04-18-1892: George Alfred Townsend's Article about Thomas Harbin.
Source: Cincinnati Enquirer Newspaper of April 18, 1892.
Washington, D.C., April 17. - John Wilkes Booth lived a considerable time at Washington, the life of a licentious young actor, with unusual social opportunities. He was remarkably handsome, very manly in his address, quite insinuating, treating women like one who had their interests at heart and whose confidence would never be betrayed. His father was not remembered, having passed off the stage in 1852 when Booth was only 14 years old. But Edwin Booth had been on the stage since 1850, and had an excellent reputation, and was five years the senior of Wilkes. Edwin Booth had been especially honored in the North, as Wilkes had been made much of in the South, and it thus happened that Edwin Booth, according to his sister’s statement, voted for Abraham Lincoln in 1864, a few months before Wilkes Booth shot him.
Living around the Washington hotels and theaters, occasionally playing for the benefit of some fellow-actor, and possessing a peculiar reputation on the stage as one who only required to be studious and persistent to surpass his brother in fame. Booth seemed to be always in reserve for something eminent, and the life of pleasure he lived probably cloyed at times upon his feelings. His use of liquor kept him alternately inflamed and despondent. He suppressed his sympathies, except to a few persons, lived a good deal to the injury of families who were ardent for the Union, and had a worthless career, underneath which ran the persistent purpose to be the match or superior of anybody, and, in short, lived the life of an eighteenth century high-treason conspirator under the mild and unsuspecting society of Abraham Lincoln’s time.
Toward the close of the war the government was compelled by its Generals, such as General Dix in New York City, to carry out sentence of execution upon some irregular partisans who had come into the United States disguised, and seized steamers, run off railroad trains, set fire to hotels, poisoned the water supplies, and seriously designed to run off the prisoners at Elmira, at Johnson’s Island, and further South. One of these persons was John Yates Beall, who came from the immediate region of Charleston, where John Brown had been hanged, and there or later had become acquainted with Booth. Upon this occasion it seems that Booth exerted himself to have Beall pardoned by the president in Washington, but General Dix insisted that this was a righteous execution and was needed to stop such irregularities. Beall was hanged on Governor’s Island, and the writer there saw him executed. He was a dangerous man, and one well adapted to excite the respect of a Thespian in warfare like Booth. Not improbably Booth deepened his animosity to President Lincoln after this execution of Beall, which took place at the close of February 1865.
In the previous October, 1864, Booth suddenly appeared at Bryantown Catholic Church upon a Sunday morning. Though he had been a wandering horseback rider in the vicinity of Washington, it seems that this was his first visit to the region over which his crime still exercises, not as he expected the fascination of heroism, but the gloom of social and political misapprehension and stigma. Near the time November winds were sighing and the quail were running in the old worn-out fields Booth came to the house of Dr. Queen southeast of Bryantown with a letter of introduction from one Martin in Canada.
This Martin came from Lower Maryland, and was concerned in the capture of the steamer St. Nicholas very early in the war, and, when the leading pirates of that undertaking at Point Lookout had been seized by the government and put in Ft. McHenry, Martin, who had also kept a liquor store in Baltimore with a saloon attachment, slipped off to Canada, and there engaged in trading Canadian and American money and adventuring enterprises for the Confederacy, and he finally closed his career by going in with a Scotchman named Alexander Keith, to pass a cargo of goods from the St. Lawrence to the Carolinas. The vessel was found in the Lower St. Lawrence a complete wreck with every thing on her lost, and her supercargo and crew as well. Years afterward, when a German steamship was partly blown up at Bremen by this same Mr. Keith, the old friends of Martin in Canada suspected that Keith had blown him up too, as it was remembered that Keith applied for the large insurance upon the cargo.
As “Thomasson” and Keith were the same, so Martin, commencing his military career by an act of piratical treachery, was the sponsor for Booth, the murderer of President Lincoln. These facts I ascertained from Marshal Kane of Baltimore, who for a good while after Martin’s death, acted as the adviser of Mrs. Martin; and he told me that, being upon the retreat of the Rebel Government from Richmond, word was brought in that John Wilkes Booth had killed President Lincoln, whereupon Marshal Kane, who was delirious from a fever, managed to obtain his gripsack to open it and tear up a letter from Martin to John Wilkes Booth, introducing Kane to Booth.
Dr. Queen’s family heard Booth inquire about the price of lands and horses in that neighborhood, and say that he was a rich person who had money to put out in the country. The next day Booth was taken to the Catholic Church and there the actor was introduced to Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, the principal slave-holder mentioned, who lived five miles north of Bryantown in the direction of Surrattsville. Of course, Mr. Booth had been to Montreal, and there had participated with the fly-by-nights, such as those who raided St. Alban’s, and John Y. Beall, aforesaid, and through his unadjusted mind had run the idea of doing some great performance at Washington City, then escaping into the South, securing his wardrobe from Canada, which he had left there, and starring in his father’s great part in “Richard III”, “Pescara”, &c., throughout the English-speaking countries. These men in Canada, and others he had seen in Washington, had told him about the free intercourse with the South from the lower Potomac ferries. After church that day Booth went into Bryantown, a mile or two distant, and in plain sight, and was introduced by Dr. Mudd at the village hotel to Mr. Thomas Harbin, the Marylander, who was the principal signal officer or spy with the lower Maryland counties.
Toward the close of the war rigorous policing of the lower Maryland country was relaxed or dispensed with as the enemy had been pushed south of the James River and seldom molested the Potomac parts. Harbin, whom I talked to at great length just before he died, about 1885, gave me particulars concerning Booth, which would now be past discovering. He told me that in Bryantown, at the tavern, Dr. Mudd introduced him to Booth, and said that Mr. Booth wanted some private conversation with Mr. Harbin. They took a room on the second floor where Booth went through the Thespian motions of pacing and watching the hallways and escapements. He then outlined a scheme of seizing Abraham Lincoln and delivering him up the same evening in Virginia. He said that he had come down to that country to invite cooperation and partners and intimated that there was not only glory, but profits in the undertaking.
Harbin was a cool man who had seen many liars and rogues go to and fro on that illegal border and he set down Booth as a crazy fellow, but at the same time said that he would give his cooperation.