February 09, 1865

Portentous John Wilkes Booth Letter, Written Just Eight Weeks Before Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination, Mentions Ford's Theatre

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Whether, when Booth wrote this long and intriguing letter, he was planning to abduct President Lincoln or to kill him, it is impossible to determine, though most evidence suggests capture rather than murder was then his aim; but that he was actively plotting is indisputable. Writing to a long-time friend, Boston theater manager Orlando Tompkins, he makes an urgent request:

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…
 
It is thought that Booth wanted the photos for identification purposes connected to the Lincoln conspiracy – and ironically, some two months later, his favorite, “seated, with Cane & Black Cravat," would adorn the Wanted Poster for the assassination of the president.

In a portentous postscript, Booth has added: I return to this city in about a week, stop at National Hotel, an will get any letter sent to Fords Theatre.
 
It was while retrieving his mail at the theater on April 14, 1865, of course, that Booth first heard that Lincoln would be attending Our American Cousin that evening…
 
To Tompkins, with whom Booth visited in Boston in the week before he murdered Lincoln, Booth gave an inscribed ring: “JWB to OT, April 6, 1865.” When Tompkins asked what the occasion was, Booth replied it was because “I’ll never see you again.”
 

Autograph Letter Signed (twice: “J. Wilkes Booth” and “John”), 3 pages, recto and verso, octavo, Washington, February 9, no year [1865]. To Orlando Tompkins of Boston.

Very rare in and of itself,  it is also estimated that there are only seventeen Booth letters in private hands.

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Transcript

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