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Booth, John Wilkes (1838-1865)

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Books & Manuscripts - 2256
Date / Time :
November 21, 2004 11:00AM


Booth, John Wilkes (1838-1865), Rare and important autograph letter signed, Washington, D.C., February 9th, [1865], three pages, to Orlando Tompkins of Boston, Massachusetts, concerning a variety of topics including obtaining more carte-de-visites from Silsbee, Case and Company, his interests in an oil company in Pennsylvania and a piece of property in Boston, with the chilling close that he "will get any letter sent to Fords Theatre." Text in full: Feb. 9th/Washington D.C./Dear Orlando/You will say I never write without I want something. That may be so, nevertheless I think of you all the same. And as I know, you are aware of my hatred to letter writing and can therefore excuse it. I will say no more in extenuation of my fault. So to the point would you be kind enough to ask Case to send me without a moments delay one dozen of my card photghs. The ones I want are those seated, with cane & black cravat. He knows the ones I liked the best. Tell him to send them at once to New York No 28 East 19th St. as I hope to be there day after tomorrow, only, to stay a day or two. This is very important as there are several parties whom I would like to give one. So please attend to it upon the receipt of this and I will do more than this for you. How are you all; and how is Boston. remember me to all. That Oil Company Joe S- and myself started in your city has gone up fine. Stock to day instead of being $1000, is $15,000 per share. Please attend to above. With best wishes for you all, and kind regards to Case,/I remain/yours/J. Wilkes Booth/P.S. By the way I never acknowledged the receipt of that deed. Thank you, all right./Yours John/I return to this city in about a week, stop at National Hotel, an (sic) will get any letter sent to Fords Theatre./Yours. Note: In a twist of fate, the carte-de-visite Booth was so fond of is now referred to as the "wanted poster view" as it became the image most used and affixed to the various wanted posters calling for his capture after the assassination. The content of this letter as well as its proximity to the assassination of Lincoln, and its excellent condition with two signatures makes this letter one of the finest remaining in private hands. Orlando Tompkins was an apothecary and part-owner of the Boston Theatre. He was a close friend of both Edwin and John Booth. Edwin was staying at Tompkins' house in Boston on the night of April 14, 1865, when Lincoln was assassinated. The address Booth gives in New York was the home of his brother Edwin. During John's last visit to Boston, one week before the assassination, he gave Tompkins a gold ring as a memento of their friendship and had it engraved, "J.W.B. to O.T." Joseph H. Simonds was Booth's close friend and business partner. He was a teller at the Mechanics Bank in Boston, and he was in charge of Booth's investments and financial affairs. He set up "The Dramatic Oil Company" to which Booth refers. The postscript about the deed refers to a piece of property on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, which he had Tompkins buy for him at an auction of the new Back Bay lands. In the final postscript Booth refers to his residence in Washington, the National Hotel, and Tompkins' reply to this letter was found in Booth's trunk there, where it was seized after the assassination. That reply letter from February 19th, 1865 is now in the National Archives. John Wilkes Booth used Ford's Theatre as his mailing address whenever he was in Washington. In fact, he was at Ford's retrieving mail when he first heard that Lincoln would be attending "Our American Cousin" there that evening, April 14th. This letter had been kept in a Tompkins' family scrapbook until it was purchased by Goodspeed's of Boston, who sold it to the present owners. Literature: Rhodehamel, John & LouiseTaper, "Right or Wrong, God Judge Me": The Writings of John Wilkes Booth, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997, pages 134-135; and Gutman, Richard J.S. and Kellie, John Wilkes Booth Himself, Dover, Mass: Hired Hand Press, 1979, pages 31, 70; Gutman, Richard and Kellie, "Boston: A Home for John Wilkes Booth?," Surratt Society News, Clinton, Maryland, September, 1985; Miller, Ernest C., John Wilkes Booth Oilman, New York: The Exposition Press, 1947, pages 26-28.
Estimate $30,000-40,000


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