John Wilkes Booth – the name brings to mind one of the most infamous murders in American history – the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The circumstances of Lincoln’s assassination and Booth’s death days later are common knowledge. What is not so well known is the identity of the woman whose picture Booth carried in his pocket when he was captured and killed. That woman was his fiancé, Lucy Hale, the twenty-two year old daughter of influential New Hampshire senator John Parker Hale.
The circumstances of John Wilkes Booth’s courtship of Lucy Hale paint a picture of star-crossed lovers. Lucy Hale was a pretty woman, but she was nothing like the beautiful young actresses who surrounded John Wilkes Booth, onstage and off. Living in Washington with her parents and sister, Lucy devoted time to her work with the Sanitation Committee, the Red Cross of the era, and even rode in a horse-drawn ambulance to the front line in Virginia during a lull in the fighting. Her father, a passionate abolitionist, appears to have hoped to unite his daughter in marriage with Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s son rather than an actor with a flair for romantic gestures and outspoken southern sympathies. John Wilkes Booth, an actor whose performances drew acclaim for his talent and notice for his formidable appeal to women, had been called “the handsomest man in America” and “the most promising young actor on the American stage”, and provoked outrage for what some citizens considered “treasonable statements”.
Despite the obstacles, their romance began in the early months of 1865. By March, the couple were secretly engaged. Senator Hale, eager to separate his daughter from the outspoken southern sympathizer, visited Lincoln on the morning of the assassination to seek an appointment as ambassador to Spain. The ambassadorship would provide the means to move his family, including Lucy, out of the country and away from John Wilkes Booth. When Lincoln offered the position, Senator Hale accepted on the spot.
Could John Wilkes Booth have fallen for the subtle charms of the senator’s daughter, or had his motivations for their romance been much more sinister?
Historians are divided on this question, although several aspects of their courtship point to motivations other than true love on Booth’s part. A relationship with Lucy Hale benefited Booth’s plans because Lucy enjoyed some degree of political influence and provided access to many powerful figures in the government. Booth even attended Lincoln’s Second Inaugural on March 4, 1865 as Lucy Hale’s invited guest. Several men who went on to participate in the horrifying events of April 14, 1865, including the brutal attempted murder of Secretary of State Seward, were also in the crowd that day. Was this a coincidence? Possibly. Booth’s later comments to a friend when he remarked about his excellent chance to kill the President that day add a chilling aspect to this event and cast into doubt the idea that the Lincoln conspirators had all just happened to gather to watch the man they despised take his second oath of office.
The nature of Booth’s pursuit of Lucy Hale also casts his motives into doubt. Lucy received a romantic note on Valentine’s Day, 1862, signed “A Stranger”. The writer of the note was none other than John Wilkes Booth. Despite this dramatic beginning, he did not continue his pursuit until nearly three years later, at which point he seemed determined to marry her. Within a few short months, they were engaged. During the time of their courtship, Booth was a key plotter in a scheme to kidnap Lincoln, a plan that went awry and led to the assassination conspiracy. Why had Booth become so ardent in his pursuit of Lucy Hale at the same time his schemes against Lincoln were about to be put into play?
His devotion to Lucy Hale is also unclear. While Lucy’s picture was found with Booth at his death, four other portraits of comely young actresses were also found in his pocket diary. Does a man in love carry photographs of several other women into a situation where he had to anticipate danger and possible death?
Historians widely believe Lucy Hale had no knowledge of her secret fiancé’s plans. One can only imagine her shock and horror at the revelation that her lover was to go down in history as a notorious assassin. Did she ever wonder if she unknowingly aided Booth in his scheme? Could her connections in Washington and her father’s political status have furthered Booth’s plans?
The story of Lucy Hale and John Wilkes Booth and their ill-fated, and possibly ill-motivated, romance was one inspiration for my action-packed historical romance due to be released in May by The Wild Rose Press. Set against the backdrop of the tempestuous years of the Civil War, Destiny is the story of Emma Davenport, the daughter of an influential senator, and the man whose love is her destiny. When Emma is swept away by Christopher Staton, a charming traitor who plans to use her as a pawn in his quest for vengeance, one man risks his neck to save her from a ruthless plot that could destroy them both. Jack Travis embarks upon a bold scheme to protect Emma from Staton and loses his heart in the process.
John Wilkes Booth authored an American tragedy that rivaled any tragedy he performed on the stage. Undoubtedly, Lucy Hale found herself caught up in the horror of his actions. Did she ever wonder if she might have done something to prevent Booth’s infamous actions on that long-ago April night? Had his charming manners and handsome face blinded her to the truth? Sadly, we can only hazard a guess....