Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Did John Wilkes Booth Escape?

Today is the 149th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Izola Forrester, a famous American author and film screenwriter, grew up thinking John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, was her grandfather. She never believed Booth was shot by a Union soldier in a barn in rural Virginia when he refused to give himself up.  She documented what she thought happened to him in her book This One Mad Act, which was published in 1937. Contrary to the official assassination story, Forrester attempted to prove:
  • John Wilkes Booth was secretly married to her grandmother
  • Booth and Forrester's grandmother had a daughter, Ogarita Rosalie, in 1859; her middle name was for Booth's favorite sister.
  • Lincoln's assassination was instigated by men high in the order of the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC), said to have been a branch of Freemasonry
  • James William Boyd, a confederate solider was killed in the Garrett barn, not Booth
  • Booth escaped from the barn and lived in exile in California, England and India until his death in 1879
  • Booth and Forrester's grandmother had a son in 1870, who grew up as Harry Stevenson, nearly five years after the assassination
There is a fascinating article on the Barnes Review website entitled Wanted: The Hidden History of Lincoln's Assassin John Wilkes Booth, His Great Escape and the Truth about the Plot. I hope you'll read it and let me know what you think of this alternative history of the assassination of one of our most famous presidents.

Capture of John Wilkes Booth. Courtesy of The Smithsonian Instituate, The Harry T Peters Collectionn

Izola (Hills/Henderson/Forrester) Merrifield/Page (1878-1944) was the wife of my sister-in-law's 8th cousin once removed.

Are their any conspiracy theories in your family history?

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 I've written about Izola Forrester before: Izola Forrester: American Author, and her grandmother, Martha Lizola (Mills) Bellows Stevenson: She Seemed Rather Fantastic and Extravagant and  Secret Wife of John Wilkes Booth?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

52 Ancestors #15: Secret Wife of John Wilkes Booth?

Ancestor Name: Martha Lizola (Mills) Bellows Stevenson

April 15th is the 149th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. So it seems appropriate to write about Martha Lizola Mills again. I believe I could write about her for years to come. She, her daughter Ogarita Elizabeth Bellows, and her granddaughter, Izola Louise Hills, all believed Martha Lizola was the secret wife of John Wilkes Booth. They also believed Booth escaped and lived several more years and that he fathered a son with Martha Lizola after Lincoln's assassination.

Documentation and the recollections of Martha Lizola's granddaughter, which she included in a book, This One Mad Act, agree. Her parents were Abraham Standish and Izola Maria (Mendosa) Mills. Abraham was the owner and captain of a trading schooner in the China Trade. He met his wife in Spain. According to Martha's granddaughter, Izola Maria died giving birth to her only daughter on board ship off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, during a storm. Martha Lizola was primarily raised by her aunt, Abraham's sister, Fanny (Mills) D'Arcy.

Martha Lizola (Mills) Bellows Stevenson
Photograph from This One Mad Act

Charles Bellows is never mentioned in This One Mad Act but Massachusetts marriage records indicated he and Martha Lizola were married 30 Jul 1855 in Boston. Rhode Island birth records listed Charles and Martha as the parents of Ogarita Elizabeth, who believed she was actually John Wilkes Booth's daughter. Navy muster rolls seem to prove that Charles could not have been the father as he was stationed on a ship off Montevideo, Uruguay, during the critical period.

The 1860 census indicated Martha Lizola was living in Boston with Ogarita and a son, Harry, aged  five. Little Harry disappeared from the records after that; so I assume he died as a child. Martha's story was that she was a young actress and met John Wilkes Booth in Richmond in 1858 or 1859. It was love at first sight. She said she and Booth lived on a small farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and that Booth would return to their home between acting engagements.

After the Civil War, Martha Lizola married John Stevenson on 23 Mar 1871 in Boston. This is supported by Massachusetts marriage records. She claimed it was a marriage of convenience and that the son born to them a month earlier, Harry Jerome Dresback Stevenson, was actually the son of John Wilkes Booth. She claimed she married Stevenson, a friend of Booth's so she could travel to California and meet Booth while he was in hiding before leaving the country. It was during that meeting that Harry Jerome was conceived.

Harry Stevenson; photograph from This One Mad Act

Martha Lizola died in 1887 and is buried in Plains Cemetery at Canterbury, Connecticut.

Her daughter, Ogarita, was also a stage actress, and began using Booth as her stage name in 1884, six years before her death at the age of 32. Ogarita's daughter, Lizola Louise (Hills) was adopted by George Forrester, a Chicago newspaper man, after her mother's death. Her second husband, Mann Page, was my sister-in-law's 8th cousin once removed.

Ogarita Elizabeth (Bellows) Wilson Henderson
Photograph from This One Mad Act

So do you believe Martha Lizola (Mills) Bellows Stevenson married John Wilkes Booth and that he fathered two of her children?

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

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Related posts: Izola Forrester: American Author and She Seemed Rather Fantastic and Extravagant.

Martha Lizola Mills was born at Stamford, Fairfield, Connecticut, in 1837 to Abraham Standish and Izola Maria (Mendosa) Mills. Her father was a sea captain. She married first Charles Still Bellows on 30 Jul 1855 at Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts; second John H Stevenon on 23 Mar 1871; and third, according to her granddaughter, but no documentation has yet been found, Edwin S Bates two or three years before her death. She died in Nov 1887 in Canterbury, Windham, Connecticut and is buried in Plains Cemetery at Windham. She went to her death believing she had been married to John Wilkes Booth, that both her children were his, and he escaped capture at the Garrett farm and died in 1879.

According to Wikipedia, muster rolls indicate Charles Still Bellows was aboard a ship near Montevideo, Uruguay, for the critical time period, making it impossible for him to be the father of Ogarita (Bellows) Henderson, Izola Forrester's mother.