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.

    5. I just bought your book. I'm doing research on Booth/Wilkes/Izola/Stevenson--and who he really was.
      Can we talk or e-mail about this subject. Feel free to reply to or

  2. Looks like I am the only one responding. This post had an impact on me when I realized that there was much more to learn about Izola. I looked for a book on her life, and could find none. So, I spent the summer doing research on her. Wow! What an interesting person she was. She needs to have a book written about her. After giving it some thought, I wanted to be the first. I wrote a kindle book called, “Izola.” If you decide to read it, I hope will feel that I did her justice.

    1. Troy, I bought your book but realized I'd neglected to send you information to send me the update that includes information about John Wilkes Booth's years after Izola left him, thinking he was dead.

      Does your comment mean you have written a second book? Or are you referring to the one I already purchased?

      I maintain a public genealogy Facebook page:

      If you send me message to that page, I will send you my contact information.

  3. Schalene,
    This website got me interested in learning more about Izola. I wrote a second book dedicated to Izola. The book came out yesterday, Sept. 1, 2014. At the present time I can only find it in England of all places.
    I am sure it will be posted in America soon.

  4. Schalene,
    This is an open letter to you and after reading it, you may delete it if you wish.
    I looked up and found no email address for you and I couldn’t send you the update on my book. Anyway, it probably doesn’t matter, my new book on Izola goes into much more detail. It gives Izola a soul, something other writers are reluctant to do. You can read the first 10 pages at: ( I believe kindle will offer the book for free the first four days after they open the book at the kindle store.
    There seems to be much hatred for Izola on the internet and I hope you aren’t a victim. I recently read at the “…was the fact that poor Rosalie Booth had fallen for Izola Mills’ claim to be the mother of her brother’s children. Only a handful of known documents exist that prove a relationship existed between Rose and the con-artist Izola Mills.” In their mind Izola is a con-artist. I wrote the following comment to Boothiebarn and had it promptly deleted. Censorship is alive and well there.
    Your criticism of Izola distresses me because it is so undeserved. Izola was a wonderful, caring sensitive woman.
    Rosalie Booth met Izola when she came to see her newborn niece, Ogarita. They formed a friendship that would last their entire lifetime. 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. Father, Mother, and child all agree, there is no mystery here.
    You have a picture of Ogarita next to a person you call Alonso. That is not Alonso, it is John Harry Stevenson. Rosalie Booth once had a lover named Jerome Dresback, she wanted the baby to have that name. Izola’s favorite name was Harry, so they renamed the baby Harry Jerome Dresback Stevenson. When Harry Jerome Dresback Stevenson was 18, his father told him that he was not his son and that his true father was John Wilkes Booth.
    I have written a book about Izola. I know many people will disagree with some parts of the book, but everyone reading the book should come away with the feeling that Izola was a good person.
    Apparently, this comment was too much for them.
    Sometimes, I find it difficult to support her when she is so reviled by others. It would be so much easier to join the crowd and write hateful things about her, but it would be an injustice to that wonderful person.

    1. I asked you to message my Tangled Roots and Trees Facebook page, not look for an email address there.

      I have not criticized Izola, I have merely illustrated where the documentation differs from the story she told her grand daughter, Ogarita, all of which is documented in Ogarita's book.

      I would think as an educator, yes I Googled you, you could tell the difference. I will buy your new book. But must admit to struggling to accept your theory. Too many people would have had to keep the biggest secret of the century. Most people I know couldn't do that.

  5. Schalene,
    I am so sorry for the confusion I created. I found your article interesting and informative. Your article inspired me to do months of research on Izola’s youth. The information I found was so interesting that I had to share it.
    When I was doing that research, I read that some Izola’s descendants were troubled by the negative blogs on the internet and were beginning to have doubts about Izola’s veracity. I want to insure them that Izola was a good person and they should be proud to be a descendent. I was referring to one of those negative blogs, not your article, when I wrote them saying, “Your criticism of Izola distresses me because it is so undeserved.”
    Again, I am sorry for not making myself clear.

    P.S. Izola is a biography, it contains no theory. Also, keeping secrets is easy—don’t tell anyone.

  6. Troy, I was able to purchase your latest book and just finished it today. May I ask why you chose not to cite your sources in either book either as footnotes, endnotes, or a bibliography? I find those incredibly helpful. One such footnote was how I discovered Ogarita's daughter, best known to the world as Izola Forrester, had written several books and her last one, written in 1937, was about her grandmother.

  7. Schalene,
    Izola lived a very adventurous life and deserves to be better known. “Izola” was written to introduce the general reader to her. I didn’t want it to look like a research paper. I tried the best I could to make it an easy read. Kindle is offering the book for free until September 14, 2014.

  8. My grandmother, Jennie Clark, lived with her sister's in-laws in Greenwich, Connecticut during the 1890's. The family's name was Palmer and it was a very old Greenwich family. One of the frequent visitors to the family home was a man named Harry Stevenson. My grandmother said he was John Wilkes Booth's son. I always dismissed the story until I read Izola Forrester's book "This One Mad Act." My grandmother also said that Harry Stevenson was a Spiritualist and would make the table in the dining room move. She said that her sister's mother-in-law, Elizabeth (Weed) Palmer, said "He has the Devil in him."

    1. What a great story! Thank you for sharing it with me.