Friday, January 7, 2011

Sepia Saturday: Junius Booth

The subject of this dageurreotype is Junius Brutus Booth.

Daguerreotype of Junius Booth from the Library of Congress Daguerreotype Collection.

He was born in London in 1796 to Richard Booth, a lawyer, and Jane Elizabeth Game Booth. He displayed remarkable acting talent quite early in his life and committed to a stage career by the time he was 17.

Just after he turned 19 in 1815, he married Marie Delannoy.  They had many children, but only one survived infancy.  Meanwhile, his career was thriving.

He gained acclaim for his performance as Richard III in London at the Covent Garden Theater in 1817. He performed in several Shakespearean productions with Edmund Kean, the foremost tragedian actor of the time.

In other words, Junius's career took off. . . . and so did he, leaving his wife and sole surviving son behind in 1821. He and his mistress Mary Ann Holmes left for the United States.

They settled in Bel Air, Maryland and purchased a house which they remodeled and called "Tudor Hall." It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Though its name made it sound grand, it was actually quite modest and Mary Ann -- and eventually their 10 children, six of whom survived -- lived in fairly primitive conditions.

Junius's wife, Marie Delannoy Booth, got wind of the mistress and family, and traveled to the U.S. to confront him. He ignored her pleas to return to the marriage. She finally gave up and divorced him, but not until 1851 (some 30 years later). Thereafter, he married Mary Ann Holmes when their youngest child was 11.

Junius had a successful 30 year career on the American stage, acting in Baltimore, New York, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C.  He became the manager of the Adelphi Theater in Baltimore in 1831. Two of his sons, Junius Jr. and Edwin Booth, became actors as well and sometimes toured with him.

Portrait of actor Edwin Booth from the Library of Congress Collection

In 1852, Junius, Edwin and Junius Jr. toured California, performing in San Francisco and Sacramento. On the trip back to the East Coast, they ventured to New Orleans for some acting engagements. On the steamboat trip up the Mississippi to Cincinnati, Junius Sr. drank river water and became ill. There was no doctor aboard to treat him, though there wouldn't have been antibiotics available in any event. He died five days later.

Junius, in life, was likely not easy to live with. He was an alcoholic and a bit of a hothead. In 1835, he wrote a letter to President Andrew Jackson, demanding that he pardon two pirates, in which he also threatened to kill the President. The letter was thought to be a hoax until handwriting analysis done a few days later proved the letter was authored by Booth. He apologized to the President and apparently nothing further came of it. 

The threat against the president was a foreshadowing of things to come. A family legacy was passed on. 

His son, John Wilkes Booth, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln the following decade.   

John Wilkes Booth portrait card from the Library of Congress Collection.


Robin's Egg Bleu said...

Wonderful blog! I really appreciated your post about Junius Booth. So many lovely images here to enjoy. Have a wonderful New Year!
Take Care,

mouse (aka kimy) said...

ah....i had a feeling this fellow was related to john wilkes booth as i started reading the story.

i knew jw came from an acting family.

a most excellent write up!! very interesting and wonderfully written!

happy new year!

neetzy said...

Wow! What a find! Where did you find the daguerrotypes? Great history!

Marilyn said...

This is such an interesting post and fantastic photos. His first wife was well rid of him I think. He may have been a mighty good actor but I think he would have been hard to live with.
Strange to think that he threatened to kill a president and then his son actually did - I wonder if he spoke of his threat to his children.

Alan Burnett said...

Fascinating : every word of it, every image. And in addition to all that history, there is the amazement one always feels with the realisation that photograph images exist of people born in the eighteenth century.


i guess one can safely assume it was a family trait to have a flair for "drama"... perhaps not the best way to go down in history, but well, things are what they are...

Kristin said...

very interesting and great photos.

Karen S. said...

Oh my, what interesting info on the Booth family and such a delightful insight into his family blood line...amazing how so many things circle's truly a small world really!

Pat transplanted to MN said...

oh I did not even think about John Wilkes Booth when I first started reading this....I was taken by the crochet/lace collar on his back in the first photo. Good presentation..

Nancy said...

This was really interesting. I never have thought to search out the family history of John Wilkes Booth! You can see the family resemblance from one photo to the next.