both Bainbridge and Herold knew Virginia’s son James and were welcomed into her home for the night.

The next day, Bainbridge and Herold met back up with Ruggles, likely in Bowling Green. The three men rode back to the Garrett house where Booth had comfortably spent the night in an upstairs bedroom. Bainbridge and Ruggles dropped Herold off and then continued on to Port Royal. When they arrived, they found a troop of Union cavalry crossing the ferry from Port Conway to Port Royal. They turned around and put spurs to their horses. They rushed back to Booth and Herold at the Garrett farm long enough to tell them of the approaching troops, then they continued quickly south.

The rest is well-known. The Union troops learned from one of the residents of Port Conway that Willie Jett was among the men who crossed with John Wilkes Booth. What’s more, they learned of Jett’s affinity for Izora Gouldman. Unknowingly, the troops rode right past the Garret farm where Booth was hiding on their way to Bowling Green. They captured Jett at the Star Hotel and he agreed to take them to the Garrett farm. When the troops arrived, they kept Jett under guard near the gate of the farm while the rest surrounded the house and barn. Eventually Herold surrendered himself and the barn was lit on fire to smoke Booth out. Boston Corbett fired at Booth inside of the burning barn, paralyzing him. Booth was dragged from the barn, first placed under a tree and then on to the front porch of the house.  He died around dawn on April 26th.


During the lengthy crossing of the soldiers on their way back across the Rappahannock after killing Booth, Detective Luther Baker took possession of Booth’s body and the prisoner Jett. With two other soldiers, Baker departed Port Conway ahead of the rest of the troops. At some point during their travel to Belle Plain, where a steamboat would take them up to Washington, Baker let Willie Jett go. Jett had led the soldiers right to the assassin without a fight, and Baker did not believe there was any need to detain him further. When Baker got back to Washington, he was severely berated by Edwin Stanton for releasing Jett without authorization. An arrest order for Jett was quickly sent out:

An arrest order for Willie Jett dated April 28th.

An arrest order for Willie Jett dated April 28th.

Jett was re-arrested in Westmoreland County, VA on May 1st. He was transferred to Washington and imprisoned at the Old Capitol Prison with the other Lincoln assassination related suspects. On May 6th, he gave a lengthy statement to the authorities about his interaction with Booth, ending it with the assurance, “I have tried to evade nothing. From the beginning I have told everything.”  Jett was also called to testify at the trial of the conspirators, giving his testimony on May 17th.  Willie Jett was imprisoned for a month and was released on May 31st when he took an oath of allegiance at the Old Capitol Prison:

Willie Jett's Oath of Allegiance NARA

Though Jett had been a major player in the escape of John Wilkes Booth, he was not tried as a conspirator since he had never met Booth prior to April 24th and Jett had also assisted in Booth’s capture.  The government was only concerned with prosecuting those they believed had real knowledge of the conspiracy before it was carried out.  Jett did not fit this criteria.

In January of 1890, an account written by Lieutenant Ruggles was published in The Century Magazine. Not all of the details in Ruggles’ recollections almost 25 years after the fact are correct, but he does give this account of what happened to him and Bainbridge:

“Learning that Jett was a prisoner, and that we were to be arrested, tried, and hanged, as aiders and abetters, Bainbridge and myself stood not on the order of going, but went at once. Making our way into Essex County and crossing to Westmoreland, we went to our home up in King George County. Some ten days after, I was arrested at night by a squad of United States cavalry. Bainbridge was also captured. We were taken to Washington and placed in the Old Capitol Prison. We were not alone in our misery, however, for Dr. Stewart, at whose house Booth had stopped, William Lucas, the negro who had driven him to the ferry, and a number of others, were there, among them being Jett, who had escaped from Captain Doherty, and had been recaptured at his home in Westmoreland County.”

Lieutenant Ruggles was arrested in King George County either on May 2nd or May 3rd (both dates are given on two different records).  Private Bainbridge was arrested in King George County on May 4th or 5th (again two different dates on two different records).  They were both transported to the Old Capitol Prison and were incarcerated there starting on May 5th.  For some unknown reason (Ruggles thought it was by mistake), the two men were transferred out of the Old Capitol and sent all the way to Johnson’s Island, a prisoner of war camp for Confederate prisoners located near Sandusky, Ohio.  They left the Old Capitol Prison on May 11th and arrived at Johnson’s Island on the 13th.

Johnson's Island 1865 LOC

It didn’t take very long for those in charge at Johnson’s Island to determine that these two men were much more than your average prisoners of war.  It certainly looks like their transfer to Johnson’s Island was a mistake because, on May 15th, Ruggles and Bainbridge were being transferred back to D.C.  They arrived at the Old Capitol Prison on May 17th and this time they stayed there.

Neither Ruggles or Bainbridge were ever called to testify at the trial of the conspirators.  On June 3rd, both men were released from their confinement after taking the oath of allegiance:

Mortimer Ruggles Oath of Allegiance NARA

Absalom Bainbridge Oath of Allegiance NARA

Willie Jett never ended up marrying Izora Gouldman of the Star Hotel.  Instead he moved to Baltimore, married, went insane (possibly because of untreated syphilis), and died in an insane asylum in Virginia.  His body is buried in Fredericksburg.

Willie Jett's grave

After the war, Mortimer Bainbridge Ruggles and Absalom Ruggles Bainbridge continued to imitate each other.  Both men married and had two children.  Both moved to New York.  Both found occupations that forced them to move around; Ruggles as a traveling salesman and Bainbridge as an interior decorator.  Finally, both men died not only in the same year, but in the same month.  These two Confederate veterans are buried in two different cemeteries in New York:

Mortimer Ruggles' grave

Grave of Absalom Ruggles Bainbridge


While Jett, Ruggles, and Bainbridge spent a bit more time imprisoned than some of the other suspects in Lincoln’s assassination, their incarceration could have been longer, especially since it was known that they had contact with Booth and assisted him during his escape.  Booth’s brother, Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., who knew nothing about the assassination, was imprisoned until June 22nd.  John Lloyd, the man who gave Booth and Herold a carbine, field glasses, and some whiskey at the Surratt Tavern, wasn’t released until June 30th.  One of the last people released from the Old Capitol Prison was Joao Celestino, the Portuguese ship captain whose ill-timed threats against William Seward made authorities believe he was a main conspirator.  Celestino was released from the Old Capitol Prison on July 8th and was ordered to leave the U.S. within 10 days, never to return.  And, of course, Dr. Mudd, Edman Spangler, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlen were imprisoned at Fort Jefferson for three and a half years before the surviving three were pardoned in 1869.

The imprisonment endured by Jett, Ruggles, and Bainbridge could have certainly been worse had the government truly wanted to punish all those who assisted John Wilkes Booth.

American Brutus by Michael W. Kauffman
Brutus’ Judas: Willie Jett by Eric J. Mink
“Pursuit and Death of John Wilkes Booth” by Prentiss Ingraham, Century Magazine, Jan, 1890
Jett, Ruggles and Bainbridge’s prison records and oath of allegiances were accessed via (Bainbridge, Ruggles)
Rich Smyth

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New Galleries: Port Conway & Port Royal

On the morning of April 24th, 1865, John Wilkes Booth and David E. Herold were being escorted through King George County, Virginia by Charley Lucas.  The night before, the pair had essentially evicted the free black family of the Lucases from their own cabin after being denied lodging at the home of Dr. Stuart’s, Cleydael.  Despite, or perhaps due to, the aggressive nature of these “guests”, William Lucas, the patriarch of the family allowed Booth and Herold to hire his son Charley to take carry them by wagon to the town of Port Conway. 

Port Conway was a small village on the northern side of the Rappahannock River that separated King George County from Caroline County.  It got its name from the Conway family of which President James Madison was descended  Not only was Madison’s mother’s maiden name Conway, but the fourth President of the United States was born there on the family plantation, Belle Grove.  Aside from Fredericksburg much further north, Port Conway was one of the few places one could cross the Rappahannock River via public ferry.  The ferry ran between Port Conway on the north, to Port Royal to the south.  When Booth and Herold were dropped off by Charley Lucas at Port Conway, they found the ferry was on the other side of the river and that they had to wait for it to return before they could cross.  While the pair waited at Port Conway, anxious to get across as quickly as possible, the came across William Rollins.  Rollins lived at Port Conway with his wife Bettie where he fished and ran a small store.  Herold tried to arrange for Rollins to take them over the Rappahannock River and offered him $10 to ferry them over and then take them to Bowling Green.  Rollins said he would consider it, but he had to go out and tend to his nets first as the shad were running.  Rollins stated that, if the ferry had not returned by the time he came back, he would take the two men across.  While Rollins was away fishing, three recently paroled Confederate soldiers rode up to Port Conway.  They were Willie Jett, Absalom Bainbridge, and Mortimer Ruggles.  Herold and Booth quickly made friends with these soldiers and ended up confiding their identities as the assassins of the President to them.  The trio, with defacto leader Jett, agreed to help the two men.  When Rollins returned, he saw that the ferry was making its way to Port Conway and David Herold told him his services were not going to be needed.  Jim Thornton, the ferry operator, ferried the five men, two fugitives and three soldiers, across the Rappahannock river to Port Royal.

In Port Royal, Jett called on the home of Miss Sarah Jane Peyton, looking for a home in which to lodge to two men.  At first, Miss Peyton agreed to let the “wounded Confederate soldiers” and his “brother”, stay and invited them into the house.  For some reason, perhaps after seeing the rough condition the two men were in, Sarah Jane Peyton changed her mind.  She told Jett that she could no longer house them because her brother, Randolph Peyton was not going to be at home for a couple days, and it would not be proper for two men to stay without the man of the house present.  Willie Jett went across the street and knocked on the door of Mr. Catlett, once again trying to find lodging for the two men.  Mr. Catlett was not at home.  According to Willie Jett, it was Sarah Jane Peyton who suggested they might try Mr. Garrett’s place up the road from Port Royal.  With that, all five men headed out of Port Royal and towards the Garrett farm.  In the end, it was due to the gossipy nature of Mrs. Bettie Rollins back over at Port Conway that led to John Wilkes Booth’s demise.  When the troops came to Port Conway and asked around, Mrs. Rollins told them that they might be able to find Willie Jett at a hotel in Bowling Green owned by his girlfriend’s parents.  It was at this hotel that Jett was found, just like Bettie Rollins thought he would be, and from there he led the troops back to the Garrett farm.

Today, nothing remains of Port Conway other than Belle Grove and a church.  The colonial town of Port Royal has fared far better with an active historical society and, as I posted here, a recently opened museum.

Click to see the newest galleries here on BoothieBarn:

Port Conway & Port Royal

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