Taken from "Bringing Hidden Treasures into the Light: Discovering Civil War Letters in an Archives Backlog" Handout
Three Important Letters Concerning the Booth Family
Letter 1: April 21
Image Owned by Asbury University Archives Used with Permission
Letter Transcription by Ruth Slagle
229. N. 18th St Phila Apr 21. My dear Brother, I have recd (received) your kind letter, I cannot answer you as fully as I could wish owing to the affliction which this atrocious affair had brought upon us -- My wife is as well as I could hope and the children entirely so. I trust that this may find you and yours in the enjoyment of good health -- Yours affectionately John
This letter holds significance because it was written to George W. Sleeper form his brother, John S. Clarke, a week after Lincoln had been shot. John Wilkes Booth was John S. Clarke's brother-in-law. This letter shows that John S. Clarke wanted to let George know that his family was doing relatively well following the circumstances, telling him that the children were fine as well. Asia, his wife and Wilkes' sister, was doing as well as he could expect following the shock Asia had just experienced. At the time of the assassination Asia was 6-7 months pregnant. Such a shock could have easily induced labor. To me, the letter shows that family connections are stronger especially in times of dire straits. John S. Clarke wrote this on the same day that John Wilkes Booth's letter to the nation was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I hold Asia in high esteem because of her tenacious courage in facing life. She wrote the memoir The Unlocked Book about her brother John Wilkes Booth completely in secret.
Letter 2: June 19
Letter Transcription by Ruth Slagle 229. N, 18th St Phila June 19 Dear Bro -- Yrs recd (Yours received) I expect to be in N.Y. about 1 of Sep. Certainly not much earlier. We are tolerably well here -- Junius Booth is still most unrighteously detained at Washington -- With regard to the $500 use it as you may deem most advantageous to you -- I hope that before I shall need it you will be in a way to be enabled to refund it conveniently -- Asia sends regards. Yours [sic] J Clarke
This letter was written roughly two months after Lincoln's assassination. It holds importance to my research because of its connection to the Booth Family. John S. Clarke refers to the family as "tolerably well" in reference to the assassination and all the chaos that followed. The letter also talks about Junius Booth and his being "most unrigheously detained." This passage shines a light on how the entire Booth Family was affected by Wilkes' actions. The Booth brothers (Junius and Joseph) and John S. Clarke were arrested after the assassination being held in the Old Capital Prison in Washington, D.C. Edwin Booth would have been imprisoned as well if he had not bribed the right people to prove his loyalty to the Union. These letters provide a glimpse into American history that is not known. Both this letter and the one written on April 21st are related to the assassination and create links between the past and present making history more tangible. In a modern setting we might think that "Dear Bro" is a contemporary greeting when, in fact, it was used almost 148 years ago in this letter.
Letter 3: May 1, 1857
Letter Transcription by Ruth Slagle
Boston May 1st 1857 Friend George -- It was my desire to have visited you before leaving Boston, but my time has been so much occupied that I have hardly had time to write. I have heard and written to John since I have arrived, and I promised to visit you -- if I could do so. I am very anxious to see your mother, and I know that she would be pleased to shake me by the hand again. I trust she is in good health, remember me kindly to her. I may perform in Providence after my New York engagements. I have not had an opportunity to see John act yet, but am delighted to learn that he is very popular, and is decidedly an ornament to our profession -- He has many friends and will, ever long, become one of the leading artists on the stage. Remember me kindly to your lady -- I presume you have heard of my sweep in this city. Excuse the liberty I have taken. Yours truly, Edwin Booth
The last letter in this selection was written to George W. Sleeper from Edwin Booth an old friend. It describes the simple goal in life that two friends have of visiting one another. Edwin had already launched into his famous acting career in 1852. The Sleepers and the Booths grew up with one another in Baltimore, Maryland, so when Asia married she did so within her circle of immediate friends. It is indicated that the families are close because Edwin is "anxious to see" George's mother. He also alludes to the fact that J.S. Clarke has become "very popular" in his own stage career. Edwin asks to be remembered "kindly to your lady", George's first wife Mary Jane, although at this time they were divorced. This demonstrated that Edwin's busy career has kept him from knowing everything about George's personal life. Later, after the assassination, Edwin thought that John Wilkes Booth's actions would totally ruin his acting career. He was partially wrong because his best appearances happened afterwards, however, history remembers his brother much more than him.
Who's Who in the Sleeper and the Booth Families
Main Players George Washington Sleeper (1826-1903) -- Eccentric, extravagant, antagonistic to religion and God, and overall quite an interesting gentleman; the large majority of which is known about him comes form his writings, correspondence, and an unpublished biography written by his son, John Fremont Sleeper. Sleeper held very strong opinions on an array of subjects including slavery, religion, education, temperance, and others. He was an abolitionist. He owned Geo. W. Sleeper Tea Warehouse for a number of years.
John Sleeper Clarke (1833-1899) -- Brother of Geo. W. Sleeper and husband of Asia Booth. He changed his name from John Clarke Sleeper to John Sleeper Clarke early on in his career, thinking that it would be a better stage name. He idolized the entire Booth family, and later married Asia in 1859. He became business partners with Edwin Booth and they owned theaters in New York and Philadelphia. Clarke was imprisoned after assassination because of the letters in his safe, which were wrongly incriminating. After the assassination he moved to England with his wife and family, but did return on tours to the United States.
Lizzie Coffee Sleeper (1842-1911) -- Second wife of Geo. W. Sleeper and mother of John F. Sleeper. She met George when she was employed as his mother's companion. George sent her to finishing school to polish her manners. Lizzie was 16 years his junior. Not a whole lot is known about her because there is no existing correspondence.
John Fremont Sleeper (1864-1941) -- Son of George and Lizzie Sleeper, became a Chemistry professor and taught at a school in New Jersey and possibly California. He published a few books, some of which can be found online at www.archive.org. He lived for a time near his parents in Jersey City, NJ, eventually moving out west.
Edwin Thomas Booth (1833-1893) -- Seventh child of Junius and Mary Ann Booth. For a time he went abroad to escape the war. It is unclear if he ever was conscripted. He was known to family as "Teddy" or "Ted." He debuted on the stage in 1852 in San Francisco and became his father's successor in the business. He was very possessive of his stage career, refusing to share much of it with his brothers, Junius and John Wilkes. Edwin divided up their turfs so they would not cross paths: Junius the West, Edwin the Northeast, and John the South and Mid-West. Edwin Booth had one daughter, Edwina (born 1861), with his first wife Mary Devlin Booth. Edwina later became her father's companion until her marriage in 1885.
Asia Frigga Booth Clarke (1835-1888) -- Eighth child of Junius and Mary Ann Booth, sister of John Wilkes Booth and wife of John Sleeper Clarke; found solitude in writing. She authored three books, two of which can be found on www.archive.org. She was very close to her brother, John Wilkes. She joined her husband in self-imposed exile to England and never to return to the United States after Lincoln's assassination. She was the mother of 6-7 children; not exactly sure how many lived to adulthood.
John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) -- Ninth child of Junius and Mary Ann Booth. He pursued the stage like his father and two brothers before him. He was not as successful as Edwin and blamed this on Edwin because he refused to help him both professionally and financially, making them bitter rivals. It is not exactly known when he began to cultivate pro-southern views. When staying with Asia during the winter of 1860-61, his pro-southern views were made known and thus made many family members angry, as the rest of the family were Unionist. In a sense, John Wilkes Booth upstaged his brother for all time as the assassin of a most beloved man, President Abraham Lincoln.
Supporting Players Mary Jane Harding Sleeper (dates unknown) -- First wife of Geo. W. Sleeper and mother of his first three children, Edward, Emma, and Evelina. Some would say that George was infatuated with her since their marriage barely lasted 10 years. A couple of years after the divorce, she remarried a man named Brooks and the children took their stepfather's last name.
Jonathan Sleeper (d. 1836?) -- Father of Geo. W. Sleeper and John Sleeper Clarke and husband of Georgina Sleeper. He owned a tavern called Washington's Arms in Baltimore and was a local hero from the War of 1812.
Georgina Clarke Sleeper (d. 1862) -- Mother of Geo. W. Sleeper John Sleeper Clarke and wife of Jonathan Sleeper. In her old age she lived with both of her sons. She died at the home of her son, John S. Clarke, in Philadelphia.
Junius Brutus Booth, Sr. (1796-1852) -- Father of Edwin, Asia, and John Wilkes Booth. Known to the entire world as the 'Greatest Tragedian Shakespearean actor' in the 19th century. He led a double life, keeping his "secret family" unknown to the world. Few knew that he had a mistress, Mary Ann, and 10 children living on the outskirts of Baltimore. Every month he sent his wife, Adelaide, in England money and a letter. This arrangement lasted for 20 years. In early 1851, Adelaide received a divorce, and Junius married Mary Ann in May. At times Junius was referred to as a drunken brute to friend and foe alike. About a year after his divorce and remarriage, he died from a fever.
Mary Ann Holmes Booth (1802-1885) -- Mistress, later second wife, of Junius Brutus Booth, Sr., and mother of Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., Rosalie, Edwin, Asia, John Wilkes, Joseph, and four children lost to childhood diseases. She was a professional seamstress. She helped Junius and their children with costumes for their production trunks. She had a very close relationship with her eldest daughter, Rosaline.
Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. "June" (1821-1883) -- Eldest son of Junius and Mary Ann Booth. He became an actor against his father's wishes, settled in San Francisco, married at least twice, and had at least four children. In my research I was unable to find much information about him. He was known as "June" to family and friends. In the early 1860s he came back to the East coast and became closer to John Wilkes.
Rosalie Ann Booth (1823-1889) -- Eldest daughter and second child of Junius and Mary Ann Booth. Throughout her life, she stayed at her mother's side only to be parted from her at Mary Ann's death. They had gone through thick and thin together, watching her mother lose four children to diseases. According to a family friend, Mrs. Rogers, Rosalie sent money to two children said to be John Wilkes Booth's illegitimate children.
Mary Devlin Booth (1842-1863) -- First wife of Edwin Booth and mother of their daughter Edwina (born 1861); she was also an actress in her own right. She was of Irish descent, which caused some of the Booth family disliked her. She died of pneumonia in 1863 and after her death Edwin become completely sober because he was not there at her deathbed due to being drunk.
Edwina Booth Grossman (1861-1938) -- Only child of Edwin and Mary Booth. She became her father's companion in her teens until her marriage to Ignatius R. Grossman in 1885. She published a work about her father in 1895, Edwin Booth: Recollections by His Daughter, Edwina Booth Grossman, and Letters to Her and His Friends.
Joseph Adrian Booth (1840-1902) -- Tenth child of Junius and Mary Ann Booth, only male not to make acting his career. He was close to Edwin, who paid his way through medical school. He became a doctor, but did suffer from melancholy like his other siblings, an inherited trait from their father. Not much is know about him.