John Wilkes Booth biography
John Wilkes Booth was born May 10, 1838 in Bel Air, Maryland. At age 17, he made his acting debut. In the 1850s, he joined the No-Nothing Party. During the Civil War, he was a Confederate secret agent. In March of 1865, his attempt to kidnap President Lincoln failed. On April 14, 1865, he assassinated Lincoln at Ford Theater. Booth was killed on April 26, 1865 in Port Royal, Virginia.
On May 10, 1838, John Wilkes Booth was born in Bel Air, Maryland. Booth was the second youngest of ten children. His father, Junius Brutus Booth, was a well-known actor and was eccentric, with a reputation for heavy drinking. John and his siblings were raised on a farm, which was worked by the family's slaves.
As a youngster, Booth attended the Milton Boarding School for Boys—and later St. Timothy's Hall—sporadically. From a very young age, he was described as disarmingly handsome. To those who knew him, it seemed only natural that he would follow in his father's footsteps, by gracing the stage with his charismatic presence.
When he turned 17, Booth made his acting debut in Baltimore, with a role in a production of Shakespeare's Richard III. His early performances were such a hit that Booth was soon invited to tour all over the country with a Shakespearean acting company based in Richmond, Virginia.
In 1862, Booth made his New York debut, this time as the lead in Richard III. The New York Herald described him as a "veritable sensation." When describing his natural inclination for the role, Booth tellingly expressed his credo with the declaration, "I am determined to be a villain." While on tour, he achieved national praise as an up-and-comer, but a respiratory illness in 1863 meant Booth had no choice but to take temporarily leave from the stage.
Politics and Conspiracy
In the 1850s, Booth joined the No-Nothing Party, which aimed to limit immigration into the United States. In 1859, he showed his support for slavery by joining a Virginia Company that aided in the capture and execution of John Brown, following his raid on Harper's Ferry. Booth had even served as a secret agent for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Faced with idle time during his break from the theater, Booth became involved in a conspiracy to kidnap abolitionist President Abraham Lincoln. The plan involved bringing Lincoln to Richmond and demanding either peace or the release of Confederate soldiers as a ransom. Booth enlisted six southern Sympathizers in his kidnapping, but in March of 1865, their attempt to kidnap Lincoln in Washington, D.C. failed—the president did not appear.
Frustrated at seeing his kidnapping plan foiled, Booth resolved to go to a far greater extreme. On April 14, 1865, at precisely 10 p.m., Booth shot and killed Lincoln while he was watching a performance of Our American Cousin at Washington, D.C.'s Ford Theater. Directly after the shooting, Booth leaped onto the stage and yelled, "Sic semper tyrannis! (Thusever to tyrants!) The South is avenged!"
Booth next jumped off the stage, breaking his leg in the process, but managed to make it to his get-away horse before anyone in the shocked crowd could stop him.
After crossing the Potomac River with some difficulty, Booth and his co-conspirators arrived at Richard G. Garret's farm in Port Royal, Virginia. Investigators were in hot pursuit and on April 26, 1865, caught up to the criminals, who had been hiding in Garret's barn. Booth was shot by the investigators, and when he still refused to surrender, they set the barn on fire. Booth crawled out, badly burned, and died soon after.