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.

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.


  1. I enjoyed this article and wish to add my input.
    John Wilkes Booth referred to his wife as Izola. I prefer using this name and it is the only one I will use in reference to her.
    I have a problem with the words ‘supposed wife’ under the picture of Izola. Izola and Booth were married on February 9, 1859. John Stevenson said he attended the wedding. Both John and Izola had good reasons to keep their wedding a secret.
    Izola was married to Charles Bellows at the time she married Booth and she would not like to be called a bigamist. There was a need for secrecy because most people would object to a woman being married to two men at the same time.
    John also had his reason to keep their marriage a secret. He wanted to be known as an eligible bachelor of the theater. He believed being single helped with his stardom. Being eligible for marriage helped keep women interested in him.

    The same concern occurs with the use of ‘supposed daughter’ under the picture of Ogarita. Izola gave birth to Ogarita. John Wilkes Booth said Ogarita was his daughter. Ogarita said that Izola was her mother and John Wilkes Booth was her father. Mother, father, and child all agree—where does the ‘supposed daughter’ come from? It should not be used!
    You said, “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.”
    My understanding is a little different. John Stevenson wanted Izola to run away with him. That is when she told him that Booth was still alive in San Francisco and she was planning to be reunited with him. Izola got the love struck Stevenson to escort her to San Francisco. She met Booth in San Francisco and they sailed away together.
    A year-and-a-half later, Izola saw Booth lying on the ship’s deck in a pool of blood. She believed Booth to be dead. Izola was set adrift in a small boat. She was discovered by a British ship-alone, cold and hungry. The British ship took her to San Francisco. She contacted Stevenson in Sacramento and asked him to come and get her. Stevenson again asked Izola to marry him. She told him that she was pregnant with John Wilkes Booth’s baby and she wanted to return to Baltimore and be with her children.
    They returned to Baltimore and Stevenson was still planning to marry Izola, he gave the baby his name—John Stevenson. After Izola died, John read his mother’s diary that he was John Wilkes Booth’s son. He was so upset that he refused to be called John. From then on, he wanted to be called Harry.
    Booth was not dead and went on to live a long life. He died in Oklahoma in 1903.

    1. Your comments have totally intrigued me and I purchased your book today. The photos came from Izola Forrester's 1937 book, This One Mad Act. Either she or the publisher used the word "supposed." That Izola (Booth's wife) was a biagmist. I couldn't quite square away the documents with the story in the book. So I look forward to reading yours since Booth's death date is also very different than what Izola (wife) believed.

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    4. I was pleased to learn that you bought a copy of my book. Unfortunately, you bought the book just before the revision which included Booth’s trip to India and his will. If you send me your email address, I will send you the revised part.

      My interest in Izola begins with her marriage to John Wilkes Booth, but when you say that Izola was living with her son in 1860 and I say her son was born in 1861; the discrepancy in dates bothered me, so I decided to see what I could find out. The following is what I learned among the conflicting information.

      Martha Lizola Mills (Izola) lived with her mother aboard their father's ship. When her mother died, her father had Izola boarded with relatives or friends. When she was about twelve she ran away and was taken in by the Children’s Mission to the Children of the Destitute in Boston.

      She was adopted by a family by the name of D’Arcy. When she was fifteen she had an affair with Harry D’Arcy and at sixteen she gave birth to Harry Alonzo D’Arcy.

      She married Charles Still Bellows on the 30th of July, 1855. On December 21, 1856 three-year-old Harry Alonzo D’Arcy died. Izola was pregnant with Charles Bellow’s son and he was given the name Harry Alonzo Bellows. In 1860 Izola was living with a widow named Geneva Webster along with her children Harry and Ogarita. It is believed that five-year-old Harry died later that same year.

      Charles Still Bellows Jr. was born on May 16, 1861.

      Please feel free to make any corrections or improvements.

      Izola lived until 1887. The proceeds from Booth’s will were not distributed until 1896. Both she and Booth’s daughter, Ogarita were dead by that time and didn’t inherit any of Booth’s money.