Thursday, June 30, 2011

Profile: John WIlkes Booth

See that mustache? That means he's evil! EEeeeeevil! But chances are you probably already knew that...

Booth was suggested by Jean from Houston and Bobbie from Maryland.

This page no longer exists on the Internet, so let's record it for posterity (courtesy Baltimore Jewish Times):

An Assassin With Jewish Roots?

Was John Wilkes Booth of Jewish lineage?

In her 2010 book “My Thoughts Be Bloody: The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin And John Wilkes Booth That Led To An American Tragedy” (Free Press), historian Nora Titone claims that the paternal grandfather of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin was half-Jewish.

In the book, Titone writes that Richard Booth, the father of the highly-acclaimed Shakespearean actor Junius Brutus Booth (father of John Wilkes Booth), was an English attorney. A Londoner, Richard Booth came from “a highly educated clan of Jewish lawyers and silversmiths,” and was married to Jane Elizabeth Game, an Anglican woman, Titone writes. In fact, Richard Booth instructed Junius in Latin, Greek and Hebrew as a child, the author writes.

(In an email to the Baltimore Jewish Times, Titone wrote that according to Booth family records, Richard Booth’s paternal family traced its Jewish lineage to Spain, with their original surname being Botha. Titone recommends the book “Junius Brutus Booth: Theatrical Prom-etheus” by Stephen M. Archer for a thorough account of the Booth ancestry.)

As a widower, Richard Booth moved to Maryland in the fall of 1822 at the urging of Junius, who had relocated to a farmhouse near Bel Air with his mistress, Mary Ann Holmes (John Wilkes Booth’s Protestant mother), the year before. “He was a curious sight, this amateur classical scholar, with his long white hair, a hobbling walk, and eccentric eighteenth-century garments,” Titone writes of Richard Booth. Upon arriving here, it seems that Richard Booth took to hard drinking, eccentric behavior and slothfulness.

When John Wilkes Booth – who attended Quaker and Anglican boarding schools as a youth — was born on the Harford County farm in May of 1838, Richard Booth was afforded the honor of choosing the baby’s name, according to “My Thoughts Be Bloody.” He chose that particular name, writes Titone, because his Anglican mother, Elizabeth Wilkes Booth, “had claimed [the radical 18th-century British Parliament] politician John Wilkes as a relative.”

In 1840, Richard Booth, then 76 and living in a rented room in Baltimore, died “alone in the night, supposed to have been seized by a cramp in the stomach.” According to Titone, he was buried in Baltimore Cemetery “under a marble slab bearing lines of Hebrew poetry chosen by his son. ‘I take my departure from life as from an inn – hence, to the stars!’ the stone proclaimed to those who could read the language.”

But that’s not the end of the story.

In May 1858, the remains of Richard Booth and Junius Brutus Booth – who was known to frequent East Baltimore synagogues, talked about spiritual matters with local rabbis, and practiced his Hebrew when preparing to portray Shylock in “The Merchant Of Venice” — were transferred to Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery, writes Titone. Junius’ famous actor son, Edwin Booth, paid for the reburials.

“Edwin also erased his grandfather’s Jewish heritage at this time,” Titone writes, without explaining the motivation. “When the transfer of bodies was made, Richard Booth’s original tombstone with its Hebrew inscription was discarded, replaced by a new marker with a Christian cross and Latin lettering.”

That stone remains the marker for Richard Booth at the historic Green Mount Cemetery.

Ironically, John Wilkes Booth, arguably the most reviled man in U.S. history, reportedly espoused anti-Semitic sentiments, despite (and maybe due to) his Jewish lineage.


  1. You should look into the rest of his family... they were all quite accomplished theater folk. His brother Edwin, in particular, has a lot written about him.

  2. he did shoot lincoln in the temple

  3. Intresting my maiden name is booth related to john Wilks.another site said they were potugese jews. An changed there name from botha to booth.