The Booth Room Committee

Welcome! This web page is an outgrowth of the Booth Room Committee of the Historical Society of Harford County. This Committee first met in August of 2001. It has selected its mission as follows.

Why establish a Booth Room?

The Booth Room Committee was formed as a result of three events:

In addition, the Historical Society of Harford County had many members who were members of and contributors to PATH. Over many decades, the Society had independently built up its own excellent Booth Collection. An amazing amount of interest in the Booths persists, and their astonishing stories continues to be retold over and over and influence current events. Many thousands of books, plays, novels and articles have been written on the Booths. (Click to see an abbreviated list of publications on the Booths.)

Their story is typical of Marylanders during the 1800's. Families and the State were deeply divided by the issues of slavery, state rights, individual rights, and finally the Civil War. Most of the Booths were Northern sympathizers. John Wilkes, a Southern sympathizer, foolishly believed that he could turn the tide of the War by killing President Abraham Lincoln and his successors to the Presidency. Today, at the start of a new millenium and in a time of numerous civil wars, bold terrorists, challenges to individual and state rights, and continuing slavery, there is a strong need for accurate insights into such problems.

Booth Room Committee Members and Terry Alford (right). Professor Alford is an expert on the Booth Family and author of the recent book "Prince Among Slaves" and editor of "John Wilkes Booth; A Sister's Memoir." Photographed March 2002

Who were the Booths of Harford County, Maryland?

From 1822 until 1858, Harford County was home to the family of Junius Brutus Booth, one of the foremost actors of his day. For thirty years, he was America's chief Shakespearian player. While he could be a ferocious figure on the stage, he was known as a kind hearted man who taught his children not to kill a living creature, even a rattlesnake. His children included not only Harford County's most famous native son of the 19th century but its most infamous as well. Edwin Booth followed his father onto the stage and established a career that eclipsed his father's. John Wilkes Booth followed his father and older brother onto the stage and was well on his way to establishing a career as illustrious as Edwin's. However, the outbreak of the Civil War tragically intervened changing not only the course of his life but the lives of his family and the history of the nation as well.

Born in London on May Day 1796, Junius Brutus Booth sailed for America in the spring of 1821 leaving behind a floundering stage career, a wife, and a two-year-old son. However, as Booth ventured forth, he was not alone. He was accompanied by the young and beautiful Mary Ann Holmes who was expecting his child. Junius and Mary Ann arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, on 30 June 1821. Almost immediately, Junius began a successful whirlwind tour that took him to six states and a number of major cities including New York, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. Thus began a career that would make Junius Brutus Booth a major figure on the American stage for the next 30 years. Mary Ann gave birth in Charleston, South Carolina, to their first son, Junius Brutus Booth, Jr.

On 19 August 1822, Junius made a down payment on 150 acres three miles from Bel Air in rural Harford County. Exactly what brought Junius to consider Harford County as a country retreat for his new family in the first place is not known. However, two of his father's cousins lived in Baltimore and had married women from Harford County. Whatever brought Junius here; there is little doubt that the beauty and serenity of the area appealed to his love of the natural world and his desire for a retreat from the turmoil of the theatrical world.

Asia Booth Clarke later indicated her parents fled Baltimore to escape a yellow fever epidemic raging there that summer. In that day and age it was common, for those who could afford it, to own summer homes in the surrounding countryside. Junius purchased a log cabin located on a neighbor's farm and had it moved to a location near a spring on his new farm. In this cabin, it is believed eight of the ten Booth children, including Edwin and John Wilkes, were born. While Junius Jr. was a successful actor and theatre manager, he was not as famous as Edwin or John Wilkes. The youngest son, Joseph, became a doctor in New York.

If you would like to work for the Booth Room Committee, please contact or visit Mary Cardwell on a Wednesday between 9 AM and 1 PM at the Historical Society, telephone number 410-838-7691. Financial contributions are needed to finish work on the Booth Room. They may be mailed to:
The Booth Room Committee
The Historical Society of Harford County
143 N. Main St.
P.O. Box 366
Bel Air, MD 21014-0366

Work on this web page is continuing. Contributions of writing, art, photographs, or suggestions are welcome. Contact the Webmaster at harchis@msn.com.

Tour the Booth Family Historic Sites