Wednesday, April 18, 2018


    Abraham Lincoln, as our history books tell us, was the first President martyred by an assassin. This weekend marked the anniversary of that event. It also, ironically, marked the anniversary of the death of the remarkable Samuel J. Seymour, a carpenter living in Arlington, Virginia, in 1956. 

     Samuel Seymour was the last living witness to Lincoln's Assassination. He was a mere boy of five at the time, and the experience was deeply impressed on his memory. He was best remembered for a television appearance---at the age of 96---on a CBS quiz show, I've Got a Secret. The venerable old patriarch won $80* and a can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco for stumping one of the celebrity panel. His appearance on television was occasioned by an interview in The American Weekly given to author 'Spats' Leighton. 

{* Adjusted for inflation, that is almost $750 in today's value}.

    "That night, I was shot 50 times, at least in my dreams---and I sometimes still relive the horror of Lincoln's Assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do."

     Mr. Seymour's father was employed as overseer on the Goldsboro Plantation. He had left for Washington to arrange for the legal status of Goldsboro's slaves---finally freed by the war (Despite being slaveholders, they evidently were pro-Union. Yes, there were a few). The young boy accompanied them on their trip, along with Mrs. Goldsboro and the family nursemaid.

     The women took the little boy with them to Ford's Theater to see both President Lincoln and the popular play, Our American Cousin. Mrs. Goldsboro pointed to a flag-draped box on the balcony, and said, "See those flags, Sammy? That's where President Lincoln will sit."

     "We he finally did come in, she lifted me high so that I could see. He was a tall, stern-looking man. I guess that I just thought that he looked stern because of his whiskers; because he was smiling and waving to the crowd." 

     Then, the horrific crime happened:

     "All of a sudden, a shot rang out---a shot that will always be remembered---and someone in the President's box screamed. I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat. People started milling around and I thought that there had been another accident when one man seemed to tumble over the balcony raid and land on the stage. 'Hurry, hurry, let's help the poor man who's fallen on the stage' I begged."

      Unknown to the young Mr. Seymour, that man was John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's killer. Booth jumped to the stage, injuring his leg, but escaping in the confusion. Seymour recalled that "only a few people noticed the running man, but pandemonium had broken loose in the theater with everyone shouting, 'Lincoln is shot! The President is dead!' Mrs. Goldsboro swept me into her arms and held me away from the sight."

      Booth was the head of a criminal conspiracy seeking to decapitate the United States Government. Although General Lee had surrendered less than a week before, General Joseph Johnston's army group had not yet laid down arms (he was opposed by Union General William T. Sherman). Booth's hope was that---leaderless---the Confederacy would rally and go on to win the war. Actually, Johnston finally surrendered the same day that Booth was tracked down and killed. As a side note, Johnston later became good friends with both Grant and Sherman and went on to become a successful insurance executive in the private sector. President Grover Cleveland later appointed him US Railroad Commissioner. 

       As for Booth, he was the subject of a nationwide manhunt for nearly two weeks. He died in a shootout with a squad of soldiers. The man who killed him was Boston Corbett, a survivor of Andersonville. There was irony in that too because Booth was an arrogant man who despised the common people and democracy; and Corbett was a simple man of strong religious faith and a deeply committed Abolitionist. 

       And so was Samuel Seymour. He grew up in the war's aftermath---in a South finally freed of aristocrats and slavery. He had five children, thirteen grandchildren, and thirty-five great-grandchildren when he passed away on the 91st Anniversary of the historic event. 



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